Dissecting the Ideas of Fallen East African Intellectual Giants [opinion]

Last month, the world witnessed the demise of Prof Ali Mazrui who is named among the 100 top intellectuals of the world by UK’s Prospect magazine and Foreign Policy magazine of the United States.

In October 1999, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere departed from this world with a rich legacy in politics and intellectual life behind him. In November 2011, Prof Dani Nabudere passed on after a brilliant performance in politics and academics. I would like to critically examine their world outlook so as to help us, hopefully, appreciate their contributions to generation of ideas in this region.

They came from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda respectively. Of course, from the other partner state of Burundi and Rwanda, there are similar personalities. For Mazrui and Nyerere, my analysis is based on their publications and lectures delivered. Nabudere was known to me personally. Equally significant is the fact that all the three intellectuals acquired their defining ideologies in the United Kingdom where they attained university education.

The trademark of Julius Nyerere (president of Tanzania from 1964 to 1985, with three years as prime minister earlier on), was Ujamaa – in Kiswahili – or African socialism.

He was converted to the idea of socialism in UK by Fabianists, when he was at the University of Edinburgh for a Master of Arts degree after attending Makerere University. The Fabian movement influenced many would-be famous leaders, including chief Awolowo of Nigeria Harold Wilson, a former prime minister of Britain and Lee Kwan Yew, the first prime minister of Singapore.

The Fabian society (named after Fabius, the Roman general who fought Hannibal of Carthage in Africa) aocated gradual ascent towards socialism as opposed to communism that favoured revolution to achieve equality. Mazrui, also a product of British education, became a liberal in outlook in the sense that although he aocated capitalism, he was always willing to listen to other points of view.

He frequently participated in public lectures in early 1970s before he fled into exile during the days of the military regime led by Idi Amin. At one debate, he took issue with Nyerere’s translation of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Nyerere had called it Mabepari wa Venisi, or ‘capitalist of Venice’, instead of Mfanyabiashara wa Venise.

Prophet Muhammad himself was a merchant and Islam encourages trade, but frowns upon some aspects of capitalism especially lending money at an interest. Evidently, Mazrui was opining that Nyerere’s dislike for capitalism influenced his choice of the title of the book in Shakespeare’s words.

As many authors have observed, Mazrui wrote prolifically but what is most relevant in this analysis is that he became more pro-African in his approach and very critical of Western ideas as he grew older. This is exemplified in his documentary “The Africans” where he described himself as a subscriber to African liberalism just as Nyerere was one of the gest aocates of African socialism.

After more than two decades in power, (from 1961 to 1985), Nyerere admitted that his policies of Ujamaa (African socialism) were unworkable in the contemporary world outlook. Tanzania has since abandoned socialism as a policy of governance and economic organisation.

It appears that in his endeavours, Nyerere was guided by Christian principles, believing that there is a divine power behind humankind. This is unlike other Tanzanian intellectuals such as Abdul Rahman Babu who subscribed to what is popularly referred to as scientific socialism based on materialistic interpretation of history.

Babu, a politician, scholar and revolutionary, served as foreign minister when the coup d’eacutetat-cum-revolution in 1964 occurred in Zanzibar. When the revolution broke out, Babu and his colleagues invited Prof Nabudere, then a private practitioner in Kampala, to Zanzibar to serve as the legal aisor. I was privileged to learn from Nabudere a few years before he died that he counselled that the revolt was more political than legal.

I am sure lawyers would wish to compare Nabudere’s opinion on Zanzibar revolution with that of Sir Udo Udoma in 1966 regarding Obote’s abrogation of the 1962 Uganda Constitution. Udoma was a Nigerian who became the first Chief Justice of Uganda.

Like Mazrui and Nyerere, Nabudere’s formative years, ideologically, were those he spent in United Kingdom studying law. But although he espoused socialism, like Nyerere, Nabudere was more radical he joined the British Communist Party and on return to Uganda established the Uganda Vietnam Solidarity Committee to rally Ugandans in opposition to American involvement in the Vietnamese war.

He was in the UNLF government of 1977 – 1980 as minister of Justice and later held the portfolio of Culture and Community Development. Nabudere’s influence in academia is enormous: he wrote The Political Economy of Imperialism which explains the origin of capitalism, its development and the accordant ideas that govern the system today.

His Imperialism and Revolution in Uganda is a masterpiece as an account of how Uganda came to be and how to achieve democracy therein to mention only two of his numerous publications. In Nabudere’s The Rise and Fall of Money Capital, 1987, it is argued that after the 1987 world financial crisis, a more devastating one would eventually come.

It arrived in 2008 and, six years later, the world economy has not fully recovered from it. But Nabudere was no prophet of doom. He spent his last years on earth rather like Mazrui disseminating ideas that guide Africans in their struggle to overcome foreign domination. Nabudere’s last watchwords were restoration or Africa renaissance restoration of cultural and moral values, restoration of broken families and restoration of run-down economies.

One of the last conferences he organized in Nairobi in 2008 was the “International Conference on Restorative Justice”. It was, indeed, international in outlook, and was attended by academics from Africa, North America and Europe together with lawyers, judges and statesman from same areas.

Among the dignitaries were Raila Odinga who was then prime minister of Kenya and Ruhakana Rugunda who was then Uganda’s Internal Affairs minister.

Mwalimu Nyerere’s final legacy in power was about changing leadership peacefully, without recourse to violence. He served as chairman of the South-South Commission, currently known as South Centre, which unites the whole of the developing world, testifying to his international stature.

The author is a retired judge.

Source : The Observer

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