Shivji: An Inconvenient Pan-African­ist

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Big Read -

WHEN the Cold War ended, or seemed to end, and the dreams of a so­cial­ist global utopia evap­o­rated, most Marx­ist in­tel­lec­tu­als re­treated to seek shel­ter in dif­fer­ent ide­olo­gies and po­lit­i­cal projects.

Most African Marx­ists such as Yash Tan­don, Samir Amin and Sam Moyo toyed with de­pen­dency the­o­ries, toned down their Marx­ist vo­cab­u­lary but main­tained their po­lit­i­cal econ­omy frame­work of anal­y­sis in search for so­cial jus­tice.

In the West, Marx­ist thinkers such as Slavoj Zizek and Alain Ba­diou es­caped from the so­ci­ol­ogy of Marx and hid in the psy­chol­ogy of Freud Sig­mund and Jac­ques La­can that em­pha­sises psy­cho­anal­y­sis as a tool of un­der­stand­ing man in the world. Hav­ing failed, per­haps, in un­der­stand­ing the world out­side man through so­ci­ol­ogy, they ran to try to un­der­stand the world in­side man through psy­chol­ogy. Fail­ing to fix the world for man may en­tail try­ing to fix man for the world, maybe.

Presently, in the de­colo­nial­ity move­ment and in­tel­lec­tual canon Marx­ism is get­ting a beat­ing for be­ing an­other Euro­cen­tric fun­da­men­tal­ist ide­ol­ogy that was largely blind to the colo­nial and racial prob­lem in the world.

This in­tel­lec­tual beat­ing that Marx­ism is suf­fer­ing is made se­vere by Karl Marx’s own thoughts that re­garded colo­nial­ism as a good method of mod­ernising back­ward and prim­i­tive so­ci­eties; Marx is not get­ting for­give­ness for his cel­e­bra­tion of the coloni­sa­tion of In­dia for in­stance. With es­ca­lat­ing cri­sis of cap­i­tal­ism world­wide, an im­mi­nent Third World War and in­creas­ing so­cial in­equal­i­ties Euro­cen­tric Marx­ists led by Zizek and Ba­diou are gain­ing con­fi­dence, cir­cu­lat­ing them­selves in the global academy with a huge shiny ego and an “we told you so” at­ti­tude.

In Africa, it seems, there is no re­newed en­chant­ment with Marx­ism but a vogue of de­colo­nial­ity that claims its roots from the Ban­dung Con­fer­ence of 1955 that asked for a re­jec­tion of Euro­cen­tric po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic fun­da­men­talisms.

Not again is Africa go­ing to be mes­merised by Euro­cen­tric ideas that are in­no­cent and ig­no­rant of the colo­nial his­tory and racial wound­ing of the con­ti­nent and its peo­ple, this seems to be the at­ti­tude that gives oxy­gen to de­colo­nial­ity as a phi­los­o­phy of lib­er­a­tion.

De­colo­nial­ity is not just pow­er­ing stu­dent strug­gles but it is achiev­ing currency in so­cial move­ments like the World So­cial Fo­rum, gov­ern­ments of the Global South and lib­er­a­tion the­olo­gians of the Chris­tian and Mus­lim world. One African scholar and in­tel­lec­tual, the Tan­za­nian re­sources of its own, enough not to rely on in­struc­tions from Europe and Amer­ica. What the schol­ars of the World So­cial Fo­rum have done in un­mask­ing the use of the con­cept of hu­man rights, as a po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy rather than an idea and prac­tice of lib­er­a­tion, has also been nu­anced by Shivji who be­lieves that hu­man rights must truly be about hu­man be­ings not about the elit­ist strug­gles for po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic power. In a word, Issa Shivji, po­lit­i­cally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally has been formed by African strug­gles for lib­er­a­tion and pro­duced by the con­ti­nen­tal per­plex­ity for the re­hu­man­i­sa­tion of Africans. Break­ing bread with fel­low Trav­ellers In the early 1990s when the com­bat­ive Archie Mafeje had got­ten tired of the democrati­sa­tion de­bate in Coder­sia he penned a de­fin­i­tive re­view of the de­bate ti­tled “Break­ing bread with my fel­low trav­ellers” in which he chided his com­rades such as Ibbo Man­daza, Thandika Mkan­dawire and oth­ers for adopt­ing among other things, some Char­lie Chap­lin ap­proaches to se­ri­ous con­ti­nen­tal is­sues. On 20 Oc­to­ber 2017, at the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, it was Issa Shivji’s turn to break bread with fel­low schol­ars and carry out a cri­tique of African in­tel­lec­tu­als, him­self in­cluded. Shivji was de­liv­er­ing the Harold Wolpe Me­mo­rial Lec­ture and did so by mainly ex­ag­ger­at­ing his views just to make a point.

First he com­mis­er­ated with South Africans whose so­cial sit­u­a­tion points to the fact that the sun has not set on the sun­set clauses that pre­vent rad­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion after apartheid, where blacks still live un­der apartheid con­di­tions un­der a black gov­ern­ment.

Shivji made lunch of African in­tel­lec­tu­als that have pro­duced ideas that ra­tio­nalise and le­git­i­mate toxic power in the con­ti­nent. He por­trayed in­tel­lec­tu­als as hav­ing been a very dan­ger­ous lot in Africa in that they have in­vested more in pro­duc­ing ideas for the pur­poses of de­cep­tion rather than il­lu­mi­na­tion of truths.

Ideas, es­pe­cially in­tel­lec­tual ideas have be­come a com­mod­ity in Africa, and like any com­mod­ity in the mar­ket place they are now care­fully and clev­erly pack­aged for com­merce. African in­tel­lec­tu­als have, ac­cord­ing to Shivji, turned many po­lit­i­cal false­hoods into com­mon sense and learnt re­spectabil­ity and ac­cept­abil­ity to poi­sonous ideas, just for the sweet jin­gle of coins. All seems to have been lost in Africa when in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism be­came a form of en­trepreneur­ship where re­search is guided by the needs of donors and other buy­ers of ideas in the schol­arly mar­ket­place.

To demon­strate his point con­cern­ing the de­cline of in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism in Africa and the love for power by in­tel­lec­tu­als, Shivji asked his au­di­ence to just ob­serve the tyran­ni­cal be­hav­iours of aca­demics that have been pro­moted to uni­ver­sity ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Where in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism has been com­mer­cialised and cor­rupted “his­tory be­comes tourism and her­itage, cor­po­rate greed be­comes cor­po­rate re­spon­si­bil­ity and demo­cratic gov­er­nance is taught as good gov­er­nance.”

The once ven­er­ated “po­lit­i­cal econ­omy is re­placed by econo­met­rics, with no sense of ei­ther eco­nomics or pol­i­tics.” Shivji loudly won­dered why “Africans in Africa study Africa in Cen­tres of African Stud­ies in the im­age of Cen­tres in the North?”

In Africa “all stud­ies should be African stud­ies.” And then the bomb dropped “once upon a time our univer­si­ties took pride in be­ing cen­tres of con­tro­versy; now we covet to be­come cen­tres of ex­cel­lence. You can’t at­tain ex­cel­lence if you are con­tro­ver­sial! Sim­ple truth of­ten over­looked.” In that way Shivji made his own con­tri­bu­tion to views on the de­coloni­sa­tion of knowl­edge and the uni­ver­sity in Africa.

Like many vet­eran African schol­ars, Shivji looks more into the past than the fu­ture of the uni­ver­sity in Africa. For him and his gen­er­a­tion there was once a par­adise of in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism that seems to have been lost and must be found and re­cov­ered. This ro­man­ti­ci­sa­tion of the past in the African uni­ver­sity leads to ig­no­rance of the im­por­tant strug­gles that present uni­ver­sity students and schol­ars are fight­ing as a con­tin­u­a­tion of the bat­tles of yes­ter­year. Speak well as he may, Shivji does not speak from a lo­ca­tion of pu­rity and in­no­cence, he is part of the present pow­ers in the uni­ver­sity as a dis­tin­guished Head of the Julius Ny­erere Re­search Chair in Pan-African Stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Dar Es Salaam.

Im­por­tantly, Shivji ended his lec­ture with a ded­i­ca­tion and a com­mem­o­ra­tion of African pub­lic in­tel­lec­tu­als, past and present, that have en­dured per­se­cu­tion fight­ing for so­cial jus­tice in their coun­tries.

The crit­i­cal work of schol­ars such as Shivji can­not be erased, de­nied or si­lenced eas­ily, what it needs is to be ex­panded and made alive to press­ing present chal­lenges in the African academy. African Pan-African­ism and na­tion­al­ism as ide­olo­gies of de­coloni­sa­tion need to be reloaded, ex­panded and given a new de­colo­nial crit­i­cal edge.

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