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Progressive Pan-Africanism and Karl Marx, the Non-Marxist: An Interview with Issa Shivji

UbuntuIssa Shivji, leftist scholar of postcolonialism and contributor to Ubuntu: Curating the Archive edited by Leonhard Praeg and Siphokazi Magadla, was recently interviewed by Sabatho Nyamsenda for Pambazuka News.

In the interview Shivji, who is a well-respected public academic based in Dar es Salaam, speaks about his life in the academy, with its fluctuating trends and heated ideological debates.

Nyamsenda asks Shivji about his opinion of Mwalimu Nyerere because Shivji had the Professorial Chair in Pan-African Studies named after the earlier Pan-Africanist. Shivji explains that although he identifies himself as a Marxist and Nyerere does not, he considers it a great honour “to keep Nyerere’s legacy alive”.

Read the interview:

IS: Nyerere was a radical nationalist. He was a progressive Pan-Africanist and broadly anti-imperialist. To be sure, his anti-imperialism was not grounded in radical political economy, as was Nkrumah’s. Yet, his pro-people stance was consistent; his anti-imperialist position supportable and his nationalism progressive.

In comparison to the neo-liberal political class that succeeded him, and mindful of the havoc that this class has created in our society, woe unto any progressive, even a Marxist, who wouldn’t want to recall Nyerere’s legacy and deploy it as an ideological resource in the struggle against the current rapacious phase of capitalism.

Nyerere was not a Marxist and he didn’t disguise himself as one. Marx himself when confronted with vulgar Marxism exclaimed: “I am not a Marxist!” As a head of state, it is true he came out against struggles from below. But does that mean that a progressive person should not celebrate Nyerere’s progressive legacy and draw lessons from its contradictory character? My friend, a Marxist is not a purist; s/he is political!

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