50 Years of Independence: Reflections on the Role of Progressive African Intellectuals
- Walter Bgoya -
Keynote address by Walter Bgoya, Managing Director, Mkuki na Nyota Publishers, to the 50th Anniversary Conference of the African
Studies Association UK at the University of Sussex, 10 September 2014
Thank you very much Mary for that generous introduction. Since it is so nice would you also be kind enough post it on my website, Facebook Page, and LinkedIn, and WhatsApp, and as a blog for the rest of the world to know. Thank you again.
I also want thank the organisers of ASAUK for the honour of asking me to be the keynote speaker for this year’s conference especially as it
is in celebration of its 50th anniversary. 50 years is a long time for an organization to remain in existence. It is no mean feat to sustain
such an organisation, despite challenges of funding, ideological differences, interdisciplinary disputations and even regional differences
to approaches to African studies. For that reason alone the organizers of the biennial ASA UK conferences deserve congratulations. I am
sure I can speak for us all when I congratulate Professor Steph Newell on her most successful Presidency and thank her for everything that
has gone into making the conference successful. I am especially delighted that Professor Newell and her team decided on the most welcome
focus on aspects of publishing in Africa. I also wish to thank our organizer David Kerr. In the midst of his demanding academic life, he
has brought another ASA UK into a very successful event. David spent some time researching hip-‐hop in Dar es Salaam for his
PhD, and he taught me a Swahili word from hip-‐hop for “cool” – shwanga. So I want to say to David – this is really shwanga!
Comrades, colleagues, friends
After Mary’s introduction, I should plunge straight into the subject of my address, “The role of African progressive intellectuals in the last 50 years."
However, I was also asked to say something about my growing up during the colonial period in Tanganyika because that would throw light on some of the things I am going to say.
I come from what used to be a very remote part of Tanzania and went to a mission boarding school when I was close to 11 years old, about two hundred miles from my village. I was not baptized then, and shortly thereafter, those of us not baptized had to be, and there was a thinly veiled threat that to refuse would lead to expulsion from school. The evening before baptism we were told to select from a list of so-‐called Christian names, two that we would be known from then on for the rest of our lives.
I went through the list and didn’t find any that I particularly liked. The head master came to my assistance and chose the name Pancras for me, which I told him I did not like even if it was that of a saint, as he explained. He then unilaterally decided on Walter Scott who he told me was a famous British writer. Somehow even at that age I instinctively thought my life would be more interesting as a writer than as a saint. I legally dropped Scott many years ago, but occasionally when I go to my village a few old Christian pastors still call me Scott.
I must have given the impression to my teachers that I was pious so it was decided that I should be included in a select group that met every Sunday evening to sing hymns and to pray. Later we were also introduced to confessing sins we had committed the week before. I told my uncle, a teacher at the school, before it was my turn for confessing, that I did not know what sins to confess. After a moment of reflection he told me to read the Ten Commandments and that there would be at least one or two I had violated. I read them and ticked off one after another those I had not violated. I had not stolen, had not lied, had not killed any one; I loved and respected my parents so I could live long on the land that was given to us by God. Number seven, thou shall not commit adultery, “I don’t know what that is”.
Number ten, Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife, “I don’t know that either”.
So, through the process of elimination, I concluded that those two commandments were probably the ones I had violated unknowingly and the ones I should therefore confess and repent. I did. You can imagine the horror on the face of that missionary. His face went red, which I had never seen before, someone’s colour changing! Despite that, surely he must have known that I couldn’t have committed adultery, and that my neighbours, other 11 year olds, had no wives to covet, I was still dropped from the group as a potential sinner and candidate for hell.
It is funny now but it was extremely humiliating at the time. I think those two experiences summarise the ethos of encounter of the colonizer and the colonized; we had no names and we had to be forced into Christianity to be saved.
There were usually no more than two colonial officers in our District; the District Commissioner and his assistant, the District Officer who also acted as the District magistrate. With such minimal presence of colonial agents, we did not experience many of the ills of colonialism experienced in countries such as Kenya, Zimbabwe and of course South Africa with large populations of white settlers. We learned through whispers from our local nationalist leaders about the Mau Mau war in Kenya but the official reporting on it was pure one-‐sided colonial propaganda in which ruthless Mau Mau warriors from the forest stole into houses of European plantations owners and slit the throats of white babies in their cots.
Lumumba’s assassination, on the other hand shocked the whole continent because of the turmoil that it unleashed in the Congo and I suspect because it was a harbinger of the coups d’etats and assassinations of other leaders. It would be much later that the truth that the CIA masterminded the assassination would be known and the extent of the cold war costs the continent would have to bear.
I left to go to the US five months before our independence and it was during my stay in the US between 1961 and 1965 that I came to understand through reading the history of our continent, from slavery to colonialism and to independence. Racism I learned through personal experiences.
At the University of Kansas in the mid west of the US, where I went on a scholarship (thanks to CIA funding as I learned later) from 1961 to I965, I came face to face with racism in all its variations, from patronization (you are different, not like the Negros in America) to segregation in housing, refusal of service in restaurants or service on condition you ate your food outside (which I would reject and therefore go without food), or stay in some hotels. I came close to being lynched in Carlton, a little town in Missouri because I was travelling with a white girl. Our rescue was by two African Americans who took us from the streets and hid us in their house and arranged our escape from the town at 3.00 in the morning.
Those experiences – difficult and challenging to say the least, were also a great school. They connected me to the history of black people and the worlds of the oppressed in the US and Latin America. When Philip Agee ‘s book, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, was published in 1974, we were suddenly made aware of our vulnerability, the same way Edward Snowden’s revelations have done, only at the time with no awareness of IT potential, it was even more frightening. It would not be possible from then onwards for me to be indifferent to the struggles of people against oppression anywhere. A Colombian graduate student and friend of mine introduced me to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth from which I learned a lot about colonialism, racism and wars of national liberation. At the same time one understood what solidarity means because of the progressive white students and faculty that supported the black students protests.
A poem by Ho Chi Minh, Guards carry a Pig made a great impression on me and became even more sharply etched in my mind during the years that I was involved in support of liberation movements while in the Tanzania Foreign service and through the OAU Liberation Committee and after a visit to war torn Hanoi in 1970. The poem, Guards Carry a Pig reads.
Going with us, guards carry a pig On their shoulders,
While I'm dragged along rudely.
A man is treated worse than a pig, Once deprived of his liberty.
Of the thousands sources of bitterness and sorrow None can be worse than the loss of liberty.
Even for a word, a gesture, you're no longer free:
They just haul you along, like a horse or a buffalo. 
Now to my topic.
Before beginning my address on the role of progressive African intellectuals I would like to make a few comments on the meaning of the term “progressive” in the context of African post-‐colonial political and social –economic developments.
First who are the intellectuals, the progressive intellectuals?
What is the meaning of the term “progressive” in the context of African post-‐ colonial, political and social-‐economic conditions? In a lecture, “The public role of writers and intellectuals”, Edward W Said reported a participant at a writers’ conference in New York in 1981, who suggested, when they had failed to reduce the number of voters to only those genuine writers, adopting the Soviet definition of who was a writer, which was that “a writer is someone who says that he or she is a writer”; a progressive intellectual would be one “who says he or she is a progressive intellectual.” 
Said’s definition of an intellectual is an individual who possesses the “faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public;” and also that “This person confronts orthodoxy and dogma, representing people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug; and this person does so on the basis of universal principles, such as freedom, justice, humanity, etc.”
Mwalimu Nyerere’s assertion that “The intellectual freedom of man, without which progress cannot take place, is confined by the walls of dogmatism.”  adds to the weight of Said’s definition. In the struggles for independence the generation of leaders: Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Nyerere, Lumumba, Senghor among those who did not have to wage armed struggle; and those who had to, the Mandelas (Nelson and Winnie), Agostinho Neto, Eduardo Mondlane, Amilcar Cabral, Samora Machel, Mohamed A. Babu in Zanzibar, Robert Mugabe were intellectuals of this kind. The legacy of the South African Communist Party, exemplified by Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, and Ruth First is of many committed revolutionary intellectuals who contributed enormously to the political education of militants within the ANC to which the CP was allied.
These qualities have also been pronounced in the personalities and works of illustrious African intellectuals -‐ historians, Cheikh Anta Diop, Ki-‐Zerbo, Ali Mazrui and others whose cumulative contributions are enshrined in the UNESCO General History of Africa. That project was itself initiated and seen through by the first African UNESCO Director-‐ General Mokhtar M’bow who refused to bow to the dictates of the US and UK on the issue of a new International Information Order and caused them to withdraw their financial contributions to UNESCO.  The list of contemporary scholars and intellectuals articulating a common vision of an Africa liberated from dependence and taking its destiny in its hands is long and impressive.
I also believe a discussion on progressive intellectuals in Africa ought to include activists in the wider community – militants in labour organisations, sports clubs, artists and musicians, a point consistently brought out by Noam Chomsky for whom intellectualism is empty if not reinforced by opposing the wars of aggression whether by the Israel government against the Palestinians with US support or in Iraq or anywhere in Latin America, Asia and Africa, and challenging the lies that are used to justify them.
These voices, often ignored by mainstream intellectuals end up being co-‐opted and put to use by the establishment especially during election time. In Tanzania the so-‐called Bongo Flava hip hop artists, non-‐professional journalists working for gossip papers and electronic media, are highly influential, and a potential force for championing and defending progressive causes if mobilized and given opportunity to study and to understand national issues from progressive perspectives.
Intellectuals and the African State
Thandika Mkandawire and Amina Mama “…note that generally African intellectuals have accepted their social responsibility and in most cases have also accepted both the nation-‐building and developmentalist projects espoused by the political class. For a whole number of reasons, however, recounted by Ki-‐ Zerbo, Mazrui and myself [that is, Mkandawire], such heroic attempts to be relevant have often proven forlorn and quixotic”. He goes on, “The barriers have included authoritarianism, dependence, the pettiness of state projects driven by power hunger and self-‐aggrandizement etc.”  This analysis is correct but many of those who form the barriers are, I am afraid, also intellectuals, which is what makes the difference between them and the progressive ones. They have not “accepted their social responsibility” and are not interested in advancing the interests of the poor and marginalized masses.
Immediately after independence, the few university graduates occupied high positions but there were not enough of them for all the decision-‐making positions. Still they were motivated by the promises and rhetoric of the independence struggle to show results and indeed they made considerable gains in improving school enrolments and expanded other social service as Mkandawire has shown in writings about the trajectories of economic performance in Africa in the last 50 years.  However, the longer they stayed in power, the more entrenched they became in living the good life, taking it as their right and embarking on private wealth accumulation through rent-‐seeking and corruption facilitated by agents of foreign and local corporate interests. They stopped being in the mould of the intellectual described in the second half of Said’s quotation, they have long abandoned the universal principles, "such as freedom, justice, humanity, etc.” The bureaucratic bourgeois intellectual in the state apparatus is no longer with the people.
It is the “intelligentsia”, that “counter-‐elite dedicated to radical change” in the words of Amilcar Cabral, that has to work out strategies to enable it to continue to work for the interests of the people despite and also because of the barriers in their way. As Cabral further illuminates, that intelligentsia despite its status as “…only a minority of a minority in terms of numbers, it has…a potentially very large revolutionary constituency among the masses of the population”. 
The performance of the progressive intelligentsia
Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, how has the intelligentsia performed in Gramsci’s words to “…work for social structural changes to bring about a more humane and egalitarian world?”  -‐ the world in this context being first and foremost Africa.
There can be no doubt about the crucial contributions African progressive intellectuals made to the total liberation of the entire continent from colonialism and apartheid. If there are examples of the strength of the pan-‐African ideal, the united position of African intellectuals in support of liberation is a shining one. We do know that at times the support for liberation of Southern Africa was used by African dictatorships to mask the internal repression that they were practicing in their own countries. Still it goes to prove the strength of the progressive forces that even such devils had at least to pay lip service and some money to the just cause.
It is equally clear that African scholars and academics have produced a wealth of research on all aspects of African states and societies and reduced considerably the overwhelming domination of Western scholarship that was the norm on the eve of independence. They have moved centre stage to own the debates on African issues and challenged western orthodox scholarship that analysed Africa through the prism of tribalism and other demeaning catch phrases,
One question which I think we African progressive intellectuals need to ask ourselves, is: Is it more the power of African governments, and their persecution and marginalization of the intelligentsia, or the inability of the intelligentsia to develop strategies to grow and strengthen itself that is at the heart of its failure to become more influential?
As a person with some experience in and outside the state structures, and by way of self-‐criticism, we have weaknesses that are not difficult to identify. One is the absence of self-‐awareness of us as a community with a common view of Africa and its place in the world. Concomitant to that has been the tendency to exaggerate differences and minimize the far greater common grounds. By the same token, to fail to take advantage of elements within the state that could be potential allies because it is easier to dismiss them than to work with them, has been to our disadvantage. The disdain for finding ways to finance progressive causes, (making money even if it is for good causes being looked down as smacking of capitalist tendencies) and relying on external funds as exemplified in civil society organisations and African think-‐tanks, poses a great danger to the autonomy and independence of African progressive institutions.
The final and perhaps most crucial of all, particularly in the light of the recent events in the so-‐called “Arab Spring”, has been the lack of organizational and institutional structures capable of filling the vacuum created by the removal of oppressive regimes.
There has been much research on the phenomenon of the Arab Spring and implications for other parts of Africa and the world. Whilst social media has proved a phenomenal tool for mobilising the youth in particular , it has not invalidated the necessity of a strong political organization capable of uniting disparate groups and channeling their energies into forming new democratic governments after the overthrow of the old regimes . I do not dare claim that there is no other way, but for youth to continue to think that tweeting can deliver the fruits from the blood of their massacred friends is, for now a dangerous view, what Lenin would have called “infantile disorder” especially since it is not even left wing communism.
Some reflections on publishing and progressive intellectualism in Africa
Mwalimu Nyerere, reflecting on education in the colonial era, made the observation, which still resonates with evident practices in African writing and publishing. Mwalimu said:
“Our young men’s ambition was not to become well educated Africans but to become Black Europeans.” 
The ambition to become black Europeans was nurtured in part by what the young men read. There exists today a considerable body of research, which is constantly being augmented, on provision of what is read from publishing houses in Africa.
Because of time constraints I shall only briefly sketch issues that have dominated debates on African publishing in the last 50 years, namely autonomy, textbook and scholarly publishing and finally language of publishing. In a joint article by Mary Jay and me in Research in African Literatures “Publishing in Africa from independence to the present day” , nearly all of these issues are covered in substantial detail. Earlier research on publishing appeared in Development Dialogue, a journal of the Dag Hammarskjold Foundation. In particular there is the report of proceedings of a seminar in 1984 entitled “The Development of Autonomous Publishing in Africa”  in which many issues were covered in articles by African scholars and our Northern colleagues, and published in three books, The Muse of Modernity  The African Writers’ Handbook  and African Scholarly Publishing.  The most recent addition to this body of literature is Caroline Davis’ excellent book Creating Post-‐Colonial Literature: African Writers and British Publishers  which will hopefully put paid to the myth of “commitment to research and scholarship” that publishers like OUP have claimed over decades, and for which they received favoured-‐publisher treatment in ex-‐British colonies, publishing for instance the extremely lucrative and first major academic and language project the official “Kamusi Sanifu ya Kiswahili” (A Standard Swahili – Swahili Dictionary) in tens of thousands of copies, I suppose for the prestige of being published by OUP; and the equally lucrative books by Mwalimu Nyerere despite there being a state publishing house, TPH that was poorly funded and that would have benefited from the publication of those books. Mandela’s biography went to Macmillan.
You all will have read the revelations that Macmillan and OUP were involved in bribery scams respectively in South Sudan and in East Africa & Tanzania and for which they were fined and debarred for World Bank financed orders for 6 years and 3 years respectively.  This vindicated what African publishers had been complaining about and being dismissed as whimpers of African publishers afraid of competition.
TPH and publishing in the 60s and 70s
Dar es Salaam in the 1960s and 70s was an exciting place to live. The University of Dar es Salaam was for more than a decade imbued with extraordinary intellectual vigour. It was the centre of pioneering work, greatly inspiring and influencing discourses on state and society and challenging orthodoxy particularly in the then emerging field of development studies and development economics. Work in the History Department, for example, became renowned to the extent that it was recognized widely internationally as the Dar es Salaam school of history. Tanzania Publishing House, the state publishing house referred to earlier, was a partner and participant by publishing books reflecting that intellectual movement, publishing seminal original works that remain as reference to that creativity. Together they gave the country justified reputation as the centre of African progressive intellectualism. For TPH, it is worth noting that unlike many places where there was censorship, it had absolute freedom of decision what to publish. Indeed, on one occasion when the Chairman of the Board consulted Mwalimu Nyerere as President as to whether we should publish Tanzania: The Silent Class Struggle by Issa Shivji, the President replied in memorable words: My job as President is to run the country. TPH should do their own job of publishing books. And by the way both my predecessor Robert Hutchison and me (in his handover period to me) threatened to resign if we were forced not to publish that book. I reinforced that by saying that if TPH did not publish, I would not take the job.
You may well ask, what were the reasons for this flowering? First, there was great pride in the independence of our country, which had on several occasions been demonstrated including informing the Commonwealth that Tanganyika would not join the Commonwealth if South Africa remained – the first act of boycotting South Africa. The Left, why not, yes the left enjoyed favourable political environment under Mwalimu Nyerere. There was a genuine thirst for knowledge emanating from the political values of independent Tanzania. Personally disinterested foreign intellectuals, genuine intellectuals, enjoyed an openness and a welcome atmosphere; as a result they too, felt inspired to find a place which allowed them to think and to be challenged, and at the same time to share their knowledge with eager learners.
The distinguished list of names of academics who worked at some point in Dar es Salaam is very long Walter Rodney, Tamas Szentes, Giovanni Arrigi, Grant Kamenju, John Saul, Claude Ake, Wamba-‐dia-‐Wamba, Jacques Depelchin, Lionel Cliffe; and later, Yash Tandon, Dan Wadada Nabudere, Issa Shivjj, Mahmood Mamdani, Issa Shivji and others (the list is very long), gives a good picture of just how in one sense the University was lucky to have had such a group of scholars and intellectuals. Ruth First taught there for some time before going to Mozambique where regrettably she was assassinated. For the last nearly three decades the influence of the university can be seen in the many high-‐ranking officials and political personalities in the whole of East Africa. When Museveni (an early progressive intellectual who later changed hats) came to power, fifty percent if not more of his cabinet was of graduates of the University of Dar es salaam.
What about progressive publishing elsewhere in the last 50 years?
In the sixties and seventies to the early eighties there was vibrant university publishing especially in Nigeria, but with the military coups and financial crises in universities publishing dried up and only now seems to be ready to start again.
Of the institutions producing knowledge in Africa, CODESRIA must be put at the very top because, from its foundation in 1973, (the year I took over management of TPH) it has coordinated pan-‐African research in social sciences, leading to publication of Africa’s top scholars including Samir Amin, Mahmood Mamdani, Amina Mama, Thandika Mkwandawire, Paul Zeleza and others, no less distinguished. CODESRIA books are published in Arabic, English, French and Portuguese and I am delighted that CODESRIA’s Executive Secretary Ebrima Sall, is with us this evening and participating in the conference. CODESRIA was one of the founding members of the African Books Collective and it continues to play a leading role in making sure that the African research and publications ethos is kept alive.
There are other research organisations such as OSSREA, which are also producing good work, and there are indications that new prospects are opening up for scholarly publishing as university funding improves. Private indigenous publishing is also doing moderately and in some countries it is thriving. The indigenization of Heinemann and Longman in Kenya showed just how African publishers knowing well their people and societies could do the job of publishing in all genres better than the multinationals who always thought they knew better. EAEP and Longhorn, Fountain publishers in Uganda and several other publishers in Tanzania are turning out a fair number of scholarly titles per year.
What about the issue of Publishing in African languages?
I regret that time does not allow me to do justice to the subject. I initially thought 40 minutes was too long and now I realize it was enough only to cover a few years and not fifty years. This languages debate is not going away. It is becoming clearer, everywhere in Africa, that African societies are being divided educationally, with those who have access to private high tuition paying establishments which teach only in foreign languages, rapidly becoming a ruling class with access to the best jobs and the best economic opportunities. As regards development of African countries, Professor Ali Mazrui poses the question, “Can any country approximate first rank economic development and transformation. Will Africa ever effectively take off when it is held hostage so tightly to the languages of its former imperial powers?” . Trying to find an answer to that question will certainly keep that question alive.
Comrades, colleagues and friends, I should end by repeating yet again the importance of solidarity among progressives the world over. The coming fifty years, really ten or even less will demand solidarity of all in every way we can manifest it. The achievements gained in progressive studies have been the result of healthy debate, not necessarily polite. As long as we retain the view that with our work we can move mountains, we cannot but win.
 Edward W Said, ‘The public role of writers and intellectuals’, The Nation 2001, quoted from Edward W Said, Humanism and Democratic Criticism, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004, p. 120
 Edward W Said, Representations of an Intellectual, REITH LECTURES 1993, Lecture 1. http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rmhttp/radio4/transcripts/1993_reith1.p4
 Julius Nyerere, Freedom and Unity, Dar es salaam: Oxford University Press, 1966 p. 121
 Mokhtar M’bow, Senegalese educator, headed UNESCO from 1974 – 1987
 Thandika Mkandawire, ed, African Intellectuals: Rethinking Politics, Language, Gender and Development, Dakar: Codesria Books / London: Zed Books, 2005, p.2
 Mkandawire and Soludo, wrote in Our Continent, Our Future, Dakar: CODESRIA/ IDRC/AWP, 1999, p. 14 “Considerable investment was made in the social sector, especially in education to counter Africa’s colonial heritage of being the most educationally backward region in the world. The result of these social investments was an impressive improvement in the levels of education and literacy. Primary -‐ school enrollment increased from 41% to 68% between 1965 and the mid eighties. A cadre of professionals was produced to administer the post-‐colonial state”.
 Amilcar Cabral, Revolution in Guinea, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969, p. 62.
 Quoted from F.P.A. Demeterio III, “Antonio Gramsci, Edward Said and the Roman Catholic Priest as a modern intellectual” https://sites.google.com/site/feorillodemeterio gramsci,saidandtheroma ncatholicpriest
 For an informative account of the social media phenomenon in the Arab Spring, see Alcinda Honwana, Youth and Revolution in Tunisia, London: Zed Books, 2013
 Antonio Gramsci quoted from Alastair Davidson, Antonio Gramsci: Towards an Intellectual Biography, London: Merlin Press, 1977, p.17
 Julius Nyerere, Freedom and Unity, Dar es salaam: Oxford University Press, 1966 p. 186.
 Walter Bgoya and Mary Jay, “Publishing in Africa from independence to the present day” Research in African Literatures, Vol.44, No. 2, Summer 2013, pp 17 -‐ 34
 “Developing Autonomous Publishing Capacity in Africa”, Development Dialogue 1984: 1 – 2, Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, Uppsala, Sweden
 Philip Altbach and Salah Hassan, eds., The Muse of Modernity: Essays on Culture and Development, Trenton: Africa World Press, 1996
 James Gibbs, ed, The African Writers’ Handbook, Oxford: African Books Collective, 1999
 Alois Mlambo, ed, African Scholarly Publishing. Essays, Oxford: African Books Collective, 2006
 Caroline Davis, Creating Post-‐Colonial Literature: African Writers and British Publishers, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013
 Serious Fraud Office. “Action on Macmillan Publishers Limited.” Serious Fraud Office Press Room. SFO, 22 July 2011. Serious Fraud Office. “Oxford Publishing Ltd to Pay Almost £1.9 million as Settlement after Admitting Unlawful Conduct in Its East African Operations.” Serious Fraud Office Press Room. SFO, 3 July 2012.
 Ali A. Mazrui, in Philip Altbach and Salah Hassan, eds.,The Muse of Modernity: Essays on Culture and Development, Trenton: African World Press, 1996