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Part I

If we are to create and provide space and platform for African autonomous thinking on issues of the future of the continent, we have to begin by liberating ourselves from Western ways of thinking and draw knowledge and inspiration from our own heritages, argues Dani Nabudere, in a two-part article based on his inaugural address to the newly formed Nile Heritage Forum on political economy.

I am overjoyed to be asked to give this inaugural address of the newly formed Nile Heritage Forum on political economy to provide space and platform for African autonomous thinking and policy dialogue on issues of the future of the continent, free from disadvantageous foreign influences that have resulted in Africa’s weakening. While this is a noble objective, we must nevertheless avoid being overly reactive to such influences and instead build our own capacity to think and act independently regardless, by developing new ways of looking at ourselves and at the world at large. This can successfully be done if we draw inspiration and living knowledge from our well-known heritage as the home to the Cradle of Humanity.

Africa today is trailing [behind] the rest of the world because in part the African leadership has failed to mobilise its people along the lines of a Pan-African agenda that informed the earlier phases of our political development. This is due to its weak ideological base, which, instead of drawing from such a heritage, is wedded to Western ways of knowing and doing things which we have derived from their educational institutions without questioning, including Christian and Muslim religious influences.

While these external interventions have added to Africa’s modern culture in what Nkrumah called a ‘triple heritage,’ they have also left a negative impact on African intellectual capacity to think independently unlike, say, the Asian intellectuals and political leaders who have linkages to their religions and cultures. This is due to the fact that Asia, unlike Africa, was less destabilised by way of religious intrusions, resulting in its intellectual and political leadership remaining more anchored to their religions, languages and cultures.

The result is that the African economic and political scene continues to be open to the outside world for exploitation and the enrichment of big corporations and the mafia, which act in consort to help themselves to African cheap and more or less free natural and human resources. They do this with the help of the African leadership, which has been bought over by these forces to exploit their own continent in a lop-sided ‘globalisation.’

Many of these leaders use their political and economic powers not only to assist the foreign corporations, but also to enrich themselves by stealing from public coffers and from the ‘aid’ they receive for so-called ‘economic development’ of their countries. Recent statistics show that as much as US$150 billion dollars is filtered out of the continent annually by African leaders who place this ill-gotten wealth into their personal bank accounts. This is not only complicity in the impoverishment of their populations, it is outright criminal activity, which Western governments and corporations connive in because it benefits their economies. The failure of the African post-colonial states is therefore in great measure a responsibility of these leaders, which is a betrayal of the African people.

We cannot therefore blame foreigners alone for the continents’ depraved condition. There is a level at which we can blame these forces outside our continent, but there is a level at which we must accept responsibility since most of this leadership comes from the same institutions that we, as ‘educated’ Africans come from. In fact many of us who are not in the state institutions crave to have positions in the state institutions so that we may also have a share of the ‘national cake,’ which is sometimes obtained by dividing the population and creating conflicts among them by exploiting ethnic and tribal identities. African culture is used negatively in the form of ‘political tribalism’ to gain political advantages and not in their interests. Indeed, the political divisions on our continent are directed in compounding ethnic differences, which could otherwise be harnessed and managed through equitable economic and social transformation.

Even the very idea of ‘nation-building’ that was the song of the first generation of African leaders turned into political divisions based on ‘tribal’ differences, which were very much the creation of colonial ‘divide and rule’ ideologies of the imperialist powers but which we continued to exploit. The African political elites bought into this ideology to their advantage, a heritage that has led to the current state of massacres, ethnic cleaning and even genocides. We cannot blame these calamities on foreign forces alone. We as African political and economic elites have played an active role as agents in these calamities that have bedevilled our continent. We always blame these problems on the ‘colonialists’ and ‘imperialists’ while at the same time playing the role of executioners of our own people.

The calamities that bedevil the continent at the present moment are a continuation of the policies of the past, which African leaders, under neo-colonialism, have continued to pursue. Indeed, the current global economic crisis is an aspect we cannot ignore as having its roots in the weakening of the continent ever since political independence was achieved in the 1960s. Even the little ‘nationalism,’ which was reflected in the ‘Lagos Plan of Action’ and the ‘Abuja Treaty’, was abandoned in favour of Structural Adjustment Program-SAPs that were accepted by African leadership wholesale in the 1980s. This led to the abandonment of what was emerging as a ‘social’ and ‘national’ agenda.

Indeed, it was these ‘adjustments’ that led to the denationalisations, privatisations and liberalisations of the African economies that opened these economies to new financial sharks in an ogre of ‘financialisation,’ in which the African leadership begun to participate by heightened corruption, which drained the continent not only of the financial resources but also of the brains in what came to be called the ‘brain drain’ and mystified as the ‘brain gains.’ The current crisis on the continent must therefore be faced squarely and their origins recognised if indeed we have to move towards a new way of understanding the impacts of our role in global issues. I will give an example of how we can face this task by my own experiences arising out of these difficult times.


Indeed, what is being called the ‘global economic meltdown’ is in actual fact a crisis of capitalism on a scale never imagined before. Analogies are made to the 1929 financial crisis, but these analogies are misplaced, because that crisis can be said to have been an ‘industrial cycle’ phenomenon which had only financial effects. The response then was Keynesian economics, which resulted in what emerged as ‘full employment’ after the war. As we now know this neo-Keynesian recipe resulted even in a more serious ‘stagflation’ that could no longer be responded to by the Keynesian ‘priming of the pump’ strategies to overcome cyclical crises. It required a ‘Chicago’ response of monetarism led by Milton Friedman which championed the financial revolution.’ It is this ‘revolution’ that came to a halt in the 2008-2009 ‘meltdown.’

Indeed, when the crisis struck the US in September 2008, the immediate reaction was that this was purely a US affair. I challenged this characterisation in my three articles which appeared in the Uganda /Sunday Monitor/ within two weeks of the crisis being acknowledged on 15 September, 2008. I argued that what we were witnessing was neither a ‘sub-prime’ mortgage crisis, a ‘credit crunch’, nor a financial crisis. I pointed out that the crisis went to the very roots of capitalism as a system. I wrote:

‘The present financial crisis afflicting the global economy should not be seen from the narrow focus of the credit crunch and its relationship to the subprime mortgage crisis in the Western countries, especially the US. The crisis goes to the very foundations of the global capitalist system and it should be analyzed from that angle. What is at the core of the crisis is the over-extension of credit on a narrow material production base. This is in a situation in which money has become increasingly detached from its material base of a money commodity that can measure its value such as gold. But this is not just a monetary phenomenon. It has its roots in the ‘real economy’ of which it is part.’

I was able to come to these conclusions because I had done some studies on the issue of money and credit seen from a Marxist epistemology, from which I published two books. The main work was ‘The Rise and Fall of Money Capital’, published in London. The second, a simplified version of the main work was ‘The Crash of International Finance Capital’, published in Harare in 1989.

The main book did not receive much circulation due to the fact that at the time it came out in 1990, the socialist world was in crisis and Marxism was not taken seriously, especially on issues of political economy given the fact that the economies of the USSR and the ‘Socialist’ countries were in crisis. The second smaller book received wider circulation and was read widely so that when the crisis struck in 2008, a South African political economist, Professor Patrick Bond, who had read both my books, gave a public lecture in Johannesburg at the height of the meltdown and declared that: ‘Professor Nabudere has been vindicated.’ The smaller book was picked up once more by Pambazuka Press, Oxford, who asked to republish it in 2009 with a new introduction and new chapter dealing with the 2008 ‘meltdown.’

I am mentioning this book because of the fact that the study enabled me to give an up-to-date analysis of the global capitalist economy when none of the official economists were able to analyse and advise our governments correctly. Even the mainstream university economists continued to pursue erroneous theories which were no longer relevant to the situation. Locally in Uganda, it was a small NGO called SEATINI, which immediately wrote to me and asked to reprint the three articles because of the favourable way in which the three articles had been received by the public. In fact when the first article appeared in the first week of October, 2008 I received some ten email responses praising my analysis, coming from as far as Chicago in the US. I responded to the SEATINI request by offering to expand the articles in a monograph, which I did. The result was an expanded 130-page monograph which they published in Kampala under the title: ‘The Global Capitalist Crisis and the Way Forward for Africa’, which came out in May 2009.

The three articles that appeared in the Sunday Monitor were reproduced in Pambazuka News as a single article. This combined article in Pambazuka attracted the attention of an organisation called BOTHENDS from Holland, which thought it contributed to the emerging consensus calling for a Green New Deal because of its emphasis on the need to change course and emphasise food security in our countries in Africa. In fact the last of the three articles had put forward a proposed ‘Way Forward for Africa’ after the crisis. I was invited to Amsterdam by BOTHENDS to take part in a panel discussion on the issue of the Green New Deal in which the Dutch minister of finance was invited to take part together with an Indian professor. It appeared that the passage in the articles that interested them most was the following:

‘What we have said above must already alert us as to what we have to do to get out of the mess. First, we have to look at how we can survive the crisis. For the first time, we have to wake to the reality that we need a food security policy as a matter of urgency about which we can no longer dilly-dally. That means we have to focus on the home market firstly, the regional market secondly and the global market lastly. With the production being focused on the home market, we can create our own currency in East Africa because in that case we shall have no alternative but to create it! But we cannot develop a food security policy based on food crops of which people have very little knowledge, especially since with the currency crisis; we shall not have any dollars to buy foreign food products with in the short run. The African elites will have to content themselves with indigenous crops…’

The articles in Pambazuka also attracted the attention of an organisation in Prague, Czech Republic, which on hearing that I was coming to Amsterdam also invited me to go to Prague the next day, where a large number of participants discussed the on-going economic crisis. I was expected to address the conference on the issue of how African political leadership had responded the crisis. At the time, many African leaders declared that the crisis was unlikely to affect their countries since their economies were not ‘fully’ integrated in the global capitalist economy. In fact the indications by the end of 2008 was that with a threatening recession in the industrial countries, the level of imports of raw materials was going to decline; there was also indications that ‘aid’ would decline given the precarious financial situation of the ‘donor’ countries; with reduced employment in the developed world there was also evidence that the level of the tourist industry would be affected. Transfers from African workers employed in the developed world were also likely to decline due to growing unemployment. All these indicated that the economies of the African countries would be adversely affected in the medium term if not in the short term.

The declarations from both these conferences were sent to the G20 Summit, which was being held in London on 1 April 2009. My participation in both these meetings demonstrated that organisations in Europe took seriously the analysis by African scholars if indeed they were serious analyses. It also demonstrated that while foreign organisations were quick to take note of African contributions to the debate, none of our governments and even local mainstream economists in government and the universities were able to take these debates about an alternative future seriously.

Thus while my views through these organisations could be sent to the G20 Summit to be taken into account, none of the African countries – apart from South Africa – was represented, but with no declared positions. Without attempting to blow my own trumpet, I would argue that the lack of serious intellectual engagement on these issues amongst the African leadership and academy was evidence of our inability to think for ourselves and to put forward positions that could protect the interests of our countries, instead of having to accept dictates from the ‘Washington Consensus’ or the ‘donors.’ This is a post-colonial heritage we must overcome.


This brings me to the whole question of the implications of the on-going capitalist crisis and what it means for Africa. I have already referred to my reactions to the crisis in October 2008 and what I conceived to be the response to the ‘Way Forward for Africa’. The concept paper of the Nile Heritage points out that the objective of the forum is ‘to support African independent scholars, civil society organisations and actors, artists and environmentalists to initiate and participate effectively and with credibility in policy dialogue so that the authentic voices of the continent can have a better impact in the development of public policies.’ It is also declared that the ‘[f]orum’s vision is that policies and strategies across the continent work to empower its peoples/to reclaim and protect its natural resources and heritage and end impoverishment and marginalisation.’With reference to the specific objects the forum wants to deepen and widen intellectual engagement, which can: ‘strengthen African-centeredness’ and to ‘[d]eepen engagement by stimulating knowledge sharing, and evidence-based policy proposals to overcome poverty, inequality, ecological challenges and marginalization of women in policy-making.’

This is a tall order and requires some digesting. The forum’s vision would require us as members of the Nile Heritage Initiative to be committed to the process of ‘empowerment’ of the ‘ordinary people’ of the continent, while at the same time or as part of this process, engage in policy dialogues with all ‘stakeholders.’ But we do know that a people that are disempowered by existing power structures cannot engage with those same power structures that are responsible for their exploitation and disempowerment because it is their weaknesses created by disempowerment by those power structures makes such dialogue meaningless. The real question is whether the empowerment of the African exploited masses can be achieved through policy dialogues or through other means?

This raises the question of our role in society as ‘organic’ intellectuals or civil society organisations engaged in some form of intellectual and/or society intervention activities. Our role must go beyond policy engagements to promote the interests of the marginalised and poverty-stricken citizens. It must involve a process of unlearning and learning not only of the disempowered masses but also of the disoriented intellectuals who have been alienated from their cultures and heritages by Western culture, education and material inducements. This is what accounts for the widening gap between the African elites or intellectuals and the masses of the people for what is really the real missing link in Africa’s transformation – the distance between the African masses and the African intellectuals. As Professor Hubert Vilakazi of South Africa has observed:

‘The peculiar situation here is that knowledge of the principles and patterns of African civilisation (have) remained with ordinary, uncertificated men and women, especially of those in rural areas. The tragedy of African civilisation is that Western-educated Africans became lost and irrelevant as intellectuals who could develop African civilisation further. Historically, intellectuals of any civilisation are the voices of that civilisation to the rest of the world; they are the instruments of the development of the higher culture of that civilisation. The tragedy of Africa, after conquest by the West, is that her intellectuals, by and large, absconded and abdicated their role as developers, minstrels and trumpeters of African civilisation. African civilisation then stagnated; what remained alive in the minds of languages of the overwhelming majority of Africans remained undeveloped. Uncertificated Africans are denied respect and opportunities for development; they could not sing out, articulate and develop the unique patterns of African civilisation.’

Professor Vilakazi adds that Africa therefore finds herself in an awkward situation because it needs to develop an educational system founded upon and building on the civilisation of the overwhelming majority of its people, yet her intellectuals are strangers to that civilisation. They have no spiritual or intellectual sympathetic relationship with the culture and civilisation embracing the masses of African people. Yet the biggest spiritual and mental challenge the African intellectuals face of their massive re-education process can only be provided by the African ‘uncertificated’ African men and women who live largely in rural areas. He concludes:

‘We are talking here about a massive cultural revolution consisting, first, of our intellectuals going back to ordinary African men and women to receive education of African culture and civilisation. Second, [this] shall break new ground in that those un-certificated men and women shall be incorporated as full participants in the construction of the high culture of Africa. This shall be the first instance in history where certificated intellectuals alone shall not be the sole builders and determinants of high culture, but shall be working side by side with ordinary men and women in rural and urban life. Intellectuals must become anthropologists doing fieldwork, like Frobenius. But unlike academic Western anthropologists, African intellectuals shall be doing field work among their own people as part of a truly great effort aimed at reconstructing Africa and preparing all of humanity for conquering the world for humanism.’

Professor Vilakazi is quoted here at length to demonstrate that the exercise we are trying to set in motion here has occupied the sharpest minds of ‘organic intellectuals’ on the African continent. He is also quoted at length because of the relevance of his ideas to what we are trying to say of the need to link the rural communities to African intellectuals and centres of high learning. Professor Vilakazi challenges all of us to wake up to this reality and create a new relationship between ourselves and the African masses who are our bearers. Such a new relationship shall imply a process of unlearning and relearning on our part. This is the only way we can resurrect the deep values of African humanism (‘Ubuntu’) that is so badly needed in today’s gadgetised and digitised world without the human touch and spirit.

While the problem Vilakazi poses is a real one, there exists nevertheless a link between the two components of African society. A non-African cannot play the role the African elite are required to play in the transformation of their society. Therefore, the new approach seeks to build on the unity of the two social forces as necessary for the reconstruction of Africa from ruins inflicted by Europe. Just like Vilakazi, who would like to see the African intelligentsia, being tutored by their ‘uncerticificated’ men and women to jointly produce a new African high culture that would be at the base of the African Renaissance, Y. V. Mudimbe too would like to see the emergence of a ‘wider authority’ of a ‘critical library’ of the westernised African intellectual’s discourses developed together with ‘the experience of rejected forms of wisdom, which are not part of the structures of political power and scientific knowledge.’

This is a useful reminder despite the fact that Mudimbe himself, according to the African philosopher D. A. Masolo: ‘lamentably fails to emancipate himself from the vicious circle inherent in the deconstructionist stance’ of how this ‘usable past’ should be used by African ‘experts’ to construct an ‘authentic’ African episteme. In short, if we are to join the African masses in transforming the continent, we must move towards establishing a truly Pan-African University. The object of the Pan-African University is indeed to overcome this epistemological divide between the ‘uncertificated Africans’ and the African intelligentsia.

Afrikan languages must therefore have to be at the centre of developing the university at all African community sites of knowledge. Language, as Cabral rightly pointed out, is at the centre of articulating a people’s culture. Cabral pointed out that the African revolution would have been impossible without African people resorting to their cultures to resist domination. Culture, according to him, is therefore a revolutionary force in society. It is because language has remained an ‘unresolved issue’ in Africa’s development that present day education has remained an alien system. Mucere Mugo quotes Franz Fanon who wrote: ‘to speak a language is to assume its world and carry the weight of its civilisation’. Professor Kwesi K. Prah has argued consistently over many years that the absence of Afrikan languages has been the ‘key missing link’ in Afrikan development.


* This paper has been written without references only for purposes of discussion at the inaugural conference of the Nile Heritage Initiative, held in Nairobi on 9 September 2010. It is not to be quoted from or extracted without the prior authorisation of the author.
* Professor Dani W. Nabudere is executive director of the Marcus-Garvey Pan-Afrikan Institute, Mbale, Uganda.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.