The Vice Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, Prof. Rwekaza Mukandala, the Mwalimu Nyerere distinguished Professor,
Penina Mlama, fellow academics, ladies and gentlemen. I am happy to join with you today on the occasion of the commemoration of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
At the very outset, we must commence these proceedings by remembering the immortal words of Mwalimu Nyerere, spoken on the 25th day of May, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia where he said:
“…We did not come here to discover whether we all want a free Africa. Even the greatest enemies of African unity know that the one thing on which there can be no doubt that the whole of Africa speaks with one sincere voice, it is our desire to see an Africa completely freed from foreign domination and racialism. We came here to find out what we should all do now in order to bring about the final liberation of Africa.
We did not come here to discover whether we want Africa unity. Again, even our enemies know that we sincerely desire unity. It is their fear of the consequences to them of complete African unity, which makes them emphasize our differences and hope -wishfully- that these differences will make it impossible for Africa to unite. No, we did not come here to find out whether we desire unity. We came here to find out our common denominator in our approach to African unity…”1
Mwalimu and his contemporaries such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Modibo Keita of Mali, Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Milton Obote of Uganda, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Sam Nujoma of Namibia, Nelson Mandela and many others may be gone and it is equally true that their vision may have been blurred by the passage of time, but the truth is that Africa must remember them and go back to the basics which they had identified so ably, but which we have ignored so blatantly.
Fifty (50) years since most African countries attained political independence, Africa still remains ravaged by poverty, disease, famine, violence and death.
These issues have been taken as the reflection of Africa’s identity and pickled into the conscious and sub-conscious minds of her people over the centuries. She has been diagnosed as suffering from what has been described as the African crises2, which term in the political lexicon, refers to any of the problems faced by the African continent.
They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train. And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.3
All these definitions of Africa have eroded her true identity to this day and even as Africa celebrates 50 years of the creation of the Organization of African Union (now the African Union), we must contend with this painful question about our identity. In the words of one of the great Ghanaians, Dr. JE Kwegyir Aggrey said:
My people of Africa, we are created in the image of God but men have made us think we are chickens, and we still think we are, but we are eagles.
In both the political and academic press, the so called ‘African crisis/problems’ are usually defined in the economic terms, ignoring the core problem from which all other problems stem; mind-set.
The role of the mindset in spurring or deterring Africa’s economic, social and cultural advancement has been ignored, despite the fact that it has been, and continues to be at the heart of Africa’s past, present and future experiences, particularly Pan-Africanism.
History of Africa and Early Shaping of the African mind
Against common belief, the history of Africa did not begin in slavery and despite the peculiarity, horror and duration of enslavement of Africans, slavery occupies a minor time-frame in the over 120,000 years of Africa’s history. The slave mentality therefore was a strategy used to psychologically conquer and subdue Africans.
Many people have this view of Africa sitting still and being imposed up from outside. They forget that Africa was an active trade partner with Arabia, and China. They forget because the forces that plotted against Africa knew that the only way to keep Africans subdued was by overcoming them in the mind. Indeed, in the words of Steve Biko, “the most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
This age-old weapon has been used on Africa to drain her of her rich history and strip her of her identity, heritage and pride. The Eurocentric habit of "tribalizing" Africa and portraying it as a dark, pagan, licentious, unorganized continent that is basically emotive and the legacy of washing out Africa's historical record can be summed up by the racist words of the Scottish philosopher David Hume:
I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilized nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences.
The western superiority complex was further captured in the words of the former South African president P.W. Botha who in a secret speech delivered in 1985 to his Cabinet said in part:
…[So] brothers and sisters, let us join hands to fight against this black devil. I appeal to all Afrikaners to come out with any creative means of fighting this war. Surely God cannot forsake his own people whom we are. By now everyone of us has seen it practically that the Blacks cannot rule themselves. Give them guns and they will kill each other. They are good in nothing else but making noise, dancing, marrying many wives and indulging in sex. Let us all accept that the Black man is the symbol of poverty, mental inferiority, laziness and emotional incompetence…
This mentality was imposed on Africans as slavery and colonialism set in and pain became the continent’s default position. From the 7th Century, Arab trade within sub-Saharan Africa led to a gradual colonization of East Africa, around Zanzibar and other bases while early European expeditions concentrated on colonizing previously uninhabited islands such as the Cape Verde Islands and São Tomé Island, or establishing coastal forts as a base for trade.4
Established empires, notably Britain, Portugal and France, had already claimed for themselves vast areas of Africa and Asia, and emerging imperial powers like Italy and Germany had done likewise on a smaller scale.
With the dismissal of the aging Chancellor Bismarck by Kaiser Wilhelm II, the relatively orderly colonization became a frantic scramble. The 1885 Berlin Conference, initiated by Bismarck to establish international guidelines for the acquisition of African territory, formalized this "New Imperialism".
To this day, Africa remains the only continent whose Sovereign States are still referred to as Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone or Arabophone, in an effort to define her continued subservience to former colonial powers and other post-colonization powers like USA, Russia and China.
Inferiority complex and low self esteem were the products of these systems of definition, and Africans were made and indeed forced to believe that they would amount to nothing and could do nothing on their own. They were even denied the right to dream and were taught to hate themselves, no wonder negative ethnicity is the fastest growing ideology in Africa.
Negative ethnicity has been a mental weapon the colonizers used to divide and subdue Africans. Kenya’s Koigi wa Wamwere captures this well in his book, ‘Towards Genocide in Kenya’ as follows:
To each community negative ethnicity is glorified as savior and destroyer of enemies. But because it promises the destruction of all communities, negative ethnicity is the divider of all and a savior of none. Once all communities are isolated from one another, the propagators of negative ethnicity are free to promise each salvation-through the destruction of others.
As a result of colonialism and imperialism, Africa lost not only its sovereignty, but also control of its natural resources like gold and rubber. Europeans justified this using the concept of the White Man's Burden, an obligation to "civilize" the peoples of Africa, a mentality they gladly held and perpetuated.
Press for Freedom and Rise of Pan-Africanism
Africans however, begun to realize that the state of slavery and colonization was not a natural state as they had been brought to believe. The period after World War II in the 19th Century saw the rise of Africans against colonialism and the press for freedom begun with growing independence movements, indigenous political parties and trade unions.
By the 1930s, a small elite of leaders educated in Western universities and familiar with ideas such as self-determination, arose. These leaders, including leading nationalists such as Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana), Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal), and Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d'Ivoire), and Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who we celebrate today, came to lead the struggles for independence.
The mindset and posture of these trail-blazers was the reason why the colonialists could no longer hold fort in Africa. These nationalists were clear about the future of Africa and with them came the rise of Pan-Africanism, whose core stress was the need for ‘collective self-reliance’. The hegemony of these leaders is reflected in the words of Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah who in calling for urgent change said:
“We cannot afford to pace our needs, our development, our security, to the gait of camels and donkeys. We cannot afford not to cut down the overgrown bush of outmoded attitudes that obstruct our path to the modern open road of the widest and earliest achievement of economic independence and the raising up of the lives of our people to the highest level.”5
Even in the absence of modern day communication technology like social media, there was connectivity of purpose with one message-freedom, from Ghana with Kwame Nkrumah to Mali with Modibo Keita and South Africa with Nelson Mandela, from Guinea with Ahmed Sekou Toure to Congo with Patrice Lumumba and Namibia with Sam Nujoma, and from Kenya with Jomo Kenyatta to Tanzania with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
Aware of the long term post-independence colonization plan, he (Kwame Nkrumah) in May 24, 1963 in Addis Ababa continued to say:
…on this continent, it has taken us long to discover that the struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence. Independence is the prelude to a new and more informed struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist controls and interferences…
He called Africans to unite or perish but his contemporaries did not listen to him and because of that, today Somalia is struggling to regain its status as a sovereign state, Ethiopia is still emerging from the Dergue regime, South Sudan is again up in arms on ethnic lines as neo-colonialists siphon the oil away while Congo, Central African Republic and Libya and others are unstable.
Today, to avoid pain, our young Africans have died in the Mediterranean Sea while others camp in western embassies begging, wailing and kicking as they are thrown out in pursuit of the “almighty Green Card”, which in actual fact is nothing but uncertainty and neo-slavery.
This is in exact contrast to what happened a century ago when our young African men and women at a place called ‘the point of no return’, gave spirited fights, refusing to go to the west too be used as tools of labour to convert Europe and America to new industrial giants. This reflects how much the west have subdued Africa in the mind.
We ignored the Pan-African vision and now we are neo-colonized under the guise of education and trade but as usual we appear not to see because of the posture we have chosen to take is that of the proverbial ostrich.
In education, while many African countries have built many universities, there is no care given to what our markets need and to the future of the world and even the elite and African intelligentsia have no faith in their education system, preferring to send their children “oversees”, depending on who colonized them. This is what Carter G Woodson referred to as the ‘Mis-education of the Negro’.
In the national universities, the young Africans have adopted a cargo-cult mentality described by Chinua Achebe as: “The belief by backward people that the things they desire will come to their port of hope without any effort on their part”.
The young people spend time on frivolities of social media, preferring to take the short cuts and cheat in exams, leading to a generation of professionals without professionalism and skill.
Contrary to the desire of the Pan-African founding fathers for self determination and right to construct our society according to our aspirations, the youth have been mentally subdued and there is no more emphasis on African aspirations and values being cultured in them while in school.
Instead they have become the zombies of the west through modern telecommunication and technology, incapable of managing real issues in their contexts.
In health, we have built hospitals but when we are sick those who can afford seek treatment in the land of the erstwhile colonizers, sending a clear message that we still consider them superior.
In sports, we still marvel and Europe and America and celebrate foreign victories while the potential in our young men and women lies fallow and eventually wastes away in parties and drug addiction.
In agriculture and industrialization, the words of the renown scholar Prof Ali Mazrui best captures Africa’s status. He says that: “Africa produces that which it does not consume and consumes that which it does not produce”.
Instead of subduing the land, the land has subdued us and as we complain of drought and famine in our arid regions, nations like Israel have turned their deserts into oases of food production.
Despite having the best climate and natural (soil) resource, Africa cannot even feed herself. We have become perennial beggars who in the words of the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, are “a scar on the conscience of the world”. We blindly consume what other civilizations have discarded and in the process kill our capacity to produce and our industries.
Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources with gold, uranium, cobalt, oil and with universities offering engineering courses but due to the “chicken mentality” we cannot exploit our resources. Instead, it is Tullow and British Petroleum and Shell, Elf and Shell, Exon, Chevron, Total and the Johny-come-lately Chinese companies that exploit the resources for us and pay themselves with more than half of the same.
In arts and literature and matters as mundane as fashion, we do not recognize our own, and it is not until the west recognizes us that we feel worthy. Our heroes are Tom Cruise instead of Olu Jacobs; Angelina Jolie instead of Ugezu J Ugezu and Kenya’s Lupita Nyong’o only acquires value when the American film industry recognizes her talent. Until the Nobel Peace Prize recognizes our Africans of repute, they remain uncelebrated.
In a world where information technology rules lives, Africa is denied the right to tell its own stories as the air is filled with western media and philosophies. Africa cannot even tell its stories except infantile gibberish of the political class. It used to be said that until the lions have their own historians, it is the exploits of the hunters that will forever be talked about and not the bravery of the lion.
We can go on and on wailing but there is no point in so doing as one thing is crystal clear, that Africans must have a monumental mental shift, failing which she will remain where she is-an underdog of the world.
It is this generation that must ask, “For how long will we behave like children of a lesser God?”
Now is the time to introspect, to go back to the drawing board from where our minds were corrupted and twisted. There is a sense of great urgency for us to act and change the way we think. In the words of Martin Luther King Jnr,
“…this is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism but a time to act with the fierce urgency of the now.”
Renewing the African Mind
The way to renewing the African mind is first by embracing our identity as exhorted by Charles Brandon Boynton who said:
My advice then to the black man would be, be not ashamed of your race or colour. Dare to be a black man, and accept the position that God has assigned you and do not believe that it is an inferior or degrading one. Be a black man. It is honourable to be a black man as it is a white one. Aim to make yourself not a white man, but a perfect black man, have faith in your race, in its capability and in its future. Give your presence, your influence, your support to our own race and colour.
Once we internally reconcile with who we are come to a place of inner confluence, we are able to effect change on our external environment in terms of spurring Africa’s economic, social and cultural advancement.
We must then re-awaken the eagle nature that was buried in the “chicken mentality”, look up take a leap of faith and fly, never looking back as advised by Dr. Aggrey in his analogy.
We must adopt the same posture of mind as that of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the President of the African Union Commission who sees a new Africa or rather has a new lense through which she sees Africa, not in the Eurocentric definition but as the next utopia.
Speaking in Addis Ababa in January 30, 2014 Dr. Zuma in her imaginary letter to Kwame Nkrumah written in 2063 (African Union vision 2063), she foresees an Africa whose economy has grown to be the third largest in the world, whose politics has stabilized, whose infrastructure has greatly improved with high speed trains and electricity, Pan-African companies and industries and whose people are happy and have self-belief, having liberated themselves from the perpetual complaint mode.
However, while I embrace Dr. Zuma’s vision and enthusiasm, I am of the view that lofty declarations in and of themselves will not liberate Africa. She is allowed to dream but as I remember, even from Martin Luther King Jnr, after you dream you must wake up, otherwise the dream remains just that, a dream.
Effecting change in our education system to embrace, inculcate and reflect our African ambitions and values would ensure mentality change in our posterity and ensure no more poison of low self-esteem flows in the veins of our children.
The critical role of values-based education right from pre-school to post-graduate studies cannot be gainsaid. This encompasses the informal education at home where there must be a return of values back into the African households and homesteads. Parents must find time to breathe life into their children and children must find time to lend their ears to wisdom from their elders.
A change in mind and fortification of identity at this stage would cause massive national and ultimately the continent. As is said, if everyone sweeps their front porch, the street remains clean. Similarly if our children are taught to value themselves, and not take in and regurgitate all the western media feeds them, there will emerge a new Africa, one that the founders of Pan-Africanism saw from afar and proclaimed.
Change in our world view, strongly informed by a fortified internal confluence and confidence would automatically impact our economies as we would become more conscious in the kinds of agreements we enter into with neo-colonizers, questioning the reason and long term impact behind every deal.
An appreciation of our human resource and particularly the intelligentsia so that our government officials are chosen on the basis of merit and professionalism would go a long way in transforming Africa.
Further, our leaders should surround themselves with voices of reason that can analyze the heart of things and give the governments in Africa sound advice.
The highbrows of Africa, the stewards of intellectualism and progressiveness must no longer be satisfied with lofty cheques and frivolous quaffing in pubs at the end of every working day but reserve the evenings for brainstorming, as advised by Field Ruwe, a US-based Zambian media practitioner and author in his article, ‘You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum! If You Consider Yourself Smart, Please Read This’.
Today, as we sit here under the symbolic shadow of Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere, we must remember the issues that he stood for.
I remember on the occasion of Mwalimu’s 75th Birthday, under the editorial guidance of Haroub Othman, essays were published in honour of Mwalimu under the title, ‘Reflections on Leadership in Africa Forty Years After Independence’.
The issues that emerged at that time included some of the following: Critical elements of a new democratic consensus in Africa, leadership and the dynamics of reform in Africa, Vision of Leaders in the 21st Century: The Nyerere Legacy, Leadership, Nationalism and Forty Years of Ethnic Conflicts in Africa, Presidential Oratory for the Pan-African Cause: The Nyerere Harangues among others.
Today, the issues that pre-occupied the writers then, remain valid. Africa continues to bleed in South Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Somalia, Libya, Egypt and many others and sadly, a new specter perhaps more pernicious has emerged. This is the specter of terrorism, whose executors kill and maim indiscriminately.
Corruption has assumed cancerous proportions and its debilitating impact can be seen in many African countries.
I remember in 1995 when Mwalimu was asked by the ruling Chama Cha Mapenduzi to speak at the delegates’ conference and to elect a presidential candidate, he said in Kiswahili to underline his disgust at corruption that:
“…Ikulu ni mahali patakatifu, sikuchaguliwa na watanzania kuligeuza pango la walanguzi…”
Those words of Mwalimu have even greater meaning today in Africa where we celebrate thieves and elect them into public offices.
During his lifetime, Mwalimu fought against ethnicity and was recognized the world over as the architect of a country where the cancer of ethnicity had been conquered, a legacy that has transcended his time and is alive among the people of Tanzania today.
He used to say and we must remember this fondly that,
“…umuhimu wa kabila katika karne ya ishirini na moja ni tambiko…”
Today, Africa is being torn apart by ethnicity and we are succumbing to it.
In the areas of education, health and agriculture, the great Mwalimu was equally eloquent and honest in his prescriptions. He recognized that early that the long term health of Africans not only required but demanded that Africa must be self-sufficient.
As we speak, Africa cannot feed herself, the quality of education in Africa is suspect and there is a sense in which Africa is in a crisis that demands urgent attention.
That is why we are gathered here at Dar es Salaam University at which Mwalimu held many a debate, not to philosophize, moralize and intellectualize but to seek solutions to the African plight.
I have no doubt in my mind that if Mwalimu were here today he would exhort us to remember that the mind is the standard of the man, that Africans must change their attitude; that Africans must recognize that they are not children of a lesser god, and know that self-esteem is the only avenue to self-realization and I have no doubt that he would have reminded us in Kiswahili that, “Mtaka cha mvunguni, sharti ainame.”
He would have continued in Kiswahili, if only to emphasize that, “Jishinde ushinde” and would not have stopped there, but would have gone on, half warning us half exhorting us with the Swahili proverb, “Mlilala handingwa handingwa muwe macho haambiwi tule.”
If I was speaking in Kenya, Uganda or Burundi, there would have been wisdom in translating the Swahili proverb but not here, the home of Kiswahili.
So as I conclude, permit me to say that Africa will only know her potential when her sons and daughters undergo a mental revolution that will make them realize that the battle today is the battle of the mind and that René Descartes was right, when he said; cogito ergo sum - I think therefore am I.
THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS
1 Mwalimu Nyerere, 1963 Organization of African Union Summit of Heads of State in Addis Ababa.
2 Moyo J.N, The Political Administration: Understanding Bureaucracy in African History, Harare (1992) p xviii.
3 Field Ruwe, ‘Opinion: You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum! If you consider yourself smart, please read this’.