I am sure whoever coined this term “Afrocentrism” must have been narcissistic in nature or had some narcissistic qualities ingrained in their psyche (but then again, a lot of us do have some narcissistic tendencies). Please do not mistake Pan Africanism for Afrocentrism though the latter was influenced by the former. It is believed that W. E. B. Du Bois came up with that term though this has been a hotly contended subject, so I am not even going to go there. However, I know the whole idea behind this ego-centered term was for a way for African-Americans (those who embraced the ideology) to help validate their identity in a society that had made them feel less than significant and told them that they didn’t matter. But I am of the school of thought that any concept that denies or lessens the contribution of different cultures and ideologies so as to promote and elevate their own concepts already calls for some concern and is trouble in the making. I mean isn’t that how Hitler got started? The problem lies when the society is already in a vulnerable position which makes them susceptible and open to all types of spheres of influence.
I think the mistake we make as the human race is when we allow our diversity to become a crutch in which society can then use against us. Then we continue this vicious cycle by retaliating and doing the exact same thing, ensuring that this malicious progression doesn’t get broken. It is very easy to hate those that hate us and to take an eye for an eye and want to lash back to those who have wounded us and broken us and mistreated us, but how does that make us any different from the offenders? I beg (Nigerian style)! Please do not think I take lightly what happened to Black people and in a lot of places what is still happening. Being a black woman from Africa and having lived in various continents has allowed me to be exposed to different cultures and societies and belief systems. I have lived in radical societies where any form of dissent was met with the threat of death to open societies where people were free to express themselves and all that has taught me this: We are fundamentally all the same.
Living in these different societies and always being the minority helped me understand how important it is to know yourself and understand where you came from because that in turn will help you define who you are as a person. That is why history is so important, but what happens when history is clouded or altered? Such thing like Afrocentrism contributes to this issue by twisting history and the focus so as promote an ideology. I know how important it is to embrace our culture and our heritage, but we should be aware of how we are not isolated in our existence and we impact and influence other cultures and systems through our interactions whether positively or negatively or both! I don’t like the fact that I experienced racism purely because of my color skin, but I don’t hide behind that and make it my ultimate truth. I will probably continue experiencing racism throughout my life, that’s the unfortunate fact, but there is more to my story and I won’t allow that to be my basis of classification for all non-black people. We cannot treat racism with reverse racism and unfortunately that is what Afrocentrism promotes!
We need to come to a place where we acknowledge that globalization is inevitable and we do not have all the answers as a continent and it is OK to allow exchange to take place. We should also look at how we can use this as a leverage to advance collectively and see a brighter future for the African people and the African continent and essentially the world at large.
Whenever I tell someone that I am a Pan Africanist, they look at me as if I have grown an extra head and/or I am speaking a whole load of rubbish. Or when someone describes something that resonates with the Pan-Africanist rationale and I tell them as much, they react as if I have insulted them and deny all affiliations with the ideology. In fact one of my friends went so far as to tell me that she believes in what Pan Africanism stands for, but doesn’t want to be labeled as such because of what people may think of her!
Pan Africanism has become this commercialized term in an effort to try to generalize and describe a diverse continent and thus watering down the term to become almost insignificant. I have come across people who call themselves Pan Africanist and I am disturbed at the picture they perpetuate by refusing to contextualize the essence of being a true Pan Africanist and twist it to try to make it marketable to the masses. I come into conversations with people who call themselves Pan Africanists and they are to busy idolizing and worshipping the past to be to concerned about what it means to be a Pan Africanist today. Don’t get me wrong, anyone who knows me knows the amount of respect I have for the founding fathers and mothers of Pan Africanism and those who set to unite a continent so divided. But what does it mean for me as a Tanzanian living in Africa? Or for the South African? Liberian? What does it mean to be Pan Africanist and how can I practically apply it to my everyday life?
To define Pan Africanism we must start at the beginning. Though there is no definitive definition of Pan Africanism, it started out as movement during the transatlantic salve trade and was more or less a social concept. During the colonial times it became a more political movement and during the post colonial era it became a more sociopolitical ideology for the unification of native Africans and those of African descent. A lot of scholars say that OAU, now AU, arose from the ideologies and sentiments of the Pan African movement as a means of uniting the continent in the light of globalisation. Slavery is not over as we are still slaves in today’s neocolonialism- ” The last stage of imperialism” according to Kwame Nkurmuh.
Pan Africanism isn’t just about getting down with my roots and connecting with the African in me and all the other Afrocentrism crap that appeals to cultural marketing schemes for black people. It goes beyond me wearing my hair in an Afro and rocking African prints. It is not a religious cult or an anti white hate campaign created as a supposed answer to racism by promoting reverse racism. I think it is great when I see people embracing what is African and celebrating their heritage and their God-given traits, but that is a very small part of what being a Pan Africanist is about.
A true pan Africanist looks at Africa as a country in terms of development economically, socially, politically and culturally. We always hear how Africa is richly endowed with natural resources and raw materials and how we have the potential to be a superpower if we learn to cultivate, produce, and manufacture our own goods. A Pan Africanist ultimate goal is not to have a United States of Africa (though I personally think that would be awesome) but an Africa that has learned to share resources through trade and commerce for the economic empowerment of the country and essentially the continent as the whole. Through economic empowerment can we experience a rich cultural and social interaction as the trade and commerce is not limited to commodities but the exchange of ideas and intellectual property as well, just to name a few.
Some may say this is idealistic, but when one grasps the concept you will actually understand that this appeals to both the capitalist and the socialist, the idealist and realist because everyone gets something out of it. We will spend less money if we trade within our borders, communication won’t be a major hindrance, and transport will be less thus saving money just to name a few benefits. This is not to say that we should never trade with anyone outside of Africa. No! If I live in A street and they sold apples in both B and F street (the distance being measured by the proximity of the letters) and I went only to F street though the apples in B street are better and not to mention closer but I have grown use to buying my apples in F street and have formed a good network so it is really hard for me to go to B street despite how good the apples are! That in a nutshell is the dilemma we are facing here in Africa. Now exchange A with any African country and B with any African country and F as any country outside of Africa and you will have a better understanding of the dynamics of some of the interactions.
Such organisations such as Africa 2.0 which is a “Pan-African Civil Society organization that consists of young and emerging leaders from Africa and the Diaspora who share a collective vision for Africa and a commitment to finding and implementing sustainable solutions that will in turn leapfrog the development of the continent.” <<< That is what we need to be doing as Pan Africanists! We need to be moving and consolidating our efforts as we are stronger together than apart. That is why I get annoyed when I hear people going on about how they are not going to succumb to the white ways and never wear a relaxer. That is all good and it carries its own empowerment but don’t end there, because there is always more that can be done!
Before I go, I stumbled upon this blog written by a pan Africanist and he goes more into detail about what I touched on here. I will encourage you to read it paying particular interest to where he talks about the African economic potential: http://therisingcontinent.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/pan-african-today/.
Imagine a day, ordained and enforced by the government, where men take on the role of women, such as going to the market and taking care of the kids, so they can understand what women go through? Or a president who would rather ride his bicycle to the office than get a Mercedes-Benz? Imagine a country that has nationalized its mineral wealth and oil, where foreign aid is the thing of the past and African unity is no longer just an idealistic dream, but a tangible reality? Well there was such a place for a period of time and that place was Burkina Faso and it was led by the great revolutionary Thomas Sankara.
Thomas Sankara was and is probably one of the most revolutionary and progressive leaders this continent has ever seen. He didn’t just plan for the present, but he looked into the future and would implement provisions to make sure Burkina Faso was well taken care of. Yes, he used controversial methods to make sure that his plans went forth and were implemented, but the results and effects of his plans, such as the increase of women in leadership positions, the doubling of wheat production, and the pulling of Burkina Faso from one of the poorest countries in Africa to a country that one can be proud of, far outweighed the controversial methods. A week before he was assassinated he said something very powerful and I believe to be absolutely true: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
A friend of mine sent me an article about this charismatic leader knowing how much I love reading about such African greats who have influenced this continent both positively and negatively. I would like to share this article with you guys and hope we can be inspired as a continent and know that such leaders can exist. The article is below, but you can also check it out at the website and you can also read more about this great man on Wikipedia!
“Debt is a cleverly managed reconquest of Africa” – Thomas Sankara
Thomas Sankara, former leader of Burkina Faso, was the apparent opposite of everything we are often told that success should look like. Mansions? Cars? Who? What? Get out of here. As Prime Minister and later as President, Sankara rode a bicycle to work before he upgraded, at his Cabinet’s insistence, to a Renault 5 – one of the cheapest cars available in Burkina Faso at the time. He lived in a small brick house and wore only cotton that was produced, weaved and sewn in Burkina Faso.
Going by his lifestyle, Sankara was the antithesis of success, but it is this very distinction that enabled him to become the most successful president Africa has ever seen, in terms of what he accomplished for and with his people. Sankara would not have chopped P-Square’s money given twice a chance – in fact, he might have sat him down and taught him a thing or two about the creeping menace of pop culture patriarchy – because Thomas Sankara, “The Upright Man”, was a feminist. In this and many other ways, Sankara was the African dream come true, the only living proof that hopes of African independence are not dead on arrival.
His life ended with a bullet which, according to the testimony of some involved in his assassination, was ordered by former Liberian president Charles Taylor with the support of the French and American governments, and delivered via Blaise Compaoré– Sankara’s long-time friend and colleague, and the current president of Burkina Faso. Four years prior, when Compaoré and Sankara had jointly staged the popular coup of 1983 that made Sankara president, Burkina Faso was one of the poorest countries in the world. Under Compaoré it still is – so much so that the dire circumstances led to a series of violent protestslast year.
During the years of Sankara’s administration, things were turning around, especially in the areas of health, education and the environment. Mass vaccination campaigns were rolled out with a level of rapidity and success that was unprecedented for an African country at that time. Infant mortality rates dropped. School attendance rates doubled. Millions of trees were planted in a far-sighted effort to counter deforestation. Feminism was a core element of political ideology, manifested through improved access to education for girls, and inclusion of women in leadership roles. Sankara introduced a day of solidarity in which men switched traditional gender roles – going to the market, running the household – so as to better empathise with what women handle on a daily basis. It was Africa’s greatest success story.
How was this achieved? In a speech to the UN General Assembly, Sankara reflected on the state of Burkina Faso at the time that he had come to power, stating that “The diagnosis was clearly sombre. The root of the disease was political. The treatment could only be political.” And Sankara did not hold back with the treatment. As soon as he came into power, he set about razing the conventional structures of power and inequality.
Gone were the days of politicians living lavish lives sponsored by taxpayers’ money – Sankara issued salary cuts across the board, including for himself. The fleet of Mercedes Benzes for high-ranking officials was done away with, and the cars replaced by Renault 5s. Land and oil wealth were nationalised. While the masses celebrated, the country’s elite was enraged as decades of class inequality, which had previously favoured them, suddenly came into jeopardy.
The international community, whose interests were vested in the status quo, were also disturbed by Sankara’s radicalism, not least when he started calling for African countries to reject debt repayments. From the 1970s onwards, newly-independent African governments had begun to rapidly accumulate huge amounts of debt from rich countries and the Bretton Woods institutions: the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). As the Cold War intensified, such loans were increasingly used as a tool for securing political support from key countries – even governments that were patently corrupt and would inevitably default on repayment, such as Mobutu’s in the DRC, were readily provided with billions of dollars in credit.
In one of his most famous speeches [above], delivered at the summit of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union) in Addis Ababa in 1987, Sankara issued a passionate call for a United Front Against Debt. “We think that debt has to be seen from the standpoint of its origins. Debt’s origins come from colonialism’s origins. Those who lend us money are those who had colonized us before,” he declared. “Under its current form, that is imperialism-controlled, debt is a cleverly managed re-conquest of Africa, aiming at subjugating its growth and development through foreign rules. Thus, each one of us becomes the financial slave, which is to say a true slave…”
At the time of his speech it was clear, just a couple of decades into independence, that African countries were quickly becoming financial slaves. Interest rates rose sharply in the 1980s, but governments continued to borrow more and more. Between 1982 and 1990, African debt doubled from US$140 billion to US$270 billion. Sankara rightly predicted that this would cripple African development for generations to come. Despite debt relief programs, which have resulted in increased spending on health and education in African countries, Jubilee Debt Campaign estimates that in 2008, low income countries paid over US $20 million a day to rich countries.
Their decision-making power is also constrained within the limits of orders given by the institutions and countries to which they are indebted. Strangely enough, while these orders demand decreased public spending for example on health, they don’t seem to have made a dent on the perpetual rise of Africa’s waBenzi clan: politicians rolling in flashy Mercedes Benzes bought with taxpayers’ money. And to make matters worse, with access to new creditors – especially China – many African governments are once again sinking into the vicious cycle of debt dependency that Sankara foresaw.
His Foreign Policy Advisor, Fidèle Kientega, explains how this foresight was shared with ordinary people. “Sankara did not dictate to people or force them to work. He told them about the mechanisms of getting loans…He said that they could relax at home and ask him to borrow money from the neo-colonialists, but that they would have to bear in mind that they and their children would have to pay back the loans with interests. Consequently, his government would find it difficult to provide universal education and health care because he would have to spend a greater chunk of the meagre tax revenues in servicing the debt. They could also beg for aid but then they would remain beggars forever. The people got the message and were motivated into working harder.”
Stories of Sankara tend to focus on his radical policies, but it is this approach that was probably the most radical of all – his efforts to bring discussions and decisions, “the apparatus of democracy” as Kientega puts it, to ordinary people. He was able to do this not only because he had political commitment to the proverbial grassroots – as many leaders claim to do – but because, through the choices he made, he positioned himself as their equal. Sankara made personal sacrifices that no other president has ever made, and did not view them as sacrifices, but as an act of solidarity, of African pride. In his view it was only through collective commitment to such sacrifices, which he hoped would one day be viewed as “normal and simple” actions, that Africans could begin to work their way towards self-reliance.
“He who does not feed you can demand nothing of you,” he said.“We however, are being fed every day and every year. We say, ‘Down with imperialism!’ yet we can’t ignore our bellies… Let us consume only what we ourselves control! Many people ask, “Where is imperialism?” Look at your plates when you eat. These imported grains of rice, corn, and millet—that is imperialism. You need look no further.”
Despite Sankara’s incredible oratorical gift, the message came across even more eloquently through his actions: it is better to live a simple life in freedom, than a fabulous lifestyle in economic chains. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, most African governments did not share his philosophy. In a recent series of debates on democracy organised by TIA, people from Ghana, Kenya and South Africa all expressed a lack of faith in their countries’ democratic systems. Why? Because, they said, existing political systems across the world don’t answer to ordinary people – they answer to money. African governments are first accountable to rich countries, then to their own local elites; and finally, if convenient, to the people.
In a world that only answers to money, everything is for sale – democracy, freedom, dignity, integrity. Thomas Sankara bucked this trend, and in so doing struck at the very core of the international system of control – because for once, the world was faced with an African leader it could neither buy nor co-opt.
And because he was not for sale, Sankara had to be eliminated, buried in an unmarked grave whose whereabouts are still unknown. To this day, Sankara’s family and supporters in Burkina Faso and around the world are still fighting for justice, some in the face of death threats. Meanwhile, despite the fact that some of the fastest growing economies in the world are now African, and the fact that poverty rates are falling, so much of our energy now and for the foreseeable future will have to be devoted to further reducing poverty levels relating to decades of political selling out. And the selling out continues, even as our economies are bouncing back. Why do our leaders keep selling us out? Same reason we all sell out – for nice things. “Where does this debt come from anyway?” Sankara asked. “Did we need to build mansions…or foster the mentality of overpaid men among our officers?” This last question, in particular, has become more relevant as we learn of just how much moneyAfrica’s elite have been salting away in foreign accounts even as their countries’ foreign debts mount: ‘Capgemini and Merrill Lynch estimate in their latest World Wealth Report that Africa has about 100,000 “high net worth individuals” with a total of $1.2 trillion in liquid assets. The debts, on the other hand, are owed by the African people as a whole through their governments.’
Of all the holy cows in the world today, materialism is probably the deepest and most universally entrenched – from home to school to pop culture. This entrenchment is necessary to preserve the current system of inequality, because it opens us all up to compromise, to co-option. How much would you sell your values for? How much do you sell your values for? Sankara demonstrated that the make-or-break of freedom is not so much about heroes and politics as it is about the very personal struggle between principles and cash-money.
A week before he died, Sankara said, “revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, but you cannot kill ideas”. And so, for us today, the final challenge rests not in finding more Sankaras, but in becoming them – in bringing these ideas to life.“You have to dare to look reality in the face and take a whack at some of the long-standing privileges,” Sankara said, “so long-standing in fact that they seem to have become normal, unquestionable.” And that’s the most daunting thing of all, because it requires a struggle with the person in the mirror.
“You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.” – Thomas Sankara
Saying I am mad would be an understatement. More like pissed off and upset would be some of the adjectives I would use, first as someone who believes in the Pan Africanist movement and secondly as a Tanzanian. The removal of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s portrait from the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is a disgrace to the legacy and contribution that he did for the consolidation of the African continent. And who do they replace him with? Nope, not Kwame Nkrumah who is one of the paragons of the Pan African movement or even W.E.B Du Bois, who is considered the father of the Pan African movement! They replace him instead with Haile Selassie and cite the reason as Zonal conflict.
Notice anyone missing? Photo By Emmanuel Akyeampong
I just finished reading an article about the whole thing, and would like to share this article which comes from the Daily news in which the writer Harid Mkali did more justice than I could in my rage to analyze the whole situation and compares these 2 leaders: Selaisse and Nyerere. Though I must admit that this may not be the most objective analysis, I do like the points he raises and I leave it to you the reader to decide whether or not this action is justifiable for the reasons stated.
Haile Selassie on Times
Nyerere: Remarkable crusader for African liberation
(Published on the DAILY NEWS on Monday, 22 October 2012 00:00 Written by HARID MKALI)
Since its inception the African Union (AU) has shown a penchant for failing to define and protect Africans’ vital interests, especially land, which in effect is independence itself.
It has also fallen short in establishing the continent’s development priorities and how to achieve them and in leaders’ inability to simply be honest to their own people. This is not all African leaders of course, but the majority certainly. Now the AU cannot even get it right on who are the big players in the history of the struggle for Africa’s liberation, which was the struggle of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU); a failure which deserves to enter the Guiness Book of Records.
I am referring to the removal of the portrait of Julius Nyerere of Tanzania from the pantheon of the AU’s history in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. To characterise this omission as both outrageous and disgraceful is an understatement. It does not matter what one feels or thinks about Nyerere, or Tanzania, but to blatantly distort history in this way is a crime which teaches coming generations a whole load of lies.
No single leader in the African continent has done more for the liberation of Africa and the consolidation of that continent’s freedom and integrity than Julius Nyerere. Like him or hate him, that is the truth. The failure to acknowledge this fact is just evidence of the hypocrisy and self-delusion at present among our leaders in this great continent of ours. Even more distasteful and outrageous is the explanation given – that the portrait lineup has been arranged zonally and Tanzania’s zone is the same as Ethiopia; therefore, Emperor Haile Selassie has been given the slot.
In terms of practical commitment and sacrifice for the cause of Africa, Haile Selassie is nowhere near Julius Nyerere; and Ethiopia is nowhere near Tanzania. Let us make a few pertinent points clear at the outset. Firstly, the African Union (AU) is not the property of Ethiopia; the choice to site the head office in Addis Ababa was out of respect for that country and a recognition of the purely historical coincidence of it having been independent since the 11th century (apart from the FIVE- year interlude, 1936 -1941, when it was occupied by Italy’s Benito Mussolini).
It is not because either the Emperor played an outstanding role in any African liberation struggles or because he was an outstanding role-model of good governance. Nor has it to do with Emperor Haile Sellassie being personally responsible for this historic accident of his country not having been colonised. Far from it.
Secondly, the African Union head office in Addis Ababa is not the National Museum of Ethiopia in which the featuring of Emperor Haile Selassie would be essential. In weighing up which African leader should be honoured by having their portraits displayed in the African Union building, the criteria should purely be on the basis of the proportion of their contribution in advancing the African cause and realistically Nyerere should top any such a list.
There were 30 Heads of State and Representatives at the founding Meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Even if, for the sake of space, it demanded only three chosen leaders for the Pantheon, one per cent of them, then Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt should surely be the choice, certainly not Haile Selassie; and from what is now in the public domain regarding his person and reign, he should now be clearly an embarrassment to the continent.
It is patently wrong to try to spruce up his reputation by distorting history at the expense of people who really distinguished themselves in the battlefield of African liberation. There is no doubt that as a leader Selassie did some good things for his country and even the continent as a whole; my problem is one of degree, one of extent. And in weighing a leader’s greatness, there is not only his/ her manner of ascending to power but also his or her manner of going out, to be taken into consideration.
Compare and Contrast For the sake of fairness I would like to compare and contrast the leadership records of Haile Selassie and Julius Nyerere and let readers draw their own conclusions. Emperor Haile Selassie ruled his country like a medieval autocrat, controlling all the land and doling out much of it to his cronies – church leaders, so-called nobles, and officers from the army and police force, leaving the majority of his people absolutely landless and in conditions of virtual slavery, which was in fact tolerated in Ethiopia up to as late as 1964.
The reforms put in place through the Constitutions of 1931 and 1958 were both too feeble and too late. This is the pattern that enraged the overwhelming majority of Selassie’s subjects and led to the popular revolution of 1974. The sixty officials from the Imperial Government executed by the putschits on 23rd November, 1974, were some of the biggest land owners in the country.
Aside from that, Haile Selassie was allegedly a closet racist; so how could he have genuinely fought the people he admired, the colonisers, white people? One of Selassie’s Colonels alleged that the Emperor “denounced his black officials’ opinion and trusted the views of white men more.” In addition, writing in 1998, Joseph Cardillo remarked on the line-up of guests at his coronation in 1930: “…although representatives of England, France, Italy and many other countries were invited to the Emperor’s coronation, there were no black representatives invited or present.”
It is important to note that, at the time of his coronation, both Liberia and Egypt were already independent countries, but Selassie never saw fit to extend invitations to leaders of those countries, because of his racist views. How can he possibly be a hero of Africa? In addition, Haile Selassie was also notorious for using double standards. When his country was invaded by the Italian fascists, led by Benito Mussolini, in 1936 he lambasted the League of Nations (precursor of the United Nations) for not coming to the rescue of a League member.
Yet, he annexed Eritrea, making it Ethiopia’s 14th province, and so triggering a war which lasted for 30 years, despite the UN Resolution number 390 (V) of 1950 which provided for Eritrea’s own Parliament and Administration. Let me briefly focus on Selassie’s manner of exit from the political stage in Ethiopia. The famine of 1973, which killed about 250,000 people, was the immediate cause of his overthrow in 1974, but the prolonged neglect of his people really forms the backdrop to his reign’s demise and the civil conflict between the haves and have-nots, dubbed the “Red Terror”, which that demise created claimed the lives of about 500,000 people, according to Amnesty International.
When the Emperor died, while in custody in 1975, it is said that his body was kept under a toilet for a number of years and in 2000 his remains were given what amounted to an imperial-style funeral by his dedicated followers; but the Government of the day refused to give it such recognition; bearing in mind that this was an elected Government that came after the regime that toppled the Emperor, it would imply that the feelings of the military junta were in accord with the Ethiopian electorate who knew the Emperor better than any other leader from the rest of Africa.
How can the African Union claim to know Haile Selassie better than the Ethiopians themselves? This clearly is either political correctness or ingratiation gone mad. Nyerere: the person Right from the start of the African independence struggle, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere launched an all-inclusive, colour- blind organization – the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU); as long as one subscribed to the aims and objectives of the cause, then a person’s skin pigmentation became largely irrelevant. Nyerere once poised a rhetorical question: “We have fought our battle against the injustice of the colonial system which qualified the ‘rights’ of an individual according to the colour of his skin.
Are we now to turn around and deny that principle ourselves by discriminating against those whose skins are not black?” Soon after independence, Mwalimu Nyerere nationalised all land and proceeded to make it free to every citizen at the point of use. Tanzania’s prevailing peace and tranquillity is largely attributable to Nyerere’s policy on land; land inequality cost Haile Selassie his crown and unequal land policies are still causing civil wars all over East Africa and the rest of the continent today. Mwalimu Nyerere and Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume are the only leaders in Africa to have created a union of two sovereign states-Tanganyika and Zanzibar- which is still going strong.
Yes, there are rumblings from time to time, but again there are rumblings in all democratic political unions or federations throughout the world; the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Italy to name but a few. So Nyerere’s achievement on that front is remarkable.And to crown it all, by the mid 1970s, Tanzania dominated the social structure superlatives: Tanzania boasted the best healthcare system in Africa, the best educational system in Africa, the best literacy rate in Africa, the best national unity in Africa, the best military structure in Africa and so on.
In terms of honesty and nonacquisitiveness, one can safely say Nyerere is exceptional, if not unique. Twenty years into his Presidency, Nyerere was still paying a mortgage he took to build a house when he was a teacher, before he became President, when many other African leaders were treating their Central Banks like personal petty-cash boxes. A retirement home, that befits a person who served his country so well, was built for Nyerere by the State after he retired – how different in terms of public respect to Haile Selassie’s ignominious end.
Following his people’s realization that Nyerere did not hoard money in bank accounts overseas, soon after he retired a retirement fund was set up and people from all walks of life, un-coerced, contributed to it. But characteristic of Nyerere, when he felt that the amount collected was getting embarrassingly high he politely but firmly put a stop to it. I remember one night at the Africa Centre in London, a Kenyan telling me very excitedly: “You know what? No Tanzanian can say anything against Nyerere now here is a man who has refused money.”
By contrast, Emperor Haile Selassie was forced by his people to sign a cheque to return some of the monies he had expropriated overseas. Yet our great leaders at the African Union today want to tell Africa and the world that Haile Selassie deserves a place in Africa’s history rather than Nyerere. If this is the level of judgement of our most trusted leaders in the continent, then God help Africa, since the moral here is that because Nyerere was not a thieving leader, then he is not Africa’s best role model.
That is what it all boils down to and I hope the newlyelected Commissioner of African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, is aware of that irony. Nyerere: the liberation crusader Mwalimu Julius Nyerere is, without doubt, one of the greatest leaders Africa has produced, and his practical commitment and dedication to the liberation struggles has no parallel in the continent.
After the formation of the Liberation Committee under the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in the 1960s, President Nyerere committed one per cent of his country’s income to the liberation fund. The head office of the Liberation Committee was placed in his country; and nearly all liberation movements in the continent were either headquartered or had offices in Tanzania and most of them also had training facilities for their forces there. Such a stand invited hostility from neo-colonial elements, and the price in purely economic terms was high for Tanzania.
In 1965, the OAU passed a resolution calling member states to suspend diplomatic relations with Britain by December of that year, if they did not put down Rhodesia’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). President Nyerere objected that the deadline was unrealistic; Britain needed to be given more time to deal with the problem, but he was overruled. However, when the set deadline arrived, only President Nyerere honoured that commitment; in retaliation Britain cancelled £7.5 million of aid to Tanzania. In March of 1974, officers in the Tanzania Peoples Defence Forces (TPDF) committed five per cent of their salaries to the liberation struggles.
Many Tanzanians died fighting for the liberation of countries throughout Africa. The then Rhodesian rebel leader, Ian Smith once described Nyerere as the “evil genius behind the war in Rhodesia”, which was a reluctant acknowledgement of Tanzania’s role in that country’s war of liberation; while the late President of Mozambique, Samora Moses Machel once remarked: “… to talk of Nyerere is to speak of the liberation of Africa.”
In the 1970s, when the Republic of Guinea was invaded by the Portuguese colonialists, the Cabinet of Tanzania met immediately and voted a massive amount of money in aid to that country, not mentioning military aid which could not be made public. The Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) was Nyerere’s brainchild, designed to isolate South Africa and so to speed up the ending of apartheid rule in that country.
So was TAZARA the (Tanzania Zambia Railway) masterminded by Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda and calculated to remove Zambia’s dependence on transport facilities of its minority-ruled neighbours to the south. The African Union should not play the colonial games of teaching the world the wrong history. Mwalimu Nyerere has amply earned the right to have his portrait displayed in the pantheon of the African Union in Addis Ababa, and his image should be reinstated there without delay.