Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mwalimu Nyerere’s Pan-Africanism as Pan-Humanism

In his lifetime Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere wore many ‘hats’. Some of them were outright contradictory or dilemmatic. But such is the inherent nature of our complex humanity.

We are talking here of someone who was a president of a single party state. Yet he was the chairperson of the same party, which under the ideology of party supremacy, directed his government. Here was a statesman who, as a nationalist, was so concerned about Tanzania yet, as a Pan-Africanist, he was as equally concerned about Africa. But how could one be both?

Mwalimu Nyerere was honest enough to admit that this was indeed a real dilemma. “On the one hand,” he stated in his address on ‘The Dilemma of the Pan-Africanist’ on 13 July 1966, “is the fact that Pan-Africanism demands an African consciousness and an African loyalty.” But “on the other hand,” he noted, “is the fact that each Pan-Africanist must concern himself with the freedom and development of one of the nations of Africa.” To him that nation was Tanzania.

This dilemma also translates to the ‘individual versus society’. In a response to Bill Sutherland’s rhetoric “Ok. Let individuals develop, and let the nations be secondary,” Nyerere thus said on 13 August 1992: “It cannot be. I am telling you, Bill. If the blessed Lord had wanted a planet for myself, He would have done it. He could have made a planet for every single individual but He never did it. He put us in community, and we jolly well have to live as part of it.”

Nyerere thus elaborated this dilemmatic: “Of course, I’m an individual and a member of a community. And the community has conditions. All the commandments – Thou Shalt Not – are about community…individuals, yes – but individuals in the community. Individuals, yes –because I myself am an extremely assertive individual. Nobody can doubt my own commitment to my own individualism, but I am still an individual within the community.”

He developed this humanist outlook in 1966 in ‘A New synthesis of Man and Society’. Therein he argued that an individual’s existence in society involves an inevitable and inescapable conflict of his/her own two main desires: the desire for freedom to pursue his/her own interests and the desire for the freedoms which can only be obtained through life in society. This necessitates the individual to sacrifice, in the interest of the society, certain private freedoms which s/he could have possessed outside the society if it was at all possible to live outside the society.

Herein – in this humanist dilemma – lies Mwalimu Nyerere’s strategy for realizing the Pan-Africanism vision. To Mwalimu, Pan-Africanism was – and is – not only about Tanzanians or Africans for that matter. Rather, it a vision that encompass all humans in all their complexities.

When you have a world with a continent whose people have been tragically denied humanity through racism, colonialism and imperialism what strategy do you need to make that world whole again? Pan-Africanism. But this is not an exclusive Africanism that rejects non-Africans.

A Pan-Africanism that you need in order to re-member a dismembered world is Pan-Humanism. This is the Pan-Africanism that Mwalimu Nyerere among other African humanists espoused. Way back in February 1960 he thus stated in his speech on ‘Africa’s Place in the World’: “Pan-Africanism, at present, is a desire by the African people to work together to undo a situation which they don’t want, and to create a situation which they want, on the African continent.”

That, as Nyerere insisted afterwards, was the then present. Although he was carefully enough not to predict what forms Pan-Africanism would take in the future it is quite clear that, in his vision, it would be Pan-Humanism. Its Africa would be “a Continent of Hope for the Human Race.”

To that end he thus further stated: “The Africa that we must create, the Africa which we must bequeath to posterity, the Africa of our own dreams, cannot be an Africa which is simply free from foreign domination. It must be an Africa which the outside world will look and say: ‘Here is a continent which has truly free human beings’. The outside world should be able to say, ‘If you really want to see how free people who live up to their ideals of human society, go to Africa. That is the continent of hope for the human race.’”

What does the world see when it looks at Africa today? Does it see that universal human hope? Or does it see what Tony Blair stereotypically dubbed the ‘scar on the conscience of the world’?

If Nyerere, one of the finest sons of Africa, could be christened ‘the conscience of Africa’, why shouldn’t that qualify him to be ‘the conscience of the world’? Why isn’t his Africa the conscience of the world today? Or is it?

Let us all rekindle Africa’s vision of Pan-Africanism as Pan-Humanism. After all “Africa’s own tradition, her moral strength, her lack of ties with one power bloc or another, and that sentiments of oneness which the centuries of suffering have built among all her people, “ as Mwalimu Nyerere noted in the famous year of Africa’s Independence, “can together fit her for the role.”

That way we will honour Nyerere’s main ‘hat’. He was a human first. A Pan-Humanist indeed.

© Chambi Chachage


Canada Guy November 6, 2009 at 6:54 AM  

The idea of a politically united Africa, Pan-Africanism, has been around for over a hundred years. While the pan-african movement has been involved in anti-slavery and anti-colonial struggles and the fight against Apartheid South Africa, there has never been any significant movement towards a political unification. However, recent historical events, quite unexpectedly, may provide an impetus in this direction.


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