For the 50th post of this blog, I deeply thought of what to write or which book to review. I then decided that I would write a reflection on the famous George Orwell’s Animal Farm. I kept asking myself if I am capable of reviewing this, almost, century-old masterpiece!
In a synopsis, Animal Farm is a political fairy tale that narrates a rebellion carried out by animals against their owner/farmer- Mr. Jones. The animals wanted to be free from exploitation. It was a revolution aimed at liberating the animals. They wanted dignity, independence, equality, free speech, education, and everything else that living creatures naturally desire. These ideals were engraved in 7 commandments, a sort of a ‘National Anthem’ titled the Beasts of England’ and were symbolized by a green flag. The animals were successful in chasing Mr. & Mrs. Jones out of the farm and set up their own system. For them, “man is the only creature that consumes without producing…yet he is a lord of all animals” (p.4). And that explains the summary (for the dumb animals such as goats) of the 7 commandments and the Beast of England – ‘four legs good, two legs bad’. The revolution seemed to be a success story in the beginning. Even when men (Mr. Jones and his friends) wanted to retake the farm, the animals were able to protect their territory and independence in what they famously called the ‘Battle of the Cowshed’. However, the leaders (pigs) led by Comrade Napoleon gradually changed towards the behaviors of ‘man’ whom they rebelled. He started by fighting hard against his fellow leader, Snowball. Napoleon and his fellow ‘leaders’ or rather rulers slowly killed the ideals that animals fought for including equality, freedom of speech and participation. The laws in the farm were gradually changing in favour of the ruling animals while exploiting other animals. There was no room for complaining and those who did were quickly shut down or threatened. There was no permission to challenge the ‘leader’- he was always ‘right’ as the hard working Boxer would confess like a creed that should not be proven. Killings happened in the farm and things were not in ‘cloud 9’ as the animals thought but they were ‘convinced’ to remained patriotic whatever the situation because the single aim was ‘not to be ruled by man’. However, Napoleon and his fellows in the ruling class ended up learning to walk on two legs and imitated everything that was of man…even their new friends were men…and the dumb goats changed the summary anthem to ‘four legs good, two legs better’.
Well, what can I say? Upon reflecting on this fairy tale, my mind thought of so many historical events at international level and local level too. At local level a lot of contemporary issues can also fit into George Orwell’s story. Although the Animal Farm was written in 1930s and published in 1945, the story is still relevant to political situations in many countries in the world.
Without going into much details, Orwell’s book kept me thinking of Russia, China, ‘independent’ Africa, multiparty Africa, Arab Spring, Capitalism, and Socialism…I could write a few pages on each of those from Orwell’s book but for this short entry allow me to write something short and general.
Citizens who feel that they are exploited or not free are usually prone to carry out a revolution if they get a right and (mostly) a charismatic leader. They revolt against what they perceive as an exploitative system with the aim of replacing it with a fair system that will make everyone equal and ensure freedom of participation, speech, etc. Such revolutions have been common in many parts of the world. Russia Revolution on 1917 and its aftermath, for example, had much influenced in George Orwell’s writings and in particular the Animal Farm. Of late we have seen “revolutions” in North Africa that ousted out decades old rulers/dictators. However, the question is always the sustainability of these hard fought for ideals in the hands of ‘leaders’- who often prefer titles such as “comrades” “brotherly leaders” and “revolutionary leaders”. Even the leaders that were ousted in North Africa, such as Muammer Gaddafi, had revolted against authoritative systems in their times but then changed to become dictators themselves. Since history repeats itself, one year after Tahrir Revolution, Mohamed Morsi, for example, the then new president, tried to accumulate more presidential power in his hands, which…too bad gave a justification to what I categorize as a ‘coup’.
In Africa, we read about liberation struggles in the 1950s through to early 1980s. The aim was to remove colonialists out of our land and to gain dignity, independence, and freedom. However, most of new African leaders (with few exceptions such as Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda) changed to become dictators, refusing to get out of power, and worked hard to be like the colonialists in style and many other things. They embraced colonial-like policies of exploitation and class division. They created an elite class in Africa, just like the pigs did in the animal farm.
In the multiparty Africa, we see the same dangers. After 1990s, Africa opened up to ‘democracy’ in what scholars such as Samuel Huntington, calls “third wave” of democracy. Political parties emerged with the aim of removing old parties that had become so exploitative after independence. There were hopes in Africa. But most of these new regimes (formed under the multiparty system) ended up becoming dictators and some even worse than the older parties’ regime. In Tanzania, my country, we have not been lucky to replace the old CCM with another political party regime. However, there is a wave of change- although gradual. Some political parties have managed to command considerable number of followers and if, all goes well, there are prospect that one day they will get into power. But power corrupts, even the increased popularity in these parties have already becoming a challenge and a root cause/source of nascent feelings of dictatorship. It is something that we need to be careful so as we do not find ourselves in a worse situation like the animals.
This is not to say that we need to stick with the one party throughout. NO and I repeat NOOOO!! with an emphasis. Multiparty is a good system and its ideals are crucial to ensure participation and democracy. Events of failure of multipartism in some African countries and to some extent what we are seeing in Tanzania, should not discourage Tanzanians from voting change! We have to embrace the ideals as long as we put in place checks and balances that will ensure ‘new leaders’ don’t hold on into power and become dictators. In his preface to the Ukrainine version, George Orwell himself complained that “nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of Socialism as the belief that Russia is a Socialist country…” (p.118). I just hope what we have been witnessing, of late, with our main opposition party in Tanzania will not corrupt the meaning of democracy in Tanzania.
George Orwell’s book includes little stories and accounts that can teach us a whole lot of what happens in a contemporary world politics. I found it very interesting that Napoleon had secretly kept the dogs who came to threaten his opponents. For some reasons I relate this part of the story with real life examples in Tanzania political businesses (some Tanzanian educated youths are secretly kept (as Napoleon dogs) ready to threaten and devour anyone who will oppose their masters…I beg youths to refuse such roles). In short, Animal Farm is a political fairy tale that leaders and citizens should read. History repeats itself and that is why reflections of the world politics in early 1930s by Orwell are still very fresh and applicable in our contemporary world.
I cannot say anything more on this great book because I feel very incapable of writing anything more concerning Orwell’s work.