Friday, November 27, 2015

A Profound Encounter: Remembering Sam Moyo

A Profound Encounter: Remembering Sam Moyo 

By Chambi Chachage

Sam Moyo is gone. A terrible car accident in India has robbed Africa of one of its finest sons. From Dakar to Dar es Salaam we are mourning the loss of such a profound professor and personality.

As tributes pour from Cape to Cairo, I am moved to share my brief, albeit, profound encounter with someone whose being combined a great sense of African brotherhood/sisterhood and intellectual rigor.

His name must have crossed my mind prior to our first meeting at the Julius Nyerere Intellectual Festival Week at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM). As a colleague of the later Professor Seithy Chachage at the Council for the Development of Social Science Research (CODESRIA), his name had to be familiar. It was splashed across publications and papers in our home's library.

To Chachage, Moyo was such an important voice. When the land crisis began to unravel in Zimbabwe, I was still an undergraduate student at the University of Cape Town (UCT). The situation was so mind-boggling especially when I got the  chance to debate it with my schoolmates who hailed from there. My decision to travel by bus from South Africa to Tanzania via Zimbabwe did not help me much to make sense of what was happening especially when I was almost left at the border because of being asked for a bribe.

Hence one of the papers that I tried to skim through to make sense of what was going on in what Mwalimu Nyerere once referred to as the 'Jewel of Africa' was Chachage's 'Zimbabwe's Current Land Crisis: Some Reflections on Its History'. Unknown to the skimmer in me then was that it drew heavily from Sam's work on the ground. He wrote it 2000 way before many scholars started to acknowledge, even if reluctantly, Sam's profound insights on 'land matters'.

Citing Sam Moyo's (1995) seminal book on 'The Land Question in Zimbabwe', Chachage concluded his paper in a 'prophetic tone':

 "One thing that is clear, as far as the Zimbabwe crisis is concerned, is the fact that land reform is necessary. Even the opposition party that campaigned against the constitutional change proposals concedes to this fact. More important, as the history outlined above demonstrates, is the fact that a government that abandons the policies of social provisioning and land reforms as a means to redress the historical imbalances is bound to land in the same problems that Zimbabwe is currently facing. Productivist positions and the Darwinist cynicism of the cult of the winner are dangerous in the face of naked inequalities. These forget that even broader economic perspectives suggest that land reform, as it happened in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, for example, 'lead to an income distribution structure and rural employment benefits conducive for a growing industrial sector.'  It is clear that without the resolution of the land question (which includes the national question in the case of Zimbabwe), the crisis will continue."

But it was only after I came to know Sam personally later on that I really got to appreciate his vast knowledge and willingness to share with those who thirst for it. If there is someone who has shaped my understanding of 'land problems' in Southern Africa then it is him.

Even though we both knew that we are not entirely in the same 'school of thought', he was patient, 'tolerant' and 'open-minded' enough to interact  with me without necessarily imposing his 'old Marxist' perspective on me. As I go through our exchanges I can almost sense the dilemma and zeal to uphold the principle of academic 'freedom' while  maintaining the urge for 'recruiting'.

When I asked 'Why are Marxists/Leftists obsessed with Class Analysis at the expense of Cultural Analysis?' he thus responded:

"As a self-proclaimed Marxist too, I have no problems with analysing culture; but I would think that one has to examine the dynamic structural and social conditions under which culture (which is not static) is produced or evolves. Moreover, many aspects of culture have an ideological value or purpose, and they can become commodified, and these tendencies make 'culture' amenable to various hegemonic projects, including the dominance of neoliberal imperialist agendas. But I admit many Marxists understudy culture, and even ignore its existence and purpose, when dealing with class analysis!"

Little wonder when I had to choose between two universities in the US to pursue my PhD studies in 2011, he tried to convince me to go to the one where a couple of his 'lifelong Marxist' colleagues were teaching.  In a humorous way, he pointed out that the other one is simply basking in its old glory like those folks who invoke their successful past as a cover-up for their present fall from grace. Yet after I had made a decision to go there anyway, he wished me luck after asking: "When do you go to the fountain of knowledge?"

Nevertheless that fountain did not really quench the thirst for the knowledge that Sam was busily disseminating in the 'Global South.' No wonder we were both so glad when I took a short course on 'The Political Economy of Natural Resources' in June 2015 at the Nyerere Resource Center (NRC/KAVAZI) in Dar. Little did I know that will be the last time I see him face-to-face and hear him give a lecture 'live'. Taken by his take on the 'Theory of Rent', I jotted the following comments on top of my head in an online public debate:

Someone - I think, Sam Moyo - has attempted to define financial outflows in terms of the rent theory's dichotomy of 'ground' and 'differential' rents. By doing so, one realises that there is thin line between the 'licit' and the 'illicit' or the 'legal' and the 'illegal'. To put it simply, in the context of the debate below, the TNCs/FDIs are 'licitly/legally authorised' to even collect (large) part/share of the (absolute) 'ground' rent from the land and natural resources that belong to the people/places they are 'investing' their 'capital' in. In this regard, I agree that this is not simply semantics. Preoccupation with the 'illicit' masks the 'licit'. Both are draining Africa(ns).

 After his 'heavy' lecturers all I wanted was to rush home to cool my brain. But he insisted that I join them for a drink and snack. It was our 'last supper'. Afterwards, I forwarded to all an article that we only passingly discussed in the course but which was not in the reader. His response to my email was brief but now so memorable:

"Thanks comrade Chambi. It was good to see you after so long!"

Ever reading and learning, Sam asked me to email him copies of some of the articles in the course reader that he did not have in his collections. I promised to do so. But the procrastinator in me kept getting on my way. Feeling guilty, I sent him a quick email to let him know I will do so asap. Alas, his "Thanks" was the last email I got from him. For five months I travelled across three continents with the scrap paper below that I had jotted down names of the authors of those articles. While I was finally feeling like fulfilling the promise I had made, unknowingly to me, he was laying in a hospital bed fighting for the life yet in him and breathing his last.
Mahmood Mamdani's tribute to his friend Sam, like that by Dzodzi Tsikata and Ebrima Sall, on behalf of CODESRIA, and Ian Scoones', have touched a sensitive nerve about "the politics of knowledge production and its recognition" on and in Africa(ns). No matter how modest one may be, it hurts the intellect to experience it firsthand. After all, even the bravest of firebrands are humans too. Yes, they think but they also feel. So was the Sam who penned these touching words after I forwarded to Wanazuoni's listserv in 2009 an article entitled The second scramble for Africa starts:

 "Now that all these people are saying what your dad and I wrote about since the 1990s on land alienation, I feel sad that they are the ones being credited for the discovery, simply because they have the audience and new 'facts'. The green book was about this, synthesizing the ensuing events. What is our knowledge management process?"
Yet he was generous enough to give credit where it was due while maintaining both a critical eye and empirical stance without being clouded by scholarly jealousy as evidenced in these comments about Legitimating common property in Africa and the Nobel Prize:

"Yes its a good article and the prize is well deserved. But this perspective is not new in the literature on land in Africa, although the point needs to be repeated until many more people recognize it. You might be interested to know that I used Ostrom's perspective in my 1995 book on Zim land, and that it has been an important influence on some aspects of my subsequent writings. We ordinary scholars have long accepted this perpective, it is the rightwing scholars, various elites and their donors who have refused to acknowledge this view for long. Incidentally I was the sole author of the ECA booklet referenced by the writer of the posted article, and am one of the 7 co-authors of the recently published AU guidelines, which the writer wrongly claims were done under the guidance of Okoth Ogendo."

Under such a skewed political economy of knowledge production and recognition, it is high time that we acknowledge our African scholars and their groundbreaking works. It is so refreshing to read, among others, the tributes that Bella Matambanadzo, Alex Magaisa and Godfrey Massay have written to their mentor and friend, Sam. It is a testament to his profound intellectual nurturing and sharing.

Deservingly, in memory of his role the African Institute of Agrarian Studies (AIAS) that he co-founded is now considering renaming the annual summer school that it holds in collaboration with institutions like the Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (LARRRI/HAKIARDHI), the Sam Moyo Annual Agrarian Summer School. May his fiery Pan-African legacy live on and on.

Farewell Comrade Sam. We will keep the torch burning. Amen.


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