Cheche: Reminiscences of a Radical Magazine
Editor: Karim F Hirji
Publ: Mkuki na Nyota Publishers
Reviewer: Benedict Wachira
Cheche is written in an easy to understand language, and straight to every point addressed.
The book is mainly written by Karim Hirji, with chapter contributions from Henry Mapolu, Zakia Meghji, George Hajivayanis and Christopher Liundi; and includes an article by Yoweri Museveni (reproduced from his student days).
Though titled after a radical students’ magazine that first came out in 1969 at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), this book gives an objective look at the politics in post independence Tanzania, the life of student activists, and more importantly, brings out the ideological debates between Capitalism and Socialism – discussions which are even more relevant today, now that the crisis of capitalism is more pronounced as is witnessed by the growing number of people who continue to suffer and die under it, and the increasing degradation of the global environment. The book exposes the true nature and the failure of Capitalism, and discusses a possible way forward, Socialism.
The Student Activists
The contributors recall how the young USARF (University Students African Revolutionary Front) and TYL (TANU Youth League) members lived their ideals with dedication and commitment, especially towards the liberation of the then remaining Colonies, through their fundraisings to the OAU’s Liberation Committee; direct support to liberation movements like SWAPO and FRELIMO; and their fight against the then rising tide of US imperialism in Africa and throughout the world. They showed solidarity with the people of Cuba; stood with the people of Vietnam; spoke against the oppression of Palestinians and empathised with all the oppressed people of the world.
Their commitment to Scientific Socialism through study and practice was also outstanding, and so was their defense of academic freedom and its ongoing relevance. These student-radical socialists, would challenge what the University taught them and in some cases they would determine what needed to be included in their curriculums. Above all they were focused on improving society, not just themselves as individuals.
Cheche offers an insightful and objective analysis of the leadership of Julius Nyerere, TANU and the Ujamaa system. Its genuine critique of Nyerere’s tenure is in sharp contrast to that written by right wing critics on the one hand, and by ‘socialist apologetics’ on the other.
While the failures of Ujamaa are spelt out in the book (the biggest failures being the attempt to build Socialism . . . by non-Socialists and the disconnect between theory and practice); the humility, wisdom and uniting leadership of Mwalimu are also brought out in different chapters.
This book poses challenges to former revolutionaries – socialists who have since abandoned what they believed and practiced during their youthful days. A good example is Yoweri Museveni, who was the first chair of the USARF, and according to his writings and activities during his student days was a progressive, courageous, well-informed and conscious revolutionary. The same cannot be said of him today. (The current Museveni would definitely have received a heavy tongue-lashing from that younger one!)
But Museveni is just a representation of the hundreds of former socialists, Pan-Africanists and progressives in general who have betrayed the fight for the total liberation of humanity from oppression and exploitation. Most of them have retained their liberation rhetoric, but in reality have become stooges of imperialism and oppressors of the masses.
A great challenge is also thrown to the present-day ‘intellectuals’ who, rather than illuminating the way forward for society, have become lackeys of the leading politicians of the day (most of whom are wanting in intellectual capacity), and by donors who fund their projects. Others compromise what they teach for fear of losing their jobs.
The book describes how lecturers led by Walter Rodney progressively and fearlessly influenced the thinking of the students and Tanzanians in general. It also shows how it is possible for students to demand integrity and relevance of what they are taught.
Cheche, though a students’ magazine, was analytic and objective – in contrast to the national newspapers at the time. Today the standards of the media have fallen even further, and the masses are titillated with trivialities rather than made aware of the real issues which affect them.
But the greatest challenge is to the youth of today. Noting the dedication that those UDSM students had towards the betterment of humanity, it becomes amply clear that young people with the right direction can influence the thinking, direction and policies that their communities, countries and the world pursue.
Of course, the world today is in a lot of confusion, since we live in an almost uni-polar world. There are many young activists and students who have genuine intentions of changing the lives of the masses, but their efforts and thinking are restricted to the capitalist world view. Unlike in the 1960s, 70s and 80s where there was an alternative world view – Socialism (though in varying degrees), and any interested individual had a chance of taking it up and delving deeper into it.
In the last chapter, Karim Hirji notes that their greatest failure was the fact that they never built a Socialist Movement back then. He also notes that ‘Africa needs political parties dedicated to Socialism. They will provide a framework for progressive students and intellectuals to ally with workers and peasants . . . it is a medium-term goal we need to consistently work towards.’
Cheche is a must read for students in all institutions of higher learning, and all the people, young and old, with a thirst for real, meaningful socio-economic change.