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  • From neo-liberalism to pan-Africanism:towards reconstructing an eastern African discourse
  • Issa Shivji (bio)


The purpose of this short essay is to review the state of interaction between our universities in East Africa so far as intellectual debate is concerned. If in the process, I refer somewhat passionately to the debates of the 1960s and 1970s, it is not out of nostalgia, but to draw inspiration. And we need this inspiration given the state of intellectual inertia and marketisation of academia that has set in with the invasion of the neo-liberal agenda in our universities. At the end I make a modest proposal as to how we may start reflecting on the mechanisms to kick-start the process of an eastern African discourse.

The nationalist period

Sketches of the political context

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the immediate post-independence period was one of great expectations and equally great political turmoil. The anti-colonial struggles that picked up after World War II came to fruition in Africa in the 1960s. Ghana got its independence in 1957, and Nkrumah picked up the flag of Pan-Africanism in his great passion for African Unity. Born in the midst of cold war, signs of any autonomous nationalism by independent states attracted the wrath of superpowers. Western intervention in the running and changing of regimes in Africa was rampant. The assassination of Patrice Lumumba and the open military intervention of the US left an indelible impression on the East African leaders and made them very vulnerable. Radical nationalism had a very hard time keeping afloat. [End Page 108]

The Zanzibar revolution of 1964 and the subsequent army mutinies in all the three East African countries threatened to derail nationalism in this part of the world. The extent of the influence and intervention of the former colonial power, Britain, in these events can only be appreciated now that we have the opportunity to peruse diplomatic papers of the 1960s and 1970s, recently opened in the Public Records Office. Relatively more independent nationalists like Nyerere found it extremely difficult to keep the former colonial power at bay. Embarrassing though it may have been, Nyerere had to call in British troops to quell his riotous soldiers. But the nationalist in him could not countenance British troops on Tanganyikan soil. He had the Nigerian troops look after the defence of the country while the new Tanzanian army was being trained.

In what he called an 'undiplomatically frank' letter to Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister of Britain, Nyerere narrated his fears and entreated the Prime Minister to understand his position:

These are only a few of the reasons why we cannot be expected to be so confident of American non-interference in our affairs as British feel in relation to her own country. For the whole of this past year we have been subjected to pressures from the United States - and from Britain too before the change of Government - in relation to events in this country, particularly in relation to the post-revolutionary period in Zanzibar.

And finally, I am sure you will realise that there has been a reaction against the complacency with which we viewed our security questions before the mutiny of January this year. It may be that in consequence we see dangers where none exist, but if so this is a fault on the right side under the circumstances. Africa is going through an extremely difficult period of transition, and coup d'etats are not things in which any African Government can afford to take a merely academic interest.

(Nyerere to Wilson: 27.11.64)

Kenyatta had thrown in his lot with the West while Obote was struggling with his kingdoms. Nyerere continued agonising over where he stood. His anti-colonial nationalism began to draw him to take non-alignment more and more seriously. The liberation wars in southern Africa, which were inevitably, and for obvious reasons, supported by the Soviet bloc and, which found a home and consistent support in Nyerere, no doubt, also had a radical influence on Mwalimu.

There were other events on the continent which played a role in the political thought...


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pp. 108-118
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