By Stephen Gowans
Professor of Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg David Moore’s Mamdani’s Enthusiasms, which appeared on the Concerned Africa Scholars’ website on March 16, 2009, continues in the group’s tradition of pushing aside argument based on rigor and analysis, in preference for comfortable slogans, prejudice and cheap rhetorical tricks.
Moore’s aim is to discredit Mahmoud Mamdani, who committed the unpardonable sin of challenging the comfortable slogans and prejudices of Moore and his peers in a December 4, 2008 London Review of Books article, Lessons of Zimbabwe.
Moore’s attack is based, not on challenging Mamdani’s scholarship, but on associating him with me, “a blogger” whose blogs “are printed ardently by the Zimbabwean state’s organ, The Herald”, whose “corporal person remains mysterious” but “is known to many academics and activists concerned with Zimbabwe for his venomous attacks on civil society activists.” I’m also, according to Moore, a representative “of a Kissingerian intelligentsia” (along with Mamdani.) Thanks to Moore’s assurances that I am, indeed, a corporal person, my solipsist anxiety that I’ve only imagined my physical existence has finally receded. I see now that I’m really Henry Kissinger in the flesh.
Moore cares not one iota about attacking me. Not being a member of the club, I count for very little. My reputation, he points out, rests not on scholarship, as Mamdani’s does, but on “the popularity of (my) blogs” and also, Moore claims “the patronage of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Information,” whatever that means. If it means I get paid by the Ministry, the payroll department is about 10 years in arrears.
It’s Mamdani, his fellow scholar, that Moore is attacking, and he does so through the rhetorical device of frequently pairing my name with the Ugandan scholar’s. Mamdani and Gowans say this…Mamdani and Gowans believe that…as if Mamdani and I are joined at the hip. Hell, we haven’t even exchanged e-mails, let alone bumped into each other at meetings of the Kissingerian Intelligentsia Society.
I’m not complaining about being paired with Mamdani. Indeed, I’m flattered. But I’m not so self-deluded as to fail to grasp that Moore intends no flattery. Instead, his aim is not to elevate me, but to knock down Mamdani by suggesting that Mamdani’s ideas are no better than those of what, to Moore, is a readily discreditable figure: myself – the mysterious and pedestrian blogger who, Moore claims, relies on “the patronage of the Zimbabwean Ministry of Information” and whose blogs “are printed ardently by the Zimbabwean state’s organ, The Herald”.
Stripped of its parade of impression-management references to Gogol, Kentridge and the Kissingerian intelligentsia, Moore’s argument boils down to this: Look, the only person who agrees with Mamdani is some mysterious blogger who may as well be an agent of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Information. That’s not an argument of substance; it’s a smear.
The Concerned Africa Scholars’ view is that anything but ardent denunciation of Zanu-PF is pro-Mugabe propaganda – on Zimbabwe, about as sophisticated as the organization gets. Their concern isn’t with rooting out vectors of Zanu-PF propaganda as attacking anyone who departs from the established propaganda model, informed largely by New York Times articles and US State Department press releases, of reflexive anti-Zanu-PF bashing. It’s not that they don’t like propaganda; it’s just that they don’t like anyone challenging their own brand.
In the end, Moore simply proves the point I made in “Cynicism as a substitute for scholarship” – that criticism of Mamdani by the Concerned Africa Scholars reduces to ad hominem assaults and the substitution of cynicism for scholarship. If Moore and his peers want to challenge Mamdani’s scholarship on Zimbabwe, they ought to do so. I haven’t seen it yet, but when I do, I’ll be pleased. Doing so, however, will mean they must first suppress their enthusiasm for cheap rhetorical tricks and propagation of the established Western propaganda model and turn their attention to a new one: scholarship.