Friday, February 15, 2008

Is Ours a Torch of Freedom or Liberty?

It is no longer an official rumor. The President of ‘the mighty’ nation will visit our ‘haven of peace.’ He is coming all the way from a place that is eulogized as ‘America the Beautiful,’ ‘the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave.’ This is the country the author of ‘Democracy in America’ hailed as the best model of democracy in the world.

When they talk of USA they are talking of the home of the Statue of Liberty. This was a gift from the champions of the French Revolution and its motto of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.’ These descendants of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ called the colossus ‘Liberty Enlightening the World.’ No wonder they thought of a torch of liberty.

Ironically, this liberal exchange of gifts occurred a year after the infamous Berlin Conference that divided Africa among European colonial powers. Somehow colonialists justified their imperial mission as being an enlightening one. Their great men of ideas legitimized it as a civilization mission to those who dwelt in ‘great darkness’. How else, they thought, could the ‘Dark Continent’ and it’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ embrace their ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’?

So, they came with intellectual, cultural, political and other imperial torches to enlighten us. The rest is not history. How can it simply be history when we haven’t fully embraced ‘enlightening liberal values’? Hence history continues as ‘partners in development’ trek to sensitize us about individual liberty, private property and other ‘quick wins’ that will purportedly propel us from the state in which America was 200 years ago.

But the locomotive of history, an advocate of ‘Let the People Speak’ notes, is class struggle. In the realm of ideas it is exemplified by the battle between seemingly similar concepts of freedom and liberty. I often encounter it while publicizing my forthcoming book ‘Development as Cultural Liberty: Tanzania in the African Philosophy of Culture.’

One critic would rather see liberty replaced with freedom. “Why are you using liberty when you know it is contentious?” queried another critic. One activist suggests that I use empowerment or emancipation. What is wrong with liberty?

In her ‘theological’ critique of US foreign policy entitled ‘The Mighty and the Almighty,’ a former US Secretary of the State offers a revealing appraisal of the mission of her President. She notes how, in a Biblical tone echoing a Messianic mandate, he concluded his 2005 inaugural address: “America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout the world and to all inhabitants thereof.”

However, she notes that as appealing as this rhetoric may sometimes be, “proclaiming liberty is far simpler than building genuine democracy.” Political liberty, Autobiographer of ‘Madam Secretary’ further notes, “is not a magic pill people can swallow at night and awaken with all problems solved, nor can it be imposed from the outside.”

Surprisingly, this is the pill we have been swallowing, albeit in many pharmacological versions, for a long time. Even now we are upgrading it as we enter new phases of reform programs. Despite the fact that some leaders are on public record for admitting they don’t know the diagnosis of our poverty malaise, we continue with conventional growth prescriptions supplemented by tablets of ‘pro-poor’ programs.

Now the global doctor is coming to check our poverty prognosis vis-à-vis ‘ignorance, poverty, diseases’. What will be his policy prescription? Will he prescribe extra dosage of liberal democracy pills made in America? If the main purpose of US foreign policy is to persuade other countries to do what they want, as their former Secretary of the States affirms, we better seriously rethink US prescriptions as we engage their President.

Rethinking foreign policy is particularly pertinent in a country that pathetically fall into the pitfalls of being in the losing end in international negotiations. Tanzania cannot afford to gullibly wonder at the mighty nation and its president. While our finest countrywomen and men are lured to embrace the ‘American Dream,’ our country should also shrewdly unravel the rules of the foreign policy game. It must not ignore or take for granted the basics of this game even if they seem to yield unquantifiable results.

The former Secretary of State underscores some of these basics. The art of statecraft, she observes, “requires a clear grasp of what matters most to those we are trying to influence. For businesspeople, this translates into ‘knowing your customer.’ In world affairs, it means learning about foreign countries and cultures.” No wonder they invest heavily in getting to know our best minds while we simply wonder at their generosity!

Indeed the decisive battlefield in foreign policy is the one of ideas. Thus, the question on whether our torch is that of freedom or liberty is a wake up call to rethink subtly synonymous ideas. It is a plea to look inward and see how much we have in store to achieve our version of the historically denied vision of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.’

All this means let us recall our own ‘Uhuru, Umoja and Ujamaa.’ Didn’t we lit the Torch of Uhuru and “set it upon Mount Kilimanjaro to give light beyond our borders, to bring hope where there is no hope, love where there is hatred, and dignity where indignity abounds”?

Author: Chambi Chachage
Source: The Citizen 01/02/08


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