Intellectuals and Just Causes
The Academic, Intellectual and Pan-African Legacy of Dani Wadada Nabudere
Kwesi Kwaa Prah
Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS)
As we live and plod through the humdrum of our everyday lives, our appreciation of the intellect of the personalities we interact and live with is often lost on us and difficult to appraise or estimate. Part of the difficulty arises out of the fact that; we cannot or do not summarize until processes or lives have run their natural courses; when distance and the terminal character of death compel us to tally our impressions. Even then biographical summaries are notoriously idiosyncratic saying as much about the summarizer as the person who is assessed.
The English bard says, "all the world's a stage", but our scripts have circumstantial genealogy, varied intellectual groundings, as well as individual autonomy and signature. Dani Wadada Nabudere came on and has gone off-stage, and left us with reverberating silences and enduring memories. His intellectual legacy and political impact on Uganda and the global Pan-African scene will remain secure. In the programme write-up for this event the organizers point out that Nabudere's;
… political, intellectual and community work spanned over half a century of public activism. He was an inspiring speaker, indefatigable mobilizer and organizer and a prolific publisher. Key among his issues of engagement were: food security; peace; knowledge heritages; Africa's contribution to humanizing the world; life-long learning; cross-border solidarities; international political economy; Pan-Africanism of peoples; defence of the commons; cognitive justice and Community Sites of Knowledge; and restorative governance, economy and justice. The communities, institutions, groups and networks that Prof. Nabudere inspired, founded, led or brought together can be found at all levels: local, sub- regional, national, regional, cross-border, continental and global. They range in type from ancestral clans and minority groups to Universities, donor agencies and global solidarities. They came together for reasons of mutual concern and/or shared commitment. Each sought in its own way to respond to Nabudere's call for community and popular- level engagement with tackling the crisis of modernity, locally, across the globe ('globally'). They remain concerned that any solutions to the current global problems and challenges should be designed and driven in the interests of 2
the majorities of the planet in their various communities, and not powerful minorities that precipitate or profit from the world's increasingly destructive recurrent economic, political and ecological crisis.
This broad sweep of activist engagement was uninterruptedly sustained for all his life. Throughout the vicissitudes and convulsions of post-colonial African political life, Nabudere's legacy as a political and scholarly actor remained exemplary. He dared to think radically and politically acted with pluck and mettle. He displayed with repetitive confirmation steadfastness and "essential guts", daring to confront and speak truth to power. He stuck to his guns.
As creatures of time and history, we bear the markings of our age, its triumphs and flourishes, paradoxes and inanities. We make choices. I am not positing a simple choice between intellectual sovereignty and contingency, between volition and fate or between what is immediately realizable and what might in due course become realizable. I am referring to the circumstantial, social and historical baggage we carry as humans; cultural baggage embedded in our weltanschauung, the way we view the world. We must and do have the free-will to follow our own life choices, but we do not do this in a historical or sociological vacuum. It was Marx who made this idea common intellectual currency with a passage in his The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that;
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language. …. In like manner, the beginner who has learned a new language always translates it back into his mother tongue, but he assimilates the spirit of the new language and expresses himself freely in it only when he moves in it without recalling the old and when he forgets his native tongue.
These days, it is often unfavourably regarded to call into evidence the work of Marx. But Marx remains one of the most important post-European Enlightenment thinkers. Indeed, in many respects, as a scholar, the perspicuity, length, breadth and depth of his contributions remain unrivalled to this day. In fundamentals it continues to be unchallenged as grand social theory; it is also a methodologically yielding approach to our understanding of the social process. No body of ideas has influenced the course of human history in the last hundred years of history as dramatically as Marxism both as a theoretical construct and a practical or institutional representation. In large state formations with sizeable proportions of humanity as China and the Soviet Union, as official ideology, for better or for worse, it has indelibly shaped the organization of social life. In both these countries and others like Cuba and Vietnam it has been successfully pressed into service as a theoretical basis for resistance against Western imperialism. On the 3
other hand, it has also been utilized to spawn despotism and mail-fisted rule. From Stalin (Soviet Union) to Ceausescu (Rumania) to the Kim dynasty in North Korea and Pol Pot in Cambodia perverted state-sanctioned formulations of Marxism have been employed to operate tin-pot and brutal dictatorships. However, all said, Marxism as a sociological tool of analysis remains in many ways theoretically unrivalled.
Nabudere started his extended intellectual journey with Marx. It was a journey which was not only a scholastic enterprise, but also in equal measure an activist endeavour, more pointedly an attempt to direct intellectual arsenal for the betterment of the human condition in Africa. For our generation, Nabudere was one of the most outstanding interpreters of Marxist thought between the late 60s and early 80s of the last century. His Political Economy of Imperialism and Imperialism and Revolution in Uganda remain till today definitive testimonies of African scholastic encounters with Marxian approaches to social analysis of the period. His work with Yash Tandon, recently republished (The Crash of International Finance-Capital and Its Implications for the Third World) displays robustly studied, time-consuming scholarship and eloquent and lucid critique of late capitalism. A historical contextualization of his work is important for an understanding of its larger import.
The 60s was the "decade of African Independence." At the end, two-thirds of Africans emerged out of colonial tutelage. In Indo-China Western imperialism was taken on and triumphantly trounced by the Vietnamese people. In East Europe, different peoples in the vast Soviet empire rose in challenge to Russian imperialism. The Irish fought for their freedom and civil liberties, and in the United States African-Americans said a loud "no, enough is enough"! to the persistent and longstanding racism of Uncle Sam. Cuba stood up to the United States. Women everywhere rejected sexism and discrimination. The birth of modern armed struggle against colonial rule emerged in Africa. This was a new instalment of the African resistance which was temporarily stamped underfoot by the colonial powers at the end of the 19th century and which continued in sporadic outbursts until the Land and Freedom War of the 50s, otherwise known as the Mau Mau Resistance. Those were inspirationally bracing years. They shaped our thinking and action for the decades that followed.
In hindsight, it may appear to some that the drift from Marxism to African spirituality and the assertions of cultural heritage even if it is modernist and radical remains a contradiction; that this is an attempt to reconcile extreme opposites. I think this view is ill-considered. But is it eclectic? Is it a mixture of ideas which do not mix? Is it an indication of intellectual discontinuity? No. What some of us have found and think is that at worst it is fruitful or elucidatory eclecticism and at best a subtly blended and historically constructed edifice of intellectual maturity; a better understanding and appreciation of the realities of the African world and what needs to be done if Africans are to march forward towards modernity and meaningful democracy with institutions adapted to the concrete realities of African society; a new Africa built on the legacy and cultural foundations of Africans. 4
A modern Africa which is African must use its languages as languages of instruction at all levels of education. This is how all modern societies in Europe and Asia have done it. Languages hold memory, history and identity. They instrumentally define and describe reality for us; they store knowledge, its production and reproduction. African development requires the intellectualization of African languages. Our languages need to absorb the universal intellectual offering of our times. When African languages are scientifically empowered, they will become viable instruments for lifting up mass society. Without this development cannot be effectuated. Language lies at the heart of culture; indeed, the core area of culture. Without language, cultures die; they vanish into extinction; the endangered groups are assimilated into the dominant or hegemonic cultures of the times.
A common fault of the generation of the sixties was that oftentimes Marxism took on a theoretical logic of its own; flighty and totally abstracted from the realities of everyday life. In some cases it was dogmatically and canonically rendered. Unhelpful and sterile state-sponsored articulations were offered in the name of orthodoxy. Some ideologically affiliated more with specific communist states and state-ideologies than with the unprejudiced reading of the philosophy and ideas of Marx and Engels. Such philistinism encouraged the discrediting of the intellectual standing of Marxian methodology as a useful and credible science of society. There were indeed also others who because they had been immodestly wedded to the orthodoxy of Novosty Press jumped ship with the collapse of the Soviet Union and moved on to the wily and superficial seductions of post-modernism, with no explanations. Today, the gimcrackery; the glamour of the empty verbal finery of post-modernism has inevitably faded. My judgement of it articulated some years ago remains confirmed in my mind. It was and remains fatuous and vacuous verbiage spun in jargonized in-group language which effectively obscures than reveals reality. My evaluation was that;
Inadvertently, post-modernism has tried to bring to both dilettantist and professional social science writing, a certain loose elegance, free from the staid and stolid language of pretentious "searchers for the truth." While it, by inspiration, attempted to escape the colourlessness of dry language, it has ended up as an over-adorning linguistic cult, bristling invariably with stock language, dogmatic non-essentialism, licentious deconstruction, an inordinate fear of grand narratives, the cultivation of layered and embedded textuality, and the vulgar cultivation of ego-feeding individual narratives through which "everything goes." It is today, more a reflection of the zeitgeist of late-capitalism than new or ennobled scientific wisdom. What has the African scholar obsessed with African problems got to do with all this?1
1 K. K. Prah. African Scholars and Africanist Scholarship (1998). In, Soundings. CASAS Book Series. No.74. Cape Town. 2010. P.15.
In short it attempted to make sense out of nonsense and nonsense out of sense. With the years and age, many find that one cannot profitably abandon the hard theoretical insights and benefits of Marxian historical analysis and the use of Marxian categories in the understanding of social and economic dynamics, for mushy neo-liberal rationalizations and justifications of the status quo. 5
Rather, one learns to face realities on the ground and the challenges of everyday life better with a mellowed appreciation and understanding of the implications of Marxian assumptions. Marxism is not "revealed truth"; it is a method of understanding the social process in order to change it for the benefit of ever-widening demographic proportions of social classes. Marxism has been more influential than any transformatory theory in the past century. However it remains for us, only one of the many intellectual influences that one has experienced and shapes our thinking. Universally, it continues in many different ways to impact social theory and approaches to the understanding of the workings of society.
During the early 60s, the idea of the "engaged intellectual" was an issue of frequent and lively debate, The notion has been simply defined as "someone (like Nabudere) who is intensely curious about the world around him/her, constantly in the act of researching people, himself/herself, and the politics of social interactions and injustices, working as an educator either formally or informally to bring people together for reasons of solidarity, and consciously merging 'intellectual' theory and everyday practice in life/pedagogy to work for social change."2 Many of us shared this disposition not on account of the fact that it was fashionable and intellectually suave, but because it spoke to our wishes and desires to help emancipate Africans and Africa from the vice of neocolonialism. Nabudere excelled in this disposition.
2Stephanie Jones. http://engagedintellectual.wordpress.com/about/
3Chinua Achebe. Morning Yet on Creation Day. Michigan: Heinemann Educational. 1975. P.19.
The simultaneous and interactive engagement of intellectual and social processes has always meant a rejection of the philosophy of "art for art sake". I love Chinua Achebe's pithy judgment that "art for art's sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit."3 In similar vein, the pursuit of knowledge as an activity of, "gentlemen of leisure"; endeavours which are carried out with cultivated snootiness in ivory towers, with little or no bearing on the lot of the hoi polloi had no place in the intellectual make-up of Dani Wadada Nabudere. He dared to socially engage. He kept faith with time-tested tenets of historical and intellectual scholarship based upon the philosophical conviction that human beings make their own histories. Practically, we are as humans capable of shaping and crafting our realities, dismantling, revising and recreating our worlds as perceived needs dictate. To effectively do this, one must be socially committed; assume affiliation and identification with a cause; either with a social movement or philosophical principles or both. For us, this need is most pertinently and forcefully justified by the fact that as Africans in a competitive world of peoples, at this point in time and history, we find ourselves at the bottom of the heap.
The dehumanizing conditions in which we in our overwhelming masses live are abominable. The tyrannies we have to endure under our leaders are unconscionable. The racist indignities we have to live with in both Africa and outside Africa are unacceptable. Human and universally acknowledged human rights continue in one country after the other to be dispensed in short and uneven rations. The qualities of our leaderships remain shabby and too often pathetic. As "engaged intellectuals" there has to be identification not with the president or any other latter-day nabob but with considerations of justice, egalitarianism, tolerance, truth, democracy and human rights. Such concerns don't occur in a hermitic laboratory or a cloistered library. We 6
confront them daily in our diurnal existential transactions. These are realities Nabudere fully appreciated and worked tirelessly in both mind and body to redress. He directed the conclusions of his intellectual pursuits to resolving the societal trials and tribulations of the masses not only in Uganda, but also in the wider African world. He never shied away from the challenges of Ugandan politics; maintaining consistently principled positions in his political stance.
In Uganda, he was Minister of Justice in 1979 and Minister of Culture, Community Development and Rehabilitation between 1979 and 1980 in the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) Interim Government. He returned to active state politics for a limited spell after he returned from exile in 1992, representing Budadiri West in the Constituent Assembly in 1994-1995. At a later point in time, he considered presidential candidature.
Deepening and continuing his journey into intellectualized Africanism, Nabudere in recent years found traction and affinity with the concept of Africology. Molefi Asante writes that the evolution of the notion of Africology evolved out of Black Studies in the US. "One sign of the maturity of the field that has been called Black Studies since its inception in the 1960s is the debate around the naming of what it is that scholars in the field do. ….. My own perspective, grounded in an Afrocentric idea, is that the name for the field should be Africology. .... Van Horne pushed for the term Africology (1994), after reading the term Afrology in my book, Afrocentricity (2001)."4
4 Molefi Kete Asante. Africology: Naming an Intellectual Enterprise in our Field. 4/14/2009. http://www.asante.net/articles/3/africology-naming-an-intellectual-enterprise-in-our-field/ Explaining the historical genealogy of the idea he writes that; "On the other hand, Turner had moved into Cornell at a time when the term Africana Studies was being used and promoted its use. Neither term seemed to catch traction at first as both departments at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Cornell remained isolated beacons. Van Horne held a series of intellectual conferences at Milwaukee with leaders in the field to underscore the important of Africology. Africana Studies, although reminiscent in sound to many people of the term Afrikaner Studies, a reflection of the white minority regime in South Africa, kept growing until it had captured several important departments. Pan-African Studies was an early competitor but soon petered out at Kent State, Temple, and University of Louisville. There are still vestiges of that term in some places. By the end of the l990s Africana Studies, in a purely numerical sense, had gained ground on the indomitable Black Studies as a name for programs. In some places departments had seen the shift from Black Studies, Afro American Studies, African American Studies, to Africana Studies. Temple under the leadership of Molefi Asante leaned toward Africology."
In summary elaboration of the notion, he argued that; "Africology is the Afrocentric study of African phenomena. This is in keeping with my belief that definitions should be meaningful, establish boundaries, and have substance. If one cannot define the name of the field and give it meaning, then a field may not exist. I do not try to define Africana Studies, for example, because I do not know what it means in practical terms. I can define African Diaspora Studies but the definition frightens me because it isolates Africa from the rest of the African world. These are some knotty issues that are avoided when we say Africology. To say it is the Afrocentric study means that it is not the European study, the Arab study, the Christian study, etc., of the phenomena, but the Afrocentric study which clarifies where we are coming from in our approach to the study of the phenomena. To be Afrocentric is to seek African agency in every situation, analysis, or critique. It is the study of African phenomena which means that it is not limited to the United States, Brazil, or Africa. In fact, it opens the door for a discussion of 7
Belizean phenomena or Comoros phenomena."5 In short we can say that, the term is effectively a notional gestalt for all studies related to global Africans from an African perspective.
5 Asante continues that; "….. It was clear to those early leaders of the field that a simple aggregation of courses about black people was not Black Studies. What is more some universities had courses on their books that discussed social problems and identified the courses as "the Problem of the Negro", or issues of social justice. In the South, black colleges often had courses called "Negro History" on the books. None of these courses or conventions ever came close to what the students of the l960s were demanding of the institutions of higher learning. They wanted courses, indeed curricula, taught from a black perspective. Those programs that decided that black studies meant an aggregation of courses about black people merely went to their faculties and asked who wanted to teach courses on Black literature, Black history, Black psychology, or Black Rhetoric. Once you were able to find a sufficient number of persons to teach you could announce that you had a Black Studies program possibly with a major or minor. This is not to be disparaged because it laid the foundation for some intense reflection on the parts of the faculty. Already there were those professors, such as Winston Van Horne at Wisconsin-Milwaukee and James Turner at Cornell, with ideas for the naming of the departments and programs." See also; William Nelson. Africology: Building an Academic Discipline. In, Nathanial Norment (ed). The African American Studies Readers. Carolina Academic Press, Durham. 2007. Pp. 68-73. Also, Winston Van Horne, Africology: A Discipline of the Twenty-First Century. In, Nathanial Norment (ed), Ibid. Pp. 411-419.
6Dani Wadada Nabudere. Towards An Africology of Knowledge Production and African Regeneration. This Paper Is Part Of A Wider Research Under A Collaborative Research Agenda Between Unisa and Afrika Study Centre, Mbale. Mimeo. 2005.
In his long paper, Towards an Africology of Knowledge Production and African Regeneration, constructing his discourse on Africological grounds Nabudere writes that;
African scholars must pursue knowledge production that can renovate African culture, defend the African people's dignity and civilizational achievements and contribute afresh to a new global agenda that can push us out of the crisis of modernity as promoted by the European Enlightenment. Such knowledge must be relevant to the current needs of the masses, which they can use to bring about a social transformation out of their present plight. We cannot just talk about the production of 'knowledge for its own sake' without interrogating its purpose. There cannot be such a thing as the advancement of science for its own sake. Those who pursue 'science for its own sake' find that their knowledge is used for purposes, which they may never have intended it for. Eurocentric knowledge is not produced just for its own sake. Its purpose throughout the ages has been to enable them to 'know the natives' in order to take control of their territories, including human and material resources for their benefit. Such control of knowledge was used to exploit the non-European peoples, colonise them both mentally and geo-strategically, as well as subordinate the rest of the world to their designs and interests6
We see in this passage the dialectics of the thinker and the doer; the tutored and cultivated mind and the man of action, insistently pressing the point home that; ideas and knowledge must not only attempt to understand the world but also change and mould it towards the upliftment of African humanity. He develops the argument thus;
The issue of an African Renaissance, which has been advanced politically, especially by President Mbeki, cannot just be viewed as an event in the politics of the African political elites, although that may be their purpose. It has to be taken up, problematized, 8
interrogated, and given meaning that goes beyond the intentions of its authors and involve the masses of the African people in it if it has the potentiality to mobilise. It can be used as an occasion for beginning the journey of African psychological, social, cultural as well as the political liberation. It can also be used as a mobilisation statement and the basis for articulating an African agenda for knowledge production that is not just relevant to African conditions, but also sets an agenda for the reclaiming of African originality of knowledge and wisdom, which set the rest of human society on the road of civilisation. The attempt made to establish the Centre of African Renaissance Studies-CARS must be seen as just one example of such attempts. But for this attempt to succeed it has to begin by challenging the dominant Eurocentric world outlook, philosophies and epistemologies, which still defiantly continue to disorganise the African continent turning it into a backyard of imperialist exploitation and plunder. The Eurocentric knowledge of us, which we call 'scientific knowledge', still dominates the psychology of the African political, economic and academic elites and through religion, the African masses as well. This means that as we go about carrying out the task of rediscovering Africa's past as scholars, we have already to begin to problematize the very basis of such 'studies', not because of their specific importance in the scholarship of South Africa, but in the context of creating the basis for an innovative epistemology and methodology in which such 'studies' can be pursued. We already have experiences of "African studies," which end in propagating and promoting Eurocentric ideological prejudices in the investigation of 'African problems'.7
7 Dani Wadada Nabudere. Ibid.
In this short injunction, expressed with intellectual vigour and aplomb, we are left in no doubt what the score is, what the issues are, and what is expected of us. The clarity of mind and lucidity of expression, invariably uttered in measured prose and pace leaves no one in doubt about where he stood. The reader who reads between the lines or the attentive listener cannot fail to sense that these utterances, offered with calm and smooth expression masked an unseen intellectual volcano blazing trenchantly and testily. The style was always level-headed and balanced, but the mind behind it was seismic. Deep inside it, the tensions and contradictions of the zeitgeist seethed and flared with punctuated regularity in molten intellectual fury. Sometimes in reaction to questions, this magma of intellect would surface with scorching and blistering verbal consequences. I daresay, once his mind was set in a fresh pattern of conviction, he was visited by a sense of unshakeable persuasion and his discourse assumed an imprint of resolute moral and emotional force.
The perception of African interest and the pursuit of liberatory causes came almost as second nature to him. One never had any need to canvas his mind in support of Africanist objectives. Because of this ability and intellectual gift, his views gravitated almost naturally towards avant gardism, even as old age, with its attendant frailties and infirmities began to take their toll.
His Africanist instincts never deserted him. He remained always to the end creatively obsessed with Africanist causes. It is not by accident that the institution he founded from small beginnings 9
to what it has become was named after one of the most important Pan-Africanists of the last century, Marcus Garvey. Nabudere told me that he met his wife Ida, a South African, at Africa Unity House (later Nyaniba House) at Queens Gate in London during the beginning of the sixties. This was a centre for Pan-African youth and students in Britain at the time.
I had the fortune to work closely with Nabudere on Pan-African issues for a good part of three decades. He never aged and never got stuck in any intellectual time-warp. He always swam with the tide of ideas and was able to adapt his views to changing circumstances without pride or prejudice. He was learning all the time and his ideas were in ceaseless evolution. I have it on record that Nabudere rejected continentalism; the definition of Africans and Africanism which emphasizes geography at the expense of historical and cultural attributes. In the last few years, we have been involved with preparations towards an 8th Pan-African Congress. Nabudere shared the view that, without unity there is no future for us as Africans in the emergent world.
His Africanism and the sophisticated nature of his understanding led him to see the logic of identifying with the people where they stand; with their customs, beliefs, values, attitudes, sentiments and resentiments. He understood that clanship, extended families, rituals and the traditions of the rural and urban masses of Africa are living realities of the contemporary world. It is impossible to relate to these masses when there is no understanding for these realities; or a dismissal of these realities as backward or atavistic representations. This understanding led Nabudere back to the countryside; back to his roots and back to his people, engaging them in people-to-people relations, the settlement of community disputes and the celebration of our timeless customs and beliefs. His life and intellectual trajectory was in fact an attestation of the Sankofa Principle.
Sudan Sensitisation Project (SSP)
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