Samora Machel

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Mozambique's Samora Machel: A Life Cut Short" (2020), by Allen Isaacman and Barbara Isaacman. Like the books on Nkrumah and Cabral, this one is relatively longer than the average in the series. This book is enjoyable and well written, for a class on Mozambique or revolutionary leaders, I would recommend this book (particularly for more introductory courses). A few notes:

[from the Foreward] "Discussing relations with countries like Zambia and Tanzania, he would observe that there were people in neighbouring countries who thought they were superior because they had been colonized by the British and not the Portuguese. Or he might ask, why was it that in colonial times our waiters would serve the Portuguese soldiers with courtesy and respect, but now would be rude to their own people? The answer was that the enemy was camping in our heads - we still had the mentality of underdevelopment." (p. 12-13)

"Lisbon also made the colony profitable by renting African workers to labour-starved South African gold mines and, to a much lesser extent, to white farmers and industrialists in neighbouring Southern Rhodesia. Beginning in 1897, the Rand National Labour Association, subsequently renamed the Witwatersrand National Labour Association, paid the government a fee for each Mozambican worker. It also set up a deferred payment system under which workers received half of their wages when they returned home and Lisbon was paid an equivalent amount in gold. By 1910, approximately eighty thousand Mozambicans - representing from 30 to 50 percent of the able bodied male population in some districts of southern Mozambique - were working in the gold mines." (p. 40)

"The principle that citizenship was not contingent on origin or skin colour was enshrined in Mozambique's new constitution, which outlawed all acts creating divisions or privileged positions based on race, gender, ethnic origin, or class position. Immediately after independence Frelimo initiated campaigns against ethnic regionalism, racism, and sexism. Broadcasts, newspaper articles, comic strips, bulletin boards, murals, and graffiti stressed the message that "from the Rovuma to the Maputo, we are all Mozambicans." (p. 121)

"Samora's government also rejected widescale use of incarceration to punish those who violated societal norms. Instead, reeducation centres or established shortly after independence. Samora's faith in revolutionary pedagogy and restorative justice shaped his thinking about the reeducation process, which dated back to the armed struggle. Moral and political education and the development of a work ethic would serve as the basis for rehabilitation. Samora articulated this vision in the following terms: "the reeducation centre should be a school where professional knowledge should be passed on and made use of. It is the fundamental task of officials in charge of reeducation centres to know the history of each one of the people being re-educated - his life history and his origin - in order to understand why he committed his crimes." (p. 128-129)

"As a young man, Samora was heavily influenced by Frantz Fanon's contention that "colonizing the mind" was the most insidious legacy of colonialism. In his 1977 acceptance speech upon receiving an honorary doctor of law degree from Nigeria's Ahmadu Bello University, Samora emphasized that "the ultimate effort [of colonialism was] to make out of each Mozambican and assimilado, a little Portuguese with black skin" and defined colonialism as a cultural act of rape. He believed that democratization of knowledge would free Mozambicans from the shackles of illiteracy, the tyranny of superstition, and the cultural arrogance of missionary education." (p. 132-137)

"In the last years of his life Samora and the entire Frelimo leadership had been forced to compromise their radical agenda. Mozambique's next president Joaquim Chissano, who served from 1986 two 2005, went even further totally abandoning the socialist project in favor of neoliberalism and market capitalism... The 1987 IMF agreement was the death knell of Mozambican socialism. The preamble of the new constitution enacted in 1990, while celebrating the struggle that led to independence, omitted any reference to free health care and education as rights of citizenship." (p. 198-199)

Enablers of Colonization and those in Solidarity:

"The West's support of Portuguese colonialism had driven Mondlane and many of those around him to adopt a more radical anti-imperialist stance, to the consternation of some of his more nationalist followers. This first group was backed by their host president Nyerere of Tanzania, who facilitated Mondlane's meeting with the Organization of African unity and the socialist countries." (p. 76)

"Samora's belief that the Nkomati Accord would provide opportunity for Mozambique to rebuild turned out to be illusory, since Pretoria never ended its military assistance to RENAMO. The South African Defence Force continued to air-drop arms and ammunition, use submarines operating off Mozambique's coast to resupply guerrilla units, and allow large numbers of RENAMO insurgents to cross into Mozambique from their camps in the Transvaal. Documents captured in 1985 at RENAMO headquarters in Gorongosa revealed the extent of the charade. South African security forces also kept resupplying RENAMO forces based in Malawi, adjacent to the Mozambican border." (p. 184)

"More than thirty years later, only incomplete evidence has been released about the cause of the crash. Those who planned and carried out the plot to kill Samora remain unidentified despite investigations by the Margo Commission, established by white-ruled South Africa in 1987; postapartheid South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which heard testimony on the crash in 1998; and a joint Mozambican-South African Commission established in 2010." (p. 192-193) 

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Kwame Nkrumah

Ohio University Press has a series of "Short Histories of Africa". I recently decided to pick up most of the collection for potential use as reading materials for classes. This post covers "Kwame Nkrumah: Visions of Liberation" (2021), by Jeffrey S. Ahlman. The book is contextualized beyond biographical detail, with details of the events occurring while Nkrumah was in the US and UK. The book also unravels the "Nkrumahs" that exist in various narratives about him and his legacy. Recommended. Relatively longer for the series. A few more notes than usual:

"At the heart of Nkrumah's independence-day pronouncement was a political project aimed at the construction of a new Ghana, a new Africa, and, most expensively, a new world. This was to be not only a world in which Ghanaians and Africans alike would be accepted on their own terms, but, even more importantly, a world that they would also have an active voice in forging. However, it was also a project of destruction, for it was to be a project tied to the destruction of the world that colonialism had built. It was a project that, while building something new, also aimed to tear down the racism, inequality, and exploitation that, in the new Ghanaian prime minister's eyes, were fundamental to the colonial project in Africa and beyond." (p. 35)

"Nkrumah was not alone in detailing the political and cultural significance of the Italian invasion of Ethiopia for peoples of African descent living inside and outside the continent. In the United States, for instance, the invasion galvanized groups of African American communists fighting in the Spanish civil war to turn their fight against Spanish fascism into a proxy war against Italian fascism. Likewise, the Trinidadian pan-African Marxist C. L. R. James emphasized the role of the invasion in unsettling colonial governments in the British West Indies as it accentuated racial tensions within the islands during the mid 1930s. Furthermore, committees and activist organizations in cities ranging from New York to Paris and Accra to Lagos held meetings, collected money and other resources, demonstrated, and organized locally and internationally in support for the Ethiopian cause." (p. 64-65)

"Much like during the First World War a generation earlier, the question of self-determination dominated the Second World War. As viewed by the Allied powers during the early stages of the war, the Axis powers' foremost political crime was their disrespect for the sovereignty and political wishes of the territories they invaded. Accentuating this belief in their August 1941 Atlantic Charter, the American president Franklin Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill - in many ways echoing their predecessors two decades earlier - declared the universality of a people's right to "choose the form of government under which they will live." However, shortly after the declaration, Churchill again followed his predecessors' lead as he quickly sought to affirm that the principles outlined in the charter did not apply to Britain's colonies. Almost immediately, however, West African newspapers, activists, and others had begun to push back against British attempts to read colonial peoples out of the charter." (p. 82)

"Much as Lenin had argued nearly three decades earlier, in Nkrumah opened his book by insisting that "the basis of colonial territorial dependence is economic." As outlined by Nkrumah, Europe's colonies fundamentally served as safety Nets for the European economy itself." (p. 85-86)

"As Nkrumah would also outline throughout his career, imperialism should not be seen only as a mechanism of territorial control. At its core, he would argue, it was the root of the global capitalist system and stood at the foundation of the twentieth-century international order. As a result, it not only created the political world in which colonized peoples lived, it also fundamentally shaped the ways in which colonized peoples interacted with one another as well as how they and colonizing peoples related to one another." (p. 104)

"Nkrumah took a chance and moved to the United States to attend the first historically Black college in the country, where he survived the final years of the Great Depression and the Second World War as a Black man in a country built upon racial subjugation, segregation, violence, and inequality. Radicalized from his time in the United States, Nkrumah returned to the British imperial sphere in 1945 with the goal of ending colonial rule across Africa and beyond. The fight in Nkrumah joined in post war London ultimately brought him back to the Gold Coast in 1947, where he would spend the next nineteen years imagining, re-imagining, and theorizing a world free from the exploitation and extractive processes of capitalist imperialism." (p. 175-176) 

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The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf

In reading books on Qatar (see this section for the list), many of the criticisms I have made of contemporary scholarship is a continuation of colonial attitudes and perspectives. On that note, I was glad to come across the gem of a book, "The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf" (1986), by Sultan Muhammad Al-Qasimi. The book has been re-printed by Routledge. The book comes out of a thesis, and reads that way, but is nonetheless a great resource on the colonial representations of history. The author deconstructs and corrects the colonial record. In the process, the author heavily quotes original source material (which is a great resource for other researchers, but at times overwhelming for readers). What is missing is the important "so what?" chapter, which one might hope would be the concluding chapter. Recommended nonetheless. Some (more lengthy than normal) notes:

"For three quarters of a century, since J. G. Lorimer compiled his magnum opus, his deliberate misrepresentation of the history of the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf has prevailed, and has never been challenged." (p. xiii)

"The indigenous people of the Gulf were normal people with normal human ambitions. Although poor, they were skillful. They were people practising normal human activities, in particular trade, in which they had been involved for millennia. The only abnormal factor was the introduction of a foreign people whose aim was to dominate and exploit. The intruders were the forces of British imperialism, who knew very well and often testified that the indigenous people of the Gulf were only interested in the peaceful pursuits of pearl diving and trade." (p. xiv)

"The Company did not protect Tipu Sultan; instead it attacked and defeated him, putting an end to his imaginative enterprises. The Company did not protect the 'country' trade of Mysore; it destroyed it. While ignoring all these developments, Kelly states that 'the burden of protecting the 'country' trade was borne principally by the Bombay Marine, the armed branch of the Company's maritime service.' It is now clear that the Company has no intention of protecting anybody's trade. Its obvious intention, in the face of increasing competition, was to use 'protection' as an excuse to employ the force of the Bombay Marine to squash the competitors. Instead of peaceful trade, it became gun-boat trade." (p. 27-28)

"…the British seem to have introduced a new element into this competition. Their eventual demand that all ships trading in the Gulf should have British 'passes' suggests that they considered themselves the masters of the G ulf waters and were of the opinion that trade should be conducted there solely for their benefit and that nobody else had the right to trade there without their approval. Indeed, to the British the French ships that attempted to approach the Gulf were 'privateers', while the Arabs there were 'pirates' whose ships could only be involved in acts of 'piracy' even if they were simply floating in the Gulf waters." (p. 31)

"The British who were involved in this incident would appear to have been lending their colours to cover what obviously amounted to smuggling. They knew it and so did Sultan b. Saqr, but his behaviour was certainly more honourable than theirs. Unlike them, he did not take advantage of the treaty of 1806 but stretched himself beyond the call of duty to protect anything that could possibly be British in order to maintain and observe the letter and the spirit of the treaty. Nevertheless, he was accused of being a pirate, and by the British of all people." (p. 88)

"Taking this report at its face value, it seems that the British commanding officers sailing the Gulf, even close to straits and islands, considered that they and they alone had the right to be sailing there. Any other ship simply had to steer away from their path as quickly as possible. The sailors must also stop singing, otherwise they might offend British eyes and ears with what might seem like war dances. It should be noted that Arab sailors in the Gulf never engaged in war dances, or any dances at all, for that matter; they were usually too busy and too exhausted with their assigned tasks on board ship to have the time or energy to dance. Furthermore, Arab sailors were supposed to hide their spears when a British ship appeared, because they might be considered a threat to British personnel and thus might provoke them to fire on innocent passing Arab ships. The arrogance of these presumptions is beyond comprehension." (p. 100)

"Up to this point it has been seen that British policy-makers in India were deter­ mined to destroy the naval power of the Qawäsim in the Gulf. Although the war was obviously a trade war, the British had managed to convince themselves that it was a war waged to rid the Gulf of piracy. They were in no doubt, with or without reason, that the pirates were the Qawäsim, whom they accused of every possible evil deed in the seas around them. As we have seen, many of these accusations were proved to be false; nevertheless such lies continued to be circulated in the reports of British agents and Indian brokers alike." (p. 151) 

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Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism

Ashis Nandy's "The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism" (1983) is a classic postcolonial text from the Asian experience. One note I found fascinating was that this author found inspiration in the writings of African revolutionaries, finding little from what he was reading from the region he lived within. Through this we see unexpected transportations of ideas. I am often asked by students about the impact of writing critical, theoretical, or philosophical works and these are reminders that while the impact of some works are immediate (and often limited to that immediate time and geography) others take time to permeate and sink in, with Nandy citing the works of Fanon and Cabral as inspirations, who wrote decades before the writing of this book. Some notes (from the 2021 Oxford reprint):

"Modern colonialism won its great victories not so much through its military and technological prowess as through its ability to create secular hierarchies incompatible with the traditional order. These hierarchies opened up new vistas for many, particularly for those exploited or cornered within the traditional order." (p. ix)

"It is now time to turn to the second form of colonization, the one which at least six generations of the Third World have learnt to view as a prerequisite for their liberation. This colonialism colonizes minds in addition to bodies and it releases forces within the colonized societies to alter their cultural priorities once for all. In the process, it helps generalize the concept of the modern West from a geographical and temporal entity to a psychological category. The West is now every where, within the West and outside; in structures and in minds. (p. xi)

"... in the eyes of the European civilization the colonizers were not a group of self-seeking, rapacious, ethnocentric vandals and self-chosen carriers of a cultural pathology, but ill-intentioned, flawed instruments of history, who unconsciously worked for the upliftment of the underprivileged of the world." (p. 14)

"I started with the proposition that colonialism is first of all a matter of consciousness and needs to be defeated ultimately in the minds of men." (p. 63)

"The word 'Hindu', T. N. Madan has again recently reminded us, was first used by the Muslims to describe all Indians who were not converted to Islam. Only in recent times have the Hindus begun to describe themselves as Hindus." (p. 103)

From the Postscript, written 25 years after its first publication:

"Do not trust authors when they talk about their books. They invariably impose a neater, intellectually more pleasing frame on their works retrospectively. I have had twenty-five years to do so in this instance. Do not also forget that a book partly writes itself and the author emerges from that experience changed - sometimes shaken." (p. 114)

"Fortunately I ran into six sensitive, brilliant intellectuals, all of whom had an African connection. While Franz Fanon and Octave Mannoni were psychiatrists, the other four - Aime Cesaire, Albert Memmi, Amilcar Cabral and Leopold Senghor - were writers and thinkers. Except probably for Fanon, who came to a small section of Indians via Jean-Paul Sartre, none of the rest were taken seriously by the aggressively English-positivist culture of the Indian academe. But they were like a breath of fresh air to me." (p. 116)

"Conformity need not be monitored, dissent has to be. In any hegemony, dissent defines the limits and the final shape of legitimacy of a system, not conformity. The colonial culture redesigns the entire educational system and the process of socialization to ensure the spread of definitions of sanity, rationality, adulthood and health that automatically stigmatize all unruly dissent as childish, irrational and retrogressive." (p. 118)

"The good English, we know from Oscar Wilde, went to Paris when they died. Well-educated, modern Indians and Chinese, if they have been good, expect to go to London or New York when they die. Colonialism has equipped them with not only a new vision of a good society, but also the wherewithal to enter the rat race of progress." (p. 119)

"The Atlantic slave trade and modern colonialism were two early attempts to globalize. The former touched four continents, the other five. If colonialism was an attempt to infantilize peoples and cultures, the slave trade was an attempt to commodify human beings themselves. The ornate prose that justified the trade, like the prose that justified child labour in Victorian England, saw in slavery redemptive features that we now consider obscene. Both abridged the meaning of the universal by claiming to be based on universal values and secular trends in history, politics and society. The demise of slavery and colonialism has given globalization, vending its own brand of universalism, a new reach and legitimacy. The battle against globalization could have been a battle to recover the universal from the clutches of the global. It has failed to beo so because the resistance to globalization has mostly remained captive to the colonial definition of the universal." (p. 123) 

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