Analysis: Biko Mutsaurwa, 2013, “The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan: Building a Revolutionary Counterculture”

Biko Mutsaurwa, 2013, “The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan: Building a Revolutionary Counterculture,” The Journal of Hip Hop Studies, volume 1, number 2, pp. 226-231.

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Biko Mutsaurwa is a leading Shona poet, Hip Hop artist and community activist. He is the founder of UHURU Network, an educational trust that uses cultural activism and popular education to advance the struggle for freedom of expression and social justice in Zimbabwe. He is also one of the initiators of the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan. In this article, he provides a brief outline of the lessons to be learned from a decade of Hip Hop activism on the African continent. In addition to providing a short historical overview of the roots of the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan, he outlines the vision of the project: the creation of a
coherent Afrikan Hiphop Movement based upon a strategic orientation towards social movements of the working class and the oppressed.

… In 2004, an affinity group of student activists, Hip Hop activists and socialists established Uhuru Network, based in Harare, as a decentralised platform where members of the Toyitoyi Arts Collective, Imani Media Collective, Impilo Permaculture Collective and Ruzivo Study Circle met and forged theoretical and tactical unity. As a social movement, emerging from the concrete struggles of working people in Zimbabwe against the Economic Structural Adjustment Programs (ESAPs) of the ZANU-PF dictatorship, the Network was from the start decidedly anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarianist. The organisation actively participated in actions for social and economic justice within the social movements…. the Toyitoyi Arts Collective embarked on a path of Hip Hop Activism: one that was oriented towards active participation in the social movements of the working-class…

…In 2005, Uhuru Network convened the Uhuru Youth Camp at the Southern African Social Forum in Harare. The Southern Afrikan Social Forum Charter opposed neoliberal capitalism, dictatorship and authoritarianism. It embraced horizontal organising based on principles of direct participatory democracy. Indymedia activists from South Africa, housing activists from the Anti-Eviction Committee in Cape Town, libertarian socialists from Zabalaza, and cultural activists from Sounds of Edutainment and Imbawula Trust were in attendance…

…In 2006, the collectives were joined by cultural activists from the Community Networking Forum in Cape Town during the Cultural Activist Network meeting at the Khanya College Winter School in Johannesburg and deliberated  n developing a common regional program in Southern Afrika. The cultural activists from the Community Networking Forum subsequently established Soundz of the South, based  in Cape Town, as a collective inspired by the ideas of decentralized, horizontal organising against neoliberal capitalism based on theoretical and tactical unity within the movement…

… Uhuru Network and Soundz of the South participated in gatherings and direct actions in Nairobi, Dakar and Cairo during the Afrikan Social Forum activities. Cross-border interventions and organising ultimately led to the establishment of the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan [ca. 2012] … Collectives in the … upheld the Afrikan Social Forum Charter. As Hiphop Activists they also upheld The Hiphop Declaration of Peace. These documents combined provided the founding principles of the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan..

… The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan advocates an Afrikan Hiphop Movement against capitalism and authoritarianism based on common ideological belief. The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan interacts in ideas with the broader Hip Hop circles and other social movements, but does not seek to speak for, represent or recruit all Hip Hop activists nor activists in other social movements…

…In an effort to deepen roots in the working-class struggles on the continent, the day-to-day work of collectives in the Afrikan Hiphop Caravan has been focused around working within the social movements. Social movements that collectives have engaged are movements of oppressed people that seek not only social change, but a breakdown of existing structures of oppression. The social movements the collectives sought out are those that had the potential to counterpose oppressed people’s own collective power and vision, and to build counter power against capitalism and the state… The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan encourages participating collectives to be horizontal, participant-led and democratic in structure as much as possible. Participating collectives agree that an orientation towards direct action and, more importantly, the creation of conditions that transform the participants into selfconscious thinkers and organisers amongst their peers, is the immediate strategic objective of the project.

…The vision that inspires the Caravan is of free, popular and horizontal communities created by the people across Afrika and beyond… It aims to grow a critical mass in order to trigger drastic cultural and political change across Afrika and beyond. The Afrikan Hiphop Caravan is explicitly political. Yet, it does not engage in party politics and it stands against all forms of authoritarianism… It will be interesting to watch the African Hiphop Caravan unfold itself as a social movement in 2014 and note how the interaction between various shades of Black Nationalism, Marxism and Anarchism, if at all, leads to the emergence of a coherent movement of Hip Hop activists across the continent and beyond, that dialogues with and actively participates in, the concrete struggles of working people’s social movements….

The question we ask ourselves is: Will the ideological diversity of collectives and the varied contextual nuances of each Afrikan city stand in our way as we seek out coherence in the movement?