African Nationalism – the End of an Aura, Era or Errors?

Rejoice Ngwenya, founder and Executive Director of the Coalition for Market and Liberal Solutions (COMALISO) in Zimbabwe, writes for the Free Market Foundation. COMALISO works for a Zimbabwe that respects the free market, property rights and constitutionalism.

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African Nationalism – the End of an Aura, Era or Errors?
Early June 2022 was the period set aside to celebrate and commemorate the life of late iconic African nationalist leader Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania. I got to know this from fellow intellectual Zimbabwean political scientist Dr. Ibbo Mandaza, who has been at the helm of African policy analysis since 1980. The event was hosted by the University of Dar es Salaam, featuring great African minds such as Issa Shivji, Peter Ayang’ Nyongo, Micere Mugo and Zene Tadesse. The gig also attracted Blade Nzimande among others, and eccentric Jamaican pan Africanist Horace Campbell; the latter got me really thinking of penning this treatise.
Had he been alive this year, ‘Mwalimu’ Nyerere would have turned 100, hence the curiously titled virtual event “Africa after Mwalimu J. K. Nyerere’s Century 1922-2022: Reflections on the Present and the Future”. Hewn from the very best of pre-colonial African nationalism, Nyerere was not just an iconic ideologue, but epitomised Southern African resistance against Portuguese, Rhodesian and Afrikaner colonialism. For us liberation students, he was at the core of our intellectual liberation ideological conveyer belt. Inevitably, scholars at this Dar es Salaam centenary conference were explicitly generous with glowing terms on why Southern Africa owes its political freedom to the great sacrifices that Tanzanians made. One would have expected then that Nyerere’s passing, and the demise of other iconic African nationalist like Samora Machel, Sam Nunjoma, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe and Kenneth Kaunda, would signal a fitting swansong of post-colonial African nationalism.
Not that we liberals have an issue with national self-determination as proclaimed by the movement that conceived the idea of Africa’s decolonisation. We are for freedom and liberty. However, an effective ideology needs to make meaningful social, economic and political contributions to our individual lives. An ideology – such as Nyerere’s Ujamaa in whatever form – can no longer have a place in our catalogue of self-realisation. Though the Dar es Salaam scholars like Horace Campbell went out of their way to glorify Ujamaa, I have my doubts that the modern-day Tanzanian agrees. Considering the meteoric rise of modern-day Tanzania’s middle class and its voracious appetite for locally manufactured consumer goods, one can only glorify the virtues of free market economics.
The aura of Southern African nationalism is epitomised by Nyerere, Kaunda, Machel, Mugabe, and to a lesser extent Mandela. Its most latent character was that of a dominant political formation at the centre of any one’s country’s economic model. This smacks of socialist ideology, which fortunately the present-day middle class young generation would not easily identify with.

Luckily, Mandela, Kaunda and the latter generation leaders quickly saw the errors of their ways and agreed – maybe were compelled – to set their countries on a trajectory of free market economics. Political freedom is okay, but when it excludes individual wealth, it becomes an illusion if not an outright fallacy. Ibbo Mandaza would label it a slide into the era of ‘petty bourgeoise enthusiasm,’ while Campbell would see it as submitting to the whims of white imperial capitalist supremacy. In fact, Campbell accuses Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook of just that – cultural imperialism.
And this is my departure point with the Dar es Salaam scholars. First, I am not convinced that continued dominance – in this modern-day era – of remnant African nationalist entities like Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa, Constantino Chiwenga and Emmerson Mnangagwa brings any good tidings to our subcontinent. This lot did not, does not and will not cope with demands of Africa’s 4th revolution. If anything, my argument in the Dar es Salaam forum was that we should remain vigilant, in order to fend off impending, unwelcome and inevitable Chinese economic imperialism. Now, Horace Campbell is in denial on this. I agree with Ibbo Mandaza that there is nothing different from British colonial extractive-imperialism, compared with China’s new version clothed in ‘multilateral’ trade. The Chinese, with the complicit hand of post-colonial nationalist Emmerson Mnangagwa and Constantino Chiwenga, continue to plunder our mineral resources. Campbell accuses Chinese capitalists of exploiting workers and peasants in China, but totally ignores that in fact it is State Capitalism exported to Africa under the guise of multilateral trade cooperation that has become a continental scourge.   
I am for economic continental unity, hence my support of the emerging African Free Trade Area phenomenon. But the BELT narrative and the subcontinent’s newfound ‘Look East love’ comes with hidden explosive devices. If African human rights were at the core of African nationalism, then the mere fact that China is willing to ignore citizen abuse in its pathway to economic collaboration with Africa means they are just as abhorrent as western colonialists.

Ibbo Mandaza’s ‘concern’ is that of Africa’s liberation being complete but remaining unfinished. Yet my point is that the very behaviour of the remnant element of African nationalists embroiled in economic and political scandals is cue for us to end their dominance once and for all. Zuma’s Nkandla’s shenanigans; Mnangagwa’s blind eye to high-level corruption; add Ramaphosa’s currently raging Phalaphala Farm currency scandal and they all point to one thing: Africa can no longer afford the debilitating errors of its post-colonial nationalists.
True, many issues remain unresolved: racism, restorative justice, reparations, economic inequality, and skewed land ownership. My question is: what do these maladies have to do with so-called neo-colonialism? To me, the paralysis in governance has a lot to do with our countries struggling to shake off the hangover of post-colonial nationalism. Continued obsession with liberation politics has become the cog in the wheel of reversal of Africa’s economic fortunes.

Post-colonial nationalists have not improved our situation by twisting national constitutions to remain in power, dominating parliaments and then extending begging bowls to unwelcome Chinese extractive imperialism. And so, when Horace Campbell extols Nyerere’s virtue of freedom from economic domination, how do we explain China’s inroads into the very footsteps of the British, French and Portuguese nuisance, the very thing African liberators fought hard to excommunicate?
I do not deny the fact that Nyerere’s personal and national sacrifices opened floodgates to political liberation of the sub-continent – the gist of liberation ideology. Yet it would be a flawed argument that African nationalist economic theory did not need an injection of free market intelligence to complete cycle of economic freedom. To me, this is what the current generation is saying to post-colonial nationalists such as Ramaphosa and Mnangagwa: get out of the way so that we can re-define our destiny to the 4th revolution. Your policies, your politics and your behaviour has become an albatross, an Achilles heel and pain in the thumb of our self-realisation.

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