Issa Gulamhussein Shivji (born July 15, 1946) is a Tanzanian author and academic, and an experts on law and development issues. He has taught and worked in universities all over the world. He is a writer and researcher, producing books, monographs and articles, as well as a weekly column printed in national newspapers.

Issa G. Shivji in 2012

Quotes edit

Silences in NGO Discourse: The Role and Future of NGOs in Africa (2007) edit

Silences in NGO Discourse: The Role and Future of NGOs in Africa. Fahamu/Pambazuka. 30 June 2007. ISBN 978-0-9545637-5-2. 
  • We do not judge the outcome of a process by the intentions of its authors. We aim to analyse the objective effects of actions, regardless of their intentions.
    • p. 2
  • By 1885, when European kings, princes and presidents sat in Berlin to slice up the African continent with their geometrical instruments, the African people had already been devastated by the ravages of the West Atlantic slave trade. In West and Central Africa, the indigenous civilisations lay in ruins, from the sophisticated Saharan trade routes with Timbuktu at their centre, to the empires of Angola. On the Eastern seaboard, the European invasion, led by the Portuguese, defeated and destroyed the city states of Swahili civilisation. All in all, some 40,000,000 souls are estimated to have perished in the triangular slave trade, which lasted for roughly four centuries, 1450–1850. The development of the European and North American industrial revolution and the global lead this gave to Europe and America was in no small measure built on the back of Africans. The colonial episode was thus the tail end of long and destructive contact between Europe and Africa. The slave trade tore apart the very social fabric of African societies, destroying their internal processes of change. It imposed on the continent a European worldview in which the peoples of Africa were at the lowest rung of the so-called civilised order. No other continent, including those that suffered formal European colonisation, had their social, cultural and moral order destroyed on this scale.
    • pp. 2-3
  • Right from inception, the most important feature of colonialism was the division of the continent into countries and states cutting across ‘natural’ geographic, cultural ethnic and economic ties that had evolved historically. The consequences were thus. Boundaries were artificially drawn, with rulers literally reflecting the balance of strength and power among the imperial states. The boundaries divided up peoples, cultures, natural resources and historical affinities. Moreover, these newly created countries became subjects of different European powers with their own traditions of political rule, public administration, cultural outlooks, languages and systems of education. Africa was never Africa: it was Anglo-phone, Franco-phone, or Luso-phone.
    • p. 4
  • The underlying economic logic of the colonial economy was the exploitation of natural and human resources. Colonies became sites for generating surplus while the metropoles were sites of accumulation. The result was the development of the centres and the underdevelopment of the peripheries. Production processes relied heavily on coercion rather than on contractual consensus for reproduction: forced labour, forced peasant production, enforced cash-crop sales, restrictions on organisation and association and the criminalisation of ‘civil relations’.
    • pp. 4-5
  • The colonial state was an implant, an alien apparatus imposed on the colonised society. It was an excrescence of the metropolitan state without the latter’s liberal institutions or politics. It was a despotic state.
    • p. 7
  • The colonial infrastructure was the exact antithesis of a national economy. The only rationale behind individual African countries as loci of national independence was the fact that each one of them fell under the jurisdic tion of a different colonial power. In sum, the colonial rationale became the rationale of the national project: a contradiction in terms and a paradox. [...] The ideological genesis of African nationalism lay in pan-Africanism. The locus of pan-Africanism was the continent itself, not the artificially created spaces bound by colonial borders called countries. Literally, therefore, pan-Africanism begat nationalism, rather than the other way round. Pan-Africanism preceded nationalism by almost half a century. Logic and history neatly coincided. The founding fathers of pan-Africanism were African-Americans, the African diaspora, whose identity could only be African, and not Nigerian or Congolese or Kenyan. The leading lights of the independence movement – Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta – were incubated, conceived, propagated and organised in the pan-African movement by the likes of the great George Padmore, W. E.B. DuBois and C. L. R. James.
    • pp. 8-9
  • Nationalism in the hands of the post-colonial state degenerated into statism: politically authoritarian, economically rapacious, internationally compradorial and nationally dictatorial. At best, the ideology of nationalism resolved into various ideologies of developmentalism; at worst it became ethnicism. The liberal constitutional order that the departing colonial masters bequeathed was a tragic joke, because it was superimposed on a despotic apparatus, which had been invented, strengthened and bequeathed by the colonial master. The despotic infrastructure endured while the liberal superstructure blew off into the winds of factional political struggles, or so-called development imperatives.
    • pp. 12-13
  • Economists have described the 1980s as Africa’s lost decade. The 1980s were also a transition period marking the beginnings of the decline of developmentalism and the rise of neoliberalism, euphemistically called globalisation. The lost decade signalled both the decline of the developmental state and the loss of its political legitimacy: the loss of both development and democracy. Internally, political stirrings and rethinking began, both practical and ideological. But as the African political economy has again and again demonstrated, the continent is firmly inserted in the imperialist web. Instead of allowing a space to open up for internal popular struggles, the opportunist imperialist intervention derailed it by imposing top-down, so-called multi-party democracy and ‘good governance’. Western powers took the opportunity to reassert their political and ideological hegemony. They recovered the ground lost during the nationalist decades, a trajectory worth recapitulating.
    • p. 16
  • Colonialism left by the front door and returned through the back door in the form of neocolonialism. Radical nationalists such as Nkrumah and Ben Bella were over-thrown in military coups. Lumumba, Pio Gama Pinto and Thomas Sankara were assassinated in Western sponsored imperial adventures. The few who survived including Nyerere and Kaunda did so through compromise and a game of hide-and-seek. Others, for example Sékou Touré, became paranoid and despotic, apprehensive of being overthrown or assassinated. Others – Kenyatta, Moi, Houphet Boigny and Senghor – simply became compradors in the bidding of their imperial masters.
    • pp. 16-17
  • Globalisation in Africa is manifest in the neoliberal economic and political packages, centering around trade liberalisation, privatisation of national assets and resources, commodification of social services and marketisation of goods and services, both tangible and intangible. In sum, the underlying thrust of neoliberal and globalised development ‘discourse’ is for a deeper integration of African economies into global capital and market circuits, without fundamental transformation. It is predicated on private capital, which in Africa translates into foreign private capital, as the ‘engine of growth’. It centres on economic growth, without questioning whether growth necessarily translates into development. It banishes issues of equality and equity to the realm of rights, not development.
    • pp. 23-24
  • While some NGOs may be quite involved with and appreciated by the people whom they purport to serve, ultimately NGOs, by their very nature, derive not only their sustenance but also their legitimacy from the donor-community. In the current international conjuncture, even political elites located in the state or political parties seek legitimacy from so-called ‘development-partners’, rather than from their own people. Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of circulation of the elite between government and non-governmental sectors.
    • pp. 31-32
  • NGO activism is presented and based on the ‘act now, think later’ mantra. Theory, and particularly grand theory, is dismissed as academicism, unworthy of activists. Yet, we know, that every practice gives rise to theory and that every action is based on some theoretical or philosophical premise or outlook. NGO action is also based on certain theoretical premises and philosophical outlooks. In their case however, theory is written off as ‘common sense’ and therefore not interrogated. [...] The ‘common sense’ theoretical assumption of the current period underpinning NGO roles and actions is neoliberalism in the interest of global imperialism. It is fundamentally contrary to the interests of the large majority of the people.
    • pp. 36-37
  • How can you make poverty history without understanding the history of poverty? We need to know how the poverty of the five billion of this world came about. Even more acutely, we need to know how the filthy wealth of the 500 multinationals or the 225 richest people was created. We need to know precisely how this great divide, this unbridgeable chasm, is maintained; how it reproduced itself, and how it is increasingly deepened and widened. We need to ask ourselves: What are the political, social, moral, ideological, economic and cultural mechanisms which produce, reinforce and make such a world not only possible, but seemingly acceptable?
    • pp. 37-38
  • Colonial and imperial history are at the heart of the present African condition. History is not about assigning or sharing blame. Nor it is about narrating the ‘past’, which must be forgotten and forgiven, or simply remembered once a year on remembrance of heroes or independence days. History is about the present. We must understand the present as history, so as to change it for the better; perforce, in the African context where the imperial project is not only historical, but the lived present. Just as we cannot ‘make poverty history’ without understanding the history of poverty, so we cannot chant ‘another world is possible’ without accurately understanding and correctly describing the existing world of five billion slaves and 200 slave masters. How did it come about and how does it continue to exist? Indeed to answer these questions, we must understand history as the philosophy and political economy that underpin the existing world and the vested interests – real social interests of real people – that ensure and defend its existence.
    • pp. 38-39
  • The international and national orders within which we are functioning are unequal and there are conflicting interests. To pretend that society is a harmonious whole of stakeholders is to be complicit in perpetuating the status quo in the interest of the dominant classes and powers. In the struggle between national liberation and imperialist domination, and between social emancipation and capitalist slavery, NGOs have to choose sides. In this there are no in-betweens.
    • p. 41
  • The separation between politics and economics, between state and civil society is how the bourgeois society appears and presents itself. But it is not its real essence. In reality, politics is the quintessence, or the concentrated form of economics. The political sphere is built on the sphere of production, and there is a close relationship between those who command production and those who wield power. Yet the NGO sector, which according to its own proclamations stands for change, accepts the ideological myth that it is the third sector: non-political, not-for-profit, having nothing to do with power or production. This bourgeois mythology mystifies the reality of capitalist production and power, thus contributing to its legitimisation. NGOs by accepting the myth of being non-political contribute to the process of mystification, and therefore objectively side with the status quo, contrary to their expressed stand for change.
    • pp. 41-42
  • Policy-making, an attribute of sovereignty for which the government of the day is supposedly accountable to its people.
    • p. 42
  • Needless to say, policy-making is a terrain of intense conflicts of interest, and has nothing neutral about it. The question is, as always, which interest is being served by a particular policy. A question about which there can be neither neutrality nor non-partisanship.
    • p. 43
  • ‘A better world is possible’ according to the NGO slogan. But to build a better world we must understand the world better.
    • p. 43
  • African nationalism, as some of the fathers of African nationalism realised, is and must be pan-African. Pan-Africanism, they argue, is the nationalism of the era of globalisation; and only pan-Africanism can carry forward the struggle for national liberation in Africa. Without a pan-African vision, there is the danger that the resurgence of nationalism as a reaction to the new imperial assault could degenerate into narrow, parochial, nationalist chauvinism, even ethnicism and racism. But this new pan-Africanism must be a bottom-up people’s pan-Africanism, and not a top-down statist pan-Africanism. In the hands of the African state and its ‘leaders’, pan-Africanism will degenerate into ‘NEPAD-ism’, or phony African renaissance.
    • pp. 45-46
  • We activists are not in the business of brokering power where expediency and compromise rule. Our business is to resist and expose the ugly face of power. We are guided and our work is informed by deeply held human values and causes. It seems to me that consistency of principles and commitment to humanity should inform all our work, thought, activism and advocacy.
    • p. 59
  • Our leaders tell us there is only one world: the existing world, the globalised world, the hegemonic world. ‘Either sink or swim’, they say. The truth of the matter is that the working people are sinking in the globalised world, while the elite are swimming in it. It is clear therefore that there is a contest between two worldviews: one which wants to maintain the existing world; the other that wants to create an alternative world. Which worldview do we share? We must make a choice, and act in accordance with our choice. [...] The pundits of the status quo have in common with all dominating classes and hegemonic powers the assumption that the existing world is the only realistic world, and no alternative world is possible. Yet, it is the struggle for an alternative world, a better world, which has changed the past and will continue to change the present for a better future. We, the activists, together with the working people, must continue to fight for a better world. An alternative world is possible.
    • pp. 65-67

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