Issa G. Shivji

Talking Notes

Introductory remarks
I often joke with my South African comrades that whereas we in Tanzania had first 25 years of nationalism and subsequently another 25 years of neo-liberalism, you guys were born in neo-liberalism! (Don’t ask me where we are at now because I don’t know – we are going through a period of grand confusion, deep uncertainty and incomprehensible eclecticism. But that is a story for another day. Let me come back to what I was saying.) I’m saying you probably missed out on post-independence nationalism and what it entailed in terms of decolonization of different spheres of life – including culture and education, language and literature, politics and pedagogy.

I suspect your movement to decolonise universities, presumably starting with #Rhodesmustfall, combines elements of both nationalism and anti-neoliberalism. I say elements because I haven’t seen a coherent articulation of this struggle, either as a nationalist or as an anti-neoliberal project – but then I don’t know enough and, therefore, dare not say more. What I want to do this afternoon is very simple – to share with you our experience of DECOLONISING our University, now called the University of Dar es Salaam – I’ll refer to it by its pet name, the Hill. It is so-called because it is located on Observation Hill, the highest point in the otherwise sea-level Dar es Salaam.

I would like you to keep one point in mind as I narrate the story of decolonisation of the Hill. This is that while the dominant tendency was nationalism, which had been harnessed to the nation-building project, there was another tendency – albeit a minority tendency – which I’d call DEBOURGEOISIFICATION of education and academic disciplines. In practice, of course, there was co-operation and conflict between the two tendencies as always happens in any struggle.
The University was established just a couple of months before our independence in December 1961. It was part of the University of East Africa, which in turn was linked to the University of London, which validated our products. During the first 6 years of the University, the university closely followed Oxbridge traditions and ethos – with gowns, and high table in the canteen, knives and forks and I presume white napkins around necks. So there we were – sons and daughters of peasants being inducted into bourgeois table manners, cuisine and culture.

The decolonisation narrative is marked by three turning points – each one marked by a student demonstration followed by mass expulsion of students -1966, 1978 and 1990. The interval of 12 years between each has no significance – it’s just co-incidental – unless you are a believer in witchcraft or white magic!

In October 1966, the Hill bussed into one of our main roads in Dar es Salaam called Independence Avenue. [It was called ACACIA AVENUE under colonial rule – INDEPENDENCE AVENUE after independence, then it became SAMORA MACHEL AVENUE after Mozambique’s liberation. Recently one of our main roads adjacent to the Indian Ocean, and at a right angle to Samora Avenue – was named OBAMA ROAD after Obama’s visit – so you can see the three phases in our political trajectory -nationalism, liberation and neo-liberalism] The student demonstration was protesting against compulsory national service. National service meant they would have to spend 6 months in military camps and then 18 months in their respective jobs but at 40 percent salary. Students were opposed to it. They said it was too big a sacrifice to make contrary to the expectations of their families to benefit from their education. So they carried placards – one of them said “Colonialism was better” – which enraged Mwalimu Nyerere a lot. Anyway, they were directed by the police to the state house where they sat on the ground. They were cheering and singing because they thought they would finally get a hearing from Mwalimu.

Mwalimu walked in with more than half his cabinet. The spokesperson of the students stood up and read out their statement. In English – very strident, very acrimonious. The students ended by saying that if they were forced, their bodies would go “but our souls will remain outside the scheme. And the battle between political elite and educated elite will perpetually continue.” Mwalimu listened to them attentively. And then he began talking in English – first in a low tone and then raising his voice. He thundered:
You are right when you talk about salaries. Our salaries are too high. You want me to cut them? (some applause) … Do you want me to start with my salary? Yes, I’ll slash mine (cries of ‘No’.) I’ll slash the damned salaries in this country. Mine I slash by twenty per cent as from this hour. …
The damned salaries! These are the salaries which build this kind of attitude in the educated people, all of them. Me and you. We belong to a class of exploiters. I belong to your class. Where I think three hundred and eighty pounds a year [the minimum wage that would be paid in the National Service] is a prison camp, is forced labour. We belong to this damned exploiting class on top. Is this what the country fought for? Is this what we worked for? In order to maintain a class of exploiters on top? …
You are right, salaries are too high. Everybody in this country is demanding a pound of flesh. Everybody except the poor peasant. How can he demand it? He doesn’t know the language. … What kind of country are we building? [quoted in Coulson 1982, 181-2]
And he ended: “Go Home” and left the compound. As the students came out, police buses were waiting for them. They were all taken to the Campus to collect their belongings and transported to their home areas. Almost 400 students had been expelled en masse. This was in October. At the end of January the party adopted the Arusha Declaration, Tanzania’s blueprint of socialism and self-reliance, Ujamaa. In between Nyerere used the period to prepare the nation for the Arusha Declaration, visiting regions and villages, making speeches.

The 1967 intake at the University was the first post-Arusha generation, to which I belong. Internally, the situation was ripe for debates and externally this was the period when revolution was on the crest of the wave. Civil rights movement in the US, anti-Vietnam demonstrations in Europe and elsewhere, southern African liberation movements, many of whom were based in Tanzania. At the Hill, the expulsion resulted in a lot of soul-searching – what are we teaching? What kind of students are we preparing? Are we preparing our students to serve socialist Tanzania? What should be the role of the University in socialist Tanzania? This opened up space for the new students and the diasporans, including the more militant Faculty like Walter Rodney, to propose more interdisciplinary, holistic approach to teaching. It was in this context that some students – who included from Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and elsewhere, to transform their socialist club to the University African Revolutionary Front – USARF – whose first chairman was Yoweri Museveni – who is currently the president of Uganda. Same name, same man, but not the same revolutionary!! People change – and power changes people absolutely!
USARF was a small organization in numbers but had an overwhelming presence. It organized public lectures and debates. It commented, with incisive analysis, on important events happening in Africa – whether this was the banning of Odinga’s KPU by Jomo Kenyatta or the succession crisis in Frelimo after Mondlane’s assassination. Revolutionaries and militants from all over the world spoke on USARF’s platform. Stokely Carmichael of Black Power, the great singer Mariam Makeba from SA, Dos Santos from Frelimo, Ebrahim Gora from PAC, the grand old man of the reputation of Black Jacobin, CLR James from Trinidad, Chedi jagan of Guyana whose government was overthrown by the CIA. One of our most prominent revolutionary speakers was of course Walter Rodney. Another from outside the Campus was Abdurrahman Mohamed Babu – a Zanzibari Marxist who belonged to the first generation of African Marxists.
USARF militants thought, theorized and acted. They thought globally and epochally, and acted locally and imminently. In the Faculty of Law, a compulsory first year course was introduced called Social & Economic Problems of Africa – where we read: Marx, Engels and Lenin – Fanon, Nkrumah and Cabral. Nothing was out of bounds – we read everything and learnt to read critically. What we did not read in the classroom, we read in our Sunday ideological classes – where we read and debated. No one was beyond criticism – not even Walter Rodney. There were no icons, only iconoclasts. Our motto was: question everything. But we scrupulously avoided factionalism.
We took to heart Hegel’s dictum: ‘The truth is the whole’ – arguing against bourgeois compartmentalization of knowledge. We valued revolutionary theory – citing as often as we could Amilcar Cabral’s great dictum: I have seen many revolutions, but I have yet to see a successful revolution which is not led by a revolutionary theory. We debated with bourgeois lecturers on their eclecticism and empiricism. And if they ignored us in the classroom, we organized public debates and invited them to explain their case. Many of them declined!
Most of our practical actions were preceded by theoretical analysis. Let me give you one example. There was an Oxbridge tradition at the Hill called Rag Day. This was when students dressed in rags and descended on the city to beg for the poor. We said: No! We cannot allow this mockery of the working people. So we planned to sabotage the Rag Day. The day before we had a long discussion to understand the role of charity in a capitalist society. This is when Rodney first gave his famous definition of charity: He said: Bourgeois charity is giving by ounces and taking by tons.
Oral debates were not sufficient. We needed to reach far and wide and put pen to paper. So USARF started its theoretical magazine called Cheche, a Swahili word meaning Spark. The name was after Nkrumah’s journal called The Spark and Lenin’s called Iskra.
In 1970 the University of East Africa was broken up – a disastrous decision by politicians in my opinion. (Although we did not see it that way at that time: keep this in mind – how at certain moments nationalism becomes reactionary!!) Each country – Kenya, Uganda Tanzania – established their own independent universities. Thus was established the University of Dar es Salaam. Mwalimu as the Chancellor of the University appointed a party cadre as the Vice-Chancellor. The Green Guards – party youth wingers – escorted him to the Campus. Only a few months later – in November 1970 – the leaders of USARF and the editors of Cheche were called by the VC. He announced to them that USARF was proscribed and Cheche was banned because it carried a foreign name and preached a foreign ideology – Russian socialism. We suspected at the time that the orders had from come from Mwalimu – now research has established that indeed it was Nyerere’s decision. Apparently the pressure came from the Catholic Church, with considerable political clout in the country. Bishops were warned that the Hill was being painted red and becoming atheist. They particularly resented Sunday ideological classes, which they said had reduced attendance at Sunday church services. A couple of years later, Nyerere assured the Bishops that communism would never come to Tanzania. “We know better societal relations than the bishops:” he said, “we know robust methods of checking communism. I believe communism will never come to Tanzania if our methods succeed. Recently, I intervened to stop a group of students who wanted to start “Cheche,” on the Russian lines”.

But comrades continued to publish the magazine. They changed the name and called it MajiMaji referring to the 1905 rebellion against the German colonizers.

A year later there was another interesting event, marking a further development in the process of decolonisation. This is called the Akivaga Crisis. Akivaga was a Kenyan, a former cadre of USARF. He was elected the president of the Students Union, equivalent of your SRC. At the 1971 graduation ceremony, Akivaga read out a long statement accusing the VC of bureaucratic tendencies. The VC wasn’t amused. He prepared to rusticate Akivaga. Students surrounded the VC’s office demanding that he come out to explain his decision to the students. The VC called in the police – the infamous Field Force Unit. This was the first time the police entered the Campus. Akivaga was carried bodily and bundled into the police truck and put on the next flight to Kenya. This time the students were wiser. They did not demonstrate nor go on strike, in which case they would have been expelled. Instead they adopted a very innovative method – work to rule and non-cooperation. They wouldn’t participate in sports or any competitions, they wouldn’t sit on Faculty boards or the senate or the council, they would not agree to be on university delegations. Their major demand was ‘bring back Akivaga’. This was a huge embarrassment to the University administration and its management of student affairs. The stalemate continued for some 8 months. Then in one public meeting called by students – radical students and young faculty (including former USARF cadres) argued that the question was no more the question of Akivaga. The question really was: whose University it is? Is it people’s university or a university of imperialism and its local agents? Only people can decide. So they proposed a public debate down town to discuss the question – Whose university? This sent shockwaves through the University bureaucracy and the powers-that-be. They dispatched a professor immediately to Kenya to bring back Akivaga – to take the wind out of the sail of the student struggle. Akivaga was returned to the campus. He was in power only a few months. He was overthrown in a coup by a group of party youth wingers on narrow nationalist grounds. The VC approved the coup wholeheartedly and ceremoniously received the coup makers – early signs of the party’s domination of the University.

I’ll not go into any details of the period between 1971 and 1978 except make three observations: 1) that radical debates were increasingly driven by the young faculty rather than students themselves; 2) that MajiMaji, the successor of Cheche, increasingly became eclectic in the selection of articles and the contents and 3) there was an acrimonious debate among the so-called Marxist-Leninists on the faculty – which has been presumptuously dubbed ‘the Dar debate’. The debate was dogmatic and demagogic, specializing in name-calling, which fractured the unity of the Left on the Campus while at the same time pushing students to become by-standers rather than active participants. When the 1978 demonstration by students came, the Left faculty on Campus was taken by surprise and was equally divided in its support and opposition.
By late 1970s, the hegemony of the Arusha Declaration had begun to decline. The economy too was showing early signs of a crisis. And the state bureaucracy increasingly became insensitive to people’s plight – flexing its power muscles. Members of parliament and ministers passed a resolution increasing their salaries and perks. This enraged students on the campus. The militant leadership, which had then been elected to the student union, organised a demonstration against it. But this time around they took their demonstration to the streets – outside the campus. They passed through working class areas with their placards – all of which touched on national issues rather than their own bread-and-butter questions. The demonstrating students were supported and cheered by working people. Mwalimu sent his FFU to break up the demonstration. Somehow, some students using people’s pathways, found their way to downtown city where they read out their statement in front of the offices of Government newspaper. As soon as they had finished, they were bundled into police trucks and expelled by the Chancellor, Mwalimu Nyerere. Next day the Government Daily News carried an editorial, probably inspired by the State House, justifying the expulsion on the ground that students were opposing to become village managers. It did not wash. Unlike 1966, people neither demonstrated in opposition to students nor condemned them.

Meanwhile, the student union was proscribed and substituted by a national student organization under the control of the Party Youth Wing. The campus was infested by what we in Tanzania call mashushu – meaning spies and informers. Radical debates died down.

If the 1966 demonstration was the curtain raiser of the militant student struggles, radical nationalism and the Arusha Declaration, the 1978 demonstration marked both the end of the nationalist phase and the beginning of the neo-liberal phase. In the 1980s, as the Washington Consensus began to take grip, the University was increasingly starved of resources, as the country experienced one of its worst economic crisis since independence. Debates changed both their orientation and venue. More and more debates happened in the town – in hotels and workshops rather than on the Hill. And the debates were more oriented to liberal issues of democracy – constitutionalism and human rights, multi-party etc. On campus the active, organised body was much more the staff association – UDASA – rather than students because students had lost their autonomous organization. Of course, within the democracy debate there were different tendencies – the dominant tendency being liberal, advocating democracy, human rights, good governance etc and the minority tendency arguing for participatory people’s democracy.

Mwalimu to his credit stepped down in 1985, still respected by the people – perhaps not as popular – but his integrity untarnished. His successor, Mzee Mwinyi, began the transition to neo-liberalism – which on Campus meant cost sharing. Matters came to a head in 1990. Student opposition was undoubtedly to cost sharing but students lacked any coherent leadership and articulation. The debate degenerated into personal insults and abuse of the head of state on wall newspapers. The result was that students were expelled and the University was closed. Mwinyi dismissed the VC who had been quite democratic in allowing student participation and staff debates. His successor came with the agenda of university transformation in the image of neo-liberalism. The rest is history in making, work-in-progress, which we shall chat about some other day.

Let me end by summing up some of the fundamental features of the struggle of the Hill students which hopefully we can learn from.

First, during its militant phase, student struggles to decolonize and debourgeoisify academic disciplines and debureaucratise University structures were led by a radical theory and ideology. Students thought and analysed before acting. They planned and strategized. They had a longer view of history and a bigger picture of society as their backdrop. Although radical students were not in a big number, they were the most articulate and they provided the leadership.

In this regard, the period of militant struggles between 1966-1978 stands in contrast to the liberal struggles of 1978-1990.

Second, the leadership scrupulously avoided factionalism, which can be very fractious. They may compromise politically, where necessary, but never compromised on theory, vision or ideology – but always trying to ensure unity.

Third, they avoided violence – as far as possible – realizing that violence would provide an excuse to the powers-that-be to discredit them, close the university and disperse them.

In this regard, the Akivaga crisis of 1972 when students did not go on strike, and the 1990 closing of the University stand in stark contrast. In 1990 students refused to budge from their positions resulting in their expulsion and defeat.

Fourth, – and this was the soft underbelly of student struggles – although students waged their struggle in the name of workers and peasants, they did not build, either individual or organizational links, with the working people – neither with the workers on the campus nor workers outside the campus. Mwalimu was an astute politician. He was quite conscious of this. So long as students carried on debates – however critical – on Campus, he would tolerate and take them on at intellectual level. But once they stepped out of the Campus, as in 1978, he clobbered them decisively.

After the 1978 expulsion of students, and when the students were finally readmitted, Mwalimu visited the Campus talking about many issues including democracy etc. Sometimes Mwalimu used the Hill as his sounding board for the ideas that were brewing in his mind. After he had finished and the students were given the floor one student stood up. The question went something like this: Mwalimu, you talk about democracy but when we demand and demonstrate for democracy you send the FFU to clobber us. There was pin-drop silence in the Hall. The Faculty and students were equally afraid of the fate of the questioner. Mwalimu stared at the questioner for a minute or so, as was his wont. His reply was something to this effect: I am head of state. Do you know what state means? The state is the instrument of violence. It has the monopoly of violence. If you demonstrate against the state, of course, I will send FFU – of course I will clobber you. But does that mean you shouldn’t demonstrate for democracy? Democracy is never given on a sliver platter. You have to struggle for it.

We all clapped, including the questioner! There was a thunderous applause. Mwalimu was one person who could have his cake and eat it. Mwalimu stood up and left the assembly Hall. And I have finished my story and take my seat. Thank you.


The Life and Times of Babu: The Age of Liberation and Revolution


Keynote address at the International Conference to celebrate the Life of Comrade Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu, 21-22 September 2001, University of Dar es Salaam

Babu lived in the age of national liberation and revolution. The period after the Second World War to the defeat of US imperialism in Vietnam in 1975 was characterised by what, the then Chinese Communist Party, described as, “Countries want Independence, Nations want Liberation and People want Revolution.” Babu belonged to the first generation of African Marxists who participated in the struggle for independence, national liberation, and people’s revolution.[1]

This was also the age of great intellectual and ideological ferment. Every revolution and liberation struggle had its theoreticians, its thinkers, its arsenal of articulated ideas, not just arsenal of weapons. Young activists and cadres began by mastering the ‘Weapon of Theory’, to use Amilcar Cabral’s phrase, before turning to theories of weapons (Cabral 1969). The clarion call of our journal, Cheche, produced by the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF) was: ‘Struggle to Learn, Learn to Struggle’. Political leaders of liberation movements and revolutions were giant intellectuals and thinkers in their own right. Nehru’s prison letters to his daughter constituted a tome called Glimpses of World History. Nkrumah wrote the influential Neo-colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism (Nkrumah 1968). Frantz Fanon combined in him a professional psychiatrist, a revolutionary activist and the author of the great The Wretched of the Earth (Fanon 1967), whose mastery was a necessary entry qualification to our Sunday Ideological Classes at the Hill (see generally Shivji 1995). Babu’s own African Socialism or Socialist Africa? was written in Ukonga prison in Dar es Salaam and the manuscript smuggled out for “ruthless criticism”, ( to use Marx’s phrase from a well-know quote), by young comrades and the young comrades ruthlessly criticised it without regard to the fact that this was a manuscript of an older, much more experienced, comrade. As a matter of fact, the youthful critics so overdid their, rather dogmatic, criticism, that Babu was moved to retort:

The writer of the manuscript is once again very grateful for the trouble you have taken to deal with this matter. He has only one adverse comment to make. The tone of the “comments” smacks of intellectual arrogance, which is un-Marxist. It leaves a bad taste in the mouth. He wanted to quote the old Russian saying (immortalised by Lenin) which says: “God save us from our friends; from our enemies we can defend ourselves”, but he has been scared of the likely response, i.e. religious-counter-revolutionary, revisionism, etc. etc. and so he has quickly withdrawn it.

I would like to underline in this episode the phrase ‘young’ because Babu, just as his ideas, never got old. He dedicated his book to the ‘Youth of Africa’. He could have as well said: ‘Dedicated to us, the Youth of Africa’! I would also like to underscore the total absence of intellectual hierarchy in the relationship and Babu’s joyful chiding of his young sceptics. The first issue of Cheche carried articles by professors and second year students alike, yet, you could not tell either from the content or from appellations as to ‘who was who’. Every one was a comrade and as a comrade every one was a fair game for “ruthless criticism”. Rodney subjected his manuscript How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Rodney 1972), which was to become a celebrated volume the world over, to two young comrades who at the time were final year students. The acknowledgement in Rodney’s Preface well captures the flavour of the time.

Special thanks must go to comrades Karim Hirji and Henry Mapolu of the University of Dar es Salaam, who read the manuscript in a spirit of constructive criticism. But, contrary to the fashion in most prefaces, I will not add that ‘all mistakes and shortcomings are entirely my responsibility’. That is sheer bourgeois subjectivism. Responsibility in matters of these sorts is always collective, especially with regard to the remedying of shortcomings.

I find these instances particularly interesting when you juxtapose them against our current intellectual culture, if a culture we can call it. Young lecturers today would feel particularly insulted if a student did not attach an accurate appellation of a ‘Dr’. or a Professor to his/her name. But I am jumping ahead of my story. The present can wait a little, while we reminiscence on the past.


Political leaders and intellectual activists of the time were not only political thinkers but also knowledgeable commentators on art and culture, on science and philosophy, on history and technology, because, as the truism of the day went, ‘The Truth is the Whole’. Mwalimu Nyerere wrote beautiful shairi (poems) and translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar into Kiswahili. Just before he died, he completed the translation of Plato’s Republic into Kiswahili. Our reading list for the Sunday Ideological Classes, besides the “standard texts” of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Fanon, Nkrumah, Odinga, and others contained authors on anthropology like Childe (Man Makes Himself), Snow on Chinese Civilisation, Joan Robinson, Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy on economics, J. D. Bernal on Science, Rodinson on ‘Islam and Capitalism’, Rene Dumont on agrarian issues and many works of art and literature of which, of course, Gorky’s Mother, Tressel’s Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Soyinka’s The Man Died, Ngugi’s Petals of Blood, Sembene Ousmane’s Gods Bits of Wood and Shafi Adam Shafi’s Kuli were “compulsory readings” marked with red asterisk.

No doubt, this intellectual ferment, this ‘insurrection of ideas’, was world-wide but, it is important to recall for the benefit of our young students and modern-day market-driven institutional transformers at this University, that the Hill was the African hotbed of this intellectual ferment. It is this which put the Hill on the intellectual world map, which no amount of computer systems and internet cafe, however modern, can do, notwithstanding the paternalising flattery of the American Chronicle for Higher Education (April 6, 2001) describing the University of Dar es Salaam as one of the few African success stories in one of the most poor countries which have been ‘winning praise — and increased financial support from the West — for their efforts to transform themselves.’

Transform ourselves, we indeed have, and not only at this University but also in the country as a whole, nay, globally. The comment I have just quoted, if made then, would have raised eyebrows and resulted in soul-searching:’If you have been praised by the imperialist press, then there is something wrong with you,’ the argument would go. Today, we receive such comments as a compliment. It is photocopied and circulated to every member of staff. But why blame a University administrator who feels flattered when complimented by the American Chronicle when our state leaders cite the pronouncement of an American ambassador as proof beyond reasonable doubt that, for example, the elections were free and fair or that we are credit worthy and therefore eligible to become more indebted and so on.

The global transformation from the third quarter of the twentieth century to its last quarter is pervasive, whether or not it is deep is a different matter. The transformation that I want to speak to – and which was dear to Babu’s heart – is of course from the age of liberation and revolution, in which the forces of reaction generally, and imperialism particularly, were on the defensive, to the current period when even the uttering of the word ‘imperialism’ would earn you a place among intellectual dinosaurs, that is, if you are lucky enough not to be placed on the identification parade of so-called “terrorists”. How does one explain the transformation of the utterly, and almost universally, vilified imperialism to the respected, feared and universally acclaimed “international community” within such a short historical period? In other words, the central question we need to address is how did imperialism rehabilitate and legitimise itself to the extent that the former British Secretary of State, Douglas Hurd, could say with satisfaction in 1990 that ‘we are slowly putting behind us a period of history when the West was unable to express a legitimate interest in the developing world without being accused of “neo-colonialism”.’ (Furedi 1994, 99).

Perhaps the most illustrative, informative and symbolic comparison between the two periods is the Ten-Year Vietnamese War (1965-75) with The Ten-Year Gulf War (1991-2001). (The latter, of course, is not quite over and may even dovetail into another devastating Afghan War for, God knows, how long.[2]) The Vietnam War was horrendous as was the Gulf War. Three million people are estimated to have perished during the Vietnam War, mostly civilians – presumably in, what American commanders heartlessly call, ‘collateral damage’ (Pilger 1998, 555). Half the forests were destroyed and the genetic damage done to the countryside through defoliants has yet to be fully worked out. A quarter of a million people perished in the Gulf War and half a million children have died since as a result of sanctions (ibid., 29-30; Arnove 2000, passim). Still worse, the scientific, technological and medical infrastructure of Iraq, which is acknowledged to have been one of the most modern in the Third World, has been virtually bombed out of existence. It is said that US aircraft alone dropped 88,000 tons of explosives on Iraq, the equivalent of five Hiroshima nuclear blasts (Arnove op. cit., 115). But it is not the similarity of horror and the inherently war-mongering nature of imperialism which I wish to emphasise, important as it is. It is the difference that I want to draw attention to. And this is the global anti-war movement generated by the Vietnam War and the moral devastation of imperialism resulting from it compared to the relative absence of both in the case of Gulf War. This needs to be explained. True, US imperialism was militarily defeated in Vietnam but this was not because of its military weakness. In my view, the military defeat was the tail end of the process of defeat. US imperialism was defeated in the hearts and minds of world opinion before it was defeated on the battlefield. The broad anti-imperialist movement that Vietnam generated across countries and peoples, in which Africa, including Babu’s country, was prominent, is what is most remarkable. During the Gulf War, on the other hand, there has hardly been any official reaction from this part of the world and the Hill, if at all, has even forgotten that such a thing exists. In a sense, the Gulf War marks the beginning of the ‘moral rehabilitation of imperialism’, to use Furedi’s phrase (ibid.).

I want to suggest that in this rehabilitation, the transformation of the intellectual culture and discourse played and continues to play a vanguard role.

I am quite conscious that assigning such a prominent role to Ideas and Intellectuals sits rather uncomfortably with Marxists. Had it been the 1960s, I would have been promptly denounced as a petty bourgeois idealist. We of course devotedly declared that ‘Masses move Mountains’ but at the same time subtly recognised that ‘Insurrection of Ideas precedes Insurrection of Arms’. In other words, masses have to be moved by ideas before they can move mountains. Whether arrogantly, as with Lenin, or more modestly, as with Mao, Marxist ideologues gave similar prominence to Ideas and Intellectuals. Lenin summed it up politically when he said that the working class on its own is only capable of trade union consciousness; political consciousness has to be introduced from outside – presumably by petty bourgeois intellectuals. Gramsci provided a theory for the intellectual’s role by propounding the concept of the ‘organic intellectual’ and Mao supplied a populist rendering of the intellectual’s role when he stated, ‘We must give back to the masses systematically, what we receive from them confusedly’. We, presumably, refers to ‘We, the Intellectuals’! Amilcar Cabral made it comfortable for the petty bourgeois intellectual to assume leadership of the revolution provided he or she committed class suicide. And ‘our own’ Wamba seriously and sincerely flatters the people when he says, ‘People Think’ (Wamba 1991). He could have perhaps added, ‘We, the Intellectuals, Think with the People’ (hopefully not for the people!).

Be that as it may, I simply want to argue that the intellectual discourse or the ‘insurrection of ideas’ of the age of liberation and revolution was as important in delegitimising imperialism as the suppression of ideas and decimation of the intellectual body has been in rehabilitating it. Let me illustrate this, in a few broad strokes, by the transformation of the intellectual discourse and the metamorphosis of the Intellectual at the Hill.[3]

I have already indicated the intellectual ferment, the Golden Age, so to speak, of intellectualism at the Hill. It was all-pervasive as we read voraciously and debated profusely. Every publication was an event; every return from a field trip was an occasion for reflection, every seminar was a forum for ideological struggle, which, admittedly, we sometimes overdid. Many of our comrades who occupy state positions or are employed by respectable universities overseas or have become much sought after consultants, (or are state presidents and commander-in-chiefs), have either outright disavowed that period or feel embarrassed to talk about it. Nonetheless, I believe it was a great period imbued with unfaltering commitment to the cause of the wretched of the earth. And that was its greatest strength. Some other strengths may also be mentioned.

First, the basic premise of that discourse was that the Truth is the Whole and that knowledge cannot, and ought not to be divided and compartmentalised. Bourgeois compartmentalisation of knowledge was roundly condemned and De Castro’s dictum in his The Geography of Hunger was ravishly quoted:

… Narrowness of outlook is characteristic of Western civilisation. Since the middle of the nineteenth century a kind of university instruction has developed which is no longer interested in transmitting a unified image of the world, but rather in isolating, and mutilating, facets of reality, in the supposed interest of science. The tremendous impact of scientific progress produced a fragmentation of culture and pulverised it into little grains of learning. Each scientific specialist seized his granule and turned it over and over beneath the powerful lens of his microscope striving to penetrate its microcosm, with a marvellous indifference to and towering ignorance of everything around him. Recently in Europe and the United States an extreme development of this type of University education has created within the culture a sort of civilisation sui generis – a specialists’ civilisation – directed by men whose scientific outlook is rigorous but who suffer from a deplorable cultural and political myopia.

That holistic premise gave rise to the interdisciplinary course called Social and Economic Problems of East Africa taught in the first year in law. It developed into the Common Course co-ordinated by Lionel Cliffe and eventually became the Institute of Development Studies (for student struggles at the Hill see Peter & Mvungi 1986). Today, development studies courses themselves are divided up and revised to make them more market-oriented and acceptable.

Second, the intellectual debate was guided by grand social theories and inspired by epochal visions of social emancipation of all humankind. We saw ourselves as part of a great historical movement of liberation and revolution. Marxist theories of capitalism and imperialism, its various offshoots such as the theories of development of underdevelopment, were subject of study and discussion. Analysis of material life, modes of production and relations of production were seriously undertaken for, it was believed, social transformation cannot simply be wished and be brought about by human will, but must be scientifically understood because human will too is historically and socially determined. True, both the scientism and marxism were occasionally overdone as marxist-leninist texts were scrutinised to the last comma to denounce non-conformists (for an illustration of this see Tandon ed. 1982). It was this perhaps which once prompted Nyerere to say that he wouldn’t want to see the apes of the East or the apes of the West in ‘his’ University. One wonders, if he were alive today, what would he have said when confronted with the puppets of the West in many an African state on his continent.

Inspired, we certainly were, by Western socialist theories and practices of liberation and revolution in the world, particularly in the Third World. But there was considerable amount of imagination and choosing even in aping. More important, we firmly held to our commitment to the Rest, the wretched of the earth, while learning from the East and the West. There was an unwavering loyalty to universal emancipation (‘Workers of the World Unite’), but this did not detract from our emphatic understanding that not only the ‘Truth is the Whole’ but also that the ‘Truth is Concrete’: we must make a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. The Cheche banner proclaimed: ‘Oppressed of the World Unite!’

‘Concrete analysis of concrete conditions’ and ‘No investigation, no right to speak’ were taken seriously. And that was the third strength of that discourse. Grand social theories were backed by basic research. Discoveries made in the field were presented in seminars and hotly debated. Adhu Awiti (1972) spent months and years in Iringa villages scrupulously documenting peasant differentiation in the ownership of the means of production to produce his ‘Class Struggles in Rural Society of Tanzania’. Von Freyhold (1979) spent months in Tanga ujamaa villages to give us a concrete understanding of ujamaa on the ground and Marjorie Mbilinyi (1974) did similar work to identify embryonic capitalism in rural Tanzania. Henry Mapolu (1973) studied tobacco farms in Tabora and Ben Ndulu (1973) researched villages of the Rufiji basin (yes, in case you are wondering, I’m referring to the same Ben Ndulu who is now the World Bank representative to his country!)

In this period of institutional transformation, which has earned us a US $3.5 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, basic research has all but died down. We have metamorphosed from intellectual researchers of yesterday to policy consultants of today. The truth of course is that we are neither consulted nor recommend policy. Policy is set elsewhere by those who hold the purse strings while, we the local counter-parts, as we are called, mount stage shows organising national workshops of “stake-holders”. No one pretends that consultancy generate knowledge, much less that the consultant is an organic intellectual of the the wretched of the earth. We all know, and admit it in private, that we are neither organic to anything nor intellectuals. We are simply paid juniors, euphemistically called ‘counter-parts’, of Western consultants paid by the West, leaving us little time to care about the Rest. In this game of euphemisms, Western paymasters are called development partners; consultancy, whose only source of scientific data is ‘rapid rural appraisals’ and other consultancy reports, is called development work ,which development work is dutifully executed by a Western team leader called ‘development practitioner’. If all this sounds like Orwell’s ‘double-speak’, well then, it is!

I want to suggest that it is the amazing double-speak of imperial consultants and propagandists, which has been at the heart of decimating the body of Intellectual Thought that provided the theoretical foundation and ideological inspiration for the age of liberation and revolution. The double-speak is aimed at three targets. One, at rehabilitating imperialism morally by demonising Third World nationalism and delegitimising Third World states (particularly in Africa) as no more than a coterie of ethnic groups out to loot poor, ignorant populations who need to be saved from their own rulers by the humanitarian interventions of the international community (Furedi op.cit. passim). An editorial in the US News and World Report (28th December 1992) declared Third World nationalism as a great delusion:

In the Third World, there had been grand ideas of new states and social contracts among the communities, post-colonial dreams of what men and women could do on their own. There were exalted notions of Indian nationalism, Pan-Arabism and the like. Ethnicity hid, draped in the colors of modern nationalism, hoping to keep the ancestors – and the troubles – at bay. But the delusions would not last. What was India? The India of its secular founders – or the “Hindu Raj” of the militant fundamentalists? What exactly did the compact communities of Iraq – the Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shia – have in common? The masks have fallen, the tribes have stepped to the fore. (quoted in Furedi op. cit. 102)

Humanitarian interventions to save the Third World people from themselves then is presented as the motif of numerous military and economic interventions by the “international community” from Serbia to Somalia. These interventions are not only begged for by our political leaders themselves but also justified by our intellectuals. Statements like those quoted are presented as matter-of-fact not requiring any further proof. They are neither ideological statements and nor do they require historical or theoretical justification since, it is said with Fukuyama, all ideologies and history have ended. In the post-cold war period we do not have any clashes of ideas or ideological struggles but the ‘clash of civilisations’, as Samuel Huntigton, the intellectual think-tank of the US state department, proclaims. The clash is supposedly between the Western civilisation and Islamic and Confucian civilisations, between the Good and Evil, between the Values of the Free World, and the prejudices of the Rest, between People and non -people (see generally articles in the Third World Quarterly, March 1995).

Of course, the clash of civilisations had to be invented. How else would one justify the expanding military machine of imperialism while at the same time proclaim ‘end of ideology’ after the Cold War? We all know, but can hardly say, particularly if you happen to be from Africa, that there have been more wars, more destruction of life, more arms sales by the West in the last ten years after the Cold War than any time during the so-called Cold War.

The second big onslaught has been to make the ideology of human rights, and its related offshoots such as rule of law, good governance, poverty alleviation etc., all pervasive. Again human rights is of course not presented as an ideology but an immortal, all time truth. Its unquestioning pervasiveness and acceptance among our own intellectuals is remarkable. When I wrote my The Concept of Human Rights in Africa (1989) arguing that it was an ideology of domination and that we needed to reconceptualise it and turn it on its head to make it an ideology of resistance, it was simply ignored and brushed aside as demagogic. Perhaps demagogic it is, but pales before the demagogy of human rights and yet the double-speak in that ideology is so blatant.

There is not much time to go into the analysis of human rights as an ideology except to point out that it has, at least in the short run and in this part of the world, been pretty effective in displacing grand social theories and vision of human emancipation. Former marxists, activists and even rightwing propagandists have all jumped on the human rights bandwagon. (My friend Haroub Othman here and his friend Issa Shivji have all become human rights activists.) Human rights discourse has succeeded in marginalising concrete analysis of our society. Human rights ideology is the ideology of the status quo, not change. Documentation of human rights abuses, although important in its own right, by itself does not help us to understand the social and political relations in our society. It is not surprising that given the absence of political economy context and theoretical framework, much of our writings on human rights, rule of law, constitution etc. uncritically reiterate or assume neo-liberal precepts. Human rights is not a theoretical tool of understanding social and political relations. At best, it can only be a means of exposing a form of oppression and, therefore, perhaps, an ideology of resistance. If not carefully handled, it cannot even serve that purpose (see, generally, Shivji 1993).

The third target of imperial ideological onslaught has been the organisational expression of people’s struggles. Traditional and historically well tested forms of organisation like parties, trade unions and mass movements are placed on the same footing as non-governmental organisations, NGOs. As a matter of fact, it is the various human rights NGOs which occupy the centre stage because they are the best funded by the donor community and whose importance is blown out of all proportion to their real capacity for change.

The very concept of NGO has drained the people of the organisational expression of their struggles. NGOs are supposed to be non-political, non-partisan and non-membership, formed by activists, usually from outside the social group that they are advocating for, without any constituency, accountable only to themselves and the funder. Their function, as they see it themselves, is awareness raising and advocacy in which the people are passive, ignorant subjects or victims, incapable of struggling for their rights. Under the demagogic precept of ‘action not words’, even well-intentioned individuals in NGOs willy-nilly end up supporting the status quo because they have no theoretical tools or ideological stand to guide them. In the world of NGOs, theory and ideology are swear words. They are despised. In other words, we are told to act, not to think.

As part of the process of delegitimising Third World states, which are daily decried as corrupt and inefficient, donor funds are channelled to NGOs. NGOs are encouraged to think of themselves as development partners equally with the state and “international community”, not as pressure groups exposing the misdeeds of their states and imperialism, which is what they are in the West. In many ways, NGOs have provided both the state and the “international community” a convenient alibi from shouldering and accounting for their own responsibility. The so-called NGO activity has diverted the energy of the people from demanding structural reforms to attending rights awareness seminars and workshops. And these seminars and workshops are generously funded when normal schools and institutions of higher learning would find very difficult to raise funds to carry on their normal activities as sites of knowledge. Today it would be easier to get funds for the Faculty of Commerce to mount a seminar for women mandazi (bun) sellers to attend a short course on enterpreneurship than to establish a trade union college to train shop stewards who can fight, not only for the rights of workers but also understand and impart the knowledge on why and how privatisation and market lead to redundancy!

The demonisation of Third World nationalism, the propagandising of human rights and the boosting of thousands of NGOs as the expression of civil society has simultaneously done several things. One, it has denigrated the ideologies and visions of liberation. Second, it has delegitimised, particularly, African states and turned them into nothing more than ‘veranda boys’ of the “international community”. Thirdly, it has taken away the right of the people of these countries to wage their own struggles, and thereby generate their own organisations and mass movements. Fourthly, it has reduced the oppressed masses and exploited classes from a revolutionary agency to supplicants for aid, classified as the most poor and vulnerable and therefore qualified to receive handouts from poverty alleviation funds. Fifthly, it has robbed the masses of its organic intellectuals and thinkers. Our universities have been transformed from being sites of knowledge to corporations, busy advertising their wares on the market, the chief among them being our consultants with Ph.D.s. The primary research of these erstwhile consultants is confined to ‘rapid rural appraisals’ to produce policy papers which are then submitted for endorsement by stake-holders – a motley of academics, bureaucrats, NGO activists, foreign consultants and development practitioners. Rural people cannot possibly be stakeholders because they cannot have a stake in the system that oppresses and exploits them every hour of the day. Nor can the consultant-researcher on rapid rural appraisal develop any organic link with workers and peasants. He or she is probably busy categorising and classifying them as poor, less poor, most poor, most vulnerable and so on to enable him or her to draft a policy paper on Poverty Reduction Strategy or for identifying the target group for the next NGO project.

To sum up the intellectual discourse and concepts of the 60s and 70s with that of the current one, let me just juxtapose the two. At that time the young radical intellectual committed to the cause of the Wretched of the Earth saw the world divided into three worlds. The Third World was undoubtedly the oppressed and exploited while the First World was undoubtedly the home of oppressor states. He or she debated on the social and political character of the Second World meanwhile sharpening his theoretical tools to understand the world so as to change it. The third world had within it colonial and neo-colonial countries and oppressed nations and nationalities whose liberation from the coloniser or the imperial neo-coloniser was on the historical agenda. Imperialism was explained, with Lenin and Nkrumah, as a stage in the development of worldwide capitalism headed by the North and living and sustaining itself by the draining of surplus from the South. Within these countries you had classes; comprador classes siding with imperialism and exploited and oppressed classes and peoples and patriotic groups objectively poised as the agency of liberation. The task of the radical intellectual was to understand the system of enslavement and build and organise the forces of revolution against imperialism and capitalism so as to construct democratic and socialist societies which would answer to the needs and aspirations of the masses. Our radical intellectual believed that social change and transformation does not come as a manna from a messiah but is the result of the struggle of the people in which they constitute themselves as people to regain their humanity. He or she did not make a distinction between ‘political’ and ‘civil’, between ‘non-governmental’ and ‘governmental’ but rather preached and practised the dictum that, ‘Politics is the concentrated form of economics’ (Lenin) and that ‘the state is the table of contents’ (Marx) of civil society and class struggles.

Today, the world is presented as a global village which is being inexorably villagised by the forces of globalisation. It consists of the international community and others. The composition of the international community is flexible but rogue-states are definitely not part of it. No one, we are told, has control over the processes of globalisation because it is controlled by the invisible hand of the market, which incidentally, is a very competent distributor of resources. We, in the Third World, do not have much of a choice in this globalised world. Our leaders tell us that we either adapt to globalisation or perish. The globalisation experts tell us, and our political leaders repeat it parrot-like, that globalisation offers opportunities and challenges. To be able to make use of these opportunities, among other things, we need to behave ourselves; enforce the civilisation values of freedom, individualism, good governance, and human rights. We must of course put in place an enabling environment to attract development funds by making available at no cost our state, sovereignty, land, labour, minerals, water and air and space to investors. For this we need appropriate sectoral policies and the international community would always consider our applications for funds to hire consultants to draft such policies for us.

All this sounds like a caricature and double-speak of the most blatant kind. We all know that there is no community of interest in the international community; that globalisation is just another name for imperialism; that the global village embodies in it global pillage; that all cards are staked on one side in stake-holders workshops; that good governance is another name for legitimising economically despotic system for, governance is not a question of morality but a contest of power. Yet, it is amazing how often this farce is re-enacted and the most we can allow ourselves is to make a few sarcastic remarks, which is good entertainment, while business continues as usual.

To conclude: it needs hardly to be said that we are in the trough of the world revolution but I do not believe that all is lost. The forces of progress may have been defeated but certainly not destroyed. Wherever there is oppression, there is bound to be resistance. There is a silver lining and we are already witnessing it: Seattle, Prague, Gottenberg, Genoa are dress rehearsals. Before South Africa’s liberation, Babu used to say, half-seriously, that within Tanzania,. Zanzibar is the centre of the African revolution; within East Africa, it is Tanzania and within Africa it is South Africa. If he were alive today, he would have perhaps reassessed as to where the centre of gravity of the revolution lies. He would have been a little disappointed that Zanzibar is not quite central, but he would have been certainly heartened by the fact that there has been Genoa and Gottenberg and would have certainly applauded the fact that we are able to hold an international conference on this Campus, and in this Lecture Theatre to which he, and many of us, have sentimental attachment. He would have certainly advised his young comrades not to turn cynics. He would have reminded them that democracy is more important to revolutionaries than to the bourgeoisie. Learn from the fact that it is still possible in this country to hold a conference on Babu, the Tanzanian Revolutionary. ‘Comrades,’ he would have said, ‘do not fritter away this opening. Use it.’

He would have been happy that we are using it and we are also using him and letting him continue making his contribution from the grave. That is the greatest tribute we can pay to a revolutionary.



1995, Third World Quarterly, Vol. 16:1.

Arnove, A., ed. 2000, Iraq Under Siege, Cambridge, Massachusetts: South End Press.

Awiti, A., 1972, “Ismani and the Rise of Capitalism’ in Cliffe et. al. eds. (1975) Rural Co-operation in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

Cabral, A., 1969, Revolution in Guinea: An African People’s Struggle, London: Stage 1.

Fanon, F., 1967, The Wretched of the Earth, London: Penguin Books.

Furedi, F., 1994, The New Ideology of Imperialism, London: Pluto.

Mapolu, H. 1973, ‘The Social and Economic Organisation of Ujamaa Villages’, M.A. thesis, University of Dar es Salaam.

Mbilinyi, M. 1974, ‘The Transition to Capitalism in Rural Tanzania’, University of Dar es Salaam: Department of Education.

Ndulu, B. & J. Angwazi, 1968, ‘Evaluation o Operation Rufiji,’ University of Dar es Salaam: Bureau of Resource Assessment and Land Use Planning.

Nkrumah, K., 1968, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, London: Heinemann.

Othman, H. ed. 2001, Babu: I saw the Future and it Works, Dar es Salaam: E&D.

Peter, C. & S. Mvungi, 1986, ‘The State and Student Struggles’, in Shivji, I. G. ed. The State and the Working People in Tanzania, Dakar; Codesria.

Petras, J., 1989, ‘Metamorphosis of Latin America’s Intellectuals’, in Economic and Political Weekly, vol. XXIV, no. 14.

Pilger, J., 1998, Hidden Agendas, London: Vintage.

Rodney, W., 1972, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

Shivji, I. G., 1989, The Concept of Human Rights in Africa, Dakar; Codesria.

Shivji, I. G., 1993, Intellectuals at he Hill, Dar es Salaam: Dar es Salaam University Press.

Shivji, I. G., 1995, ‘The Rule of Law and Ideological Formation in Tanzania’, in Social and Legal Studies, vol. 4, No. 2.

Tandon, Y., ed. 1982, University of Dar es Salaam debate on Class, State and Imperialism, Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.

Von Freyhold, 1979, Ujamaa Villages in Tanzania: Analysis of a Social Experiment, London: Heinemann.

Wamba, E., 1991, ‘Some Remarks on Culture, Development and Revolution in Africa’, Journal of Historical Sociology, 4(3):219-35.


[1] For snapshots of Babu see a book of tributes, H. Othman ed. (2001)

[2] This was written just after September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and before the USA invaded Afghanistan.

[3] For an influential piece on the transformation o the Latin American intellectual see Petras 1989).

The metamorphosis of the revolutionary intellectual

Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture, 2017 [19/10/2017]
University of Wits, South Africa

Issa Shivji

Without repeating the cliché, let me sincerely say that that this is a great opportunity for me to converse with my fellow intellectuals in honour of Harold Wolpe. May I thank Wolpe posthumously for giving us an excuse for self-reflection.

I’d also like to thank University of Wits for flying me from Cape Town to Jo’burg and inviting me to do this lecture. Most of all, I’m grateful to the Institute of Poverty and Land Reform (PLAAS) at the University of Western Cape which awarded me a two-months Visiting Professorship to UWC. This has allowed me to get a peep, (only a peep, I must say), into your intellectual discourses. More fascinating have been your street languages and the freedom with which you discuss your political affairs and the governors of your state. To be sure, I cannot say how free the streets are when I see early morning homeless scavenging foods from black bins of trash from palacious white bungalows. It seems the sun has not yet set on your sunset clauses! I should restrain myself from treading on this slippery and sensitive ground – slippery for me, sensitive for you!
Let me start by declaring interest and making a disclaimer at the outset. My presentation to day is an auto-critique, in two senses – personal and collective. Collective is a shorthand reference to African intellectuals of whom I have first-hand knowledge through our “ideological struggles” in East Africa in the 60s, 70s and 80s, and through our splendid pan-Africanist organisation, CODESRIA.

And the disclaimer: In my presentation you may find that I exaggerate and even caricature. I make no apologies because I believe I am exaggerating the truth to make a point and that is permissible. I draw validation of my style from one of our great revolutionary intellectuals, Archie Mafeje. During the debate on democratisation in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, there was an interesting exchange between Thandika Mkandawire, Ibbo Mandaza and Peter Anayang’ Nyongo, in which I made a short intervention. Mafeje reviewed this debate in his brilliant and brutal piece called, “Breaking bread with my fellow-travellers’. Commenting on Shivji’s piece, he said, and I quote:

He [meaning Shivji] trivialised his own problematique by presenting it in a Charlie Chaplain fashion. … … But, as is known, Charlie Chaplin’s message was always very profound to the disquiet of the Americans who found it necessary to deport him back to his native England.

Irrespective of the reaction Shivji elicited from his colleagues (irritation from Mandaza and disgust from Anyang’ if only with his ‘hackneyed terms’), his diagnosis is more correct than most and, theoretically, is better founded than that of his detractors.

Pardon my immodesty but then modesty is not the petty bourgeois intellectual’s forte! Let me proceed.
Intellectuals are producers and purveyors of ideas. They produce all kinds of ideas, many ideas: ideas to rationalise and legitimise, ideas to explain and deceive; ideas to mystify and mesmerize; ideas to decorate and demonise; ideas to inform and entertain – all kinds of ideas. They may produce ideas gratuitously or for a price – these days, more often than not, for a price. Thus ideas become a commodity, an artificial commodity. So to Karl Polanyi’s list of three artificial commodities – land, labour and money – we should add a fourth one – ideas. When mystifying and clarifying ideas are fused together and systematised in a coherent whole, they become ideologies. As ideologies are propagated and disseminated, and internalised, they become common sense – beyond doubt, beyond question. Such ideologies we call hegemonic – à la Gramsci.

Intellectuals produce ideas to explain and define others, and in the service of others. But they also produce ideas to define and serve themselves. And they are very good when it comes to producing self-serving ideas. They exaggerate and inflate their importance and role, their indispensability and alacrity, their sanctimony and sacrifice. Intellectuals are one species who are egoistic to the bone. But being masters of mystification, they package their egoism in altruism.

Who are intellectuals? Half a century ago when yours truly was still a student, Ali Mazrui, the rising and shining intellectual star of the time, defined an intellectual as someone who is fascinated by ideas. ‘Even a clown is fascinated by ideas’, a student-comrade retorted, obviously in ridicule. Now with the maturity of hindsight, I say: why not? Indeed, a clown is an intellectual. And some clowns are bloody good intellectuals. They can do something that academic intellectuals can’t do. They poke fun at power; they ridicule power. They not only speak truth to power, as Edward Said would have it, but they also speak to people, which many us fail to do. We speak to each other, and, a few, to our credit, do dare speak truth to power! If such few did not exist, we would have fallen from people’s grace long ago.

There are intellectuals and intellectuals. A revolutionary intellectual of humble intellectual origins (he was a school teacher), sitting in a fascist jail in Italy, gave us the first significant classification of intellectuals – organic intellectuals. To simplify Gramsci somewhat, we can say there are organic intellectuals of the ruling bloc and there are organic intellectuals of the dominated classes. They generate and articulate respective ideologies from the elements of existing ideologies according to the hegemonic logic or principle of the dominating or dominated bloc. Organic intellectuals of the oppressed and exploited social classes may be considered, proto revolutionary intellectuals to the extent that they seek to make the ideology – by word and deed – of the oppressed hegemonic. By thus participating in ideological struggles, they contribute to the underlying class struggle, even though they may not participate directly in such struggles. Some of these organic intellectuals may become actual revolutionary intellectuals by directly participating in class struggles.

We have examples of such revolutionary intellectuals in our midst. Amilcar Cabral was one such intellectual; so was Chris Hani, John Garang, Félix Moumié, Walter Rodney, to name a few. All of them were assassinated at strategic moments in the respective struggles they were involved in. We do not know how they would have metamorphosed on attaining power. I know of at least one and his metamorphosis in power – Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. He was the head of our University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF) when we were students at the University of Dar es Salaam. He was involved in armed struggle to oust Idi Amin Dada, the coup leader who overthrew Obote and ushered in an 8-year reign of terror in Uganda. Museveni, through armed struggle, overthrew Obote II and came to power with a pretty radical programme of transformation. Once in power, he was so fascinated by it that now doesn’t want to leave it. (I’m not sure if it is a normal trajectory – from being fascinated by ideals of power to being fascinated by power. I guess power produces its own ideas – like the idea of immortality in power.) I’m sure you guys have many examples of such metamorphosis in South Africa. I can think of a couple but dare not name names, partly because I don’t know enough – no investigation, no right to speak – and partly because I am not on my home terrain.

Some putative, revolutionary intellectuals, particularly in the academia, metamorphose into public intellectuals. This is a relatively new term in the African discourse on intellectuals. I can’t recall if that is how we described ourselves in the heydays of 60s and 70s. Public intellectuals, I take it, are political intellectuals. They comment on everything political but also on matters not so political. They are articulate and admired by young aspiring intellectuals and have many followers on social media. They are sought after by the media to comment on anything and everything. Their works and deeds are in the public domain and they do not shy away from publicity which, occasionally, puts them on the firing line of politicians.

A few, brilliant ones, migrate to the North joining ivy leagues. Many, not so brilliant, remain home. A few of the remainder continue to be in the academia weathering the storm of economic scarcity and overt and covert political repression. Not so few, give up intellectual vocation altogether. They shift their terrain to NGOs and policy institutes, where donor pressure and funding constraints metamorphose them from public intellectuals to policy pundits. Other few, not so few in some countries, “enter” politics as practitioners. They become politician-intellectuals. Very soon they find themselves increasingly giving up the consistency and commitment required of a public intellectual to become politician-entrepreneurs.

When I talk of few entering political power, I am not referring only to state power. I include entering into other sites of power – à la Foucault – like university administrations.

What about our migrants to the North? A significant few attain celebrity status. They are held up as an example of some – I say some! – brilliance in an otherwise intellectually barren continent. They are under pressure to produce best sellers to maintain their status. And what sells best in the North is that which finds a niche in the academic fashion of the day. Which means they end up recycling and regurgitating the same content packaged in fancier language.

Edward Said says somewhere: “All organic intellectuals are public intellectuals but all public intellectuals are not organic intellectuals.” I agree with the second part – all public intellectuals are NOT organic intellectuals. In fact, many public intellectuals give up their organic link with the oppressed masses so as not to tarnish their public image. I am not sure, though, of the first part of Said’s statement. I don’t think ALL organic intellectuals are public intellectuals. If I am right in my description of public intellectuals, then organic intellectuals are not, and cannot afford to be public intellectuals. Their loyalty is not to the amorphous public. Their loyalty is to the oppressed, the down trodden, to the wretched of the earth. And more often than not that loyalty has to be hidden, has to be disguised and at times has even to go underground rather than exhibited in public. When Edward Said made that statement, maybe, he was thinking of public intellectuals in the North, or public intellectuals of the South living in the North.
Then there is another category of intellectuals. Fidel Castro, agonising over the role of intellectuals in the Cuban revolution, in an address to the conference of writers and artists in 1961, talked about what he called honest intellectuals. Honest intellectuals don’t want to tell lies. They want to pursue truth and stick to truth. But they don’t want to speak truth to power. They don’t want to take sides. That is not the job of intellectuals. They plead objectivity and neutrality. They desire change but don’t want to do anything about it. They are fence sitters. As fence sitters they are vulnerable; inevitably they roll over to the side of domination, their neutrality notwithstanding.

Honest intellectuals constitute a huge chunk of academic intellectuals. Their site of operation is universities and institutions of higher education. As the academia is increasingly commodified, universities become market places. Academics, willingly or under duress, have to break up their courses and introduce new ones to make them saleable to the consumers. They have to package, brand and certify their products. History becomes tourism and heritage; corporate greed becomes corporate responsibility and democratic governance is taught as good governance. Archaeology is museumised whose artifacts are exhibited at a fee to ignorant and disinterested American tourists. Political economy is replaced by econometrics, with no sense of either politics or economy. Africans in Africa study Africa in Centres of African Studies in the image of Centres in the North. Aren’t all our studies African studies? Law students write Ph.Ds applying the convention on rights of indigenous people to their own citizens. To talk of citizens’ rights is foreign, Western; to ruminate on indigenous rights is authentic, African! We have been metamorphosed – from colonial natives and migrants to neo-colonial indigenous and tyrants, thanks to imperial intellectuals and their African caricatures.

A few resist the metamorphosis but many, with an eye on funding, job-security and promotions resign to their fate, taking pride in the ranking of their universities. Just as Fitch and Moody’s give credit rating to our countries, some fishy ranking agencies in the North rank our universities. Once upon a time our universities took pride in being centres of controversy; now we covet to become centres of excellence. You can’t attain excellence if you’re controversial! Simple truth often overlooked.

As I approach the end of my auto-critique, let me take the tongue out of my cheek and pay tribute to hundreds of revolutionary, including public intellectuals, who have sacrificed their lives and families in the service of the liberation of their countries and the emancipation of the masses. Revolutionary intellectuals led our liberation movements. Revolutionary intellectuals initiated and organised our left, and democratic, formations. Thugs and mercenaries of imperialism and their hirelings have murdered revolutionary intellectuals all over the continent. They have been subjected to torture and humiliation of prison as Harold Wolpe was. But with Thomas Sankara they continue chanting: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
Revolutionary intellectuals, whether living or dead, continue to inspire and lead by example our young intellectuals. Revolutionary intellectuals are humble and modest people. They do not inflate their role nor do they suffer from inflated egos. They remain the beacon of hope.

History will award them.

Anguish at Sea Point

Red rose, pink rose,
What’s in a name, they say.
The rose smells the same,
by whatever name.

Yes, indeed!
Living apart (apartheid), living alongside (post-apartheid),
(Where a few live, many exist.)
What’s in packaging, branding, naming.
The shit stinks the same,
however perfumed.

Forgive me friends,
I’m only a guest.
Not from Europe, but from Africa.
Where Kwame’s and Mwalimu’s words,
are itched in our hearts:
So long as an inch of Africa lives under unfreedom,
the rest of Africa cannot breathe freedom.

What’s in borders, they said.
Africa is one,
Africa is the same.
Binadamu wote ni sawa, Afrika ni moja.

What more can I say, comrades.
Except affirm my loyalty,
to Amilcar’s solemnity:
So long as imperialism exists,
independence can only mean,
the national liberation movement in power.
Nkosi sikelel’ iAfrika, Mungu ibariki Afrika.

Issa Bin Mariam
(Issa Shivji)
Sea Point, SA

Trajectories of Accumulation (Neo-liberal primitive accumulation is leading us to suicide seeds)

[See also video interview at… ]

Issa G. Shivji

Cape Town, PLAAS Seminar, Tuesday 26, September 2017

Talking Notes:

Introduce the outline

I: The Theoretical Basics

Accumulation lies at the heart of the capitalist production process. As the old man Marx said: “Accumulate, accumulate! This is Moses and the Prophets.” Accumulation at once gives us the two poles of the capitalist mode of production. At one end lie the production, appropriation and expropriation of surplus labour and at the other lies accumulation. I use the words “expropriation” and “appropriation” as distinct concepts and not interchangeable terms. By expropriation, I mean seizing of surplus labour without the appearance of equivalent exchange. In appropriation, the transfer of surplus is mediated through equivalent exchange. (Sorry I am assuming that you are familiar with the concepts of Marxist political economy. But even if you are not, I believe they will become clear as we proceed.) At the accumulation pole, we get two forms of accumulation corresponding to two forms of transfer of surplus – i.e. primitive accumulation (PA) corresponding to ‘expropriation’ and accumulation by expanded reproduction (EA) corresponding to ‘appropriation’.

In between the two poles of ‘accumulation’ and ‘expropriation/appropriation’ lie various kinds of mediations – market, state, force, volition etc – and forms and fractions of capital – merchant capital, state capital, rentier capital, financial capital etc. These in-betweens are historically and contextually specific. The character of accumulation and the form of expropriation/appropriation is also of course historically and socially specific. It is precisely the investigation of these specificities that allow us to characterise and understand social formations and help us to answer the big questions: Who produces surplus? Who appropriates it? What happens to the surplus so appropriated? These are the big questions that underlie politics and express themselves in social/class struggles filtering through multiple layers of mediations – ideological, religious, cultural etc etc.

Now my main thesis is – and I am not the first one to propose it – that PA and EA exist side by side and in contestation. For Marx PA was the original state of accumulation by downright robbing – whether through enclosures in the centre or robbing of people and treasures of the periphery. Rosa Luxemburg extended this and argued that a non-capitalist periphery is essential for the capitalist centre to function and to reproduce itself. More recently, David Harvey is credited with reinventing Rosa Luxemburg. He wasn’t the fist one – some scholars in the South discussed this long before him but as the division and hierarchy of knowledge production goes, they have disappeared from the radar of dominant scholarship. But I think it is useful to bring back the concept of PA to explain and understand the trajectory of accumulation – especially in the periphery, more so in Africa – and its extreme polarizing effect on society.
My argument is that the overarching characteristic of PA is that it cuts into necessary consumption of the producer. This is the argument I applied in my article on the exploitation of small peasant in the 1980s [see Shivji, Issa G. (1987). The Roots of the Agrarian Crisis in Tanzania: A Theoretical Perspective. Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review 3(2):111-134.]

So even though the productivity of small peasant is low, he/she still yields surplus to capital. Peasant exploitation by capital is predicated on super-exploitation and this is possible because the peasant exerts super-human effort while living sub-human life.
Let me quickly cover in a few strokes the historicising of accumulation and then focus on the application of this under the current neo-liberal phase of capitalism.

II: Historicising Accumulation

The long durée
For five centuries of encounter between European capital and African labour, the process of accumulation was dominantly PA. And the methods were classical. Robbing of human beings on the west coast – the ignominious Atlantic slave trade and the looting of ivory, gold etc on the East Coast in the process destroying city-states of the Swahili civilisation – Mombasa, Malindi, Mogadhishu, Kilwa etc. Started with the landing of two high seas pirates – euphemistically called explorers – with the landing of Christopher Columbus on San Domingo in 1492 and rounding of the Cape by Vasco Da Gama in 1497-98 and bombarding of the Kilwa city-state. (I’ll not go into any details).

Under colonialism
Under colonialism the dominant form of accumulation was PA – initially robbing indigenous people of their land and then establishing the labour system, the so-called migrant system of labour – in both peasant-plantation and settler colonies. (In Tanzania it was called manamba the Swahili plural of namba – number – because the labour recruited by labour recruiting agencies were identified by number, not name.) The migrant labour system is a classical illustration of how the system of exploitation based on cutting into necessary consumption operated in practice. First, much of fertile land was alienated to settlers, for example, in Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa. This had a double purpose – to create labour reservoirs – to supply “cheap labour” and, two, to ward off competition from small peasants. In a country like Tanganyika, labour was recruited from labour reservoir areas to employment areas. The labour was bachelor labour. It was paid very little cash wage and a carefully computed food ration just to keep body and soul together (a kibaba of dona – coarse corn flour, a couple of ounces of salt, a couple of green chilies to supply vitamin A, perhaps half a pound of meat every month, etc.). Back home, the woman became food-growing peasant to take care of the family – thus subsidizing capital. So at both ends, exploitation was by cutting into necessary consumption. The woman was peasantised while the man was semi-proletarianised. This system operated across countries and within countries. This form of PA robbed the producer of the very sustenance of life – where starvation in both senses – calorie deficiency and malnutrition – existed side by side. (Monoculture economies destroyed the variety of nutritious foods originally cultivated by peasants. When cotton was introduced in Sukumaland of Tanzania in the 1950s, for example, peasants shifted to cultivating cassava as a food crop which required least labour since much of the labour was deployed to grow the cash crop.) Another effect of the division of labour reservoirs and employment areas was extreme uneven development which in the post-colonial period supplied the material basis for regionalism and ethnic grievances.

Under post-colonial nationalist phase
With independence, the three EA countries adopted what they called high wage economy, abolished the migrant system and embarked on some kind of import-substitution industrialization. My argument is that in fact during this nationalist period the idea was to make EA dominant in which labour power would be bought – theoretically at least – at its value – that is sufficient for its reproduction. This was done through raising monetary wages but also by adopting various welfare measures – free health, education, water, sanitation, old age benefits etc – thus augmenting the social wage. But the tension between EA and PA continued – and EA did not quite succeed – in other words failed to develop fully fledged capitalism – in SA you would perhaps have to modify this narrative but I believe even here PA plays a very significant role – capitalist enclaves – in fact of monopoly capital – notwithstanding. With neo-liberal reforms though SAPs etc. PA is reinstalled and we witness new forms of PA.
Let me quickly mention a few and I am sure you’d have many more examples.

III: New forms of primitive accumulation under neo-liberalism

FIRST, sale of public assets at fire-sale prices to corporate capital was a new kind of PA. For example: in Tanzania the state-owned National Bank of Commerce (NBC) was privatised to ABSA at a very low price – some 15 million dollars? – which was lower than the value of real estate owned by NBC. NBC branches are all over the country. When Tanzania Breweries was privatised to SA breweries, it came with prime urban lands and barley farms in Kilimanjaro. SA breweries sold one of their prime plots to Shoprite – I’m sure at a handsome price. TBL’s popular trade marks like Safari beer were vested in a sister SA breweries co. based in Geneva to which TBL paid royalties!

TWO, under the argument of attracting investment, the state made a lot of concessions which in effect meant that the working people collectively through the state were subsidizing capital and their own exploitation. When sisal estates were privatised in Tanzania, the state, which owns land, charged ridiculously low rents – in effect the landlord (the state) was ceding its right to rent to capital. Mining contracts were typically extremely one-sided with outrageous provisions like the state binding itself not to make changes in law unfavourable to mining companies – in effect a sovereign parliament abdicating its sovereign law-making powers and the terms of a private contract overriding state legislation.

THREE, privatization and commodification of social and public goods. Education, medical care, water, energy, ecology, bio resources, etc – are all turned into commodities and have to be paid for. First, this almost abolished the social wage component in the remuneration of labour and, two, created new sites of accumulation – PA – for capital. Outsourcing of services has similar effect – whether this is outsourcing of cleaning of government buildings and offices or outsourcing of restructuring of government procedures etc. Very soon we would be outsourcing prison services – as happens in the US – and, maybe, even outsource the civil service since it is considered inefficient and corrupt. Outsourcing has the added political effect of destroying trade unions and class solidarity of the working classes. The working site is separated from the employment site. The worker does not belong to the site where he/she works. To give one example of which I have first hand knowledge: outsourcing of the cleaning and catering staff at universities, for example, destroyed the potential of building camaraderie and solidarity between workers and militant students.

FOURTH, the whole range of financialisation in which money makes more money without even passing through the phase of producing commodity – M (money-capital) –C (raw materials, machinery, labour power) -M’ (more money – M’ being greater than M). Now you have M-M’, that is you may more money from money without even producing any tangible commodity. This is what the dominant economic discourse recognises as the disrupture between the financial economy and the real economy. To cite one example: the commodification and privatization of public/sovereign debts with far-reaching impact under which public debt is sold at a discount to a private entity. This is killing two birds with a stone. First, a new source for capital to reap profits, and, second, remove political pressure on the states of the centre by the indebted states of the periphery. You may threaten a debt-cartel of the indebted states against the states or financial institutions of the centre and, at least, politically shame them, but how do you form a cartel against your disparate private creditors whom you may not even know until they come to enforce payment of the debt. You can shame the state but you can’t shame the faceless market.

FIFTH, commodification of land – what Karl Polanyi long ago called an artificial commodity – is age-old but now it has moved to seeds. As seeds are commodified and production of seeds gets monopolised by corporate capital, it can cause havoc for small producers. Besides creating seed dependency, it becomes the means of extracting even more surplus from the peasant producer. India has been witnessing hundreds of thousands of suicides of indebted farmers who fail to repay their debts. God forbid, we don’t end up in Africa of farmers committing suicides because they cannot afford to purchase seeds for the subsequent cycle. Nor can they save seeds from the existing crop because the second generation corporate (particularly genetically modified) seeds are terminator seeds, meaning they are sterile and cannot be used again. In fact, they are called suicide seeds.

We can multiply examples. Time does not allow. Let me only reiterate and emphasize that while various empirical researches that we do – and PLAAS is doing some excellent empirical research – are extremely vital, we should be able to link these researches with the larger framework if they are to yield insights on how to move forward politically.

Practice teaches paradigms: Reflections on Radical and Liberal Law Perspectives+ Issa G. Shivji*

Grounding with the people
A significant number of colleagues at the Warwick School of Law and the Dar es Salaam School of Law come from the radical tradition of law. The tradition variedly took the form of law in context, law and development or law in development, critical human rights perspectives and different versions, some vulgar other subtle, of Marxist approaches to state and law. The left tradition had significant presence in both Schools for some three decades from the 60s to 80s before it was unceremoniously routed by neo-­‐liberal approaches. Neo-­‐liberal approaches were pragmatic and instrumental. Law was seen as a toolkit from which the lawyer was expected to select appropriate tools to effect the required policy changes for a neo-­‐liberal transformation, euphemistically called structural adjustment programme (SAP). It took the defining sting out of the radical tradition, in particular the Marxist tradition, by delinking law from state and class. In the left tradition, law was seen as a terrain of struggle; it was analysed in the socio-­‐economic and historical context. At Dar es Salaam, at least, many of us saw law as ultimately serving vested interests in the service of the status quo. The task of the radical intellectual lawyer was to dissect the law form to show its class content (see generally essays in Shivji ed. 1986. Cf. essays in Adelman & Paliwala eds. 1993)

Admittedly, our radicalism was classroom. It had little connect with real life situation. The realisation made some of us at the Dar School seriously undertake legal aid work that brought us face to face with working people. Planning legal strategies with them and fighting legal battles under procedures set against them was a lesson thousand times more instructive and humbling than grand classroom lectures and faculty seminars. We gradually learnt the art of bonding with working people. ‘Give the masses systematically what you get from them confusedly’, Mao Zedong had said many decades ago. Little anecdotes from the courtroom had a lot to teach, to be sure. But more importantly they touched the raw nerve of our elitist legal education. Even more, legal aid showed how alienating legal practice is. A militant worker among his/her folks was turned into a supplicant ignoramus in the dock as s/he faced a barrage of silly but stinging questions in cross-­‐examination. Radical sensitivities were hurt, no doubt, but anger against bourgeois legal system was surely aroused reinforcing the will to change. There were happier moments too when the age-­‐old “simple” wisdom of the people poked fun at a few years of school education.

When a counsel arrogantly asked an elderly semi-­‐literate witness why had he volunteered to give evidence obviously implying ulterior motive, the old man broke into a limerick:

macho yangu yameona,
masikio yangu yamesikia,
yale niliyoona,
yale niliyosikia,
kichwa changu kimeweka
na leo mzigo huu ninakuleteeni hapa.

my eyes saw,
my ears heard
what I saw
what I heard
my head recorded
that record I’m playing before you.

This is a near-­‐perfect poetic rendering of the meaning of evidence under the Evidence Act. Needless to say, it passed over the heads of the learned gentlemen. Had it been said by one of them, it would have become a quotable quote.

A well-­‐known defence counsel with a volley of questions was haranguing a legal aided workingwoman in an election petition. In a triumphant last stroke, he burst out:

You have dared to bring a frivolous matter to this honourable court because
you have been given a free lawyer!

With lightening speed, she retorted:

You have dared to tell that lie to this honourable court because you have
been paid to do so!


In this essay I want to share with you one particular personal experience which made me critically interrogate many of our dearly held radical legal paradigms and perspectives. In 1991, I was appointed the chairman of the Presidential Commission of Enquiry into Land Matters with a wide-­‐ranging mandate. This was the first commission on land after independence. The last commission was appointed by the colonial government in 1953-­‐55 (East African Royal Commission 1955). This was the East African Royal Commission. My commission was appointed in the period of transition from nationalism to neo-­‐liberalism. The expectations of various players including the government and the World Bank were that the commission would come up with recommendations that would facilitate privatisation and commodification of land. Before I proceed with the work of the commission, let me in a few broad strokes explain the land tenure system in Tanzania.

Tanganyika was a trust territory under the League of Nations mandate. One of the articles of the Mandate stipulated that the trustee would administer land in the interest of “natives”. Immediately after the British took over the territory, the colonial power passed two pieces of legislation, the Master and Native Servants Ordinance and the Land Ordinance. The former was to facilitate supply of labour while the latter to regulate land, thus placing land and labour at the disposal of the state in the interest of colonial state and capital. The British are masters at legal craftsmanship. In 17 brief sections, they laid the foundations of the land tenure system that survived for three-­‐quarter of a century. All lands were declared to be ‘public lands’ at the disposal of the governor to be disposed of at his discretion. Because Tanganyika was not a colony land could not be vested in the Crown to become crown lands as was done in neighbouring Kenya. Instead the radical title was vested in the state. Contrary to popular and scholarly myth alike, the socialist Julius Nyerere who was the first president of the independent government never nationalised land. Land was nationalised in 1923 by the colonial state. The law gave powers to the governor to allocate land by what was known as right of occupancy. Right of occupancy was defined as the right to occupy and use land for a term of years not exceeding 99 years. In substance, the right of occupancy was like a lease but with greater government control than in a typical lease.

What about indigenous occupiers and owners of land who were found on it when the colonial state declared all lands to be public lands? The law was silent. What the law left out, the courts dutifully filled in. Native occupiers were considered to occupy and use land under deemed rights of occupancy with an implied consent of the governor. We thus ended up with two categories of rights of occupancy, statutory, also known as granted, and deemed. Immigrant communities, foreign companies and other non-­‐natives occupied land under granted rights of occupancy. Their right was contractual. Statutory law regulated their use of land. Natives occupied and used land under their customary laws. Customary owners had no rights. Their occupation was permissive governed administratively. The basic contours of the land tenure system were simple and neat. They rested on a triangular relationship. The relation between the statutory landholder and the state was contractual, civil, with rights and obligations of contracting parties. Breach of contract on either side would lead to damages, a civil remedy. The relation of the customary holder to the state was administrative with obligations but no rights. Customary owners use of land was regulated by criminal law whose breach would lead to penal sanctions. The relation between customary and statutory users was hierarchical. Statutory owner’s title prevailed over that of customary title in case of conflict. Customary law that defined rights and obligations with customary remedies regulated the relation between customary owners inter se. Native courts administered customary law. Civil courts administered statutory law. Natives were subjects. European settlers were citizens. And Asian immigrants were in-­‐between.

When land from statutory holders was to be acquired, the state had to follow due process as stipulated in the Land Acquisition Ordinance. When land from customary owners was required by the state for whatever purpose, public or private, no process was due. Natives occupied public land by deemed consent of the governor. When land was alienated from them, governor’s consent was deemed to have been withdrawn. Legal craftsmanship and judicial craftiness lent a veneer of legality, if not political legitimacy, to British colonial rule.

On independence the president replaced the governor; otherwise the land tenure system remained intact. When the state carried out massive resettlement of rural folks in 1971-­‐73 forced villagisation, no legislative process was involved. It was assumed that the president had impliedly withdrawn consent. In any case, Nyerere’s state did not derive its legitimacy from law. It got it from its nationalist genesis and socialist ideology crowned by president’s personal integrity and political popularity.

The Land Commission appointed by Nyerere’s successor Mwinyi in 1991 was mandated to examine this land tenure system. The commission visited virtually the whole country, which meant mostly rural districts since 80 per cent of the people lived in rural areas and derived their livelihoods from land. The commissioners held public hearings in mass meetings, received private petitions, letters and memoranda, interviewed land officers and patiently listened to grievances and complaints. Back to base, the reports from hearings were meticulously documented, discussed and analysed. At the end of the process, two volumes of the Commission’s report were published and twenty volumes of evidence deposited in the library of the University of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania 1994).

Everywhere the grievance was the same – insecurity of land. Everywhere the demand was the same – democratic decision-­‐making over land. As towns and national parks and reserved lands expanded they swallowed up peasant and pastoral lands. Prisons and parastatals, military and ministries, bureaucrats and businessmen, all appropriated peasant lands, with or without their consent and mostly without their participation. Land acquired in the name of public interest was converted to private use. Nepotism was pervasive, corruption in land deals was rampant, courts took years, if not decades, to resolve disputes while administrators sat on land files until they fell apart or disappeared. The commission had to make sense of this massive evidence. In Mao’s phraseology the commissioners had to give back to the people systematically what it had received from them confusedly.

There was subtle if not overt pressure in the air. Neo-­‐liberal LIMP – liberalisation, marketisation and privatisation – was knocking on the door. Peasants wanted security of, and democracy on, land. Politicians and functionaries prodded by donors and financial institutions wanted land to be put on the market. How should the commission resolve the contest? What should guide it? Existing legal paradigms, radical or otherwise, proved to be inadequate. What was called for was not radical law but radical politics grounded in equally radical political economy. Lenin’s dictum that politics is the concentrated form of economics, 6 extended by us to law being the concentrated form of politics, came in handy. A national-­‐ popular, people oriented perspective rather than a neo-­‐liberal, profit oriented prescription had to take command. In the concrete case of Tanzania people meant peasants. We had to chart a peasant path of development which meant a process of accumulation from below.

Section C of chapter 14 of the commission’s report titled ‘Paths of Development’ succinctly lays down three major premises that informed the detailed recommendations of the commission.

Premise 1: Tanzania is a country of smallholders (peasant and herdsmen) and is likely to remain so for a foreseeable future. In the 60s and 70s the future of peasant Africa was seen in large-­‐scale industrial and agrarian development while the peasant was destined to disappear. Peasant production was considered inefficient and marred by low productivity. Contrary to the accepted wisdom, though, many studies showed that the high productivity of large-­‐scale farmers and plantations was based, say for example, in Zimbabwe and Kenya, on state subsidies and indirect “subsidy” from the peasant sector. The peasant sector acted as a reservoir of cheap labour and provider of food and ultimate social security to plantation labour. The peasant sector was the sponge that absorbed and made possible super-­‐ exploitation of plantation labour. Nonetheless, the post independence government in Tanzania at the behest of the World Bank experimented with village settlement programmes and rangelands development, both of which proved an unmitigated disaster. As an aside, it may be observed that the law development guru then teaching at the Dar es Salaam Faculty of Law Professor Robert Seidmann considered the USAID funded Range Development Act as a positive and great piece of social engineering. So much for the law and development school of jurisprudence, which was then touted as progressive and radical.

Premise 2: “If we begin from the premise that Tanzania is a country of smallholders, our second premise follows inexorably. Tanzania must feed itself, which means first and foremost, the peasantry must feed itself and secondly, feed the country.” (Tanzania 1994: 137). The Commission’s position was that an investor from outside the village is unlikely to invest in food production and even if he does it will be for the profitable temperate or Gulf market rather than for the domestic market. On the other hand, the Commission argued that within the peasant and pastoral communities there were social forces, that is rich peasants, “capable of generating, accumulating and reinvesting in the rural sector.” (ibid. 138). The Commission did not mince words. Rich peasants, or kulaks as they are called in political parlance, could be one possible agency of accumulation from below of a national agrarian and pastoral development.

Premise 3: The Commission’s third premise was that since the rural community in Mainland Tanzania is organised in villages, the village should be the point of departure for designing the new land tenure structure. Both ownership and governance of land should therefore be located at the village level. The village, in other words, becomes the site of production as well as the domain of democracy.

After the forced villagisation of 1971-­‐73 when over 5 million people of the rural community were moved to villages, the government passed a legislation providing for village governance. Two organs were created: village assembly consisting of all adult residents of the village and a village council of 25 persons elected by the village assembly. In effect, village became the lowest rung of governance exhibiting the features of both direct and representative democracy. Under the legislation current then, the village council had the corporate status with the usual attributes of a legal person. The Commission recommended that the village assembly should be given a corporate status and included in the Constitution of the country as part of the governance structure. In order to combine resource and representative democracy, which was what the villagers had demanded, village lands should be vested in the village assemblies while national lands – all lands which are not village lands – should be vested in a Board of Land Commissioners accountable to Parliament. The monopoly of radical title vested in the President, which in effect meant the Executive, under the then current legislation inherited from colonialism, would be diversified thus democratising the land tenure system while at the same time elevating the grassroots organ of direct democracy, the village assembly, to a constitutional status. This was the major recommendation of the Commission around which the land tenure system recommended by it was woven.

Not unexpectedly, the government rejected outright the recommendation divesting the radical title from the Executive on the specious ground that the system of vesting the radical title in the president inherited from colonialism was “fundamentally sound” and that the Government cannot be “turned into a beggar for land” when it wants it for development purposes. The government’s position deserves quoting at length.

The President as Head of State is responsible for the development of the
country and the well-­‐being of the people, and land being an important
element for development has to be controlled by the President. If land is
vested in [the] Board of Land Commissioners and the Village Assemblies then
the Government will be turned into a beggar for land when required for
development. Instead of simply acquiring land for public purpose under the
Land Acquisition Act the Government will now be required to apply to the
Board of Land Commissioners.
In the villages the Government is an outsider and can only be given land
of not more than three acres at a time for less than ten years. The
Government will not implement its policies in that way. The Investment
Promotion Policy will be impossible when the Government does not have a say
in land matters. Land has to remain in the hands of the Government … the
Commission has not given enough reasons for the departure. (Quoted in
Sundet 1997: p. 109)

This is a classical statement rationalising ‘development from above’. But more important, it reflects the interests of the post-­‐colonial classes for whom state becomes the site of accumulation. The bureaucratic class did not want to surrender control over the main resource of the country from which it reaped rents. For different reasons, what was ‘fundamentally sound’ for the colonial metropolitan bourgeoisie was also ‘fundamentally sound’ for the post-­‐colonial comprador bourgeoisie. Eventually, the government’s position was cast in legal stone in the elaborate land laws drafted by late Professor Patrick McAuslan who was hired as a consultant. His consultancy contract was financed by a grant from the British government. The 1999 Village Land Act and the Land Act stipulated that all lands are vested in the President to be held in trust for the people of Tanzania. This could only be a political trust not a legal one. No one could possibly take the President to court for breach of trust and succeed. In effect therefore the position on this score remained as it was in the colonial and pre-­‐1999 land legislation.

Coincidentally McAuslan also taught at the Dar School and the Warwick School. He was well known as a land and planning expert (for a sympathetic view of McAuslan’s work in Africa see Adams nd.) He subscribed to the ‘law in context’ and ‘law and/in development’ schools that were considered radical. In a major feat of social engineering, he drafted a very elaborate principal legislation and even a more extensive subsidiary legislation of regulations, rules and forms. The draft ran into some 300 pages necessitating its division into two pieces of legislation. A coalition of civil society organisations called National Land Forum (NALAF) issued a declaration condemning the undemocratic process of drafting the bill and its undemocratic content (reprinted in Shivji 1998: pp.111-­‐118). Invited consultants, academics, bureaucrats and NGOwallas discussed a couple of drafts of the bill. The NALAF Declaration claimed, “The Bill does not take into account the interests of the large majority of land users. The Bill takes away the basic right of the citizens to be consulted and to participate effectively in decision-­‐making processes, …” (ibid. p. 112.) McAuslan was understandably not amused. In an extra-­‐consultancy academic lecture later he tried to justify his work as opposed to the Commission’s recommendations (McAuslan 1996). Unintentionally the debate on land law became a contest of perspectives and schools of law between two academics – one in his capacity as the chairman of the Commission and the other in his capacity as a consultant -­‐ with similar backgrounds but diametrically opposite perspectives.

Among other things, McAuslan criticised the Commission for not providing a detailed draft law to implement its recommendations. He extolled his draft thus:

The real revolutionaries therefore might turn out to be not those who
propose radical policies but those who, through the NLP**, propose a
radical legal methodology for implementing policies; namely a detailed and
inevitably lengthy new land code in which legal rules and checks and
balances replace reliance on administrative and political action based on
good will and common-­‐sense.

McAuslan summed up his lecture with how he saw the role of lawyers in land reform in sub-­‐ Saharan Africa: Africa because that is where he provided his consultancy services on land matters.

In sum, while land law reform might, just, still be the preserve of the
lawyer, the products of that reform – the new laws – are the property of
the nation and the nation must be stimulated whole-­‐heartedly to embrace
those laws. Only in this way can law be made to work to restructure land
relations in Africa. (McAuslan 1996: p. 39)

Two years after McAuslan’s lecture while his draft was still a bill, the former chairman of the Commission (the present author) gave his position as how he saw the contest of perspectives between the Commission’s report and the draft bill.

The perspectives of justice, rights and equity embedded in the law reform
recommended in the Commission’s Report are contradictory to those
underlying the draft Land Bill. They are not only contradictory, but locked
in struggle with them. In this contest one of the perspectives is
undoubtedly becoming dominant by the logic of force (the state). (Shivji
1998: pp. 108-­‐9)

McAuslan’s draft eventually became law in 1999 while the Commission’s report was put away gathering dust. The 1999 land laws laid the legal framework for neo-­‐liberal reforms that ensued and was amended a couple of times to facilitate the commodification and alienation of land to so-­‐called investors. Almost two decades down the line, Tanzania’s land problems have multiplied; small producers’ insecurity has become worse; land disputes are as rampant while bureaucrats continue to abuse power and reaping rents. As neo-­‐liberal triumphalism is wearing down, there are signs that the land question is being revisited. Younger generation of lawyers, hopefully, may dust off the Commission’s report to reassess it and draw lessons to restart the grand debates of the 60s and 80s when lawyers thought big, beyond ‘law in context’ and ‘law and development’ perspectives.

Learning from practice
When we were first year students, we read what was then a compulsory text, Glanville Williams Learning the Law. The radical orientation of the Dar es Salaam campus then taught us, or where it did not teach us we taught ourselves, how to dissect and demystify law. We also learnt a lot more radical political economy and history of class struggles outside the classroom in ideological classes organised by the University Students’ African Revolutionary Front (see generally Hirji ed. 2010). We also learnt and paid homage to learning from practice, but in the abstract. We talked of and in the name of workers and peasants but had little contact with them. And when we did come into contact with them we were anxious to teach rather than learn. Our reading of Mao’s Where do correct ideas come from? was textual not temporal. We were enamoured by its spirit but failed to grasp its materiality. The legal aid work woke us up. It brought us face to face with the role of law in mystifying power and the role of its procedures in legitimising it. Procedures are presented as fair, just and equitable disguising the substance whose very bedrock is unequal, inequitable and unjust. Procedures deliver legal justice with one hand and withhold social justice with the other hand. Many a time, we won on procedure and lost on substance, but rarely lost on procedure and won on substance. Loss on procedure means you have lost your day in court. Our erstwhile ‘law-­‐in-­‐context’ and law-­‐in/and-­‐development’ gurus, sought to wreak a revolution through procedures, no doubt, with best intentions in the world but then, as the old adage goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Second, legal aid practice shook our paradigms but did not challenge them. It made us believe in the reform of law. It made us uncritical adherents of rights-­‐ideology. It was only the practice of interacting with the working people and listening to them patiently – peasants, pastoralists, small producers etc. – through the Commission’s work that drove home the point that law is the most sophisticated bourgeois invention that combines in it the blind faith of religion, the popular legitimacy of mythology and the rhetorical power of Socratic persuasion to disguise the rapaciously unequal and unjust capitalist system. We came face to face with systemic forces that appear to work behind the backs of actors, both the exploited and the exploiters. We truly learnt from the people. What we got from them confusedly we gave them back systematically. Our radical recommendations did not seek to wreak a revolution (unlike McAuslan’s claim for his draft bill). We were under no such illusion. Our recommendation had a limited aim – to bring the terrain of social struggles closer home to the working people in their village and neighbourhoods in the hope that they would become the ‘schools of conscientization’ as Paulo Freirie (1972) would have it. Just as for Lenin, trade unions were the schools of developing socialist consciousness, not an instrument of socialist revolution, for us, village assemblies would be schools of raising democratic consciousness, not an apparatus for building socialism. But now we must descend to a lower level of abstraction to sum up how the Commission’s work and recommendations made us shift from our pre-­‐conceived paradigms, however, radical.

Paradigmatic shifts
First, we moved away from the rights-­‐based paradigm because this paradigm works within the bourgeois system, which is a super structure of commodity exchange. As we all know, its legal expression is the contract, with two parties holding a bundle of rights and exchanging them in an apparently free transaction. So if we had applied the rights-­‐based paradigm -­‐ right to sell or let land etc. -­‐ we would have had first to accept the rules of commodity exchange, including the fiction that parties to a contract are equal, which they are not, and two, that land is a commodity, and if its not, then it must be commodified. And as Karl Polanyi told us long ago, land is not an actual commodity. It is not a product of labour. It has to be made a commodity through law and state action. It is an artificial, or fictitious, commodity. To this day, land in much of Africa is still not a commodity. One of the central premise of neoliberalism is that state should play a central role in making natural endowments such as land, resources, water, forests, air, environment, bio-­‐resources a commodity.

Second, by making village assembly the foundation of democracy and integrating political governance with resource governance, we questioned one of the fundamental premises of bourgeois constitutional ideology or theory: that is to say, separation between politics and economics. If I may add, in these recommendations, I was extending Lenin’s dictum, which 13 says politics is a concentrated form of economics. We said: law is a concentrated form of politics.

Third, by making village assembly, an organ of direct democracy, part of the constitution, we were exposing the limits of representative democracy and the whole structure of multi-­‐ party system of liberal democracy built on it.

Fourth, of course none of this assumed a different system than the existing capitalist one. We didn’t assume that even if our recommendations were accepted it would be an end of class struggle, rooted in the system of production. Of course they wouldn’t. What they do is to demystify class struggle by bringing it out on an open terrain. The recommended structure would demystify the neutrality, the impartiality, and equality before law and the state and, two, it would reconstruct the terrain of law and democracy as a terrain of struggle. Fifth, it provides new kinds of weapons for the struggle to create anti-­‐hegemony. Not yet counter-­‐hegemony; anti-­‐hegemony as a form of resistance and struggle towards building counter-­‐hegemonic struggles. At least this was the thinking.

Finally, let me say a word on the emerging identity discourse whose origin lies in the West but is being picked up in Latin America with respect to land. This ‘shift-­‐of-­‐paradigm’ did not arise from the Commission’s work but I heard it at the Conference where the public talk which forms the basis of this article was first given. In a presentation from Chile, land as property was juxtaposed to land as identity and this was presented as a radical shift of discourse on land. I would argue that in land-­‐as-­‐property, land is objectified. It becomes an object to possess, to own, to sell, buy or hoard. In the so-­‐called shift of paradigm to land-­‐as-­‐ identity, which is a cultural construct, land is subjectivised. To the extent that it helps to mobilise traditional resources of belief and mythology around land (sanctity of land as mother, or where ancestors are buried etc.) for resistance, for struggle, it has its role. But such struggles remain local. Worse, they fragment communities and forces of resistance along ethnic lines. Therefore they fail, one, to transit to national level and, two, to solidarise as class struggle of the working people. Invariably, they are defeated. The question I ask myself is: how do we look at these local struggles? I would like to suggest that unless a universalist, counter-­‐hegemonic project, leads local struggles, they cannot really transform 14 the system as we would like it to. What is more, unless led by such a project, they also harbour within them the seeds of fragmentation. The least that can be said is that radicals and progressives have to be wary of applying identity politics to land and land struggles.

+ Forthcoming in Abdul Paliwala and Sammy Adelman, eds, Beyond law and development: neoliberalism, governance and social justice.
* Director, Nyerere Resource Centre, Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology. Formerly Professor of Law, University of Dar es Salaam (1971-­‐2006) and Mwalimu Nyerere University Professor of Pan-­‐African Studies, University of Dar es Salaam (2008-­‐2013).

** NLP (National Land Policy) (Tanzania 1995) was drafted by the Ministry of Lands including two professors turned bureaucrats. The Commission had recommended that the ministry be abolished and substituted by a Board of Land Commissioners.


Adams, Martin n.d. The vagaries of consulting on land policy and land law reform in Africa, 1994-­‐2006., accessed 2/07/2017.

Adelman Sammy & Paliwala Abdul eds. 1993, Law and Crisis in the Third World, London, Melbourne, Munich & New Jersey: Hans Zell Publishers.

East African Royal Commission, 1955, Report of the East African Royal Commission 1953-­‐55, London: HMSO.

Freirie, Paulo, [1970] 2014, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary volume, Bloomsbury Publishing.

Hirji, Karim F., ed. 2010, Cheche: Reminiscences of a Radical Magazine, Dar es Salaam: Mkuki na Nyota.

McAuslan, P. 1996, ‘Making law work: restructuring land relations in Africa’, Third Alistair Berkeley Memorial Lecture given at the London School of Economics, London on 30 May 1996.

Polanyi, Karl, 1944, The Great Transformation, Farrar and Reinhert.

Shivji, Issa G. ed 1986, Limits of Legal Radicalism, Dar es Salaam: Faculty of Law, University of Dar es Salaam.

Shivji, Issa G., 1998, Not yet democracy: reforming land tenure in Tanzania, London & Dar es Salaam, IIED/HAKIARDHI.

Sundet, G., 1997, The Politics of Land in Tanzania, D.Phil dissertaion, University of Oxford.

Tanzania, Ministry of Lands, 1995, National Land Policy, Dar es Salaam: Ministry of Lands, June.

Tanzania, United Republic, 1994, Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, Volumes I and II, Dar es Salaam: Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development in co-­‐operation with the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Stockholm.

Serene and obscene

see the beauty of the world of nature

the sea so serene and solemn

the palm trees standing tall and proud

the occasional bird flying high

effortlessly gliding in the blue sky

the sun creating silhouette on grand president hotel

an occasional marvel of human architecture too


see the world of humans

fighting and massacring

plundering and pillaging

devastating nature and toxicing it

but there too is a silver lining

a working man in India using his motorbike as free ambulance

a refugee Rohingya woman adopting orphans

committed intellectuals all over unassumingly fighting against injustices

amid the counsel of silence and protection of self-interest


this is our world.

this is the only world we have

there is none other to pray and plead to

this is the world which we have to better

so long as we breath

remembering always

as individuals our breaths are finite

as a collective we keep breathing indefinitely.

Cape Town
[Watching the Atlantic from Seapoint]




mawazo ya chache

hofu ya wengi

kijiweni wana payuka

ujasiri umeyeyuka

matumaini yamesinzia

ndoto zimetoweka

matamanio yametoroka

Issa Bin Mariam

Agosti 30, 2017



Walter Rodney: a revolutionary intellectual


Walter Rodney: a revolutionary intellectual1

An event to celebrate the life and struggle of comrade Walter Rodney is not new to this campus, which we fondly call ‘the Hill’. Twenty-five years ago when Rodney was assassinated by Burnham, we held a panel discussion. I had the occasion to speak then. The address was published in Maji Maji under the title ‘Rodney and Radicalism on the Hill’.2 At that meeting, we passed a resolution calling upon the university administration to honour Rodney’s memory by erecting a plaque at the Revolutionary Square and awarding a posthumous honorary doctorate to Rodney. Nothing happened.

Last year in June we held a panel discussion on 25 years of Rodney’s death and now we have this conference. Once again, we have talked of the plaque. Maybe this time around it will be erected. But where is the revolutionary square to erect it in? Things have changed; times have changed. Who remembers why that place near the bookshop was called Revolutionary Square? Do we know what a revolution is? My friend C.L.S. Chachage is fond of saying that these days revolution means the bathing soap produced by Reginald Mengi’s IPP.

Times have changed. The revolutionary square of Rodney’s time was the square near the student cafeteria adjacent to the bookshop. That is the place where the militant organisation of students, the University Students African Revolutionary Front or USARF, came to be known for sabotaging rag day and thereafter it became the Revolutionary Square. At the Revolutionary Square, we congregated to watch plays like the Paris Commune. Today that square is a parking lot – which incidentally could be privatised any time – and adjacent to it is a branch of a private bank carved out of the bookshop.

During Rodney’s time at the Hill, we swore by wafanyakazi na wakulima (workers and peasants); now we all aspire to become wawekezaji na walaji (investors and consumers): or more correctly wakala wa wawekezaji ( investors’ agents or compradors). As Rodney said then:

There are few capitalists who actually live within Africa. The big bankers and industrialists exploit African labour through imperialist investment which allows them to stay in the USA and Europe, while Africans toil on their behalf by producing cotton, coffee, gold, copper, iron ore, etc. None of the African elite have sufficient wealth to be genuinely independent of the bourgeoisie. Therefore, they were prepared to make a deal to support the capitalist imperialist system which takes the great proportion of our wealth out of the conti160 Where is uhuru ?

nent, provided that in return the local administration was left in their hands. That meant that at the local level they would be in a position to consume as freely as they wished and to acquire a certain amount of capital and property. The African elite turned the African Revolution into what comrades are now calling ‘the Briefcase Revolution’. They took their briefcases and stepped on the aircraft which carried them to European capitals to ‘negotiate’ independence. Independence is beyond negotiation. It must be asserted and seized – so the negotiations only provided ‘a formula for independence’, which was the formula of neo-colonialism (Rodney 1969).

If Rodney were writing today he wouldn’t have to change the substance except that there are no comrades to talk about ‘briefcase revolution’, not even ndugus to talk about Ujamaa. We have globalisers and liberalisers and privatisers and investment promoters and commissioners on ‘poverty’ commissions and formalisation of property committees and investment facility institutes … Rodney would have to talk about ‘laptop liberalism’ instead of ‘briefcase revolution’. But we do still step into aircrafts – even presidential executive jets – to go to Paris and Davos to ‘negotiate the formula for dependence’, or to be more current, to negotiate the ‘price of poverty’.

In this age and day of marketisation and commodification, where we have commodified education and health, and the environment and airports, poverty has also been commodified. And laws of the market apply – the more you sell, the more poverty you have to produce to keep the wheels of PRSPs (poverty reduction strategy programmes) running.

But enough of nostalgia. True, Rodney taught us to be critical but not cynical, yet, he never compromised on debunking bourgeois ideology, and rightly so. As we meet here to celebrate the life and struggle of Comrade Rodney, there is much in it to inspire, to learn from and to continue the fight for liberation and emancipation. As we recall the life and times of Rodney that he spent here, we must not forget that those were the days of intense debates and struggles and intellectual ferment at the Hill. Rodney contributed and participated in it; he learnt as much as he taught. We were all disciples of struggling and learning. The banner of our Sunday ideological classes declared: ‘Learn to Struggle and Struggle to Learn’.

Rodney was not only an intellectual in the sense of being ‘someone who is fascinated by ideas’, to borrow Professor Mazrui’s phrase. He was moved by ideas and he used ideas to move the masses. He not only interpreted the world, which task he took very seriously, but also participated in changing it. In the process, he made the supreme sacrifice any human being can make: he gave his life. But Walter Rodney did not die. As the statement of Cheche, the student revolutionary journal for which Rodney often wrote said when it was banned:

… we do not doubt the wisdom promoting our ban. But one thing must be remembered. Organisations can be banned, individuals can be liquidated, but 161



Indeed, revolutionary ideas never die and therefore revolutionaries continue to live. I want to draw three lessons from the life and ideas of Rodney, which still live and are even more relevant today than they were then.

First is Rodney’s commitment as an intellectual, and determination as a revolutionary. Second is Rodney’s acute sense of history. In this day of Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ and ‘end of ideology’ – which even some of our heads of state are fond of quoting – it is not unimportant to underline Rodney’s great sense of history, not only as history of the past, but the present as history. Third is Rodney’s standpoint – he not only interpreted the world, but interpreted it from the standpoint of the oppressed, the exploited, the working people. He not only joined the struggle to change the world but to change it from the standpoint of the oppressed and the exploited, from the standpoint of national liberation and social emancipation. Let me now say a few more words on each of these.

The commitment of the intellectual

When I forwarded the invitation and the programme of this conference to Comrade George Hadjivayanis, one of our fine comrades from those days, he immediately responded:

Dear Issa

I am sorry that I shall not be able to attend. However I am happy that this event has already brought a lot of comrades together through your messages. We could still consider commemorating once again in future as the old group.

Many of us had identified ourselves with revolutionaries and we even dared to name some of our children after them – Rosa Luxembourg, Yunan, Amilkar Kabral and Inessa Armand. A comrade had remarked to me just a month after Comrade Walter’s death about my romanticism of naming my daughter Inessa. He said, ‘what if Lenin’s wife Krupskaya rises from her grave!!’

Comrade Walter was a remarkable person and my memory of him is still very vivid. I remember him in Sunday ideological classes at the faculty of law, debates in Nkurumah [sic] hall and working in Ujamaa villages: In Bagamoyo in 1970 (Miembe Saba Village) and Dodoma in 1971 (Mpunguzi Village). In Dodoma in particular villagers were very impressed with his groundings. When he came to our house in Mzumbe (Morogoro) in 1972 with his family, he had a severe attack of malaria but was determined to go ahead with his plan to travel to Songea as soon as he recovered. Comrade Walter had a very strong determination and commitment.

Sunday ideological classes gave us the theories to understand Africa and eventually published Cheche (Iskra), later Majimaji. Comrade Walter was part of this endeavor to publish ideological papers. I remember the East and Central African University Conference, in which Comrade Walter enraged the government and the British Embassy justifying ‘hijacking’ and naming governments 162 Where is uhuru ?

as ‘Briefcase Revolutions’– we had to burn all the papers and ‘burnt a house to roast a pig’.

I shall always cherish his comradeship and his ultimate sacrifice of his life for the working people. I hope that the conference will highlight his contributions and that history will perpetuate his memory.

George Hadjivayanis

George instinctively underlines Walter’s commitment and determination. That was a fine and foremost quality in Rodney. You may be curious to know about this episode of ‘burning the house to roast the pig’!

Sometime in December 1969, the Second Seminar of East and Central African Youth was held at the Nkrumah hall. Walter Rodney gave a paper on ‘The Ideology of the African Revolution.’ A number of other comrades, including Charles Kileo and Gora Ebrahim, presented papers. The paper was published in the then Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) daily, The Nationalist. The next day an editorial appeared headed ‘Revolutionary Hot Air’, castigating Rodney’s ideas, particularly his views on revolutionary violence. The editorial accused Rodney of preaching a violent overthrow of African governments, which, it said, was intolerable and unacceptable to Tanzania. Rodney had a right to hold his views but he did not have a right while on Tanzanian soil to call upon the youth of Africa to overthrow their governments, the editorial sharply asserted. It ended with an authoritative warning:

Both Tanzanians, and non-Tanzanians in this country, must accept two things. The subversion of our constitution, and use of Tanzanian facilities to attack other African states, are both equally unacceptable here. Surrounding them with revolutionary jargon, and the use of words like ‘imperialist,’ ‘neo-colonialists’, and ‘capitalists’, does not alter their unacceptability.

Those who insist upon indulging in such practices will have to accept the consequences of their indulgence.

That very morning, on reading the editorial, comrade George Hadjivayanis collected all the papers which had been cyclostyled for publication in Cheche and burnt them near hall four, in the process burning the lawn! (Mr Vice-chancellor, I hope you do not get ideas about taking disciplinary action. The ‘offence’ is 37 years old and therefore time-barred!)

We suspected at the time, and now we know for sure, that the editorial came straight from state house and was penned by Mwalimu himself.

Walter quickly responded in a long letter, more or less apologising but without compromising. The apology itself was far superior to and more telling in its content, commitment and inspiration than the editorial. He acknowledged that it was the task of the president, the party and the government of the united republic to define the country’s public and foreign policy and that he, Rodney, had no intention of flouting the party’s discipline. This was not out of any ‘personal convenience’, Rodney said, but ‘following the 163 walter rodne y

principle that TANU is representative of the workers, peasants and intellectuals of this country’. Some of us doubted that, but Rodney could have said it out of conviction, as another incident that I will narrate in due course shows. But what is more interesting and profound is the other principle that he cites:

Furthermore, there is another principle involved here to which all revolutionaries should adhere: namely, that of non-interference in a sphere beyond one’s experience. It is not meaningful to call for or work for revolution in countries where one does not live, work or struggle. That is the prerogative of the people involved, who have the necessary social experience of the particular countries. This is both a point of clarification of my own analysis, as well as an indication that my indulgence will certainly cease at the moment that it is judged to be in conflict with Tanzanian policy (The Nationalist, 17 December 1969).

Rodney scrupulously adhered to this idea of non-interference and that the revolution is the prerogative of the people involved. I remember when he was preparing to return to Guyana I suggested he apply for Tanzanian citizenship and live and struggle here. He replied something to the effect: ‘Comrade, I don’t know the idiom of the people here. I cannot immerse in the people and struggle with them. I have to go back to the people with whom I can communicate and be part of.’ That is exactly what he did.

There is another interesting incident, which has not been recorded. In his moment of nationalism, Walter wrote a paper on ‘Ujamaa as scientific socialism.’ In that paper, borrowing from Russian narodnism, he tried to prove that Ujamaa was scientific socialism. As was his practice, he submitted the draft for discussion among comrades. We had a heated but comradely debate. Tanzanian comrades pointed out the political implications of his article. At the end, Rodney humbly said that while he had his views he would defer to the judgment of the Tanzanian comrades who knew better the social and political conditions of the country.

Rodney was a thorough intellectual. He was not fascinated by the elegance of language but by the substance of ideas and applied analytical rigour without succumbing to superficial academicism. He was one of my two PhD supervisors, so I know it first hand. My research was on the working class, but as was the revolutionary tradition then, it was not conceived as an academic exercise for a degree. Rather, it was perceived as a means to do revolutionary work and build links, as we would have said. Once, somewhat tired of the rules of academic writing, I told Rodney I wanted to give up this business of writing a bourgeois thesis and he replied, ‘No, comrade, we have to be doubly good. We have to understand bourgeois theories and methodology thoroughly and be able to debunk and demystify them rigorously. The bourgeois, academic discipline is not unimportant for a revolutionary!’164 Where is uhuru ?

The present as history

Rodney’s second quality, his deep sense of history, was not simply because he was a historian by discipline, but because for him that was the only way to understand the present better and change it for the better. I will leave it to other participants to say more on the historical dimension of Rodney’s work. But I would like to mention one very admirable aspect of it. Rodney situated his own role and work in the understanding of history and did it so effectively and so humbly that it was as much self-effacing as moving and inspiring. Let me just quote the conclusion of the letter that I have already cited:

After such clarification, I trust that my use of words such as ‘capitalism’, ‘imperialism’, and ‘neo-colonialism’ will not be deemed as a cover for sinister intent. My indulgence in those terms is aimed at exposing a system which is barbarous and dehumanizing – one which snatched me from Africa in chains and deposited me in far-off lands to be a slave beast, then a sub-human colonial subject, and finally an outlaw in those lands. Under those circumstances, one asks nothing more but to be allowed to learn from, participate in, and be guided by the African Revolution in this part of the continent; for this Revolution here is aimed at destroying that monstrous system and replacing it with a just socialist society.

I wonder what the writer of the editorial thought when he read those lines. If he were great, he would have been humbled by it, and if he were humble, he would have recognised Rodney’s greatness!

That brings me to the third quality of Rodney.

The national and the social question

Rodney posited the African revolution as the antithesis of imperialism. This was true of the rest of us as well. It was very much an anti-imperialist milieu. Rodney understood imperialism well and drew a correct conclusion that there can be no tactical, much less strategic, alliance with imperialism. Imperialism was the enemy.

But Rodney also understood and appreciated that imperialism is not something abstract, something out there. Rather it is here and concrete. It is the question of the social manifestation of imperialism in our society that, I think, we were still struggling to unravel. In other words, we, including Rodney, were trying to understand the class condition of our society and the character of the state. The question was how to understand and interpret politics in class terms beyond castigating the petty bourgeoisie and caricaturing flag independence. The question was to understand how the national and the social questions are combined in the resistance and struggle of the people; in short, to identify concretely the friends and enemies of the African revolution.

I think many of us, including Rodney, worked within the Cabral paradigm 165 walter rodne y

of the petty bourgeoisie committing suicide, and we sometimes overdid it in our nationalist moments. Rodney was not alone in this. Comrade Babu too, in some of his writings and stands that he took understood the African state as a fluid formation wherein the nationalist tendency could overcome the compradorial one. Yet, both Rodney and Babu were scathing in their analysis of the caricature nature of the petty bourgeoisie. The nationalist and the social revolutionary did not always sit together well in Rodney, which could be said of many of us then and, perhaps, even now.

I remember our visit to Siad Barre’s Somalia sometime in 1973. Marxism–Leninism was the official ideology. Everywhere revolutionary songs greeted us and portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin appeared at every street corner. We had dinner with Siad Barre and a long discussion. When we came out Comrade Walter was very impressed, very excited; his face radiant with hope, hope for the African revolution. Here, after all, something was happening. A few of us were not as excited – and I do not say that with the wisdom of hindsight.

Nonetheless, the debate had begun to move towards understanding the class reality of our societies in a fruitful way during Rodney’s time. Just when the questions had begun to be raised in a more concrete fashion, we had that episode of the so-called ‘Dar es Salaam Debate on Imperialism, State, and Class’. Unfortunately, that debate was so isolated from any practice and believed so religiously in ideological purity that it degenerated into name-calling, sloganeering and sometimes sheer opportunism.4 We will perhaps have another occasion to revisit those debates. Here, I only wish to draw attention to these very important issues of class, nation, state, and imperialism and the methodologies of how to understand our reality so as to change it. In our current discourses, these issues are conspicuously absent, even among those of us who would consider ourselves of the left, no doubt a rapidly diminishing species.

As I wind up, I have no doubt that Rodney’s intellectual commitment not only to interpret but to change the world from the standpoint of the working people; his thoroughly historical method and unwavering anti-imperialism; and his constant emphasis on independence of thought and the concrete analysis of concrete condition, are as relevant, if not more so, today.

As Samir Amin says, we are in the trough of the revolution. The national project in Africa has been defeated while the imperial project is being rehabilitated under such spurious labels as globalisation, liberalisation, marketisation and privatisation. The compradorial classes are in control of the state, or whatever remains of it, after being stripped by the IFIs and donor agencies. Subcommandante Marcos, the leader of the Chiapas of Mexico, describes the process as a striptease. ‘The state takes off everything down to its underwear, that indispensable intimate garment which is repression.’5

Our politics are fast degenerating into unmasked power mongering, covered up by paper-thin and reactionary ideologies of race, ethnicity, and other 166 Where is uhuru ?

prejudices. As the national resources of the continent are auctioned off, not even to the highest bidder but to the giver of the highest kickback, our people continue to wallow in poverty.

In all this, where do we, the intellectuals, stand? That is the question posed to us by the life, the times and the revolutionary thought and practice of Comrade Rodney. One of Maxim Gorky’s characters in the novel Foma Gordeyev, condemns the intelligentsia as follows:

For shame, you who are the sap of our country, you whose very existence has been bought with the blood and tear of tens of generations of Russians – shame on you! Lice, that’s what you are! What have you cost your country! And what are you doing for her? Are you turning the tears of the past into pearls? What have you ever done to make life better? What have you ever done that was worth doing? Allowed yourselves to be defeated! And what are you doing now? Allowing yourselves to be made a laughing stock …

Walter Rodney may well have asked us those questions if he had been with us today.

[Chapter 13 of Shivji, Where is Uhuru? (2009)]

Posted on August 27, 2017 (Written in 2006)



1 This chapter was the keynote address at the International Conference on Walter Rodney, May 16–17 January 2006.

2 Reproduced in Shivji 1993.

3 Cheche was the name of the journal started by USARF some time in 1969. Rodney wrote in the very first issue. Its first editorial was composed by three student revolutionaries, who are all with us: Zakia Meghji, Karim Hirji and Henry Mapolu. They are certainly not students; you will have to ask them whether they are still revolutionaries.

4 Some, but not all, papers in this debate are reproduced in Tandon 1982. For an overview of debates at the University of Dar es Salaam, see Shivji 1990c.

5 Referred to in Galeano 2000, p. 92