David Mandessi Diop (1927-1960) was a revolutionary African poet born in France to parents of West African descent, and an active member of the Negritude movement. Diop’s poems highlight African problems brought about by colonialism and give a message of hope and resistance to people of the continent.
One poem starts with the narrator reminiscing about Africa, which he has not yet seen but knows from his grandmother’s songs of his child- hood.
Despite not having been to Africa, he calls it “My Africa” to emphasise his sense of belonging as he describes the “black blood” which flows in his veins as a descendant of the continent.
The verses assume an angry and accusatory tone as he stresses that it is the blood and sweat of his people which is irrigating the fields of the colonialists without any benefit to the black people of Africa.
Diop goes on to urge the black African people to stand up to the humiliation and pain that they suffered in their own motherland, reminding them of the strength and pride they have in them.
He stresses the need to say no to the whips of the colonial masters who make them work under the hot midday sun leaving ugly scars on their backs. Despite this suffering the narrator urges Africans to be strong and resist being broken by the heavy weight which colonialism symbolises.
Africa is then personified as an elder who chides the narrator for thinking “impetuous” thoughts, implying that the continent is aware of impending changes or revolution.
The tree “young and strong” represents the young generation of Africans who are patiently but “obstinately” waiting until they get the liberty they are waiting for.
The tree is standing among the “white and faded flowers’’, by which the poet means the colonialists who will fade in time while the youthful Africans will grow in strength and wait for the moment to seize their freedom from the invaders.
Diop realises that freedom will not be acquired on a silver platter, but will have to be fought for so that the black people will eventually acquire “the bitter taste of Liberty” in the end.
The poem remains significant even after many years of “independence” from colonial rule because the continent still experiences neo-colonialism up to this day.
Black people should not be under the illusion that political independence automatically translates into full independence from oppression and exploitation.
The demonisation of true pan-African leaders such as President Mugabe (pictured left) is an apt example of how neo-colonialists continue to find ways of exploiting Africa despite the façade of “independence” making Africans think that colonialism is over.
When President Mugabe calls for economic freedom as opposed to political freedom alone, the neo-colonial powers rush to point out that Africa is now “free’’ when in actual fact it is only the faces in government who have been Africanised whilst the benefits from land and resources continue to be enjoyed by the Europeans.
Thus David Diop’s poem continues to be relevant to Africa in the 21st century despite having been penned during the height of colonialism in Africa.