Looking to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere's understanding for guidance, Issa G. Shivji stresses the contemporary importance of non-alignment for Tanzania and African countries at large. In the face of a multi-polar world where power is progressively drifting eastwards, Africa must revitalise its erstwhile spirit of national liberation and autonomy, Shivji argues.
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was a great leader but not an angel. There are his personal qualities like integrity which are inspirational. There are his political practices, some of which need to be assessed and others which cannot stand up to criticism. But there is one aspect of his political practice which needs to be carefully evaluated and its relevance gauged. This is his foreign policy in relation to superpowers and his association with non-alignment.
The Bandung conference held in Indonesia in 1955 was a great historical event for the formerly colonised world. Twenty-nine Asian and African countries attended, significantly excluding Israel, South Africa, Taiwan and North and South Korea. The Bandung conference eventually led to the formation of the non-aligned movement in 1961.
Many Asian and African countries became independent after the war. They were born as nations in the midst of Cold War rivalries between the Western and Eastern camps respectively led by the then two super-powers, the United States and the Soviet Union. These were not only political and ideological camps. They were also military configurations. The Soviet Union, together with its East European allies, formed the Warsaw Pact as a counterpoint to the military alliance of the Western powers led by the United States and NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
The newly independent countries, led by such leaders as Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Sukarno of Indonesia, were farsighted enough to realise that their independence would mean little if they fell in either of these camps. Later as African countries became independent, several African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Nyerere joined the Non-Aligned Movement. Originally 'non-alignment' simply meant not aligned with either of the military camps. But as they grappled with their economic problems, non-aligned countries began to explore and try to forge a common stand in economic matters as well. This was not always as successful.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, and the imposition of neoliberal policies, particularly in Africa, Western imperialism under the US took the offensive to rehabilitate itself morally and ideologically. The Warsaw pact collapsed, but NATO was further strengthened and undertook military adventures in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, with disastrous results in terms of human life.
Neoliberalism and globalisation were not simply a matter of certain economic policies giving free rein to capitalist vultures and financial speculators, but, much more, they were an ideological offensive against nationalism and socialism. The second generation of African leaders, or the so-called 'new breed' leaders, as Western media christened their new African allies, fell in line, adopting neoliberal polices and the ideological package that went with them.
In the case of Tanzania the heydays of neoliberalism were during the third phase government under President Benjamin Mkapa. Foreign policy took a radical turn. Instead of liberation, African unity and solidarity with oppressed peoples, which were the cornerstone of Mwalimu’s foreign policy, neoliberal foreign policy prided itself in what was called ‘economic diplomacy’. This was hardly diplomacy and much less economic. In practice, economic diplomacy meant no more than 'selling' the country abroad to woo so-called investors. Worse, in military and political terms, it meant thoughtlessly toeing the line of the vicious superpower, the US, and its handyman, Zionist Israel.
Mwalimu used to avoid superpowers like the plague. The third and fourth phase governments embraced the superpower and echoed its multifarious 'wars', like the so-called 'war on terror'. Under a thinly-veiled garb of the United Nations, we in Tanzania sent troops to Lebanon. We were the only African member of the so-called International Contact Group on Somalia formed at the behest of the US. We allied with US policies in Somalia in the process undermining the reconciliation efforts of the regional African grouping IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development). Had it not been for the opposition of civil groups, we might have even sent troops to Somalia.
For a few million dollars given apparently for HIV/AIDS, we diverted counterpart funds from other priorities – like malaria – to HIV, even though malaria kills more people. And for a few million mosquito nets, we feted warmongers of the world. It was first time ever that a leader of a superpower had set foot on our soil. George W. Bush came with a few hundred million dollars, a couple of million mosquito nets and a military project, US Africa command, or AFRICOM. AFRICOM has been trying hard to achieve legitimacy so that it can establish a base somewhere in Africa. A large majority of African countries have rejected it. Strangely, we have kept quiet. Worse, we have been warming up to the advances of the superpower.
If we had some understanding of shifting world hegemonies, we would refurbish Mwalimu’s non-alignment and use it as our polar star in our international relations. Non-alignment is more relevant today than it was ever before. World hegemonies are shifting. Analysts are talking about the 21st century as Pacific as opposed to the Atlanticist 20th century. US hegemony is declining, though it remains the strongest military power. Its traditional backyard, Latin America, is fast slipping through its fingers. The rising China and India sit at the G20 table while the East Asian tigers, although somewhat tamed after the 1997 financial disaster, may be recouping. It is only Africa, which, in the eyes of US-led Western imperialism, remains virgin land to be raped at ease.
The new forms of exploitation and capital accumulation by world capitalism centre on an unrestrained plunder of over- and underground natural resources, including minerals, oil, land, forests, bio-resources and even water and the clean environment. Africa is poised to become one of the major suppliers of oil to the US as well as providing land mass for agro-fuels. In the impending rivalries between the old powers in the West and the rising powers in Asia, the ‘battle-zone’ is likely to shift from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.
US military bases in Djibouti and the island of Diego Garcia, the deployment of a massive navy ostensibly to defeat a few hundred Somali pirates, the militarisation of Ethiopia, AFRICOM itself, and the wooing of Tanzania are all part of this newly developing geopolitical strategy. To be drawn into this power-game would indeed be disastrous for any African country, as the history of imperialism teaches us.
On the other hand, new rivalries and the development of multi-polar worlds give Africa an opportunity and some space to carve out its own niche, provided it has its own agenda. How can we in Africa have an agenda of our own, for our people and against imperialist domination, unless we have a foreign policy akin to non-alignment?
Formally, Africa is not colonised, but national liberation, in the sense of being masters of our destiny, has been aborted. If neoliberalism has proven anything, it is that our territorial independence was a shell without substance. Our very sovereignty was assaulted by neoliberals as foreign powers, though their consultants made policies for us and sat in the decision-making processes of all strategic ministries from planning through finance to central banks. A new realisation is dawning upon many conscious Africans – the need for African unity, for new pan-Africanism.
Developments in Latin America and the Middle East should make us re-think our impending opening-up to states like Israel and reactionary Arab regimes like Saudi Arabia at the expense of liberation movements like that of Palestine or left-leaning nationalist regimes like those of Bolivia, Venezuela and Iran. The recent conference of Africans and Asians in Caracas, Venezuela, may be the beginning of a second Bandung. It is beyond comprehension that we sent a low-profile representation to that historic meeting while our media fell over each other when describing the attention that President Barack Obama was showering on our president.
The least that can be said, therefore, is that the post-Washington Consensus world is likely to be very different, not only in economic, but also in geopolitical terms. In which case, we need to revisit the three pillars of Mwalimu’s non-alignment – national liberation through pan-Africanist unity, in solidarity with the oppressed peoples of Latin America and Asia, and in particular the Middle East.
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* Issa G. Shivji is the Mwalimu Nyerere professor of pan-African studies at the University of Dar es Salaam.
* © Issa G. Shivji 2009
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