The part-time house-helps who work in the neighbourhood are now jobless. Their clients are at home and can do their own domestic chores, and also limit contact with outsiders in keeping with social distancing. The desperate ladies are now congregating at the roadside perhaps hoping to catch the eye of a passing client to lend a helping hand. At the onset of the COVID crisis, some influential voices in the West, Bill Gates and the UN Secretary General Guterres notably, expressed concerns for Africa and called on the world to prepare to stave of the unimaginable tragedy should the pandemic spread to these shores.
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We had participated together in intellectual and ideological struggles on the University of Dar es Salaam Campus. I was a student in law from and then a young faculty member in the Faculty of Law. I did not have a direct role in the founding of ROAPE but was closely connected with the founders and we often exchanged notes.
I remember that I encouraged my students who had done brilliant work on the post-Mwongozo working class struggles to send their papers to ROAPE which were published. Similarly, reporting and analysis of the struggle of students in the late seventies was also published in ROAPE.
In that sense, ROAPE played an important role in disseminating intellectual work and struggles across the continent and to progressive audiences outside Africa. Considering the powerful and clarion appeal to action, practice and radical analysis in the first issue. IS: The Editorial in the first issue was undoubtedly a clarion call for concrete analysis of concrete conditions for concrete action.
It came from the womb of the struggles from which the founders had come. But a Journal based in Europe, unconnected with real-life social struggles on the ground in any direct way, obviously could not consistently do what it set out to do. Over a period of time, it did become and has become a left academic journal, broadly progressive, nonetheless eclectic in the content of articles it publishes.
This is not to say that it has not made a worthwhile contribution. The Journal carried fine analytical pieces bearing directly or indirectly on struggles.
In its debating and reporting pages it gave exposure to accounts of struggles which helped in forging solidarities and mutual support. I doubt though if it has, or even, could participate fully in the ideological debates taking place on the continent, say, for example, in the s. In this period the radical liberation movements of the s became marginalised, under multiple and ultimately irresistible pressures. How would you chart the developments in African political-economy since the journal was founded?
To what extent is such a project for transformation relevant today? It seems to me that much of the language and vocabulary — imperialism, revolution, liberation, etc.
Some of that vocabulary is still lingering on …. I guess I have partly answered the first part of the question. During this period any analysis grounded in a rigorous theoretical framework even in the academia was dismissed by neo-liberals as irrelevant and star-gazing while by some post-modernists as mega-narratives that had overstayed their usefulness. On the whole, though, as neo-liberalism teeters towards its end, methods of radical political economy, albeit, of course, in a more creative fashion, are coming back.
I think the younger generation is groping for answers and mainstream bourgeois economics and political prescriptions do not give them answers. It is the bigger picture they want to understand. By definition, mainstream bourgeois theories in the era of financial capitalism are incapacitated from dealing with the bigger picture. The ideologists of the financial oligarchy have so much ideologised the bigger picture that their theoreticians have become prisoners of their own ideology.
IS: The answer to this will be too prescriptive, perhaps presumptuous and self-indulgent. Like others, I am trying to find my feet in the new, post-liberal environment and that can only be done in real life struggles, not in theoretical speculation. IS: Hunh! IS: Why not?
One who thinks revolution is not feasible is not a revolutionary. When, how, where of course are questions at a different level. Those are not the kind of questions that you and me can truthfully answer in an interview, or in ROAPE, for that matter.
How do you envisage this initiative developing? IS: I believe it is a good initiative. Perhaps it should move in the direction of a debating forum. We need to bring on board a lot of issues both of the theoretical and practical kind. My hope is that people involved on the ground would be attracted and would participate and share their experiences. Issa Shivji taught for years at the University of Dar es Salaam, Public law Department, and has written more than twenty books on Pan-Africanism, political economy, socialism and radical change in Africa.
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