Bringing Down the West: Kémi Séba and the Pan-Africanist Revolution

Andrew McGregor

December 5, 2019

An unforeseen consequence of Western intervention against African terrorist groups has been the revitalization of pan-Africanism, an ideology that maintains indigenous and diaspora Africans share a common history and destiny as a unified people free of Western “domination.” Though pan-Africanism has been roundly criticized for its belief that the diverse peoples of Africa share a common race and culture, its proponents have taken leading positions in recent demonstrations in West Africa and the Sahel demanding the withdrawal of Western (especially French) troops and the creation of new monetary systems that are not tied to European or American economic systems.

Kémi Séba

Among the most prominent of these new pan-African leaders is the French-born activist Kémi Séba. Intellectually unpredictable and politically mercurial, Kémi Séba has dallied with or espoused a number of intellectual and philosophical trends that have played or continue to play a major role in shaping the security picture in Africa and Europe.

Early Life

Kémi Séba was born to Beninese parents in 1981 in Strasbourg, France, as Stellio Gilles Robert Capo Chichi.

In his youth, Séba travelled to the United States, where he was influenced by Louis Farrakhan’s black supremacist Nation of Islam (NoI) (BBC, August 30). Founded by Wallace Fard Muhammad in Detroit in 1930, the NoI shares some beliefs with Sunni Islam, but differs on several essential theological points, leaving it generally unrecognized as a form of Islam by orthodox Muslims. In recent years, the NoI has grown closer to the Church of Scientology and its teachings.

Following his return to France, Séba joined the French branch of the NoI at age 18, though he did not appear to formally convert to Islam at this time. Séba was also influenced by the Marxist-based studies of decolonization produced by Martinican psychiatrist and political philosopher Frantz Fanon.

In an interview with the Nation of Islam’s Final Call newspaper, Séba stated that the “key to the resurrection of Black people throughout the world” is “the teachings of [the second NoI leader, 1934-1975] the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, today taught by the leader of us all, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan” (Final Call [Chicago], March 7).

From Neo-Paganism to Islam

After visiting Egypt in his twenties, Séba became spokesman for the Parti Kemite, a movement formed in 2002 and based on Ancient Egyptian thought and religion.

Followers of Kemetism spend an inordinate amount of energy engaging in intellectual disputes with long-dead 19th century scholars whose works have long since been dropped from the curricula of respectable universities. The works of these earlier writers, some of whom suggested the Ancient Egyptians were “white Caucasians,” survive mainly due to the insistence of Kemetists, who maintain that they continue to represent the views of modern, scientifically trained Egyptologists. Rejecting scholarly approaches to Ancient Egyptian linguistics, history or archaeology, few Kemetists are familiar with contemporary Egyptological literature, which typically acknowledges the “African” and indigenous origins of Ancient Egypt (with the constant input of regional influences), but does not accept the popular Kemetic view that the Ancient Egyptians, Nubians, Carthaginians and other ethno-cultures of Northern Africa were related to or identical with the Bantu peoples of West Africa. In its extreme form, Kemetists claim that Egyptologists, who, in their view are exclusively “white,” deliberately mutilate or destroy evidence proving the “Black African” origin of Ancient Egypt.

Cheikh Anta Diop

Kemetists rely on a mix of Black nationalism, esoteric spiritualism and the works of revisionist historians such as Senegal’s Cheikh Anta Diop, British academic Martin Bernal and Khalid Abdul Muhammad (1948-2001), an American member of the NoI until his expulsion from the movement after a 1993 speech that referred to Pope John Paul II as “a no-good cracker,” labelled Jews as “bloodsuckers” and called for the murder of all white South Africans (Chicago Tribune, February 18, 2001). Despite Diop’s centrality to Kemetic thought, Séba has personally rejected his work as invalid due to the Senegalese scholar’s marriage to a white woman (Le Monde Afrique, September 1, 2017).

Kemetism may be classed as a form of neo-paganism as it can involve the worship of Ancient Egyptian gods. There are disputes within the movement whether it can accept Black Christians or Muslims. According to Kémi Séba, “Three Semitic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have cursed Blacks from the beginning, through the curse of Ham. These monotheisms have structured all thought in the broad sense by considering Blacks as inferior” (Le Figaro, October 1, 2007). [1]

Tribu Ka and Anti-Semitism

Séba’s critical view of Jews is largely influenced by a 1991 NoI publication entitled The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews. Though much derided for its highly selective use of sources, the work’s central thesis that Jews and Zionists gained financial power through investment in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade has gained traction in certain quarters.

In 2004, Séba formed the Tribu-Ka, a French version of Farrakhan’s NoI blended with elements of Kemetism, such as Séba’s leadership role as the guarantor of ma’at, the Ancient Egyptian conception of truth, order and justice.

Tribu Ka is a short form for the Atenian Tribe of Kemet, Aten being the image of the Ancient Egyptian sun god as a solar disk, later imposed (unsuccessfully) as the sole god of Egypt by King Akhenaten of the 18th Dynasty. Nonetheless, anti-Semitism proved to be the core dogma of the Tribu Ka.

Séba used the internet to post anti-Semitic messages, including some accusing Zionists of creating AIDS, leading to his arrest in September 2006 and calls from Jewish groups to ban his website (European Jewish Press, September 19, 2006).

When Tribu Ka was banned by the French Ministry of the Interior in July 2006, it was quickly replaced by a new formation known as Génération Kémi Séba (GKS). The move did not fool authorities, who banned the GKS and awarded Séba a one-year suspended sentence for his efforts. A further arrest followed in February 2007 for calling a public official “Zionist scum.” The result was five months imprisonment for criminal contempt. Undeterred, Séba formed yet another group called Jeunesse Kémi Séba, likewise banned in June 2009.

On May 27, 2008, Séba led some 50 followers armed with bats and other weapons to a heavily Jewish district of Paris to “defend the interests of Blacks.” The mob shouted anti-Jewish slogans and threatened bystanders, leading to an investigation of the group by the Ministry of Justice. Séba maintained that “It is not anti-Semitic to defend the interests of blacks. When a Jew breaks a fingernail, the whole state apparatus has a broken arm!” (Le Figaro, October 1, 2007).

Séba has accused international organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO) of being controlled by Zionists “who impose on Africa and its diaspora living conditions so excremental that the concentration camp of Auschwitz can seem like a paradise on earth” (Causeur [Paris], July 6).

After his release from prison in July 2008, Séba announced his conversion to Islam and fled to Senegal. Séba also joined the newly-formed Mouvement des damnés de l’impérialisme (MDI – Movement of the Damned by Imperialism) as its secretary-general and later president. The MDI, self-described as anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist with a focus on internet activism, attracted Holocaust deniers and formed a sympathetic association with Lebanon’s Hezbollah (Le Monde, September 23, 2008). Séba eventually resigned as president of the MDI in July 2010.

Séba’s spiritual views, encompassing both Kemetic beliefs and Islam, are also strongly influenced by Guénonian Islam, also known as “Traditionalism.” Derived from the works of French convert to Islam René Guénon (1886-1951), Traditionalism combines Western esoteric traditions with Islamic Sufi philosophies. This unorthodox approach has found little resonance in the Islamic world but is popular with some Western intellectuals who have converted to Islam. [2]

Séba has written four books: Supra-négritude (2013), Black Nihilism (2014), Obscure Époque – fiction géopolitique (2016) and L’Afrique libre ou la mort (2018). Black Nihilism was described by a Senegalese reviewer as “a porridge of thought,” in which “activism is substituted for thought, virility for strength of argument,” while the author levels men and women on the sole pretext of a common skin color, an “inverted racist cliché” (SenePlus, May 8). Senegalese journalist Racine Assane Demba has denounced Séba’s works as expressions of black supremacism, particularly over white people (Le Monde Afrique, September 1, 2017). African critics of Séba’s ideas and intellectual approach are regularly derided by his supporters as puppets of Paris.

Séba takes inspiration from revolutionary leaders such as Burkina Faso’s late president, Thomas Sankara (Facebook)

Séba has spoken approvingly of the dictatorships of the late Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) and Mu’ammar Qaddafi and their refusal to relinquish power before both were killed, explaining: “As long as you fight for your country so that your country can access a certain number of things, [dictatorship] does not bother me” (BeninWebTV, April 8).

Séba and the New Black Panthers

After his time with the MDI, Séba was appointed head of the French branch of the New Black Panther Party (NBPP) by Malik Zulu Shabazz (a.k.a. Paris Lewis), chairman of the NBPP from 2001 (after taking over from founder Khalid Abdul Mohammed) to 2013. Shabazz, best known for his extreme and often crudely expressed hatred for Jews and Zionists, gave Séba a new name, Kemiour Aarim Shabazz. Most surviving members of the original Black Panther Party reject the NBPP’s claim to be a successor to their movement.

Fighting Françafrique

Séba moved to Senegal in 2011, where his ideas and rhetoric found resonance in academic and media circles. In Europe, however, Séba was coming to be regarded as a toxic presence, beginning with his expulsion from Switzerland in 2012 for inciting violence.

Séba was arrested during a Paris visit in September 2014 after making a public appearance at a theater commonly used by his friend, controversial anti-Jewish comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. The activist was detained for violating the terms of a 2009 suspended sentence (AFP, September 1, 2014).  Séba has also worked with Dieudonné’s associate, right-wing ideologue and filmmaker Alain Soral, who has been convicted on charges of anti-Semitism (Causeur [Paris], July 6).

In 2016, Séba launched a new NGO, Urgences panafricanistes (Panafrican Emergencies), with himself as chairman. According to Séba: “We are neither communists nor nationalists nor liberals. We are Pan-Africanists. We are developing a new path, that of traditionalism mixed with an understanding of geopolitics” (BeninWebTV, December 13, 2017).

Séba claims Urgences panafricanistes is financed by soccer players, including French-Martinican Nicolas Anelka (a friend of Dieudonné who was cited for making anti-Semitic gestures on the field), French-Senegalese Demba Ba and “many African footballers who are friends” but cannot allow their commitment to be known (Le Monde, October 30, 2017).

One of the main ambitions of the group is the elimination of the Communauté Financière Africaine franc (CFA franc), a currency used by 14 former French African colonies. The CFA franc was created after World War Two for use in France’s African colonies. Today, it is the last colonial-era currency in use in Africa, though it is now pegged to the Euro and backed by the French treasury, where member nations must deposit half their foreign exchange reserves. The 14 countries that use it benefit from monetary stability and protection from inflation.

In March, Séba identified several reasons for his struggle against the CFA franc; according to him, the currency is far too strong for local economies, destroying competitiveness. “When you are told that you are independent and that the representatives of the Bank of France have the right of veto in your banks… the adage says that the one who controls you economically, will control you politically” (Yeclo.com [Abidjan], March 28). Similar points have been made by prominent Senegalese anti-French activist Guy Marius Sagna.

Kémi Séba burns a CFA Banknote in Dakar (Jeune Afrique)

On August 25, 2017, Séba was arrested on a complaint from the Central Bank of West African States after publicly burning a bank-note for 5,000 CFA francs ($8.39) six days earlier in Dakar, Senegal. Though acquitted ten days later on a technicality (the relevant law cited destruction of “banknotes” rather than “a banknote”), he was deported to France on September 6 after being declared “a serious threat to public order” (Le Monde, September 6; Senego, October 16).

Séba was now becoming an undesirable in much of West Africa. In March 2018, he was expelled from Guinea, where he had hoped to address a conference. In August of the same year he was ejected from Togo. Séba was expelled from Côte d’Ivoire to Benin in March 2019 after expressing harsh criticism of President Alassane Ouattara’s defense of the CFA franc (including a description of the president as a “voluntary slave”) and attempts to hold a conference against “French colonialism” that authorities said posed a potential risk of unrest (Jeune Afrique, March 27; SeneNews, April 8; Le Monde, March 29). The activist was arrested once his plane touched down in Cotonou, Benin, and interrogated regarding potential connections to Russia, China and Venezuela, questions that had already been asked by the security forces of Côte d’Ivoire. Séba took to Facebook in response: “You put me in prison, I come out stronger. You expel me from a country, I come out stronger” (Jeune Afrique, March 27).

Allesandro Di Battista tears up a fake 10,000 CFA franc banknote on Italian television.

On January 20, 2019, Allesandro Di Battista, one of the leaders of Italy’s populist Five-Star Movement (M5S), tore up a fake 10,000 CFA franc banknote on Italian television while denouncing French “neo-imperialism.” On the same day, M5S president Luigi Di Maio accused France of “preventing development” in countries using the CFA currency, adding that French policies are contributing to massive migrant flows across the Mediterranean. Following a diplomatic scandal, Kémi Séba emerged on Facebook days later to reveal “a well-kept secret,” namely that he had visited Five-Star leaders in Rome in September 2018, where he provided them with documents concerning Françafrique (the French sphere of influence in Africa) and the CFA franc. Séba claimed that this visit was the origin of the Five-Star attacks on France, predicting that: “What African leaders are unable to do, other non-African leaders will do, under our urging, until we ourselves take power in our countries.”  The M5S would only confirm that a “frank exchange of views on Europe and Africa” had occurred with Séba (La Nouvelle Tribune, January 22; RFI, February 2; Le Figaro, February 4).

In the face of moves by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to develop its own currency (the Eco), French Minister of the Economy and Finance Bruno Le Maire announced in mid-October that France was open to “an ambitious reform” of the CFA franc. [3] Séba denounced the statement, saying Le Maire was “spitting once again in the face of African youth” (BeninWebTV, October 16).

Relations with Russia

Alexander Dugin

Séba was invited to Moscow in December 2017 by controversial Neo-Eurasian ideologue Alexander Dugin, one of the most important influences on Kremlin policy in Putin’s Russia and the target of U.S. sanctions related to the Russian occupation of eastern Ukraine. Taking its inspiration from the Eurasian political philosophy developed by Russians of the 1920s, Neo-Eurasianism, in its most reductionist form, advocates the development of a Russia-centered Eurasian empire based on traditional values, anti-modernism and opposition to Western liberalism. As such, proponents of Neo-Eurasianism are prepared to seek common ground with anti-Western Pan-Africanists such as Kémi Séba. Neo-Eurasianism also incorporates elements of Slavic neo-paganism (rodnovery), similar to Séba’s Afro-centric embrace of Egyptian neo-paganism.

Séba described Dugin as “the most important theoretician and political advisor in Russia” and said their discussion “focused on metaphysics and geopolitics. We shared our view that neither communism nor liberalism nor nationalism can bring salvation to our respective peoples” (BeninWebTV, December 13, 2017).

Moscow is fully aware of Séba’s importance to African anti-colonial and anti-French movements and invited him to attend the October 23-24 Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi, where Séba continued his denouncements of France (YouTube, October 24). In the lead-up to the summit, Séba expressed his preference for a Russian presence in Africa: “Russia will never be our messiah; the only messiah of Africa is the African people themselves. But because we cannot live in autarky for the moment, Russia is better as a partner than France…” (BeninWebTV, October 2). Russia is believed to have an interest in playing a part in the development of a new ECOWAS currency intended to replace the CFA franc.

Conclusion

Based on an intellectual fallacy, namely the common identity and goals of all Africa peoples whether in Africa or the diaspora, pan-Africanism is vulnerable to entanglement with other ideologies, some of which are based on similarly shaky foundations. In the Soviet era, pan-Africanism became closely identified with Marxist thought and socialist politics. Currently engaged in a broad effort to renew Russian influence in Africa, Moscow will undoubtedly use pan-Africanism or any other useful ideology to achieve its goals. A recent statement from Kémi Séba demonstrates the growth of a radical rejection of the West among pan-African ideologues:

Dear Neocolonialist French, you live your last hours. The New African generation is ready to stop your plundering of our motherland. We stand in solidarity with the French Proletariat… but against its oligarchy that plunders us (Facebook, September 14, 2019).

Notes

  1. The Curse of Ham (son of Noah) refers to a biblical passage, Genesis 9:20-27, that is often used to explain the existence of black people (though the passage makes no reference to race or skin color) and the reason for their servitude to the descendants of the other sons of Noah. It was later used to provide justification for the existence of slavery.
  2. ISIM Newsletter, 7/01, International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, n.d., https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/15605118.pdf

This article first appeared in the November issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.