Julius Nyerere

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 "Julius Nyerere" (2017), by Paul Bjerk. A few notes:

"Upon returning he was told he no longer had a job at St. Francis High School, as the colonial government had informed the Catholic leadership that they would not countenance a salaried teacher openly involved in oppositional politics." (p. 40)

"Kambona later recalled, "I found him sitting on the floor reading a book about Gandhi." (Throughout his career Nyerere continued to take yearly vacations in his home village during the rainy season, removing himself from Dar es Salaam politics while he took stock of himself and his country.)" (p. 41)

"During this year of upcountry travel, Nyerere ready book by Petro Itosi Marealle an old man from a chiefly family near Mount Kilimanjaro. The book presented a theory of rural African society that the author called ujamaa, meaning "familyhood." Nyerere first used this term in a speech on land policy a few months after his resignation. He began to develop Ujamaa into a comprehensive political ideology that combined African nationalism with his own unorthodox theory of harmonious socialism that rejected Marx's theory of class conflict. Nyerere envisioned African socialism as a social ethic derived from the shared responsibilities of family life in rural Africa." (p. 58-59)

"Nyerere had always been uncomfortable with the racial rhetoric surrounding Africanization policy and now for "localisation" of the civil service, meaning that the effort would be to hire and promote citizens of Tanganyika, regardless of their race, to replace the highly paid expatriates." (p. 64)

"When West Germany cut off military aid in protest of Tanzania's plan to host an East German consulate in Dar es Salaam, and enraged Nyerere told the West German ambassador to "take the rest of your aid as well." In 1965, Nyerere broke relations with Britain to protest its passive policy towards Southern Rhodesia's declaration of independence, which had made it easier for the white minority there to maintain its domination." (p. 80)

"A visiting IMF negotiator proposed to explain the package to the president personally. Mtei brought him to see Nyerere, who, after listening for a short while, abruptly got up and walked away. Nyerere said the IMF visitors had treated him with disdain and vowed that he would never allow his country to be run from Washington. They should go home, he told him Mtei. "I will devalue the shilling over my dead body." Nyerere felt that devaluation effectively stole money from his citizens' pockets to the benefit of foreign investors." (p. 119-120)

"When western representatives wanted to know more about the spiraling Congolese conflict, Nyerere berated them for their ignorance about their own countries' contribution to the conflict, especially since the United States had funded Mobutu's dictatorship. "You imposed and supported Mobutu for 32 years!" he told them. "We could not do anything. You know how bad Mobutu destroyed the country. This time leave us Africans to try and help Congo. The Congolese people have suffered a lot. Their blood is our blood. Please leave us alone this time."" (p. 140) 

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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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Emperor Haile Selassie

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 "Emperor Haile Selassie" (2014) by Bereket Habte Selassie. Books usually take more than a year to write, get reviewed, go into publication, and then hit the shelves (usually longer). It is probably fair to say that this book, given what happened from 2012 onward in Ethiopia, would be written differently today. I have only found a couple of reviews of the book, and welcome input form others on the author's portrayal of this history. The author, being an insider in the Emperor's administration, has unique insight into events and the individual, which the vast majority do not have access to. The author is critical, so the above comment is not suggesting it is a book of praise. A few notes:

"his declared ambition of gradually introducing democracy and a regime based on the rule of law was denied by the constitution's codifying the power and dignity of the emperor, sanctioned by his anointing as well as by tradition. All in all, in the judgment of all close observers and based on the emperor's words and acts, Haile Selassie remained an absolute monarch with absolute power." (p. 76)

"It is ironic that in annexing Eritrea the emperor flouted the very international law and morality to which he had appealed when his own country was invaded." (p. 83)

"The emperor's survival strategy included distrust of even his closest kinsmen, on the basis of the Machiavellian dictum "If I take care of my close friends, I can take care of my enemies." (The emperor was an avid reader of Machiavelli; Workneh told this writer that the emperor lent him an Amharic translation of The Prince.)" (p. 95)

"Was Haile Selassie a progressive modernizer who shaped Ethiopia's destiny? The answer to this question is undoubtedly in the positive. Did his pursuit of power reflect a commitment to a higher purpose, such as modernization and centralization of the Ethiopian state? This too must be answered in the positive, despite some opposed views that contend that his use of power was purely for selfish ends that went against the interests of the nation." (p. 123)

"The consensus is that the denial of democracy is the central issue on which the emperor finally stumbled. Democracy was one of the exciting promises of his earlier work, and in refusing to grant more power to the central institutions of the state, including the cabinet and the parliament, he certainly chose personal power over national interest." (p. 124) 

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The Pain of Others

One of Sontag's classic works is "Regarding the Pain of Others" (2003). It is a short book, almost an essay length, on the depiction of pain through photography. Part history, part critical reflection. Few notes:

"nonstop imagery (televisions, streaming video, movies) is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite. Memory freeze-frames; its basic unit is the single image. In an era of information overload, the photograph provides a quick way of apprehending something and a compact way for memorizing it. No object is more equated with memory than the camera image. The photograph is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb. Each of us mentally stocks hundreds of photographs, subject to instant recall." (p. 17)

"Photographs had the advantage of uniting two contradictory features. Their credentials of objectivity were inbuilt. Yet, they always had, necessarily, a point of view. They were a record of the real – incontrovertible, as no verbal account, however impartial, could be – since a machine was doing the recording. And they bore witness to the real – since a person had been there to take them." (p. 21)

"People can turn off not just because a steady diet of images of violence has made them indifferent but because they are afraid. As everyone has observed, there is a mounting level of acceptable violence and sadism in mass culture: films, television, comics, computer games. Imagery that would have had an audience cringing and recoiling in disgust forty years ago is watched without so much as a blink by every teenager in the multiplex. Indeed, mayhem is entertaining rather than shocking to many people in most modern cultures." (p. 87-88) 

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