MARCH 9, 2017
If we understood from last week’s instalment, why and how Africa which had an early lead on science, technology and government as far back as 4000BC, lost the plot, it makes it easier to see how the Movement was born.
Just to remind the reader, from 1875 to 1895, a period of just 20 years, much of East, West, Southern and Central African kingdoms were decimated by European invaders. As examples, when Kings Kabalega (Bunyoro) and Mwanga (Buganda) under escort by the Indian regiment that had been stationed at Mombasa (because the Sudanese mercenaries that Capt Lugard had been using rebelled on account of poor pay), were on the way to Seychelles, Asantehene Prempeh II of Ashanti kingdom (Ghana) too was marching right behind them. King Cetewayo, grandson of the warrior king Shaka of the Zulu people, was in detention in Capetown. The Herero kings of Namibia weren’t that lucky under the Germans. They were massacred alongside their people by 1904.
Why was it easy for foreigners to destroy Africa’s emerging nation states? The answer lies in poor science and technology on our part. It is also encapsulated in gun powder possessed by the invader and the disunity engendered by ignorance and selfishness on the part of the leaders of the time. In other parts of the world, such as Japan, where the leaders lacked technology, they compensated with unity and in the process, helped their nations stand firm against aggression.
The wild white gees have a lesson to teach us human beings. When facing the pressure of wind in their flight to warmer parts of the world and the struggle for food, one leader bird goes up 50 meters above the ground and tests both the wind pressure and direction. On sensing the easiest route to take, the bird signals others still on the ground, to fly up next to the leader bird. Slowly until they all make more than a dozen, they form a V formation and ensure that each flap of each bird’s wing, done simultaneously with the entire cohort in flight, reduces wind pressure and the entire formation is able to fly so far using thirty percent less energy! One bird wouldn’t be able to make this journey. If birds can understand the value of acting together against an obstacle, why was and is it still hard for Africans to act together in face of danger?
It took another 50 years after the capture of Kabalega and Mwanga for a new form of resistance and agitation for independence under Ignatius Musaazi and the farmers Movement in 1946, to foment and take root. Even if Bunyoro continued to resist, the destruction of the fabric of these kingdoms was so total that a new construction of state had to be done on the master’s terms.
The writing of three men influenced the early thinking on which the Movement theorists based its construction. The first is Karl Marx. Growing up in a rapidly changing Europe of the 1840s, that was giving much opportunity to the owners of capital and rewarding less the workers, Marx had a profound understanding of what drives the forces of social and economic progress. His most enduring theory of the “Base and superstructure” of society helped nurture the early thinking of the Movement leaders. He theorized that the structure of a nation is based on its means of production (tools, machines, land, raw materials etc) and the production relations (ties between workers and owners of capital, surfs and landlords etc) engendered by this means of production. He said that the two things (Production relations and means of production) shape the laws, media, culture, politics, science and education of a nation (which he called the superstructure). These things also in turn influence and maintain the forms of art, the nature and type of family, religion and philosophy of a people. Both the Base (take it as a foundation for a building) and the superstructure (take it as a roof of the same building) reinforce each other and maintain the fabric and strength of a nation in the world. To the extent that both the base and the superstructure are strong, that nation or a people will extend the frontiers of both political and economic freedom.
The second theorist, also a practitioner, was Mao Zedong of China. The qualitative difference that Mao’s writing and practicality brought to the early thinking of the Movement leaders, was his use of the peasantry as a basis for political action and organizing. China, a civilization of well over 2000 years had been brought to its knees and many of its parts dismembered and taken by Europe and Japan. By 1911 the emperors who had presided over this crumbling and squabbling empire, were eventually overthrown. Unlike Marx who wrote for the working class, Mao worked with peasants to build a new movement that eventually took power in 1949. He provided the early glimpse to the possibilities that awaited the Movement leaders. He said, for example “weapons are an important factor in war, but not the decisive factor; it is people not things, that are decisive. The contest of strength is not only military and economic power but also a contest of human power and morale. Military and economic power is necessarily wielded by the people”. Mao’s brilliant combination of both theory and practice had an early imprint on the founders and leaders of the Movement.
Nothing of the above, however, could be compared with the influence the writing of Frantz Fanon, the black Frenchman from the island of Martinique, brought to the early minds of the Movement leaders. Fanon had a deep effect on many African anti colonial struggle pioneers. He spoke of the confidence the African gets by taking a weapon and firing at a colonial white official and seeing that he too (the colonist) bleeds the same red blood like an African. He said this freed the African from the shallow thinking and mortal fear, he (African) has about white colonists. In one of his most misunderstood and controversial writings in 1961 just before his death, Fanon said “violence alone, violence committed by the people, violence organized and educated by its leaders, makes it possible for the masses to understand social truths and gives the key to them. Without that struggle, without that knowledge of practice of action, there is nothing but fancy dress parade and the blare of trumpets. There is nothing save a minimum of re-adaptation, a few reforms at the top, flag waving; and down there at the bottom an undivided mass, still living in the Middle Ages, endlessly marking time”.
It was Fanon’s writing that underpinned the Algerian revolution (1954-1962) and the latter in turn, became the practice drill for the Mozambican revolution (1962-1975). This nurturing and base of the two revolutions above provided a birthing base for the Ugandan revolution (1981-1986).
Next week, we will take the reader through three lessons learned from both Tanzania and Mozambican leadership that became the early ideological base for the thinking of the Movement leaders.
Thank you.