Intellectual, ideology and change in Uganda

15 09 2009

September 12, 2009

Prof. Ali A. Mazrui

In Nyerere’s Tanzania, both the campus intellectuals and the political intellectuals were leftist, but the academicians were more leftist than Julius K. Nyerere. Marxism as a methodology of analysis dominated the legacy of Dar es Salaam, but Marxism as an ideology of development failed to deliver worldwide. As an ethic of distribution, it has continued to be attractive to all those who are appalled by the injustices of economic inequality and the gross inequities between the Haves and Have-nots in post-colonial Africa.

As for African elites who pursued the capitalist path of development, many of their economic strategies were similarly out of focus in their capitalism. Their strategies stimulated urbanisation without industrialisation; they aroused capitalist greed without capitalist discipline; they activated Western consumption patterns without Western production techniques; they whetted Western tastes without cultivating Western skills.

Idi Amin’s expulsion of Ugandan Asians was a particularly bizarre route towards Africanised capitalism. Amin sought to replace Asian dukawallas with African duka-warriors. Once again, the result was capitalist greed without capitalist discipline; Western-style consumption patterns without Western-style production techniques.

Of the major East African leaders, Yoweri Museveni, is the only one who has traversed the whole ideological spectrum from a profound distrust of capitalism to a restored faith in market forces. Museveni insists that his new faith in the market forces was not a quest for profit, but a quest for technology and development.

Museveni and Nkrumah had something in common. Nkrumah out of office was way to the left of Nkrumah in office. Similarly, Museveni, prior to supreme office, was way to the left of Museveni in office. Nkrumah was neo-Marxist, both before he became Head of Government, and after he lost power. He returned to his leftist roots in his post-presidential years. In the case of Museveni, we know he was leftist before he had supreme power, and we know that he became more pragmatic as Head of State. We do not know yet if he will return to his leftist roots when he becomes an ordinary citizen again.

Museveni’s pragmatism in power has paid off in the capital city of Kampala. Kampala was decaying and full of hazards when Museveni came to power in 1986. Today, Kampala has the look of a dynamic metropolis, building higher and higher, as well as wider and wide.

Far less successful is the fate of Jinja, which was once the country’s industrial capital. If I was advising President Museveni on urban policy, I would urge a strategy of two cities, a kind of tale of two cities, like Sidney and Melbourne in Australia. If Kampala is Uganda’s Sydney in terms of development, let Jinja grow into Uganda’s Melbourne.

In Australia, the capital is the small city of Canberra. So Kampala is a combination of Sydney and Canberra. But Uganda’s urban policy should still be based on a strategy of two cities – one of which should be astride the source of the Nile. The moves towards peace in Northern Uganda are a more urgent priority. Although the war of the Lord’s Resistance Army is not the longest war in post-colonial Eastern Africa, the Ugandan war with the Lord’s Resistance Army may be the most brutal.

The separatist war of Eritrea against imperial and revolutionary Ethiopia was a 30-year war (1962-1992), but it was not as savage as the 20-year war in Northern Uganda. The second civil war in Southern Sudan was more than 40 years long – from 1963 to 2004. But it was not a war that chopped off limbs and lips or brutally violated women and children as the war in Northern Uganda has done for decades. Ugandans are now finally taking the Northern war truly seriously. If there are intellectuals on both the government side and in the LRA, here is another opportunity to demonstrate that such intellectuals can indeed be major agents of political change, even if they remain minor agents in economic change. If the first phase of East Africa’s modern history was decolonisation and the second phase was the challenge of nation-building, this third phase is the phase of globalisation.

Prof. Mazrui teaches political science and African studies at State University, New York




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