How we can realise elusive dream of an African ideology

Ujamaa experiment was the most serious effort at actualising the pan-Africanist dream. [iStockphoto]

An important dream of pioneering African leaders was to evolve ideologies that reflect our culture. However, after 60 years of independence, many African countries have become poor copies of western capitalist democracies much to the disappointment of pan-Africanists who believed that Africans are socialist at heart.

The search for authentic African ideologies goes back to our founding fathers who earnestly believed that political independence was meaningless without an appropriate philosophical foundation.

Towards this end, they adopted socialist ideologies because they felt they were consistent with communal and egalitarian character of pre-colonial African societies. In their wisdom, they believed that Africans are naturally socialists who neither needed to adopt Russian scientific socialism or Western-style capitalism.

In East Africa, the gold medal for the best effort at establishing an African socialist state went to President Nyerere of Tanzania whose Ujamaa experiment was the most serious effort at actualising the pan-Africanist dream. But African socialism did not survive the founding fathers.

Today, many African countries have modelled themselves after Western capitalist democracies which allocate resources according to the will of the invisible hand of the market rather than the visible hand of village elders. Concurrently, many Africans have adopted foreign cultures, notwithstanding earnest appeals to retain traditions.

Although on various policy papers Kenyan founding fathers claimed to be socialists, many were closet capitalists who hid their true colours in a season of colonial bashing. The cynicism of some Kenyan leaders towards socialism was best exemplified by our powerful and Anglophile Attorney General who advised those who wished to practice socialism to feel free to share their wealth as long as they did not expect others to do the same.

Despite the collapse of African socialism, Kenyan leaders did not give up the dream of evolving an indigenous ideology as reflected in pronouncements by consecutive administrations since President Mwai Kibaki. The quest for an indigenous ideology in Kibaki’s administration was captured in the political pillar of the Kenya 2030 Vision which sought to construct a national ideology to underpin issue-based politics.

During President Uhuru’s administration, the dream of an indigenous ideology resurfaced in the BBI as a formula to bring cohesion in our ethnically fragmented society. Just like the founding fathers, the BBI architects proposed interrogation of Kenyan cultures to identify shared values to under-gird a national ideology.

President Ruto recently reiterated the importance of having ideologies in order to transcend identity politics that has become the bane of our nationhood. Typical of Kenya Kwanza pronouncements, Dr Ruto did not explain how the ideology is to be realised.

As Kenya celebrates 60 years of independence, the logical starting point for an indigenous ideology would be to start from correcting the mistake of our founding leaders of trying to construct ideologies from pre-colonial cultural practices. As Africans shifted from a pre-scientific age founded on myths and superstition, cultural values had to change. Efforts to create ideologies from pre-scientific cultural practices were therefore doomed from the start.

With the benefit of hindsight, a logical approach going forward is to shift focus to understanding the essence of the African person that gave birth to the cultures in the first place. The advantage of this approach is that it gives birth to an ideology that is based on overarching universal human values that cannot be attributed to any community.

Another advantage of this approach is that our humanity is something we share with the rest of mankind. Accordingly, adopting this anthropocentric approach will help us to plug into ideas and philosophy that underpin the political and economic institutions that have become a feature of our social fabric. As the clock ticks towards 2030 deadline, a bit of reflection will show the search for an indigenous ideology might just be a matter of domesticating the liberal ideas that have given birth to our capitalist democracy.

- The author is a political and economic Analyst