I try hard to look back, to remember the first time Sam Moyo and I met. And I cannot remember. For me, it had long been taken for granted that Sam and I would meet, now and then, in some major international encounters.
I look at my photo albums for the traces of Sam. Yes, we were together at the International Conference of Intellectuals and Artists for the Defence of Humanity and the General Assembly of the World Forum for Alternatives (WFA), held in October 2008 in Caracas, Venezuela. One highlight of the conference was President Hugo Chavez spending several hours with the participants for a lovely intellectual exchange, and surely, Chavez talked most of the time, and the conference ended near midnight, most people going hungry without dinner.
In some sessions on that occasion, I sat between Sam and Vinod Raina. We must have known each other quite well already. Still, I cannot remember when we first met. Probably in one of the encounters organized by the WFA, with Samir Amin, Francois Houtart, Remy Herrera, and others. We might have met too in Porto Alegre, Durban, Dakar, Mali, Nairobi, Algiers, Tunis, Mumbai…
Sam’s image, for me, is twinned with that of EbrimaSall. Which is why I was slightly disappointed when Ebrima came to the Bandung+60 Conference held in Jakarta and Bandung at the end of October this year, but Sam did not come. To me, the two were like brothers. They both attended the First South South Forum on Sustainability held at Lingnan University in Hong Kong in December 2011, and they both joined the post-forum tour to Chongqing on December 16-21. Those were memorable times. Tour group members included Sam, Ebrima, Vinod, Patrick Bond, Mayu Santana, Tani Barlow, Ariel Salleh, SreckoHorvat, Surichai and ChantanaWungaeo, Ernesto Revello, and others.
My 14-year old niece was tasked to produce a video documentary of the trip. (Seehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJoDhMGTtkA&feature=youtu.be) During the 6-day trip when we visited the city and countryside of Chongqing and Chengdu, and talked to peasants, migrants, earthquake victims, cooperative members, social workers,officialsand others, we also had good opportunities for chatting among ourselves about politics, economics, culture, and any issue, significant or trivial.
Needless to say, how we made sense of Chongqing’s particularities in the context of China’s Reform, and how China was playing a changing role in Africa, were topics for discussion and debate. I was impressed by the approaches and views of Sam and Ebrima, not being entrapped in either China-glorifying or China-bashing. They could see the complexities of different sectoral interests and contestations that shaped China’s domestic and foreign policies, and they could see the commonalities in resistances of the subaltern classes across borders. Their views about relations between China and Africa were pragmatically situated in the historical context.
Before the Chongqing trip, with the question of agro-fuel aggravating the issue of land-grab in Africa, I had discussed with Sam the idea of collaborating on a project on the question of land and land-grab in Africa, and tracing China’s involvement. I wanted to have some sense of the land situation in Africa, with European powers dominating the scene but with “emerging” forces such as Japan, South Korea and China entering as contesters. Would it be possible to map the temporal and spatial land grab, as well as to revisit the question of land reform in Africa and Asia?After some thought, Sam felt it was very difficult to obtain accurate data, as shareholding and business contracts were by and large secretive and camouflaged. We did not pursue this further.
Instead, we had ideas about revisiting issues of land reform and exploring alternatives for rural reconstruction movements in Africa and Asia.Sam started being Chief Editor of Agrarian South in 2012.In the book project on The Struggle for Food Sovereignty – Alternative Development and the Renewal of Peasant Societies Today, of which Remy and I were co-editors, Sam was a participant, along with Samir Amin, Joao Pedro Stedile from Brazil, Utsa Patnaik from India, Wen Tiejun, Erebus Wong and Jade Sit from China, Gerald Choplin et al from Europe, and PoeuraTetoe from Tahiti. Putting together paperswith perspectives from different continents was meant to enable us to grasp the global and local dimensions of the urgent issues facing us today.
This intellectual project does not end with the publication of the book by Pluto Press this year, for so many issues demand rigorous follow up. That is also the reason for the setting up of the Global University for Sustainability (Global U). (see www.our-global-u.org)
Sam was among the first persons to become Founding Members of Global U. The idea of Global U is to strengthen exchanges especially in the global south, and support the proliferation of autonomous and self-managing local bodies and their interdependent networking for ecological justice and socio-economic justice.Global U has embarked on a project of documenting the life history of activist thinkers from across the globe, relating their personal stories to historical conjunctures, offering an understanding of their thought based on activist practice. The project has speeded up after Vinod left us in September 2013. I regret I did not attend the CODESRIA Assembly last June, or I would have interviewed Sam and learnt about his life trajectory, his happy and sad moments, his aspirations and frustrations. I hope Sam’s story would be narrated by his family and comrades.
It is extremely difficult to come to terms with the thought of Sam leaving us at his intellectual prime. He will be remembered for his honesty and integrity, his wit and wisdom, his internationalist horizon, and his commitment to make a better world.
Deep condolences to Sam’s family, friends, and the CODESRIA, WFA, and Agrarian South communities.