Pan-Africanism in Mwalimu Nyerere's thought
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
Issa G Shivji
this 40th year of my association with the
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
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.
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
will not make us rich, but it can make it difficult for
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:
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
tried to get
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.
propose to isolate two strands in Mwalimu's thought. One relates to
the rationale or justification for the unity of
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
I travel outside
'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.
conceptualised the task of the first generation of African nationalists
as twofold: national liberation (meaning independence), and unity. By
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
'.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.
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,
boundaries were artificially carved up by the colonialists, of the colonialists
and for the colonialists. They have little to do with the history or
Related to the argument on non-viability was the third element of sovereignty or self-determination.
argued that the mini-states of
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.
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.
this was an acknowledgement of the historical formation of the state
it came to the task of building African unity, the contradiction was
even more blatant. First, independence meant attaining state sovereignty.
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
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
'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.
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
Insurrection of Pan-Africanist ideas
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
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
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
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.
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
Pan-Africanism must be anchored in democracy, says Thandika Mkandawire.
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
*Third World Resurgence No. 227, July 2009, pp 25-29