When Dar, the haven of peace, was the Mecca of revolutionaries

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The late Walter Rodney. Photos/FILE

The late Walter Rodney. In May 1970 at Makerere University, Prof Ali Mazrui met his match in intellectual wit from another well-grounded academic and political activist from the University of Dar es Salaam - Rodney. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By Ciugu Mwagiru

Posted  Friday, January 4   2013 at  15:17

In Summary

  • He was among many distinguished academics and intellectuals who settled in Tanzania during the Ujamaa era.
  • Walter Rodney influenced many African Independence-era intellectuals with his 1972 treatise How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.

When Tanzania celebrated its 51st independence anniversary on Sunday, December 9, many will have recalled how the attainment of freedom was followed by an era of idealistic fervour.

Indeed, right through the 1960s and 70s, the country’s capital Dar es Salaam attracted the global revolutionary set like a beacon. Among them was the late Guyanese historian Walter Rodney, the 32nd anniversary of whose assassination was marked in June this year.

He was among numerous academics, intellectuals, political activists, freedom fighters and dreamers from around the world who settled in Tanzania at different times during the Ujamaa era.

Many of these wanderers, fired by the utopian promise of the late President Nyerere’s Ujamaa philosophy, flocked to the coastal capital, revelling in an atmosphere that not only fuelled their idealism but also served as a hothouse to incubate ideologies and movements they believed would change the world.

From the earliest days of Independence in 1961, Tanganyika under the Tanganyika African National Union, Tanu, served as a base for various liberation movements fighting against colonialism and settler-colonialism, particularly in Southern Africa.

Dar es Salaam gained particular prominence after the military coup that deposed Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party government in Ghana ended Accra’s tenure as the fount of pan-Africanism.

The Organisation of African Unity Liberation Committee – earlier based in Accra, Ghana – moved its headquarters to Dar-es-Salaam, from where it supplied training, material aid and organisational support to the mass organisations and independence movements in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Namibia and other African colonies still struggling for Independence.

Tanzania became a reliable rear base for Namibia’s South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo) and the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) as well South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), the Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA).

Hence, apart from the intellectuals from different parts of the world who flocked to Dar during its golden era as a centre of revolutionary discourse, numerous freedom fighters from different parts of Africa also found succour there.

Having operated from Tanzania for many years, people like current Namibian president Hifikepunye Pohamba and his predecessor Dr Sam Nujoma retain fond memories of their years there. Their sojourns in the country are said to be a treasured part of the folklore of places such as Mtwara, Morogoro, Dodoma and Mbeya.

The late president Julius Nyerere’s leadership had made it clear that freedom for the country was meaningless as long as other African countries remained under colonial rule. It therefore welcomed African freedom fighters with open hands, including some who would eventually perish in the course of the struggle.

Among them was Eduardo Mondlane, the former Frelimo president who was assassinated in 1969 by a parcel bomb sent to him at the Frelimo headquarters in Dar es Salaam. The same method would years later be used to assassinate the white South African anti-apartheid campaigner Ruth First.

Apart from the hands-on freedom fighters and activists, many distinguished academics and intellectuals were also drawn by the political environment in Dar.

Thus Walter Rodney, who would influence so many African Independence-era intellectuals with his 1972 treatise How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, had two stints teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam.

According to Horace Campbell, a renowned scholar, professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York and the author of Rasta and Resistance From Marcus Garvey to Walter Rodney, Rodney’s time in Tanzania was “perhaps the most important in the formation of [his] ideas”, and while based in Dar, “he was at the forefront of establishing an intellectual tradition which still today makes Dar es Salaam one of the centres of discussion of African politics and history.”

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