Staged reconciliation: Why Africa has few options of colonial Diaspora

21Oct 2017
Ani Jozen
The Guardian
Staged reconciliation: Why Africa has few options of colonial Diaspora

A RATHER large delegation of Omani officials made a visit to Zanzibar with a difference, that it was more or less a community of people rather than an official delegation, in which case the design was also a diplomatic or strategic statement. 


It was an invitation to move on, from habits and sentiments which have been engendered in the 55 years or so since the Zanzibar Revolution, where community-based relationships have been hard to build, only limited commercial ties with diplomatic representation, etc. 

There were traditionally better ties with Egypt, as Tanzania had plenty in common with the revolutionary government of Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, in particular.

Reports said that a delegation of around 300 people representing the Omani ruler, Sheikh Sultan Qaboos bin Said came by ship to the island, seeking to cherish yet another aspect of memory that the presence of Oman and the Gulf Zone as a whole in East Africa was tied to seafaring. 

It is of course a little early for the delegation to make a comprehensive tour of the East African coastline where Omani Arabs as they are known traditionally contended for power and influence with the Portuguese, and finally Oman won, and this set East Africa on its cultural trajectory. 

Implicitly it is this period that ingrained the foundation stone of nationhood, creating a pan-territorial identity.

As has been the case with other African countries, where circumstances did not compel the new nationalist rulers in post-independence Africa to reach reconciliation terms with the former colonial powers, arriving at that decision later has proved to be difficult and even unlikely. 

In Kenya the course of reconciliation was paradoxically laid by the wildfire of the Mau Mau uprising, which  forced the colonial power to reach accords with Central Zone chiefs to find ways to contain that insurgency. 

Promises of land as well as credit to purchase land were part of the reconciliation terms and it has marked out Kenyan politics and economy since independence.

Another case of reconciliation was latter day transformation of liberation hero Nelson Mandela from militant exponent of radical thinking of the Freedom Charter of the African National Congress – where ideals of state ownership of major means of production were cardinal – to working out an accord with the former apartheid rulers. 

That situation wasn’t available for Zimbabwe as only a limited transition period of ten years constitutional limitation was agreed, with expectations that by that time bridges would have been built for reconciliation to take place. The future of traditional planters would be assured, by extending right to property to all citizens.

The problem is that this wasn’t quite what followed, as the leadership of the liberation movement only bid their time until the constitutional limitation was being eclipsed. 

Soon, demands were being made to the government of the United Kingdom on how to sort out the land inequality legacy. One option would be to finance local entrepreneurs to purchase land from erstwhile settlers, or government obtains portions of that land via credit supplied by the UK authorities, to pay off ex-UK settlers. 

It was a model based on what happened in Kenya in its 1963-4 transition By that time there was a conservative government in the UK which was of the view after the ten year constitutional limitation period the matter ought to be an internal issue in Zimbabwe - which means the government there could take commercial credit for the purpose, not seek foreign aid. 

To the revolutionary authorities in Harare this was the same thing as refusing to shoulder the credit needed for an amicable solution of the land issue, in which case the ruling party proceeded to design a division of all farms owned by settlers to leave an individual with one farm. 

The rest was unceremoniously taken over and set the context for bitter psychological contentions with the UK and the United States on that issue, and with the need for harmony on that way of doing things, upheaval followed on political loyalty, though the popular base of support was never lost for the party in power, ZANU-Patriotic Front. 

The sense of siege complicated the politics, such that an overly security minded system arose, with plenty of pluralism, give and take dissidence.

As a matter of fact, South Africa strangely faces a similar problem as Zimbabwe, 27 years from the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and negotiating with the former apartheid rulers to build a ‘rainbow’ state. 

The model that ex-UK premier Margret Thatcher laid out for Zimbabwe has only partially worked for South Africa, despite its vastly greater capacity for a ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ market set up, since the scale of correction needed and potential for buyouts can’t be left to market mechanisms. 

At the same time no multilateral financing facility is available for the purpose, such that South Africa teeters on the brinkmanship of taking up Mugabe’s policies. 

In the case of Uganda, a fairly successful reconciliation effort was intimated by President Yoweri Museveni since coming into office mid 1986, and lately HH The Aga Khan, 49th hereditary imam of the Shia Ismailia, was accorded a reception nearly as a Head of State, to underline the sort of importance the Uganda leader gives to reconciling with Asians. 

There are other types of reconciliation the president worked out, like restoration of kingdoms, where the political fallout is similar to South Africa, having many rival ethnicities seeking influence on the central system of resource allocation.  It isn’t quite far from what obtains in Nigeria, and in various other areas.

That is what leaves Tanzania with few choices, as other African countries discovered, that those ex-colonial populations harbored by a country as independence are the global ambassadors of that state before the rest of the world. 

When a country fails to reach amicable accords with the communities whose roles were diminished or ended at the time of independence, or revolution as in Zanzibar, it can’t jump over them and strike investment accords with others, here for instance India and China as potential leading investors. 

As a matter of fact a practical policy of opening doors to foreign investments, for instance to build industries, starts with reconciliation, not so that they are handed back nationalized properties but that they are free to purchase property too.