By Biko Agozino
‘If a continuous function is observed to be positive at a certain point in time, and then observed to be negative at a later point, then there must be at least one point between the two observed points where the function is zero, where it crosses the line separating the positive sphere from the negative sphere. That point of “transition,” that critical point, can always be determined to any degree of approximation desired. I remember this theorem because it is true not only for mathematical functions but also for historical processes. It is, in particular, true for Libya – and, of course, Egypt’. Madunagu, March 17, The Guardian.
Edwin Madunagu has taken the unprecedented step of setting a problem to be solved by his teaming readers instead of attempting to provide all the answers as usual. As someone who hardly ever misses reading his weekly column, I cannot wait to weigh in with an attempt to answer his question about when Gaddafi’s Libyan Revolution passed the point of transition from being a positive event, if ever it was, to become a negative one. My very limited knowledge of mathematics will probably result in errors here that I am sure a mathematician like Madunagu would forgive and correct.
An internet search tells me that zero was the newest number borrowed by European mathematicians because the African inventors of geometry dealt with real construction problems like the construction of the pyramids in ancient Egypt and so did not have to worry about a zero pyramid or a minus one pyramid for that matter. The ancient Egyptians, of course, knew about the quantity zero and represented it with the symbol, cypher, as the code for the body when the soul had departed to the world of the ancestors to continue its life in eternity, a condition that is far from zero life or minus one life. The Arabs later called this number safir before the Greeks learned of it and called it zero. An Indian finally used the notation 0 to represent it and the number has revolutionized mathematics both as a numeral and as a place-holder as in 101. Roman numerals still do not have a zero but their numbering system is consequently cumbersome.
Mathematicians have written theses on the square root of minus one and concluded that it is an irrational number that is assumed for the sake of argumentation but Cheikh Anta Diop concluded convincingly that there was no need to go to negative functions in search of irrational numbers because the ancient Egyptians already knew that the number two, though positive, remains an irrational number because it has no rational square root that would yield the number two when multiplied by itself. We may never discover the square root of minus one but we know that there is no such thing as a zero or minus one person, nor zero or minus one country.
I wish to contribute to the solution by starting with a concrete reformulation of the abstract theorem of Olubummo as summarized above by Madunagu. Mathematicians are always proud of the exactness of their science because one plus one is always equal to two. But what if the quantity in the theorem is one woman plus one cruise missile? Surely, the answer is not two! Two objects; two things; two creatures; two phenomena? Not at all, the answer remains one woman and one cruise missile. Even if the missile explodes and kills the woman, the resulting sum is not zero given that there are many more where they came from. In other words, it is logically difficult to find a minus one human being or minus one cruise missile as a negative function that passed through the hypothetical transition point of zero.
Similarly, Libya cannot be said to have moved from a positive function to a zero and finally to a negative function as an explanation for the mass uprising that quickly turned into an armed insurrection, leading to a ‘humanitarian’ intervention by NATO forces to enforce a UN no-fly zone (no-fly suggests zero flying but paradoxically, they fly numerous sorties over the no-fly zone) that the African Union urged to be halted for a comprehensive cease-fire and that Russian Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin dismissed as a call to crusade, while the Arab League had second thoughts about supporting it earlier. I am sure that you have heard the joke: if a vegetarian lives on vegetables, what does a humanitarian live on?
Seriously, Libya cannot be said to be a zero nation or a failing (negative) one given that the country has been consistently ranked highest among African countries on the Human Development Index of the UNDP. With only six million people, however, the size of the population of Libya is equal to or less than that of Lagos state in Nigeria and so the fact that the health, education, transportation, employment, housing and military infrastructures of the country are much better than those of most African countries can only be expected, given the huge oil and gas revenues accruing to the country, the people deserve to expect more.
Gaddafi, like any leader in the world, like any individual human being, is full contradictions that resulted in many mistakes but he is far from zero or a negative function as a human being or leader. He will always be remembered as the African leader who has pushed the project of African Union government more energetically than almost all others with the significant exception of Nkrumah. Rather than always focusing on their micro-nationalism, progressive Africans should contribute to the campaign for African Union government to help Africans prevent any attempts at genocidal violence internally and rule out foreign military interventions that have contributed to the underdevelopment of Africa over the years.
Without recounting the achievements of Gaddafi and his errors in the past four decades, I agree with those Libyans who say that 41 years in office must be more than enough for him and so he should step down and allow a democratic election to choose his successor in a free and fair election. The rebels who reportedly killed black Africans and labeled them mercenaries before inviting foreigners to bomb their own country should be ordered by the UN to back off and lay down their arms while Gaddafi should order the troops back to the barracks and allow the formation of political parties, the draft of a new constitution with provisions for equal representation of men and women in the government and a general election in which any African should be allowed to move to the state of Libya and contest for office, work, study or do business as an African Union government citizenship model to be emulated across Africa. It was reported that when the demonstrations started in Libya, Gaddafi joined the demonstration and declared his support for the revolution. If this report is true, he should step back from his defiance and re-embrace the legitimate uprising of the masses so long as the opposition sticks to non-violent methods of democratic struggles.
In conclusion, the reason why the masses have risen up to demand for increased democratization of their societies is not because the governments of North Africa are zero or negative in their function but because, as CLR James pointed out, human beings are not like lower animals that may be satisfied with food and shelter, human beings deserve a say in how their society is governed and they will demand this irrespective of the intentions or records of the rulers. This is not due to the influence of outside or domestic agitators but the result of human consciousness that problems of democracy could only be solved through greater democracy and not less.
President Obama made a similar point in his speech in Cairo in 2009 and he should be reminded of this doctrine of his and urged to back away from the blunder of being the first black president of America only to authorize the bombing of Africa supposedly to aid democratization. The African philosophy of non-violence is a proven better alternative strategy for democratic struggles worldwide. As Horace Campbell has argued in his book on the method of organization that made the election of Obama possible and in his essays on the North African mass uprisings, what is at work is the African Fractal technology of non-lineal geometry characterized by self-similarity, recursion, self-organization, infinity, and scaling of far from equilibrium states of orderly chaos that will be difficult for any Cartesian geometry of militaristic or monetary lineal power to defeat, distort, destroy or neutralize with bribery or delusions of humanitarianism.
Dr. Agozino is a Professor of Sociology and Director of Africana Studies Program at Virginia Tech.