By Adagbo ONOJA
In part 1 of this interview published October 13th, 2016, Professor Mwesiga Baregu, political scientist and a leading opposition figure in Tanzania outlined the basis of his own opposition to incumbent president, John Magufuli whom he accused of extra-constitutional proclivities. In this second part, he responds to questions around his contention that Africa’s crisis is about the contested legitimacy of governments rather than lack of institutions or lack of capacity or the problem of good policies.
It was in the course of the 59 minutes and 27 seconds long interview that he thought that Trump might be a better deal than Hilary Clinton with particular reference to heritage. While Trump has nothing in the records to refer to yet, Hilary Clinton already has Libya, among others, to refer to. By the time he was speaking, the US election was still on-going. This section of the interview contains his views thereto. Professor Baregu was in Nigeria from November 7th to 9th, 2016.
The expectation was that revolutionary pressures were building up across the continent to counterbalance the undermining of independence on the continent. Can you see any more such pressures?
Revolutionary pressure on the continent as seen by Claude Ake was that Africa either seriously embarked upon the building of democracy or accepts the fate of repressive rule and he didn’t see anything else in between. Now, the question you are raising is if Africa is wobbling instead of democracy. The continent has a kind of democratic order which is always on the verge of repression. So, Claude Ake’s prediction that either we built the democratic system or else face the wrath of repressive rule has been very close. And the two are very close, it is just a question of tipping over, particularly during times of stress such as election time. That is when you realise how far we are from democratic order.
Except perhaps Ghana?
Ghana to some extent and I think what will be interesting on this question would be the extent to which the stability and continuity that we see in Ghana is sustained.
I mentioned Ghana just because I understand they have an elite pact that under no condition would they tolerate degeneration to anarchy any more. So, when it is on the verge of trouble, everybody pulls back.
I think that is a very important notion if it can be built and made to sink in the hearts and minds of the politicians and the people. That is what I was talking about regarding the political culture of constitutionalism. That is when it comes to where the elite says that, whatever happens, our constitution will help us to resolve it.
I don’t know of how much you know of Ghana to be able to tell us how this pact mindedness might have stuck there because we had a pact in Nigeria but it broke down at the first test.
I am not sure how the Ghana one was forged and I have not studied the Ghana constitution in-depth but one wonders whether it is not a continuing fall out of Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana, like Tanzania, whatever unity now appears, was built around and defended around the ideas of Nyerere. I think there is a certain extent to which Ghana under Nkrumah also forged unity of Ghana within the thinking, within consciencism which is the philosophy of Nkrumah. Consciencism, Pan-Africanism, etc were the heritage which could also account for that kind of political culture, the kind of collective reasoning that whatever happens, we must stand up to disintegration or disorder, thereby committing themselves to the constitution. I think, unlike Nigeria, Ghanaians, wherever you meet, they are, at the very minimum, stuck and identify with the constitution. I am not quite sure the extent Nigerians, for example, are collectively committed to the Nigerian constitution as a deep political culture.
That would require a whole thesis but you might have heard of the argument about the ‘inevitability of instability’ by some scholars here much, much earlier in the 1960s saying that in the context of the competition ridden process of modernisation, there is bound to be some of what we are going through now.
Political stability as the key thing has a whole wealth of literature
However, how much of what we are confronting can be explained by that?
The idea that modernisation was moving faster than political development and therefore, you have to put brakes because the demands were higher than the capacity to deliver was basically the essence of that literature. But as I said, nobody then, nobody raised the question of the political. If you are talking about state failure, state collapse, soft state but not looking for answers within the framework of politics. at that time, then there is a gap. By the way, some people said class, class struggle. Other people said No, there is no class question here, it is a question of individual interests that is driving all these political instability. In all these, nobody questioned, sufficiently in my view, the political system itself from the point of view of always what is at the root of all political systems – legitimacy: why must I obey this particular order, what you call political obligation. They talk about prebendalism – some people suxh as (Prof Richard) Joseph, he was here too, talking about prebends, you have all kinds of perspectives, but the issue of questioning the political system itself was not there. Nobody raised that issue of whether or not these African governments are situated within a framework which can command political obligation. Political obligation is the kind of question the political philosophers addressed: why should people obey and how much governments is good and in what framework and for what purpose. These were the questions that, in the 1960s, Nyerere, Kaunda, even here in Nigeria, everybody was trying to answer because you have to have some kind of rationale if you want to move away from the rationale of imposition. The idea of the monopoly of legitimate use of force becomes central instead of the kind of political order that will command and be given spontaneous consent once the political system didn’t see any obligation to the society and once the political society had the gun. As I said, nobody then raised the question political.
People say that ‘inevitability of instability and Ake’s Revolutionary pressures found a meeting ground in Somalia, Liberia, Sierra Leone and what is happening with Boko Haram. Do you agree?
I am not quite sure whether you can describe or let me say that a revolution is different from political decay. What lies behind, I don’t know. I don’t know what serious works have been done between thuggery and revolutionary activism or whether there was any consistent pattern suggesting one or the other.
Well, but Ake said it was either Socialism or Barbarism. We have not had Socialism, we have only had barbarism
Was he not talking about Socialism or democracy?
No, he said Socialism or Barbarism and that is what we have had in Liberia, Sierra Leone and now in Nigeria, people cutting off people’s hands, acts of unspeakable cruelty.
I think the original and deep root of these convulsions is backwardness. If you take the case of the convulsion in Nigeria, for the example, I think there are certain sections in the north and they happen to be Muslims and for one reason or the other, they fell behind on the scale of education, in particular. And nobody realised that. Everybody seemed to start with the belief that that is their culture, that Muslims do not like education and so on. But then, that puts them in a less fortunate position socially and we can deduce Boko Haram a reaction to that. In other words, if we can’t have this modern education, then we reject it. Nobody should have it. In a way, I think I can say the system itself either failed to detect this early enough. And the tendency has been to use a lot of force. My own conviction is that every time you resort to force, you stop thinking about creatively, about what else you can do about a particular situation. This is not just about Boko Haram, but this phase of fighting terrorism in a way that amounts to fire with fire. After 9/11, I wrote a piece “Counter Terrorism as Terrorism”
Did you publish it?
Yes, I published it in the African Journal of Political Science. Basically what you do then is you embark on a vicious cycle, you create future terrorists by such tactics. So, my own feeling is generally speaking, globally and because of the American War on Terror, the world has not stopped to be able to think carefully about the deep causes of the problem. Cause has combined with effect and effect has become cause. It is the problem. My view is that it is incumbent on all of us, to dare to think differently. You remember when Bush said there was nothing in between, you were either with us or against us. At that point, the whole world was terrorized, at least into pretending to be on the right side of somebody with bombs.
Are you saying the same thing as those who are saying that the US lost an opportunity to unify the world by the way it handled 9/11?
To some extent and I think from the Reagan era when the US was talking about a new world order. If you recall, that coincided with when the third world was trying to negotiate some kind of accommodation with the northern hemisphere. The difference was the north didn’t want accommodation, they wanted to define the relations. I remember those useful UNCTAD (the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) meetings, the GATT, (the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) negotiations, that was the struggle between those who ran the world as they see it to their own advantage and those who liked to see a more consensual world order. And, of course, come 9/11, that tipped the balance against those ready to discuss. The debate was closed. And some of the rationale that was brought to justify that was that, you see, when you start negotiating, they believe they have real power. The notion of more equal access to and share of world resources was jeopardized. All the efforts aimed at basically trying to seek a new definition of more peaceful, a fairer and more just world were challenged. That opportunity has been lost. If you ask me now where are we going next, I don’t know. Afghanistan, there was a time when Obama came in, he said he was going to systematically withdrawal all the soldiers. Some people argue there may be more now than he found. Of course, we had an Iraq, But now to all those you can add Libya, you can add Yemen which I don’t even know what that is all about, you can add Egypt, Tunisia. That is why I don’t get any hype about Clinton and Trump. I don’t try to decide which one of them is better.
Popular feeling tends to favour Mrs Clinton but other people think Donald Trump is also saying something
I think so because she has a legacy already, she has a continuity and it looks to me that this idea about Trump and isolationism. Trump talks about isolationism to some extent and his positive approach to Russia. I don’t know how he sits with China but he seems, listening to him, he would like to do some surgical work on NATO, etc. At least, it is something new.
But the argument is that his attitude to NATO, attitude to East Europe, attitude to China are not isolationism but actually a new form of aggression
Well, I think everybody has different ways of understanding things. And there are so many pundits, analysts and everybody comes with their own views and that would need to be studied carefully because one wants to establish whether it is or it is not and what are the conditions for saying so. What are the concrete conditions on the ground which would explain anything? Probably, he doesn’t understand? He is an outsider? May be he is over simplifying what he might find to be much, much vast. I know that there is a certain perception of permanent interest of the US, there are also different interpretations of how you can pursue those particular interests but with Hilary Clinton, at least, we know, it will be unfair to criticise Hilary later by saying, Hilary, why do you continue the war in Syria because that’s what she inherits. But that is not Trump’s legacy, one thing when he was talking, he made a distinction between fighting ISIS and overthrowing Assad and he was saying, what has Assad got to do with this? I will put my energy to ISIS. By the way, he agrees with Russia on that point and that is why he has been accused of cuddling with a historical enemy.
I want to ask just one more question. What do you see the African scholar doing in all these, this confusion about the fate of Africa, her lack of capacity to compel global powers to re-negotiate the existing order and the consequences for that?
There used to be a time which makes us to be sentimentally referring to Claude Ake and others again and again because at that time, one could speak about African scholarship and the debates that were going on. You had a community of intellectual discourse at some point and we were raising issues of class, socialism or capitalism, we were raising issues of in the South African context, questions of race, nationalism and ethnicity, etc, etc, debating, writing and publishing on these issues. The journals were there. There was Review of African Political Economy, the African Journal of Political Science and so on. There were lots of intellectual ferments. There is very little now. I cannot indulge in who is to be blamed but I hope that there comes rejuvenation. Even in Tanzania with the University of Dar es Salaam famous for debates, the leadership of the university has gradually gravitated towards a sort of laws that seek to silence society. They have collaborated with the rulers to, I think in the last 10 years, experience highest frequency of closing the university for the slightest student complaint/problem such as the size of the portion of the chicken being given in the cafeteria, There was a time we were to bring nutrionists to tell us how much calories these kids need in order to go through a productive day of lectures, seminars and other activities. That information was presented to the administration and it was ignored.
This was when?
This was about the nineties and 2000s. They were not issues demanding anything extraordinary. So, talking about African intellectuals now, we are talking of the lost decades, two decades of preparing younger, successor scholars. I don’t know what the situation in Dar es Salaam is now but I was talking at my lecture of the closure of Makerere University in Uganda. The issues everywhere seem to border on the crisis of student loans , academic staff salaries and general welfare, things that would seem the easier ones. But, last time, I was shocked to find that the University of Dar es Salaam has failed completely to buy any new books for a decade. Yes, it is true that internet, Google and the likes are very helpful but in those days, there was no Google or anything, you buy books and stock the library. The shock was what happened one day, happened-the students were protesting about this chicken and all that. Of course, the police were called in immediately, and I was shocked by the modernity of the equipment that the police had. I mean they were really armed to the teeth with the latest in the communication, even in the uniform, the type of tear gas. They were really on the frontier of modernity in that respect.
But not the university which was still far away
No, not the university but they came to the university to deal with students protesting about lack of books in the library
So, which one is going to happen to Africa? Karl Marx says change comes through thesis and its anti-thesis and then there is a synthesis. Some people say a Messiah will come. Which one is going to apply?
I think Marx will apply. It will always be difficult to beat Karl Marx. It is when this is not happening that we should worry. When there is thesis and there is no anti-thesis, then there is cause for worry. So, I do hope there will be regeneration, of intellectual activity. I can’t tell you how that is going to happen but if universities are not there to protest the general repression in society, may be then we may go to those who say a Messiah would come. But the God of the Old Testament would not stand the collective stupidity of today. He would bring flood or something as punishment unlike the over indulgence of the New Testament which is much more tolerant and softer. But I hope frankly that a point would be reached in which Marx line would happen in my life time.