It was in the halls of the University College (now the University of Dar es Salaam), that some of the greatest minds shared ideas about the future of Africa. A generation of young scholars and militant students debated and came up with strategies for the struggle to liberate Africa. Many caught this fever; it was a fever that inspired countless Tanzanians and Africans. But what happened since?
A young generation of Tanzanians appears hopelessly lost; worse, a group of people lacking any ideological grounding have hijacked important positions and are busy enriching themselves at the expense of the majority. And so it appears to many observers that the greatest ambition of many young people today is to find a shortcut for accumulating wealth. Not too long ago, there was a generation dedicated to total liberation. Has this old generation failed us? What is the struggle for the young people today? Where do they draw motivation and inspiration?
A group of young African students and teachers held an OAU mock session on the quest for United States of Africa in 1969 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The session led to a heated debate between students representing various African countries on the strategy to build unity and the struggle to end colonial rule in Africa. This historic debate was held at the Kinondoni Muslim Secondary School. A young unknown student from the University College, Dar es Salaam named Issa Shivji represented Tanzania at the debate. Shivji told 17 delegates that Africa could not “bear any further humiliations by foreigners.” He argued that Africa was “poor and weak” and added that “power could only be achieved if the economy of Africa was developed.” It was through economic empowerment that Africa would be in position to achieve the greater goal of “United States of Africa.” Shivji proposed an ambitious goal: the establishment of the United States of Africa by 1975. He envisaged achieving this monumental task in a period of about just 6 years. It is only now, more that 30 years later that we can look back in retrospect and marvel at the idealism and enthusiasm of the young students.
The question of prioritizing the liberation of Africa or moving forward with unifying Africa was one point of contention; some delegates pointed out that Africa had to be liberated from colonialism first before embarking on the quest for unity. Numerous countries, including Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, were not free in 1969 when the debate took place. Issa Idris, delegate representing Malawi, pointed out during the debate that it was pointless to discuss United States of Africa while numerous African countries remained under colonial rule. Another delegate, Leonard Kasulwa, argued that an earlier date should be set for achieving the union government of Africa. The debate took place at a period when Tanzania was one of the most important centers in the ideological battle for the emancipation of Africa politically, economically, and socially.
There was a war raging in the neighboring Mozambique; Tanzania was directly involved in that war. Dar es Salaam attracted some of the best minds from Africa and the Diaspora during the 1960s. Students like Shivji, Yoweri Museveni, and countless others, had the privilege of listening to some of the best minds of the time. The “Dar es Salaam School”, as it became known, made its mark in Tanzania and the rest of the world. Countless revolutionaries such as Walter Rodney, Nathan Shamuyarira, and others, shared ideas with colleagues, students, and leaders belonging to various liberation movements housed in Tanzania. A collection of writings and speeches by Mwalimu Nyerere was published under the title Freedom and Socialism in May of 1969. The essays linked up freedom and socialism; Mwalimu not just talked the talk, he dedicated most of the country’s meager resources to the liberation of Africa. It was under this context that the young students and teachers met at Kinondoni Muslim Secondary School to debate the best strategy for building a strong and united continent.
Shivji and other young students came of age during an era of great revolutionary thought; they were shaped by the urgency of the situation at the time. For them, African unity and removal of colonial rule was important; some of them identified the dangers of neocolonialism and warned of its future dangers. Class struggle, they argued, could not be divorced from the struggle for political independence. The academics and other great minds of the time, thought carefully about the challenges they faced, engaged in rigorous debates, and inspired a whole generation of young men and women. That great era of Pan-Africanism, socialist revolution, appears as if it has come to an end; so it seems.
It is now up to the new generation of African academics and leaders to revive the debate on how best to tackle the challenges that face Tanzania and the rest of Africa. The political, economic, and social liberation of Tanzania is linked inextricably with the liberation of Africa. Africa appears to be sinking and laging behind; neocolonialism continues to sink its teeth and Africa is far from breaking the chains that holds it to the ground. The problems facing Tanzania are not so different from other African countries. The problems stem partly from outside interference and part of it lies within. The emancipation of Africa politically, economically, and socially is an urgent matter that the new generation will have to address.
The liberation of the African must be a stepping stone in the wider quest to liberate all humanity from poverty, superstition, and the achievement of basic needs and equality to all under the Sun. As that great son of Africa, Robert Sobukwe, once pronounced: "We are fighting for the noblest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind.." And I will add womankind to this great struggle!
But what is the next step?
© Azaria Mbughuni