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Pan-Africanism in Mwalimu Nyerere's thought

At a time when Pan-Africanism appears to be making a comeback, one of the continent's leading intellectuals looks back on the contribution of the ideology's pioneers, specifically the late President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

Issa G Shivji

IN this 40th year of my association with the University of Dar es Salaam, I am humbled and honoured to be appointed to the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere chair in Pan-African Studies. The inauguration of the Mwalimu Nyerere chair in Nkrumah Hall is neither accidental nor coincidental. It is historical. Julius Nyerere and Kwame Nkrumah were towering figures of Pan-Africanism.

They arrived at Pan-Africanism through different intellectual and political routes. Nyerere found Pan-Africanism through Tanganyikan nationalism; Nkrumah found Ghanaian nationalism through Pan-Africanism. Mwalimu's intellectual formation was steeped in missionary influence. When in England he came into political contact with the Labour Party and the Fabian Colonial Bureau. His anti-colonialism was moderate, his approach to change gradualist. Nkrumah went to Lincoln University in the US. It was a black college. He had firsthand experience of racial discrimination, lived in Harlem during summer vacations and was mentored by great African-American Pan-Africanists like WEB Du Bois, George Padmore and CLR James. Nkrumah's anti-colonialism was grounded in his understanding of the political economy of imperialism; his approach to independence was radical. Nkrumah ended up writing a great treatise, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Mwalimu authored the Arusha Declaration: Socialism and Self-Reliance. If the Arusha Declaration had had a sub-title in the stageist language of Nkrumah, it would have been something like - to borrow from the words of CLR James - 'Socialism and Self-Reliance: The Highest Stage of African Resistance' (CLR James once described the Arusha Declaration as 'the highest stage of resistance ever reached by revolting blacks').

Nkrumah did not survive. Imperialism overthrew him in a CIA-engineered coup only a year after the publication of Neo-Colonialism. Mwalimu survived, but the Arusha Declaration did not. Neoliberalism discredited and buried 'socialism and self-reliance' in a Reaganite counter-revolution against development and national self-determination.

In spite of these differences in the intellectual and political formation of the two men, they were both unreservedly great Pan-Africanists and fighters for African unity. They differed in their approach. Nkrumah wanted the United States of Africa 'now, now', whereas Nyerere counselled gradualism. Several decades later Mwalimu paid a wholesome tribute to Nkrumah for his single-minded crusade for African unity. In the process, he acknowledged their different intellectual backgrounds and even admitted that Nkrumah had a point. Some 40 years of 'state nationalism' have made African unity even harder to achieve just when Africa needs it most. On the 40th anniversary of Ghana's independence in March 1997, Mwalimu said:

'Africa must unite! That was the title of one of Kwame Nkrumah's books. That call is more urgent today than ever before. Together we the peoples of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states. The needs of our separate countries can be, and are being, ignored by the rich and powerful. The result is that Africa is marginalised when international decisions affecting our vital interests are made.

'Unity will not make us rich, but it can make it difficult for Africa and the African peoples to be disregarded and humiliated.'

A year later, in his reflections with Ikaweba Bunting, Mwalimu recalled his encounter with Nkrumah and their different perspectives on Pan-Africanism. Mwalimu described Nkrumah's perspective as the 'aggressive Pan-Africanism of WEB Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. The colonialists were against this and frightened of it.' Mwalimu continued:

'Kwame and I met in 1963 and discussed African Unity. We differed on how to achieve a United States of Africa. But we both agreed on a United States of Africa as necessary. Kwame went to Lincoln University, a black college in the US. He perceived things from the perspective of US history, where 13 colonies that revolted against the British formed a union. That is what he thought the OAU should do.

'I tried to get East Africa to unite before independence. When we failed in this I was wary about Kwame's continental approach. We corresponded profusely on this. Kwame said my idea of "regionalisation" was only balkanisation on a larger scale. Later African historians will have to study our correspondence on this issue of uniting Africa.'

We are the latter-day African historians who need to study this because Pan-Africanism is not only historical. It is the present. Only Pan-Africanism can be true African nationalism under globalisation. However, it is not my intention to discuss the comparative perspective of these two paragons of Pan-Africanism, fascinating as it is. My purpose is to engage critically with Pan-Africanism in Mwalimu's thought. That is the task of an intellectual.

I propose to isolate two strands in Mwalimu's thought. One relates to the rationale or justification for the unity of Africa, the other to the agency that would bring it about. Mwalimu deployed three interrelated elements in his argument for unity. For a lack of better words, I sum them up as identity, non-viability, and sovereignty.

Identity

There is constant assertion and argument in Mwalimu's speeches and writings on the African-ness of the African people. Unlike other people, Mwalimu said, our identity is African, not Tanzanian, Ghanaian or Gabonese. Not only is our own perception of ourselves African, even outsiders recognise us as Africans. In his Ghana speech, he summed up this position in his usual simple but graphic fashion:

'When I travel outside Africa the description of me as former President of Tanzania is a fleeting affair. It does not stick. Apart from the ignorant who sometimes asked me whether Tanzania was Johannesburg, even to those who knew better, what stuck in the minds of my hosts was the fact of my African-ness. So I had to answer questions about the atrocities of the Amins and the Bokassas of Africa.

'Mrs Gandhi did not have to answer questions about the atrocities of the Marcoses of Asia. Nor does Fidel Castro have to answer questions about the atrocities of the Somozas of Latin America. But when I travel or meet foreigners, I have to answer questions about Somalia, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi and Zaire, as in the past I used to answer questions about Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia or South Africa.'

Although I have used the post-modernist term 'identity', it is clear that Mwalimu's argument was political rather than post-modernist. The commonness of Africans lay in their common experience as Africans, rather than their common identity. As he put it:

'For centuries, we had been oppressed and humiliated as Africans. We were hunted and enslaved as Africans, and we were colonised as Africans. Since we were humiliated as Africans, we had to be liberated as Africans.'

Undoubtedly, Mwalimu is talking about common interests, but his notion of 'interest' is individual, personal and embedded in political theories of enlightened individualism. Unlike Nkrumah's, Mwalimu's characterisation of interest is not social or class, grounded in political economy. This is one of the interesting and significant differences in the philosophical formation and outlook of the two men, which informed their political prognosis. If I were to use the language of Marxist classics, I would say Mwalimu understood Leninist politics better than Marx's political economy. Nkrumah's politics was not particularly astute but he had a better understanding of political economy.

Mwalimu's was a consistent anti-colonialism; Nkrumah's a militant anti-imperialism. Mwalimu sneered at imperialists; Nkrumah stung them. Mwalimu saw African unity as a goal, which could be achieved by small steps. Any number of African states uniting in any form - economically or politically, regionally or otherwise - was, for Mwalimu, a step forward. For Nkrumah, national liberation and African unity were two sides of the same coin, the coin being an anti-imperialist, Pan-Africanist struggle.

Mwalimu conceptualised the task of the first generation of African nationalists as twofold: national liberation (meaning independence), and unity. By 1994, when South Africa formally ended apartheid, the first task was complete. In Mwalimu's assessment, the first-generation African nationalists succeeded in the task of national liberation but failed in the task of African unity. To an extent, a kind of stageist approach is implied here - independence first, then unity. Within unity, too, there is a stageist notion, regional unity leading to continental unity. To be fair, Mwalimu recognised the difficulty of his stageist theory. He forcefully argued, for example, that the proposed East African Federation should precede the independence of individual countries; otherwise, unity would become difficult. He made this argument strongly and history has proved him right. But the basis and logic of his argument for regional unity first, before independence, was similar to Nkrumah's one for immediate continental federation. Nkrumah's position was that regional unities would make continental unity even more difficult. He viewed 'regionalisation' as being balkanisation on a larger scale.

Fifty years later, we are less regionalised and even more balkanised. In his Reflections on his 75th birthday, Mwalimu once again returned to the theme of the balkanisation of Africa. He said the Balkans themselves are being Africanised as they are absorbed in the larger European Union, while we, Africans, are being tribalised! Mwalimu said:

'.these powerful European states are moving towards unity, and you people are talking about the atavism of the tribe, this is nonsense! I am telling you people. How can anybody think of the tribe as the unity of the future, hakuna!'

There is, I think, another underlying difference between the gradualist and radical approaches of Nyerere and Nkrumah, which has not been sufficiently analysed. I will only hint at it. I think for Nkrumah unity itself, just as liberation, was an anti-imperialist struggle, not some formal process of dissolving sovereignties. Amˇlcar Cabral captured the national liberation struggle as an anti-imperialist struggle well when he said, '[S]o long as imperialism is in existence, an independent African state must be a liberation movement in power, or it will not be independent.' The notion of an independent African state being a 'national liberation movement in power', I suggest, gives us the core of the ideology and politics of Pan-Africanism as a vision of not only unity but liberation. African liberation is not complete with the independence of single entities called countries. 'Territorial nationalism' is not African nationalism. African nationalism can only be Pan-Africanism or else, as Mwalimu characterised it, it is 'the equivalent of tribalism within the context of our separate nation states'. Pan-Africanism gave birth to nationalism, not the other way round. This is a powerful argument implied in Mwalimu's ideas on African unity. This brings me to the second element of his justification for African unity, the non-viability of African states.

Non-viability

Mwalimu spent a lot of time demonstrating the irrationality and non-viability of African states. He used the Kiswahili diminutive 'vinchi' to describe them. Without intending to offend linguists, I would translate 'vinchi' as 'statelets' (as in islets!). These statelets had neither geographical nor ethnic rationality. There are 53 independent African states, all members of the United Nations. 'If numbers were horses,' Mwalimu quipped, 'Africa would be riding high!' Yet Africa is the weakest continent. World councils make decisions without regard to the interests of Africa. Let us not glorify nation-states inherited from colonialism, Mwalimu used to tell his fellow state leaders. Mwalimu admonished the new generation of African leaders to reject the 'return to tribe'. He characterised the current upsurge of ethnic, racial, and other forms of narrow nationalisms (which we are witnessing all over Africa, including in our own country) as fossilising 'Africa into the wounds inflicted upon it by the vultures of imperialism'.

Colonial boundaries were artificially carved up by the colonialists, of the colonialists and for the colonialists. They have little to do with the history or cultures of Africa. The map of Africa is full of straight-line boundaries, compared to other continents. It is as if someone sat with a geometrical set to draw them. That is what, more or less, happened when colonial powers met at the Berlin Conference in 1885 to slice up their newly acquired booty. I remember my geography teacher, teaching us the map of Tanzania, telling us to start by drawing a hexagon tilted at the bottom and then modify it to get the map. The greatest modification would of course be the shores of the Indian Ocean - the only side of the boundary the colonialists could not get straight!

Related to the argument on non-viability was the third element of sovereignty or self-determination.

Sovereignty

Mwalimu argued that the mini-states of Africa could not, on their own, exercise their sovereign right to make their own decisions in the global world dominated by the powerful. He emphasised, particularly in his early writings, that our erstwhile colonial masters would divide us based on our sovereignties to continue ruling us. There is no doubt that in his political outlook, Mwalimu placed a great premium on the right of the people to make their own decisions. That was the fundamental meaning of independence - the right to make our own decisions ourselves.

But Mwalimu was a head of state, a political leader. Underlying his position on the right of the people to make their own decisions was the un-stated assumption of state sovereignty. People make their decisions through their states. In fact, the dichotomy and the contradiction between people's sovereignty and state sovereignty were pretty fudged in Mwalimu's thought and much more so in his political practice. I shall not go into his political practice except to state that that aspect is closely connected with the other strand in his thought, the question of agency.

Agency

Having forcefully argued for African unity, the basic questions of history arise: Who will bring it about? Which social agency will be the carrier of this great historical task? Neither Nyerere nor Nkrumah raised these questions in this form, at least not while they were in power. But implied in their position it was clear that the agency to bring about unity was the state.

Partly this was an acknowledgement of the historical formation of the state in colonial Africa; partly it was realpolitik. The state in Africa was a colonial imposition. It did not develop organically through social struggles within the African formation. Thus when we raised the flag of independence, sang our national anthem and proclaimed sovereignty, it was the sovereignty of the state inherited from colonialism. In that sense, it was not our state; we took over the colonial state. There was no internal social class to shoulder the task of nation-building and economic development. The only available organised force was the state. The colonial heritage thus left the first generation of African nationalists with no option. The task of transformation fell on the state, almost by default. This is where the real contradiction lay. For the state which was supposed to undertake the task of nation-building was itself a colonial state, the very antithesis of a national state.

When it came to the task of building African unity, the contradiction was even more blatant. First, independence meant attaining state sovereignty. Independence before unity meant recognising and reinforcing colonial boundaries. Ironically, the man who condemned colonial boundaries most was the same man who moved the motion on the sanctity of colonial boundaries at the 1964 Organisation of African Unity (OAU) summit in Cairo. To compound the irony, it was the same man who recognised secessionist Biafra and marched into Uganda without regard to borders. That man was Mwalimu Nyerere. As intellectuals and historians, we may say it was ironical. But Mwalimu was not simply an intellectual. He was a head of state. The king and the philosopher combined in him, and they could not always sit together comfortably.

So, ironical or not, he could not escape making pragmatic political decisions. Mwalimu cites two examples which made him move the resolution on boundaries. Just after independence, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi paid a visit to Mwalimu with some old book of maps. He tried to persuade Mwalimu that part of Mozambique belonged to Malawi and another part belonged to Tanganyika. Mwalimu of course was disgusted at this proposal of swallowing up Mozambique, just like that! Another example is that of Somalia publicly claiming the Ogaden province of Ethiopia, while Ethiopia whispered that the whole of Somalia belonged to Ethiopia. To prevent border wars among Africans, Mwalimu moved his resolution on the inviolability of colonial boundaries. Man proposes, history disposes. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that what Mwalimu feared came to pass, regardless of the resolution. The Ogaden war is still with us. History cannot be re-made, but it can be re-read and re-learnt.

Second in the way of unity were the vested interests of the political class. Unity meant dissolving, even if partially, the sovereignty of the newly independent states. This meant depriving the new political class, which had been landed with state power, of their power, privileges and the accompanying possibilities of acquiring wealth. No wonder, the new rulers of Africa were nervous and resistant to Nkrumah's call for African unity. Mwalimu alludes with some amusement to the situation at the 1965 Accra summit of the African heads of state during which Nkrumah wanted to establish a union government. I cannot resist quoting him again (he was a captivating storyteller and no one  could  tell  stories  of  African heads of state as effectively as Mwalimu):

'Once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national passports, seats of the United Nations, and individuals entitled to a 21-gun salute, not to speak of a host of ministers, prime ministers and envoys, you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in keeping Africa balkanised. That was what Nkrumah encountered in 1965.

'After the failure to establish the union government at the Accra Summit, I heard one head of state express with relief that he was happy to be returning home to his country still head of state. To this day, I cannot tell whether he was serious or joking. But he may well have been serious, because Kwame Nkrumah was very serious and the fear of a number of us to lose our precious status was quite palpable.'

Forty years later, I believe, the state has become more than simply a site of accumulating power and privileges. It has become the site of accumulating wealth and capital. This class, which uses state positions to acquire wealth and accumulate property, is not a productive class. It does not accumulate and invest in production. It is an underdeveloped 'middle-class', as Frantz Fanon described it on the eve of independence. As he said, it is a 'little greedy caste, avid and voracious, with the mind of a huckster, only too glad to accept dividends that the former colonial power hands out to it'. In any case, the social character of the African state and its role in the process of worldwide capitalist accumulation is an issue which our research, analysis and debates will have to address. Without understanding issues of state, class and accumulation, we cannot identify and assess the agency of the Pan-Africanist struggle.

These are very general and broad strokes on the Pan-Africanist discourse of the first generation of African nationalists, as encapsulated in Mwalimu's thought. I have no doubt that the 'mischievous' among you would want me to explore not only Mwalimu's thought but also his political practice as a Pan-Africanist, specifically in relation to the Zanzibar question. I will not oblige - not because time does not permit. That would be an intellectually lazy and dishonest excuse! I will not do so because I have done a book-length study on the union question.

Insurrection of Pan-Africanist ideas

I believe Pan-Africanism is making a comeback. I believe African nationalism is at the crossroads. It can either degenerate into narrow chauvinistic nationalisms - ethnic, racial, cultural - or climb the continental heights of Pan-Africanism. Do not glorify the nation-state, Mwalimu admonished. Rise to the challenge of being Africans first and Africans last, rather than 'fossilise Africa into the wounds inflicted upon it by the vultures of imperialism'.

We, as intellectuals, have to develop a new Pan-Africanist discourse. It will undoubtedly be a different discourse from the Pan-Africanist discourse of the first-generation nationalism. But I have no doubt in my mind that it will be a discourse of national liberation and anti-imperialism - the nation this time around being the African nation. The new Pan-Africanist discourse will have to take account of the failure of the national project and its implication for African nationalism. It will have to question the first-generation nationalism, which was essentially 'state nationalism'. It will have to research on and analyse the social character of the African state and it will have to interrogate its agency. It will have to examine and scrutinise the neoliberal project and its various forms and manifestations, such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD). It will have to examine and expose new forms of imperialism and world hegemonies. It will have to do many things but with a single purpose - the liberation of the African people.

What is the role of an African intellectual in the development of a new Pan-Africanism? I do not have a complete answer. I hope that the work of the Mwalimu Nyerere chair will begin to give us some answers. Meanwhile, let me simply assert that we need a new nationalist insurrection - an insurrection of Pan-Africanist ideas in the era of globalisation. In his speech at the inauguration of Kenneth Kaunda as the Chancellor of the University of Zambia in 1966, Mwalimu agonised over 'the dilemma of a Pan-Africanist'. The dilemma that he was talking about was that of a Pan-Africanist state leader. On the one hand, his conviction and philosophy pulls him to Pan-Africanism; on the other, as a head of state, he presides over building and nurturing 'territorial nationalism'.

Mwalimu could not resolve the dilemma nor did he pretend to do so. Whatever the case, he said, 'African unity does not have to be a dream; it can be a vision which inspires us.' I agree. If Pan-Africanism is only a dream, it is in the sub-conscious, beyond our control. If it is a vision, it is in the realm of the possible. We have to consciously nurture and struggle for it.

We, the African intellectuals, have to make Pan-Africanism part of our peoples' collective consciousness. Professor Souleymane Bachir Diagne, the chairman of CODESRIA's (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa) scientific committee, says we have to make Pan-Africanism a category of intellectual thought. The task of converting the Pan-Africanist vision into a category of intellectual thought squarely falls on the shoulders of African intellectuals. We do it by engaging critically with Pan-Africanist ideas; many ideas, varied ideas. Let us form Pan-African organisations and Pan-African movements - the Pan-African youth movement, the Pan-African student movement, the Pan-African women's movement, the Pan-African trade unions and so on. This time around, we have to invert the relationship. Let us work from the civil society to the state. We have to work towards building an African civil society. From the vantage point of the African civil society, we have to cajole, persuade, pressurise, criticise, even satirise, the African state. Don't demonise the state; de-legitimise it by engaging with it, not in it. That would be the beginning of building the hegemony of Pan-Africanism within African civil society. In short, let a hundred flowers of Pan-Africanist thought blossom.

New Pan-Africanism must be anchored in democracy, says Thandika Mkandawire. Africa needs some kind of social democracy, argued Archie Mafeje, whom we lost recently. On Mwalimu's 75th birthday, I argued that Africa needs a new democracy built around popular livelihoods, popular participation and popular power. But in this day and age of militarised hegemonies and despotic democracies, from Iraq to Somalia, we need to question the very concept of democracy. Where ideas are commodities, manufactured on order by ideas-traders, we need to return to the ideas of commitment and the commitment to the ideas of human emancipation. We need committed Pan-Africanist intellectuals. The question before us is: Who are we, Pan-Africanist intellectuals committed to African liberation and human emancipation, or neoliberal impostors serving 'imperialist vultures'? In her poem, 'Intellectuals and Impostors', Micere Githae Mugo sings:

Tell me
tell me whether
their theories are
active volcanoes
erupting with fertilising lava
on which to plant
seeds that will
cross-fertilise
into collective being
Knowledge became
action theory
Knowledge became
living testimony
of our people's
affirmative history
liberated herstory
Actioned theory
Inscribed as protest
Manifesto
Re-aligning our people's
averted humanity
Yes tell me this
and I will tell you
whether they are
intellectuals
or impostors.                            

Issa G Shivji is the Mwalimu Nyerere Professor of Pan-African Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This is an edited version of his inaugural lecture on 23 April 2008. It first appeared in the maiden issue of CHEMCHEMI, Bulletin of the Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair in Pan-African Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam, and was also published in Pambazuka News (No. 431).

*Third World Resurgence No. 227, July 2009, pp 25-29


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