Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mahmood Mamdani on Imagining Different Futures

"...We were the first generation of post-independence African intellectuals. We thought in historical terms. We knew that history was moving, more or less like a train, heading to a known destination, and none of us had any doubt that we were on that train. We were certain that the future would be better than the past, much better. If there would be violence, it would be revolutionary, the violence of the poor against the rich, the oppressor against the oppressed. Good revolutionary violence would do away with bad counter-revolutionary violence...Two decades later, we found ourselves in a world for which we were least prepared. Not only was it a world drenched in blood,but the battle lines were hardly inspiring. There was little revolutionary about the violence around us: instead of the poor rising up against the rich, we could see poor pitted against poor, and rich against rich. This was hardly the final struggle promised in the International – la lutte finale – beyond which would lie the rosy dawn of socialism. It seemed more like the fires of hell....Thus, my message to you: today, more than ever, we need the capacity to imagine different futures. In 1973, in Dar and in Addis, we thought of ourselves as being in transition to an already known destination, first it was a transition to socialism; after the fall of Soviet Union, the convention was to think of a transition to democracy; after 9/11, it became a transition to modernity. Common to all three was the conviction that the journey had a fixed destination. It was a road map with a predestined goal. Our role was only to exert effort, for the train was already on course... Experience has taught us that there is no given destination. The destination is negotiable. If I am right, you will need the courage and the creativity to imagine the destination and the skill and tenacity to forge a political consensus around that imagination. Keep in mind that the journey you will embark on has no fixed destination. Where you go will depend on you and those around you. The better you understand the nature of forces defining your choices, the more you will be able to gather in your own hands possibilities of forging the future..." - Mahmood Mamdani upon being confered Doctor of Letters honoris causa at Addis Ababa University


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