It is unlikely that Mwalimu Nyerere had any premonitions when, late 1997, he was guest of honour at the University of Dar es Salaam in a conference organized by the late Prof. Haroub Othman, to mark 50 years of Ghana’s independence, as the country’s leader, Dr Kwame Nkrumah inspired many youthful nationalists or zealots across the continent.
Local intellectuals like the late Prof. Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu and his closest followers like Kassim Hanga more or less learnt their enthusiasm for independence and radical change to the colonial structure from Dr Nkrumah, after Ghana became the first country in Africa south of the Sahara to become independent, in 1957. Later, in May 2010 the Hill hosted Dr Nkrumah’s daughter Samira, together with Samir Amin, as guests at the Mwalimu Professorial Chair annual conference.
The remarks that Mwalimu made in the 1997 conference and how the Hill has continued to mark the Mwalimu anniversaries shows in a clear manner how leaders of great movements around the world are betrayed by their closest followers, particularly so when the latter take up the principal point enunciated at the beginning and forget the rest.
What the Mwalimu Professorial Chair and radicals at the Hill generally remember of Mwalimu is his socialism, not the nuances of his outlook on Africa for instance, nor indeed following up what particularly worried him most about the continent in his last years. They are entrenched in a Leninist notion of liberation and constantly reduce Mwalimu’s thinking to that sphere, whereas it was far more complicated and sensitive to changing global conditions - often at variance with his traditional image.
Many of the sour points of the 30 years or so of leadership, inside and outside formal state power after the Arusha Declaration were never the subject of full stretch treatment by Mwalimu, but often in his later years he would come up with remarks showing his inner self, a radical rationalist and idealist, at odds with what he had himself built, or helped to create. Mwalimu regretted having eliminated the chieftaincies because there was not substantial moral decline feeding on the absence of authority at the local level.
He lamented that men beget children with women having no other source of income and then denounce them, or abandon their families when their money runs out – or at times just because of seeking a different life partner, and no one is available to put a stop to this kind of social misbehavior.
While the gender school has not particularly raised Mwalimu as their beacons, it is unlikely that even the gender school in America, which raised the first systematic theorizing on gender as a fundamental dimension of the production process, saw the matter as early as Mwalimu. Many scholars have seen in the 1967 paper, ‘Socialism and Rural Development’ a model for organization of socialist village life, a utopian model among others – similar to the Russian ‘narodniks’ and populists of an earlier epoch which Prof. Sam Maghimbi of the University of Dar es Salaam says they were nearly identical with Mwalimu’s thinking.
The reason wasn’t Mwalimu’s familiarity with Russian populist theories of the 1840s to 1860s but the proximity of social-economic economic conditions, as the peasantry tended to dominate in both areas, impinging in like manner on radical petty-bourgeois intellectuals seeking to save the peasants….
As a matter of fact, Mwalimu was up to the issue quite early, in the 1967 paper, where his very opening remarks underline that two deficiencies could be said to characterize traditional African society – whose mode of life he had exalted in his 1962 essay at Kivukoni College that opened his philosophy of ‘Ujamaa, the basis of African socialism,’ saying that this society was marked by abject poverty and by the lower social position accorded to women.
This reflection on the part of Mwalimu has never made headway in the gender movement at the local level, owing to its American roots of radical gender dichotomizing, whereas Mwalimu saw the issue as a dimension of social reform, not gender struggles as such. It was the same sentiment as Karl Marx, who said somewhere that the condition of women in any society is a proper indicator of its social condition generally, or in current day language its actual human rights level.
That could be said to constitute a difficult problem in measuring Mwalimu’s legacy in emancipation and empowerment of women, since by removing chiefdoms and introducing the Ujamaa villages programme, and then universal education effort later, plenty was done to bringing about women’s equality, so that even the later movement built on this base.
Whether or not it is sufficiently acknowledged is another matter, but then Mwalimu also observed a cleavage of current social structures which gender activists have scarcely raised 13 years since Mwalimu departed from the scene, namely the lack of traditional controls on misbehavior of men towards spouses and quasi-conjugal partners.
Those who are now pursuing ‘sharia law’ in various African countries are in a sense just trying to come to grips with these ills, where ill-clad youths leave infants screaming and their mothers sobbing, and jump to flava music with no care in the world – which activists say should be taken to court, but Mwalimu was far more realistic.
There is another area where Mwalimu demonstrated stark realism in comparison with his audiences, and that is in relation to Africa’s role the world today, where his worries related not to the usual Zitto Kabwe and radical analysts like Tundu Lissu on what is happening to our minerals, but if Europe and the United States will care about Africa, to help the latter solve its socio-economic crisis.
That is the issue Mwalimu addressed in his remarks at the Nkrumah Hall in December 1997, where he was present for quite lengthy periods during a conference lasting three days, talking to quite an array of individuals across the spectrum, one noticeable interlocutor being John Momose Cheyo, a leading figure of the opposition.
The lengthy stay reminds one of the late Edward Sokoine’s full presence in an all night vigil at St. Peter’s church in the city, on the Night of the Holy Eucharist or Good Thursday, before the 1984 Easter festival and then his fateful journey to Dodoma, from which he did not come back in one piece.
This comes up to saying that there are ways in which one says his farewells to those close to him but without either of them knowing what is afoot, but the spiritual character of such event is unmistakable – for instance in school if a student is travelling home, calls a dormitory party of sorts and there is such merrymaking and happiness as to bring a measure of bewilderment, it is often a bad omen.
In that case it can be said that not only Mwalimu’s presence at the Hill in December 1997 a sort of farewell to that institution though he was physically around for a year and half before being flown to London for his last round of treatment, of rare hospitalization on Mwalimu’s part, but his remarks of that day were his real legacy to the University of Dar es Salaam.
Needless to add they are not exploring the issue in any such direction, as to whether Africa will receive the right solidarity and concern from the major economic powers of the world, or it is too far, physically isolated that migrations from Africa cannot give Europe, America and Japan enough worry in political terms, from social unrest at home, to stem the crisis here.
That is in sum what Mwalimu was saying, that Eastern Europe had received favorable treatment in a Marshall Plan kind of situation after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 because eastern Europeans could migrate to the West and cause havoc if the two spheres are not balanced, and similarly the United States had entered into a Free Trade Area arrangement with Canada and Mexico so as to spread the fruits of growth and technological advancement south of its borders, to stop onerous migration, much of its clandestine.
There is still plenty of such migration even now, but it can be imagined what scale it would take if there was no economic pact spreading the fruits of technological advancement in Mexico. In both Eastern Europe and central America, integration with nearby economic giants spelled a boom in their economies, as capital flowed to the east to stem higher labour costs in the West and re-export the goods without it being surcharged as there is an economic reciprocity arrangement or ‘union’ thereof.
Strangely enough when finally the European Union came up with such an idea, because of inability to continue with the preferential trade arrangements of the Cotonou accords dating to 1973 when they were first brought up to eliminate bilateral post-colonial trade arrangements to a European Economic Community status, Africa countries balked at the idea.
Others in former ACP group, that is, those in the Caribbean and the Pacific have since signed economic cooperation agreements with the European Union but Africa is insisting that it would be to its detriment, whereas all history demonstrates the opposite.
In Africa only a few small countries with open economies seem to be progressing on a vertical growth path, namely Mauritius and Seychelles, and significantly there is more than 50 per cent immigrant population especially from South Asia, whose mindset is commercial.
Africa is burying its head in the sand, saying that if Europeans come and live with us, purchase property and shares in the stock exchanges, buy up now rotten parastatals and set up modern infrastructure as private investments, that will be our doom!