Friday, June 28, 2013

Atoning for the Sins of Empire by David M. Anderson

WARWICK, England — THE British do not torture. At least, that is what we in Britain have always liked to think. But not anymore. In a historic decision last week, the British government agreed to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused while detained during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Each claimant will receive around £2,670 (about $4,000).

The money is paltry. But the principle it establishes, and the history it rewrites, are both profound. This is the first historical claim for compensation that the British government has accepted. It has never before admitted to committing torture in any part of its former empire.
In recent years there has been a clamor for official apologies. In 2010, Britain formally apologized for its army’s conduct in the infamous “Bloody Sunday” killings in Northern Ireland in 1972, and earlier this year Prime Minister David Cameron visited Amritsar, India, the site of a 1919 massacre, and expressed “regret for the loss of life.”
The Kenyan case has been in process for a decade in London’s High Court. The British fought to avoid paying reparations, so the decision to settle is a significant change of direction. The decision comes months ahead of the 50th anniversary of the British departure from Kenya— once thought of as the “white man’s country” in East Africa.
The Kenya case turned on the evidence of historians, including my own role as an expert witness. I identified a large tranche of documents that the British government smuggled out of Kenya in 1963 and brought back to London. The judge ordered the release of this long-hidden “secret” cache, some 1,500 files.
The evidence of torture revealed in these documents was devastating. In the detention camps of colonial Kenya, a tough regime of physical and mental abuse of suspects was implemented from 1957 onward, as part of a government policy to induce detainees to obey orders or to make confessions.
The documents showed that responsibility for torture went right to the top — sanctioned by Kenya’s governor, Evelyn Baring, and authorized at cabinet level in London by Alan Lennox-Boyd, then secretary of state for the colonies in Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government.
When told that torture and abuse were routine in colonial prisons, Mr. Lennox-Boyd did not order that such practices be stopped, but instead took steps to place them beyond legal sanction. “Compelling force” was allowed, but defined so loosely as to permit virtually any kind of physical abuse.
Why did the British keep these documents, instead of destroying them? Plenty else was burned, or dumped at sea, as the British left Kenya.
The answer lay in the unease of some British colonial officers. Many did not like what they saw. When the orders to torture came down, some realized the jeopardy they were in. These men worried that it was they, not their commanders, who would carry the can.
They were right to worry. Official reports from the 1950s always blamed individual officers — the “bad apples in the barrel” — for acts of abuse. But the blame lay not with junior officers forced to implement a bad policy but with the senior echelons of a colonial government that was rotten to the core.
Kenya’s will not be the last historical claims case. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office faces others, some of which have been in progress for years.
A case already before the courts concerns the 1948 Batang Kali massacre in colonial Malaya, now Malaysia. There, the relatives of innocent villagers — who were murdered by young conscript soldiers ordered to shoot by an older, psychopathic sergeant major — have asked for compensation. For Americans, the case has eerie echoes of Vietnam.
In Cyprus, translators employed by the British during the 1950s told tales of electrocutions and pulled fingernails as British intelligence officers tried to elicit information about gunrunning.
The case of Aden, now in Yemen, could be the worst of all. In 1965, the British governor retreated up the steps of his departing aircraft, firing his revolver at snipers arrayed around the airport runway. This was not the “orderly retreat from empire” that many historians would have us believe characterized British decolonization. Britain’s brutality against its Yemeni enemies in Aden during those final days has become a local legend.
Though Britain is the first former European colonial power to pay individual compensation to victims, other countries have been confronted by similar accusations. In 2006, Germany offered to pay millions of euros to the Namibian government to compensate for the German Army’s genocide against the Herero tribe in the early 20th century. It also issued a public apology in the capital, Windhoek. In 2011, the Dutch government was ordered by the International Court of Justice to compensate survivors of a 1947 massacre in colonial Indonesia; it has not yet paid.
Historical research has played its part in all these cases, but not all historians are happy with the way things are turning out. Leading historians of British colonialism have long tended to rejoice in a benevolent, liberal view of imperialism.
The British historians Andrew Roberts, Niall Ferguson and Max Hastings have all nailed their colors to the mast of the good ship Britannia as she sailed the ocean blue bringing civilization and prosperity to the world. This view seems unlikely to be credible for much longer.
Empire was built by conquest. It was violent. And decolonization was sometimes a bloody, brutal business. No American should need reminding of that. And Britain, along with other imperial powers of the 19th and 20th centuries, may yet have to pay for this.
Torture is torture, whoever the perpetrator, whoever the victim. Wrongs should be put right. Whatever wrongs were done in the name of Britain in Kenya in the 1950s, the British government has now delivered modest reparations to some victims. And maybe we in Britain have also finally begun to come to terms with our imperial past.
Would the United States be so accommodating to a similar claim? In the current political climate, probably not. But times change. Fifty years from now, will Americans face claims from Guantánamo survivors? You might, and perhaps you should.   

David M. Anderson, a professor of African history at the University of Warwick, is the author of “Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire.  '” 

An open letter to Nelson Mandela by Ben Trovato

'I would like to see you make enough of a recovery to flirt with a nurse, shout at a doctor, condemn the ANC for tolerating incompetence and fostering corruption, and send the journalists sloping back to their lairs thinking it’s another false alarm. Then, quite unexpectedly, you go off to heaven to organise an armed uprising against the tyranny of God'

Your slapping PW Botha’s hand aside in 1985 and saying, “With all due respect, Meneer Botha, if you want to free me, you have to free all of us, or you can go fuck yourself” resonated with the nation. It taught us the principle of all for one and one for all.


Dear Madiba,

You probably won’t get this because the mail doesn’t always get through to the intensive care unit at the Pretoria Medi-Clinic Heart Hospital, but I thought I’d write to you anyway.

I have a feeling that nobody tells you anything these days, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You wouldn’t want to be on Facebook or have a Twitter account. It would make you angrier than Winnie ever did.

You are causing quite a commotion, I can tell you. I don’t recall ever seeing every major television network in the world running this many lead stories about an old man lying in a hospital bed. You’d laugh. I’m sure you would.

Dozens of them are out there right now, sleeping rough on the cold streets of Jozi, waiting for you to kick the bucket. Some people are calling them vultures. They aren’t, really. They just want to be there when you do decide to shuffle off this mortal coil. Knowing Jacob Zuma’s impish sense of humour, he will hold a press conference in Pretoria when he gets the call. What fun it would be to see all those outside broadcast vans scrambling for the N1. I think the Americans will get there first. As you know, they can be pretty pushy when it comes to getting what they want. After all, it was George Herbert Walker Bush who got you out of jail, not FW de Klerk. Am I right?

It’s costing the international media tens of thousands of dollars a day to maintain a presence outside your hospital. Live feeds don’t come cheap these days. They are not bad people. But you are costing them money. And there are other stories to be covered. They are hungry, thirsty, dirty and tired. Most of them, dare I say, would appreciate it tremendously if you popped off sooner rather than later.

I would like to see you make enough of a recovery to flirt with a nurse, shout at a doctor, condemn the ANC for tolerating incompetence and fostering corruption, and send the journalists sloping back to their lairs thinking it’s another false alarm. Then, quite unexpectedly, you go off to heaven to organise an armed uprising against the tyranny of God.

A reporter for the Sophiatown Sun, lost and drunk, staggers past the hospital and lands the scoop of the century. That’s the kind of poetry this country needs right now.

I’m not sure if you know this, but you do have your critics. In medieval times, they would have been burnt at the stake. However, few of us can afford steak these days. I’m sorry. This is no time for jokes.

Your critics, most of whom have good jobs and live in the suburbs, say that you were too soft on the white people. That instead of national reconciliation, there should have been a policy of national retribution. I don’t always know if they’re proposing a pound of flesh or a pound of Sterling.

Looking back, you might perhaps have done more to encourage the rich to give to the poor. Thabo Mbeki confused the rich with his sophisticated pipe-smoking ways and post-prandial, neo-Marxist, watch-out-for-the-tokoloshe talk. Then Jacob Zuma came along and scared the rich right out of the country.

I see some of your family has come to visit you. That’s lovely. Did you see Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini? Security probably blocked them because they had a bigger television crew than CNN. Imagine trying to get into the hospital by claiming that you have your own TV show called Being Mandela, but your ID says Dlamini-what-what.

Most of your judgment calls were spot on. Becoming a lawyer, for instance. That was a brilliant idea. The Boers would never have dared arrest a lawyer. Oh, wait.

But having been acquitted at Rivonia, you should have gone to ground. What the hell were you doing on the R103? You should have been on the N2. It’s quicker and the filth only put up roadblocks over Easter.

You know what else you should have done? You should have started a fitness class. Did you ever watch one of Jane Fonda’s workout videos? That would have been in 1982, the same year you were transferred from Robben Island to Pollsmoor Prison.

If you had come out of jail and launched a health and lifestyle video, you would be a rich man today. Oh, right. You are a rich man. Well, you were until your lawyers, family, friends and enemies started tearing each other apart to get a slice of that big ol’ Madiba pie.

All I’m saying is that you’re still alive at 94, whereas a lot of people who didn’t spend 20 years on an island aren’t. Sure, it wasn’t exactly Humming Bird Cay in the Bahamas, but you got lots of fresh air, a fair bit of exercise in the limestone quarry, early nights, no alcohol and no women. I think I would rather die young. But that’s just me.

I won’t tell you about the things that are going on in the name of the liberation struggle because you’d probably have a heart attack and then my letter to you would be redundant. I would have wasted a couple of hours and you’d feel that you would have wasted your entire life.

Your slapping PW Botha’s hand aside in 1985 and saying, “With all due respect, Meneer Botha, if you want to free me, you have to free all of us, or you can go fuck yourself” resonated with the nation. It taught us the principle of all for one and one for all. Now it’s just a free for all. But that’s not your problem. Nor is it your fault. The white pigs emigrated and left the trough wide open for the black pigs. We are human animals. It’s our nature.

I don’t believe you stopped a genocidal bloodbath. But if you did, thank you for that. What you did do, though, was lift the name South Africa out of the rotten stinking fetid swamp that the National Party had dragged it into. You gave our country a name that we – oppressed and oppressors – could at last be proud of.

So it’s midnight on June 13th, 2013. I raise my glass to you, Madiba.

Hamba kahle.

Ben Trovato is the Cape Town-based author. He also writes the Whipping Boy column for the Sunday Times. This article is taken from his blog.

Walter Rodney in Tanzania: A tribute by Issa Shivji

Walter was an institution. He left a huge shadow on the left, on the African left, and in Tanzania itself. His own learning and foundation were laid in the east African nation. 

I grew up in the eastern region of Tanzania, where I did my primary school. All my secondary school I did in Dar es Salaam—actually, living in this very apartment. So I grew up here. Then in 1966 I completed my high school, and in 1967 I joined the university. At that time it was the University College, Dar es Salaam, because it was part of the University of East Africa. Nineteen Sixty-Seven was an important year because the year before there had been a student demonstration that opposed the government’s proposal to start National Service, which was mandatory for university students. You had to spend about five months in the camps, and for the next eighteen months 40 percent of your salary would be deducted. Students opposed it. The president, Julius Nyerere, “sent them down”: expelled them for a year.

That started a whole rethinking about the university, and there was a big conference on the role of the university. Then in February 1967 came the Arusha Declaration. [1] The ruling party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), issued the Arusha Declaration and a policy of socialism and self-reliance. Our word in Kiswahili, Ujamaa (translated as extended family or familyhood), became the official policy. A number of companies in the commanding heights of the national economy were nationalized by the government. That started a whole new debate at the university.

Walter Rodney had just come from SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) and became a young lecturer here.[2] In the conference on rethinking the role of the university in now socialist Tanzania, he played a very important role. So, when I joined the university in July 1967, it was a campus with lots of discussions and debates in which Rodney participated. So that’s my background. From 1967 to 1970, I did my Bachelor of Laws degree in the Faculty of Law. I went to England in 1970 to do my master’s, came back in 1971, and from ’71 to ’72 I did my National Service. Since then, I have been at the university and participated in the various debates and writings.

In 2006, I retired from the Faculty of Law because we have a statutory retirement age of sixty. But I was appointed the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Chair in Pan-African Studies. It’s newly established and I am the first holder of that Chair. So I am back at the university.

I can’t recall if Walter came before or after the demonstrations, but he certainly participated in the discussion that followed after the 1966 expulsion and after the Arusha Declaration. After the Declaration, in ’67, ’68, there was a small group of people called the Socialist Club in which Malawians, Ugandans, Ethiopians, and many other students were involved. The Socialist Club was transformed into the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF). It was all the initiative of students, not the faculty. Walter was one of the few young faculty involved, but purely within a relationship of equality. There was no professor and student there.

The students were very militant, and the Revolutionary Front, in which I was a member, was led by the chairman, Yuweri Museveni, who is now the president of Uganda, and a number of other comrades were involved in the leadership. Then in 1968 we established the organ of the USARF, which was called Cheche. This was a cyclostyled student journal containing many militant articles and analyses of not only Tanzania but the world situation and the role of young people in the African revolution. In the first issue, Rodney had an article. He wrote something on labour. I too had an article, called “Educated Barbarians.” This was our first issue. It actually became, we realized only later, a very important journal circulated as far as the United States. There were some study groups anxiously waiting for the journal to come out. The third issue was a special issue called “The Silent Class Struggle.” This was a long essay, written by me, which basically argued that we should not judge socialism simply by listening to what people say, what leaders say, but by what is actually happening in reality: What are the relations of production being created and the class interests involved? So, we worked on the whole question of the development of class and which class is the agency for building socialism. The issue that followed carried commentary on my long essay. One of the comments was by Walter Rodney, and after that the journal was banned and the organization deregistered.

The reasons given were simply that we don’t need foreign ideology. We have our own ideology: Ujamaa. Cheche is a Kiswahili word. Translated it’s “to spark.” The Spark was Nkrumah’s journal, but Spark was a translation from Iskra, Lenin’s journal. So what the students did immediately after that was change the name to MajiMaji. Now, MajiMaji is a reference to the first revolt, 1905, of the people in Tanganyika and the coast against German imperialism. This was called the MajiMaji War, the MajiMaji Rebellion. The journal continued for some time after that and continued to publish militant articles. Though USARF was banned, many of the leaders of USARF took over the TANU League. The TANU League was the youth arm of the ruling party, and they continued their militant activities.

Ten to fifteen years, beginning in the 1980s, the last period of Mwalimu Nyerere, and particularly the last five years, were very critical. We were engulfed in a serious crisis: economic and political. For the first time, the legitimacy of the political regime was questioned. Since Mwalimu Nyerere stepped down in 1985, the various policies of his government have been reversed under pressure from the World Bank, the IMF, and the donors, particularly from Western imperialism. The 1980s were also the beginning of the fall of the Soviet Union. One of the sites that were attacked, ideologically, was the university. The World Bank was telling Africa you don’t need universities, that they were white elephants, and what you needed to do was to place emphasis on primary education. The university was starved of resources. The faculty also began to move out, finding greener pastures either outside the country or in research institutes, consultancies, think tanks, and so on. Much of the period of vigorous debates was heavily affected by the reorientation of the university. The university was turned into a factory to support and answer to the needs of the market. So faculties of commerce and the professional faculties became much more dominant. The last fifteen to twenty years at the university—all the gains of the Nyerere period have been reversed. One of the objectives of the Nyerere Chair is to try to reclaim to the extent possible the old debates and to reintroduce and redirect the debates on campus.

In the old period, the international context was very different. It was a period high on revolution. You had the civil rights movement in the United States. You had the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War mobilized young people all over the world. You had the French student demonstrations. You had the liberation movements in Southern Africa, which were based in Dar es Salaam and strongly supported by Mwalimu Nyerere. The students at the university had very close connections with the liberation movements. Members of USARF went to liberated areas and lived there. All over the world, there were vigorous debates going on. This was the first decade of independence in Africa. The whole meaning of independence for Africans was questioned—is it real independence?—and there was talk about neo-colonialism.

Some of the texts fondly read were Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Nkrumah’s Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism, and texts by Samir Amin, Paul Baran, and Paul Sweezy.[3] These were the kinds of things read, and also classics of Marxism. So the international context was certainly at a highpoint all over the world. One interesting example of the kind of contradictory situation we had was a seminar of East and Central Africa youth organized under the youth league of the party. It was held at Nkrumah Hall at the university. A lot of our comrades delivered papers. Rodney also delivered a paper. At that time, there were the hijackings by the Palestine Liberation Organization. His paper referred to that. It was a very militant paper about the African revolution and so on castigating the first independent regimes as petit bourgeois regimes that had hijacked the revolution. He called it the “briefcase revolution,” where the leaders went to Lancaster House, compromised, and came back with independence and this was not real independence.[4]

This paper was published in the Party [TANU] newspaper called The Nationalist. Nyerere took very strong objection to it. The next day the newspaper carried an editorial called, “Revolutionary Hot Air,” and in very strong terms attacked Rodney for preaching violence to young people.[5] It basically said that while, of course, we were trying to build a socialist society, our socialist society would be built on our own concrete conditions, and you cannot preach violence and violent overthrow of brotherly African governments. He said Rodney is welcome to stay here but not to preach violence to young people. When that editorial appeared, I remember the morning the newspapers came out, we read the editorial and all of us suspected, until more was confirmed, that that editorial was written by President Nyerere himself. We had prepared this special issue of MajiMaji in which all the seminar papers would be carried. One of our comrades, when he read the editorial, became so scared that he took all the papers we had collected and burned them, and in the process scorched the front grass lawn near the student dormitories.

Then Rodney replied in a long letter, a very interesting letter. Basically, he defended himself, but he was also appeasing in that he was thankful and grateful he was allowed to stay here and that when he talked about capitalism and neo-colonialism he was only talking about that system which carried his ancestors as slaves into other parts of the world, and now he was trying to establish a reconnection and talk about this gruesome system which is still with us.

His famous book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa was written here. If you look at the preface of that book, there are two people he thanked personally for reading the manuscript and both of them happened to be students, Karim Hirji and Henry Mapolu. That was the relationship we had with Walter. Museveni knew him very well. Museveni was also a student of political science.

After 1967, one of the important movements started by the students themselves was that knowledge cannot be compartmentalized. It’s holistic, and whether you are doing science or law or political science, the knowledge must be integrated. The Faculty of Law was the first to start a course called “Problems of East Africa,” in which lecturers from different departments participated, and Rodney was one of them. That course then evolved into what was known as a “common course,” which was compulsory for all the students coming into the university. That further evolved into what became the Institute of Development Studies and later it became the Institute of East African Social and Economic Problems. These were common courses in the formal syllabi. But we the students had our own ideological classes. We met every Sunday, and we were assigned readings; some came with readings, made presentations, everyone participated to do what we called “arm ourselves” ideologically. Again, Rodney was a prominent participant in these ideological classes. This was totally voluntary. What we read and discussed was then taken to the classroom. We would not allow lecturers to get away with anything without being challenged.

So debates continued outside the classroom and inside the classroom, and there was a close relationship with the liberation movements. All the important leaders of the liberation movements came to the university, gave lectures, participated in debates, from Eduardo Mondlane to Gora Ibrahim of the Pan-African Congress.[6] I remember Stokely Carmichael came. C.L.R. James came to Dar es Salaam and gave fantastic lectures for a whole week. Cheddi Jagan from Guyana came and gave a lecture.[7] East African leaders, including Oginga Odinga, came and gave a lecture.[8] The “Front” (USARF) never missed an opportunity. Whatever events took place in Africa, there would be a statement by the “Front” analyzing and taking a position on it. The USARF positions were taken very seriously by the liberation movements. Samora Machel came and talked to the students. There would not be a single night without some lecture taking place.

There was a time when there was a bit of a split. This internal division was partly a reaction to the split in international socialism, between China and the Soviet Union. The Dar es Salaam campus followed very closely that debate of the Communist Party of China and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union: the rising socialist imperialism. We had lots of discussions on that. But many of them were internal splits within our groups.

This idea that Rodney left Dar es Salaam because of, or just ahead of, an order to leave—I do not think it’s true. If it were true, he would have definitely told us. Don’t forget, Rodney left early and went to Jamaica. From Jamaica he was deported. That’s where he wrote his very famous pamphlet Groundings with My Brothers. After the riots in Jamaica, he came back to Dar es Salaam. Then he left in 1974. Now, when he was about to leave, I remember specifically a personal conversation. We were driving from the campus, and at the time he and Pat were preparing to leave for Guyana. I told Walter, I said, “Walter, why do you have to go? Look, stay here. You can easily try and get your citizenship and continue the struggle. You don’t have to go back.” He said, “No, comrade. I can make my contribution here but I will not be able ever to grasp the idiom of the people. I will not be able to connect easily. I have to go back to the people I know and who know me.” I heeded that. That was his position and he left.

Then during the Zimbabwe independence celebration—he had returned to Guyana and formed the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) and we closely followed it. On his way to Zimbabwe, and this was a time when the movement was in trouble, he passed through and stayed with one of our comrades here. This comrade told him, “Walter stay, don’t go back. Guyana is dangerous.” There was a case against him in court. Walter said, “No, I cannot just run away. I have to go back.” So it is certainly not true that he was pushed out.

It’s more believable that he was pulled because he felt he could make his contribution there, in Guyana. And he did, in my view. One can make critical assessments in hindsight, but one of the things we appreciated, and came to learn from, the Party, the WPA, was how it managed to bring together Indian and African youth. This was a real breakthrough. Of course, there were other problems. So my own view is that Walter was not forced out of Tanzania. It could not be true. If so, we would have known.

Even at that time, while we understood Rodney’s background, the comrades here sometimes did not fully subscribe to his positions on race. We often told him that while it was understood in the North American situation, here it could not be applied. Another issue where we had strong disagreement was in relation to a piece he wrote called “Ujamaa as Scientific Socialism.” This was the early seventies. He was trying to show, drawing on the Narodniks, that Ujamaa is scientific socialism.[9] Before he published that, we met and had a discussion on his draft. We had some heated exchanges and vigorously disagreed with him. We argued that you cannot identify petit bourgeois socialism as scientific socialism. At the end of it, Rodney said he would defer to his Tanzanian comrades since we were the ones who knew the situation here. He went ahead and published it. We did not expect he would. So what I am trying to say, coming from a different background, is that we did not accept everything with unanimity.

But we realized Walter was an institution. Whenever we had differences we met internally and sorted it out. He left a huge shadow here, on the left, on the African left, and in Tanzania itself. His own learning and foundation were laid here. When he came to Dar es Salaam, he came essentially as a young academic from SOAS, where he had just finished his PhD. His years here were an important period of formation of his own ideas. Like it was an important period for the rest of us. I think his national fame came after the book and, of course, was connected with what happened in Jamaica. I’ll try to be as fair as possible. My own view is there were aspects of Rodney’s organizational inclination which I think, in a sense, exposed him. Of course, a powerful movement like that is bound to have enemies. But I am not quite sure if Rodney always paid enough attention: to a matter of tactics, number one, and number two, to security of the leadership. It does happen with powerful leaders like Rodney, the movement tends to become very dependent on single leaders. That is one lesson to draw. When that leader goes, invariably the movement falls apart. That’s what seems to have happened in Guyana. While in theory, of course, we talk about the importance of the movement, importance of the people, importance of the working people, in practice we always find it difficult to build movements which can continue regardless of original leadership.

Of course, I do not know at the moment, and I keep asking people from there, if there has been a critical assessment of the WPA. I haven’t seen one myself. I also get the feeling that once Rodney went and the movement fell apart, even the leaders seemed to disintegrate. I am not sure if any of them have gone back and tried to reassess it.

While Walter was militant in the Guyana situation, if anything, the impression I got was that his main contribution was building a mass movement. I may be wrong. But I always took the WPA to be a mass movement and not an underground conspiratorial group. If at a certain point the WPA, after assessment, reached the conclusion that there was no other way except armed struggle, I don’t know. I never really came across an assessment. But certainly, from what we know and the way it operated, the image I have of the WPA is of Rodney as its collective leader. Another very interesting contribution of the WPA: collective leadership, with all the mass of youth behind them, walking the streets, going to a sugar plantation. This is the image I have of the WPA. That image is not totally consistent with some kind of conspiratorial group and armed struggle.

But there are two aspects, particularly for the period we are going through now: collective leadership and a mass movement are important contributions, something to learn from. Not to ignore the circumstances connected with armed struggle, but I think one thing we have learned is that armed struggle alone, without a mass movement, has a tendency to deteriorate. And once again the importance of politics rather than militarism is coming back. I remember in the early eighties I was on a lecture tour in the United States and Canada, and the point I kept emphasizing was that the period we were going through in Africa then was essentially a period of the insurrection of ideas, insurrection of mass movements, open mass movements, rather than underground armed struggle groups: in other words, insurrectional politics. To a certain extent we saw insurrectional politics in the movement that started after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the so-called democratization movement. In West Africa and elsewhere, it became a mass movement.

Of course, it was suppressed, preempted; it was hijacked in many ways. What was essentially insurrectional politics for real democracy was hijacked into multi-parties. Multi-parties is not the end-all of democracy. The liberal Western model cannot simply be adopted, in my view. But those ten to fifteen years of liberal politics and neoliberal economics, I think, are coming to an end. The neoliberal honeymoon is over. Interestingly, there is a whole new, other way of thinking.

Let me give you my own experience in this country. In the few events I organized under the Nyerere Chair, it’s amazing to see how young people want to know more about where we are coming from. For that purpose, today, we are beginning to see people talking about the historical experience, talking about Ujamaa. At one time, Ujamaa had become a term of abuse. Nyerere used to say, “If I was to talk about Ujamaa openly I would be considered a fool. I can only whisper about it.” But now these ideas are coming back. They are being recalled. In my view, the whole imperialist, neoliberal onslaught is coming to end. Of course, it won’t happen tomorrow. But it doesn’t hold the same ideological pull it once supposedly held. There is a lot of rethinking going on in the world. All over Latin America we are witnessing it. So it’s an interesting period.

Now, I don’t think we can repeat or just reclaim the past, of course, but we will learn from it and people will want to know where we are coming from.

The current situation in Africa also points to some of the problems of old and the old debates we had. While individuals play an important role, individuals do not necessarily characterize the whole movement. Individuals do get transformed once they get into power. A very good example is our own Yuweri Museveni, who was a militant, a Fanonist actually, during his student days and what he has become subsequently. I think to understand it much more we must view it in terms of the social, political, economic forces of the time. In the case of Mugabe, we have to go back to history. ZANU’s (Zimbabwe African National Union’s) accession to power was a kind of compromise. In which some of the African leaders I know of were involved, including Nyerere. They pushed ZANU to accept that compromise. You will notice—and more work has to be done on this—that in the case of liberation movements at very critical times in South Africa and Zimbabwe, some of the important leaders held a clear vision of what they wanted their societies to be. These leaders were bumped off: Hani in the ANC (African National Congress) and, in Zimbabwe, Herbert Chitepo.[10]

When the leaders came to power, they inherited the state structures. Look, for example, at Zimbabwe. The “Lancaster compromise” meant that for ten years they could not touch the land occupied by white settlers. Land was the leading issue for which the people fought. And Mugabe did not take action. The new people who came to power began to develop themselves into a class of their own, so to speak. The land question had to be addressed. But by the time Mugabe addressed it conditions had changed affecting the way he finally addressed it, that led to the situation we are in—to the extent that now you cannot even mobilize your own people to support your anti-imperialist stand. So anything said is just rhetoric. There are complex issues of how those leaders addressed those issues. Particularly in Africa, we notice that when progressive leaders come to power, they find themselves in difficulty because they are not rooted in the people and do not take their messages from the people. Without knowing the pulse of the people, they immediately become alienated. They become prisoners of the structures they inherited.

So there is a lot to be said about movements that may look protected, confused, but are movements from below. It remains to be seen to what extent the left, or revolutionary elite, will learn from that movement, integrate themselves within it, before they claim to know and to teach. There is a lot of learning, a lot of learning, to be done.

* Issa G. Shivji is the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Chair at the University of Dar Es Salaam, and hosts the annual Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Intellectual Festival. This essay is adapted from the new Monthly Review Press book, ‘Water A. Rodney: A Promise of Revolution’, edited by Clairmont Chung. The book is comprised of oral histories by academics, writers, artists, and political activists who knew the great writer and revolutionary, Walter Rodney, intimately or felt his influence.


1. ↩ The Arusha Declaration is a manifesto that offers guidelines for the practice of a brand of ethics that promotes equality and mutual respect informed by African history and culture.
2. ↩ University of London, School of African and Oriental Studies.
3. ↩ Frantz Fanon, was a Martinique-born, French-trained psychiatrist who described the psyche of oppression and the coming revolution in his books; Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana’s first president, founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, and a father of the Pan-African movement; Samir Amin is a noted Egyptian economist and head of CODESRIA, based in Dakar, Senegal; Paul A. Baran was a Stanford University professor of economics known for his Marxist views, who wrote The Political Economy of Growth (New York: Monthly Review Press,1957); and ;Paul M. Sweezy was a Marxist economist, political activist, publisher, editor, and founder of the magazine Monthly Review.
4. ↩ Lancaster House, situated in West London and once part of St. James’s Palace, is used by the foreign affairs department to host talks. It hosted the Zimbabwe independence talks as well as Guyana’s.
5. ↩ The Nationalist, in its December 13, 1969, editorial quoting Rodney’s paper said, “The Paper stated that ‘armed struggle is the inescapable and logical means of obtaining freedom’ and that independence which was achieved peacefully could not, by definition, be real independence for the masses.” Reprinted in Chemchemi: Fountain of Ideas 3 (April 2010).
6. ↩ Born in Mozambique, Eduardo Mondlane attended college and graduate school in the United States. He returned to the region and was elected president of the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), which was formed in Tanzania, and served until his assassination in 1969. After independence in 1975, the university in the Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, was renamed Eduardo Mondlane University. Ahmed Gora Ebrahim served as secretary of the PAC’s department of foreign affairs. The Pan-African Congress was seen as a “black consciousness” prong in&a mp;a mp;a mp;n bsp;the movement to end apartheid in South Africa.
7. ↩ Cheddi Jagan was the first premier of Guyana and led the movement for independence through the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). The party split in 1955. Forbes Burnham led the exodus and formed the People’s National Congress (PNC). With assistance from the United States and Britain, Burnham became premier in 1964 and led the negotiations for Guyana’s independence, which came in 1966.
8. ↩ Kenyan freedom fighter Oginga Odinga served briefly as vice president under Jomo Kenyatta but resigned after differences with him. He continued in political life despite being jailed and often detained by Kenyatta and his successors.
9. ↩ The Narodniks represented a school of thought that originated in Russia sometime in the 1860s. They saw the peasantry as the revolutionary class that would overthrow the monarchy, and the village commune as the embryo of socialism, but believed the peasantry required a middle class or its equivalent to help engineer the revolution.
10. ↩ Chris Hani, a lifelong member of the African National Congress in South Africa, was assassinated in 1993 by right-wing opponents of the ongoing negotiations to end apartheid. Hani once headed the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Herbert Chitepo, a huge figure in the Zimbabwe liberation struggle and the ZANU in particular, died on March 18, 1975, in Lusaka, Zambia, when a car bomb exploded. It killed him, his driver, and a neighbor. He was the first black African qualified as a barrister in (then-named) Rhodesia.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

BIG NEWS: The Unga tax is dead!

We did it!  The National Treasury of Kenya has removed the 16% tax hike on Unga, milk and flour from the VAT bill! 

From community forums to commuter trains, football terraces to facebook pages, and on radio and TV, Kenyans for Tax Justice were joined by thousands of people in Kenya and around the world showing the power of organising.  We helped change a bill that would have crippled already struggling households. 

You helped to change the rules!

Patrick Kamotho, an organiser with Bunge la Mwananchi, part of the Kenyans for Tax Justice campaign, said today “I joined this campaign for tax justice because the Unga tax bill was another way the poor were going to be forced to carry the country on their backs.  Already so many households in places like Muthurwa can’t put food on the table. Thousands said no to Unga tax and showed the power of the people!”

This is only the beginning. We must keep a close eye on the government to make sure they don’t retract this commitment, and we must keep working to make sure that Kenya doesn’t become a tax haven. But today is a good day.

Please share [insert share link] this news with your friends and family. The more visible this progress, the better. 

With thanks, and in hope

Kenyans for Tax Justice

Exposing the invisible: African Women and the OAU by Amira Ali

Exposing the invisible: African Women and the OAU

Amira Ali

2013-05-30, Issue 632

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Though little acknowledged, one year prior to the founding of the OAU, Pan African Women’s Organization was formed in 1962 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It could be said that PAWO was the building block, the impetus, for the establishment of the OAU
‘I can hear the roar of women’s silence’ – Thomas Sankara

May 25 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Organization of the African Union (OAU), an epic occasion for the African States, post-colonialism. The long, wide and high road to this unity is an unbroken celebration in the hearts and minds of many Africans. The dignity of our brave forbearers, their fervor for freedom and relentless fight against the current of imperialism; their spirit runs deep in our veins.

In our observance, usually, our narratives take on male features; we tend to have male dominant memories. The memory is etched by means of language (in the English language) words effectively crafted with authority identifiable to the male adjective. This hegemonic masculinity plays itself out through words like ‘History’, ‘fore fathers’, etc, embodying and sustaining attitudes towards the idea of reality and antiquity.

Unfortunately, history as a male domain has become acceptable, and it will continue to be so until we, women and men begin to reclaim the prominent role of women in ‘her story’. As narratives are the result of choices made, in the African context, as a woman and an African-woman, there is responsibility to create space(s) for the silenced and/ stories from the subaltern, from the margin. To celebrate the OAU formation in a male dominant narrative would be effectively equal to casting-off self, allowing the invisibility and reducing the worth of self and women.

We salute Kwame Nkrumah, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Seku Toure, Julius Nyerere, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Ketema Yifru –an avid Pan-Africanist who played a eminent role –and others who made this day possible, supporting the rich tradition of African collaboration that dates back nearly 40 years to the formation of the OAU. The independence of African states to form the OAU was also made possible by chief freedom fighters such as Patrice Lumumba, Steve Biko, Duse Mohamed Ali, Cheikh Anta Diop, Leopold Sedar Senghor, Amilcar Cabral, JE Casely Hayford, and in the diaspora, W.E.B Du Bois, grassroots organizers such as Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, to name a few, influential Pan-Africanist who fought for years for the unification and liberation of African people.

Though much is not remarked, one year prior to the founding of the OAU, Pan African Women’s Organization (PAWO) was formed in 1962, in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. The basis was the total liberation of the African continent, and the institution of a joint justice. Thus, it could be said that PAWO was the building block, the impetus, for the establishment of the OAU. Women such as Jeanne Martin Cisse, Diallo Virginie Camara, Pumla Kisosonkole, and others were notable in leading PAWO. The PAWO, including the OAU, was shaped and stands tall today, due to the willful strength and weight of African-Women-revolutionaries who paved the way, through participation in armed resistance and engagement of anticonlonial struggles.

We pay tribute to: Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, Yaa Asantewaa, Margaret Ekpo, Winnie Mandela, Miriam Makeba, Queen Nzinga, Aba Womens’ Revolt of Nigeria, Muhumusa and the order of the Nyabingi’s movement, and many more. In the history of time, women, in the social and political struggles were commanding sponsors, organizers, supporters and leaders.

Lest we forget

‘The post-colonial state in Africa’ by Prof. Crawford Young

‘The post-colonial state in Africa’

Okello Oculi

2013-05-30, Issue 632

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Crawford Young succeeds brilliantly and seductively in inciting a yearning for “another history” of governance in Africa in the last 50 years
In his latest work ‘The Postcolonial State in Africa: Fifty Years of Independence, 1960 – 2010’, Professor Crawford Young has, with habitual lucid simplicity of text, encyclopaedic gaze and insightfully nuanced analysis, joined in the flowering of celebrations of golden jubilees of Uhuru that bloomed across the African continent since 2010; with Uganda’s turn arriving in 2012 when the book was published. In the mid-1960s Young had taught at Makerere College, University of East Africa, and also conducted research on the Cooperative movement in the country.

Young’s work has appropriately come at a time of a pandemic of book famine and an epic struggle in Africa’s universities to recover from decay inflicted by what Adebayo Adedeji, as executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), labelled as ‘economic, social, economic and political warfare’ by the IMF and the World Bank through the imposition of Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, policies. This condition makes most poignant his incitement of reflexes to urgently raise the call of who ‘will utter a counter narrative from the perspective of Africa telling her own story?’. For his narrative comes from a tradition that is given authoritative dignity by a dominant mission of comparative politics (of non-American and non-European countries) as a field of study to promote the continued existence of the ‘dominated of the world’.
A commendable starting bolt of the book is the rejection of the bifurcation of Africa by giving the Sahara Desert a racial role by inventing ‘Sub-Sahara Africa’, a view recently propagated by those who in 2011 were quick to see convulsive revolutionary youths of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt as located outside of Africa. They had to be ‘Arab’ if their volcanic eruptions were to enjoy the positive climatic virtues of a ‘spring’. With Muamar Gadaffi racing forward to being crowned as Africa’s ‘King of Kings’ by an assortment of traditional rulers - following his transition from the post of the Chairman of the African Union - it is easy to understand Young’s impatience with those scholars who insist on pushing away Kwame Nkrumah’s rebuke that the Sahara had never been a sand and dust curtain dividing Africans. There are, however, many cataracts in Young’s narrative which jolt a shout for one’s own paddles. We shall narrate some bellow.
He is comfortable with the view that anti-colonial nationalists were fired by impatience with slow paces with which colonial authorities ‘managed the public purse’. Alternative voices do insist that it was the exportation of resources to colonizing economies, and racist wealth maldistribution in favour of European settlers and businessmen, which provoked nationalist anger. To him a ‘democratic’ episode which bore independence quickly went into ‘erasure’ due to the rapid onset of failures by Africa’s leaders who soon invented one-party rule, rule by decrees, and imprisonment of critics. There is no consideration of Mahmud Mamdani excellent exposition of how, from 1922, British colonial administrators in Darfur engineered the shattering of the trans-ethnic and trans-racial nationhood which el-Mahdi had aroused with the revolutionary warfare he led against Turkish colonial exploitation and oppression. That disruptive investment in future conflict in post-colonial Darfur became a core feature of British and French gifts to ex-colonies.
The silence over Mamdani’s thesis leads to his non-cynical declaration of “mutually reciprocated goodwill between former colony and former colonizer”. Politicians in Uganda saw Britain’s failure to return districts she had punitively transferred from Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom to Buganda before independence as a cruel gift meant to yield bloodshed and political instability in a toddler postcolonial state. Wole Soyinka’s wrath against a legacy of boundaries between a territorially vast northern Nigeria and a much smaller southern section is buttressed by critics of colonial constitutional provisions which guaranteed the Northern Region over 50 per cent of seats in the federal legislature. It would take saintly northern politicians to squander these advantages in their contest for power in postcolonial Nigeria. The resultant civil war, in which Biafra recorded over a million deaths, was hardly the fruit of British “goodwill”.
In similar vein his view of relations between France and former colonies cannot contain the wrath which met Thomas Sankara’s initiatives for arousing creative self-reliance across Francophone states and Laurent Gbagbo’s rejection of the legacy that French companies must be the first bidders for all contracts awarded by former colonies. The long term impact of brutalities which wiped out over 5 million people across Central Africa - as noted by the historian Jean Suret-Canale and others - get glossed over. Readers who come without such historical searchlights are doomed to blindness.
The readiness to quote Arthur Lewis’s view that “To be a minister is to have a lifetime’s chance to make a fortune” is complemented by silence over the widely celebrated ascetic and selfless leadership by Mwalimu Nyerere, Samora Machel, Abdel Nasser, , Augustinho Neto, Kwame Nkrumah, Milton Obote, Nyerere’s long-serving minister of Finance Jamal.
The historic protracted wars for the promotion of democratic politics by Africa’s liberation movements led by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-Patriotic Front, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, the Movement for the Popular Liberation of Angola, and the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde- against brutal anti-democracy opposition by NATO powers - is not included in what Young calls the “tsunami of dramatization”. He asserts that it was only a case of late “washing up in Africa”. The prospect of seeing the “Orange Revolution” in Rumania as being washed up from victorious liberation struggles by Soweto children bleeding in streets, is not allowed into gates of Young’s analysis.
Jonathan Frimpong-Ansah is quoted approvingly for characterising Ghana as a “vampire state”. It is not clear what he would call the French colonial regime in Ubangi Shari (now Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Cameroun) if he is allowed to know the texture of that historical nightmare. Crawford Young succeeds brilliantly and seductively in inciting a yearning for “another history” of governance in Africa in the last 50 years.