Nabudere: An uncompromising revolutionary | by Yash Tandon

by Jul 18, 2012Africa

nabudereA long-time comrade of revolutionary figure Dani Wadada Nabudere provides an in-depth view of the Ugandan leader’s life and often uncelebrated achievements.
Of some people it is true to say that they are better known after they have left this world. What makes them relatively unknown in their life time is a mystery. Dani Wadada Nabudere was one of the most enigmatic revolutionary African figures of the 20th Century, a prophet of a man, a three-dimensional man. And yet he was not very well known outside the circle of people who crossed his path. The following are a couple of brief snippets of his life when it crossed mine.
I met Dani first in London as students in 1961 when we were members of the Executive Committee of the United Kingdom Uganda Students Association – UGASA — together with the Ateker Ejalu, Chango Machyo and Edward Rugumayo, who were all later to play a significant role in the history of Uganda. We were then engaged in helping to raise the political consciousness of young Ugandans like ourselves studying or working in the UK and in Europe. One of our main activities was to lobby British parliamentarians for Uganda’s independence.
Dani and I returned to Uganda in 1964. For the next six years, when I was at Makerere (“the Hill”) and he was practicing law, our paths crossed intermittently mostly during debates on the Hill. Makerere was a stimulating, exciting, place in the 1960s. At the time, Rajat Neogy’s literary journal called Transition (later found to have been funded by a CIA front) provided a trendy intellectual platform to contributors like Ali Mazrui, Paul Theroux and Wole Soyinka. Dani occasionally contributed to the discussions in the Transition. More than that, he was an active member of the youth wing of the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC). He was later expelled from the Party.
In his Sowing the Mustard Seed: The Struggle for Freedom and Democracy in Uganda (1997), Museveni explains why: “We had contacts with progressive politicians such as Dani Wadada Nabudere, Kintu-Musoke, Jaberi Bidandi-Ssali, Kirunda Kivejinja and Raiti Omongin. They were leftists who had been expelled from the UPC in 1964 for having belonged to the Kakonge wing of the party [1]. Some of us also belonged to the Uganda Vietnam Solidarity Committee, which Nabudere had formed as a support and to oppose the American war of aggression against the Vietnamese people”. (p. 47). Museveni probably had no idea then (or maybe even now) that Nabudere and Omongin had just about that time formed the first Maoist Party in Uganda. During this period Nabudere had also played a critical role in the unification talks between Zanzibar and Tanganyika.
In September 1965, Nabudere was accused by a member of the Uganda Parliament of organising a “communist plot” to overthrow the government. In December 1969, following an attempt on Obote`s life at a UPC congress Nabudere (among others) was arrested and placed in detention under the Emergency Laws. He was released in late November 1970. When Idi Amin took over power in January 1971, a number of Ugandans on the left decided to work with the Amin government (Nabudere was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors of the East African Railways), but they were soon disillusioned, and beginning with Rugumayo a number of them resigned from government in 1972. (For an account of this, see D. Wadada Nabudere, Imperialism and Revolution in Uganda, pp. 288-291).
This is Nabudere before I really got to know him intimately at the University of Dar es Salaam where he became a close friend and political mentor to many left activists from Africa. It was in Dar es Salaam that I, too, was inducted by Nabudere as a member of the Maoist Party of Uganda, some 10 years after it was formed.
There were at least three politically and pedagogically significant debates at the University of Dar es Salaam in the late 1960s and the decade of the 1970s. The first was about Tanzania, the direction it was going and how it might show the way for the rest of Africa towards the ultimate goal of socialism. It was mainly a debate among the Tanzanian radicals, sometimes joined in by others from outside Tanzania such as Walter Rodney and Nabudere. The second was a debate mainly among the African members of the teaching staff of the University, in particular in the Faculty of Social Sciences, on how the prevailing pedagogy of their disciplines might be challenged and changed to reflect the African context and conditions. This debate led to the formation of the African Association of Political Science (AAPS) in 1973, among whose early presidents’ were Anthony Rweyemamu (the founder), Nathan Shamuyarira, and Nabudere. The AAPS was a Pan-African organisation, and admitted a variety of views from pan-African perspectives. It also tried to reach out to Africans in the Diaspora. Many of the leading members of the AAPS in the early years (1973-83) were scholars from other parts of Africa such as Shamuyarira and Ibbo Mandaza (from Zimbabwe); Okwudiba Nnoli, Claude Ake and Adele Jinadu (from Nigeria); Emmanuel Hansen (from Ghana); Mamdani and myself (from Uganda); Amedee Darga (from Mauritius); Moeletsi Mbeki (from South Africa) and Helmi Sharawi (from Egypt), among scores of others from other parts of Africa and the diasporas. Nabudere was one of the main articulators of the AAPS philosophy. He showed how the social sciences as ideological expressions of dominant classes faced a crisis of relevance in Africa, and how these needed to be challenged. These ideas were later to appear in his “African Social Scientists Reflections, Part 2: Law, Social Sciences and Crisis of Relevance” (2001).
The third was a debate among primarily the Ugandans on “the Hill” and those living in exile in East Africa, occasionally joined by others even outside East Africa. It was partly inspired by Nabudere’s book Imperialism and Revolution in Uganda (1980) and its critique by Mamdani, Bhagat and Hirji. Later these discussions were reproduced as a book called The Dar es Salaam Debate on Class, State and Imperialism (1982), which I edited, with a foreword by Mohammad Babu, the well-known Marxist revolutionary from Zanzibar. The ‘Debate’ had intellectual, pedagogical and also political and strategic value for Uganda but also Africa and the third world. The key analyses and messages argued by Nabudere in the ‘Debate’ remain valid to this day. The significance of this debate, latent when it was taking place, became clear in the early months of 1979, as those same very issues took on a practical political salience after Amin’s invasion of Tanzania in December 1978. Tanzania repulsed the invasion but then Nyerere faced a dilemma. Should he proceed to Kampala, with his army thus effectively becoming an “occupation force”, or should he try to forge a united Ugandan political front to take over the reins of government? He opted for the latter. But to forge unity of contending forces from Uganda proved a nightmare.
Immediately following Amin’s invasion, the left nationalists in Tanzania, under Nabudere’s leadership, formed an Ad Hoc Committee for the Promotion of Unity Amongst Ugandans to try and unite with all forces opposed to the Amin regime. In its early days, Nyerere was skeptical of the “left”, and had Nabudere’s and my houses on “the Hill” under surveillance. But when Nyerere failed to break the deadlock between Obote and Museveni, he turned to the Ad Hoc committee to organise a conference of all democratic forces to form a government of national unity. The Moshi Conference – at which Nabudere, Edward Rugumayo and Omwony Ojwok played the key role of uniting all Ugandan forces – laid the basis for the founding of the Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF), under the chairmanship of Y.K. Lule. Rugumayo was elected as the Chairman of the transitional parliament called the National Consultative Council (of which I too was elected a member); Omwony Ojwok as the NCC’s Secretary; Nabudere as the Chairman of its Political and Diplomatic Commission; and Paulo Muwanga (of the Uganda People’s Congress) as the Chairman of the Military Commission. After the formation of the UNLF, the Tanzanian forces entered Kampala and the UNLF assumed power in Uganda in April 1979.
Looking back at that period (1979-1980), I am profoundly struck that thirty years ago we faced the same problems as the Arab revolutionaries are facing today (2011-2012) as they grapple with the problems of creating democratic structures after the fall of dictators, whilst trying to forge national unity and keeping out intrusive external intervention.
Assuming power is one thing; running a country politically and administratively is another. From May 1979 to May 1980, Uganda went through paroxysms of fear, hope, disappointments, ecstasy, adventure, chaos, bombing raids, murders and general mayhem. What prevented it from descending into total anarchy was the presence of Tanzanian troops. What kept political peace, fragile as it was at the best of times, was the political skill and outstanding clarity of strategic thinking of Nabudere. At the Moshi conference, he was the principal author and architect (along with Omwony Ojwok and Rugumayo) of the constitution of the UNLF, which is a document still worth studying even today for its political perspicacity. Nabudere was a conciliator between various factions and tendencies – from the monarchists to the militarists — of the UNLF. Let me give one instance of Nabudere’s political dexterity. At the end of the Moshi Conference, when Museveni complained to Nyerere that his absence from it had marginalised him, it was Nabudere (along with Rugumayo) who persuaded Lule and Muwanga to bring him into the UNLF as Deputy Chairman of its Military Commission. Indeed, throughout that nervously tumultuous one year, it was Nabudere who provided the focal point for unity and vision as the chairman of UNLF’s Political and Diplomatic Commission. It is during this period of Uganda’s recent history that Nabudere came to be known as the leader of the “Gang of Four” (along with his three close comrades – Rugumayo, Omwony and me).
What broke down this fragile ambience between the security and the political was the pressure felt by Nyerere to bring Obote (at the time still in Dar es Salaam) back to Uganda, and the machinations of the Ugandan domestic political and military forces. On 1 May 1980, the UNLF was overthrown in a military coup [2], and Nabudere, then in Yugoslavia attending the funeral of Marshall Tito, found himself together with other compatriots in second exile, this time in Nairobi. The UNLF was renamed as UNLF (Anti-dictatorship), and the struggle for the democratic dispensation continued. The UNLF (AD) went into a period of armed struggle around Mount Elgon but this was short lived.
An account of this period, and the debates on strategy and tactics of liberation struggle that the (Maoist) Party and its democratic wing – the UNLF (AD) – was engaged in, would make interesting and highly educative reading for those involved in day-to-day struggle against the continued domination and interference by imperialism and its internal agents in Africa. The “Gang of Four” were only the few public faces of this movement, but hundreds of comrades and their families made huge sacrifices for the struggle during these very difficult months and years. A proper account of this period will one day no doubt celebrate and pay homage to the work and sacrifices of these comrades. It is a pity that Nabudere and Omwony Ojwok should have died before writing an account of this period. Rugumayo’s forthcoming autobiography will no doubt deal with some of these matters. All I can say at this point is that the armed struggle in Mount Elgon lasted for only a short period, and for various strategic and tactical reasons it was decided to abandon it and concentrate on political work – what was later called the “grass-rooting” strategy. The UNLF (AD)’s Maoist wing was thus probably one of the few revolutionary organisations that deliberately ended its armed struggle and decided that a thorough-going cultural revolution should precede armed struggle (not follow as in the case of China).
This was also the period when Nabudere and the Party made far reaching contacts with several other revolutionary movements in Africa (such as, among others, those in Senegal, the Cameroons, Burkina Faso, the Congo and South Africa); as well as in the Middle East (Egypt, Palestine, Iraq); Asia (India, China, Japan, the Philippines); Europe (Germany, Norway, Belgium, Denmark); and the USA.
In 1982 Nabudere moved to Helsingor in Denmark, teaching at a Volk High School. This was one of his most productive years as a scholar. He wrote the over 300-page manuscript called The Rise and Fall of Money Capital, which I published in 1990 under an organisation called Africa in Transition, an organization I had founded with my brother Vikash. It is probably the most comprehensive analysis of money since the early writings, among others, of Marx, Engels, Hilferding, Rosa Luxemburg, and Keynes, all of whom came under Nabudere’s cutting edge analysis. Nabudere carried out a meticulous historical analysis of the rise of money as money (as distinct from its evolution as capital), and made the prediction that money will eventually overcome capital and then meet its own demise as an instrument of credit. This is what in fact happened in the first decade of the 21st century, what came to be known in our own times as “financialisation of capital”. Nabudere had already anticipated this during his period of research and writing in Helsingør. This book is one of the most outstanding, and relatively unknown, original contributions of Nabudere to Marxist economics. Later, a summary of the book was published by Fahamu, titled, The Crash of International Finance-Capital and Its Implications for the Third World (2009), to which I wrote a foreword.
I spent a week with him in Helsingør, taking part as lecturer to his class and also absorbing the very energetic and communitarian ethos of the school. Nabudere took in just as much as he gave. From Helsingør he learnt the volk school philosophy of adult education, which he was later to apply when he founded the Afrika Study Centre Trust, and the Marcus Garvey Pan-African University in Mbale, Uganda.
In early 1990s Nabudere left Helsingør and came to Zimbabwe to join his family. His wife, Ida, and three of their younger children were already in Harare. Ida was then teaching in a secondary school. I too was already in Zimbabwe engaged in grassroots activities among largely trade union organisations and peasant communities in Zimbabwe and the region. Nabudere accompanied me to several of the rural projects in which I was engaged. He was particularly struck by the fact that given the right environment and encouragement, people at the grassroots level are best placed to take “development” in their hands. Development is too serious a matter to leave in the hands of the politicians and international “donors”. This experience in Zimbabwe was the basis for further elaboration of the “rooting strategy” to which I have alluded earlier. For a deeper understanding of his thoughts in this period, see the book of essays he edited for the AAPS called Globalization and the Post-Colonial African State (2000). In his own essay he argued that African states “were being adjusted’ out of existence as nation-states, and needed to build on the spirit of their people to fight against the negative impact of globalization.
In the mid-1990s Dani returned to Uganda with his family. Very soon he was involved in the politics of constitutional change under the regime of Yoweri Museveni. As a member of the Constituent Assembly, he actively participated in the making of a “new” Constitution of Uganda under the NRM government. But the effort to refashion the politics of Uganda towards a more democratic dispensation was largely frustrated by the complex politics of the country, and the machinations of external forces, especially of the IMF and the donor community.
Towards the turn of the century, therefore, he began to devote his energies to the broader agenda of encouraging a pan-African consciousness among the younger generation of Ugandans and Africans, and a “new universal order based on basic pluralist-humanist principles”, in which Africa would play a distinct role. This was in contrast to some Western writers like Samuel Huntington who had predicted a “clash of civilizations”. (See his The Crisis of Modernity and the Rise of Post-Traditionalism in Africa (1998); Afrikology, Philosophy and Wholeness (2011) and Afrikology and Transdisciplinarity: A Restorative Epistemology (2012)). He founded the Marcus Garvey Pan-Afrikan Institute in Mbale, Uganda, later to evolve as a university, of which he was the first Chancellor-Designate. In this capacity, he wrote: “…the model that I am advancing here is a direct reflection of our general experience under the global capitalist system and a reasoned response to its impact, which we can refer to as a ‘post-capitalist synthesis.’” He advocated “the restorative governance and justice” aimed at restoring social relations in society and establishing “new balances that can enable people in the communities to regain control over their lives.” Democracy in this sense involves “listening to voices of everyone who have normally been excluded from decision-making”. He was particularly emphatic on the restoration of African languages in popular discourse, because the unfamiliarity with colonial languages denied the African people a meaningful inclusion in the democratic processes. Afrikology, he argued, requires scholars, students and practitioners “to liaise with the language communities in understanding what they know and mean”. Going beyond Africa he proposed “The horizontal restorative epistemology” — worldviews (cosmologies) that are responsive to nature and that take into account “our cosmic relations with nature”.
Dani was in regular communication with me on these matters, but in some ways the person with whom he had even closer relations during this period was my brother, Vikash, with whom he would occasionally stay when he was in London. My last theoretical exchange with Nabudere was in March 2010 when he made significant improvements on an essay I had written on the “Dar es Salaam Debate” (forthcoming some time in the future). He also wrote to me about his engagement with the University of South Africa in joint research projects under the umbrella theme of “Reclaiming the Future”, and invited me to join his efforts.
Before I close this very short narrative of this great son of Africa, a brief reflection on what kind of person Dani was might be in order from someone who was a close associate of his for half a century.
Nabudere was a world-class African revolutionary, a Ugandan patriot, a scholarly and erudite academic, and a shrewd politician. All these blended in him holistically making him a towering, formidable, figure in any gathering of intellectuals or politicians – local or global. He was an extraordinary man, a visionary; in many ways even a prophet, with a three-dimensional view of the world, which few mortals possess. Most of us are two-dimensional with at the most short term and medium term perspectives. Few have the capacity to look beyond the present. He had a very long foresight, and many of his predictions, one for example, the collapse of the Soviet Union (made well before the fall of the Berlin Wall), and the collapse of the capitalist-financial system (made in a book published in 1980) came true when most of us could not even see the making of crises in these two global systems of the twentieth century.
Dan suffered fools badly. He was unforgiving to those who were, in his eyes, second rate academics, intellectuals or politicians. In his long vocation as a revolutionary from the age of 18 to the time he died at the age of 79, he set for himself unrelentingly high standards – in political work and scholarly writings – which his students, colleagues and compatriots had a hard time to emulate. He loved his family – wife, children and grandchildren. For these too he set very high standards. His wife, Ida – a wonderful, dignified person of South African origin with a determined face and soothing smile – and seven children and eight grandchildren knew of Dani’s total commitment to Uganda and to African revolution, and they made enormous sacrifices to enable their husband-father-grandfather to focus on his chosen destiny. Dan was a Marxist scholar and practitioner to his bones, which made some of his writings difficult to understand for those uninitiated in the Marxist dialectics. But he was not dogmatic in political tactics. He could work with monarchists as well as republicans; nationalists as well as internationalists. What he despised most were militarists and dictators. President Obote put him in jail for his revolutionary activities in the 1960s and yet when the time came to work with Obote in 1979, he was quick to forgive him. President Museveni, with whom he had many differences, came to Dani’s burial and praised him for being a “comrade” and a “Pan-African revolutionary”.
Those who knew Dani intimately – his family, friends and comrades – knew that his hard and unremitting external demeanor hid a soft, very human, side. The mischievous twinkle in his eyes and his sharp, often acerbic jokes – even as he challenged his worst adversary – and his warmth and loyalty to friends and comrades betrayed his soft inside. He was above all a dreamer well beyond his time.
Nabudere wrote more than 15 books and over 200 papers and lectures (published and unpublished), among which the best known are as follows:
1977. Imperialism and the National Question. Tanzania Publishing House
1977. The Political Economy of Imperialism, London: Zed Press
1979. Essays on the Theory and Practice of Imperialism. London: Onyx Press
1980. Imperialism and revolution in Uganda, Onyx Press.
1982. Several essays in Tandon, Yash, The Dar es Salaam Debate on Class, State and Imperialism. Dar es Salaam: Tanzania Publishing House.
1989. The Crash of International Finance Capital and its implications for the Third World. Harare, SAPES.
1990. Rise and fall of Money Capital. Africa in Transition
1998. The Crisis of Modernity and the Rise of Post-Traditionalism in Africa (unpublished)
2000. ed. Globalization & the Post-Colonial African State, Harare: AAPS Books
2001. “African Social Scientists Reflections, Part 2: Law, Social Sciences and Crisis of Relevance”, Bonn: Heinrich Boll Foundation.
2002. “NEPAD: historical background and its prospects”, in Anyang’ Nyong’o, eds. NEPAD: A New Path? Bonn: Heinrich Böll Foundation.
2003. “Towards the Establishment of a Pan-African University: A Strategic Concept Paper” African Journal of Political Science. (2003), Volume 8 No. 1
2009. The Crash of International Finance-Capital and Its Implications for the Third World. Fahamu/Pambazuka
2010. The Global Capitalist Crisis and the Way Forward for Africa (unpublished)
2011. Afrikology, Philosophy and Wholeness: An Epistemology, Africa Institute of South Africa, Pretoria.
2011. Archie Mafeje: Scholar, Activist and Thinker, Africa Institute of South Africa.
2012. Afrikology and Transdisciplinarity: A Restorative Epistemology, ISA, Pretoria.
2012. Towards A Restorative Horizontal Economic, Political, and Environmental Transformation. (unpublished)
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