By Alexandra Ndisi Grantham
A good friend of mine once made an interesting comparison between the concept of a perfect state to Newton’s third law; For every action in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction. “Forces occur in pairs, one body cannot exert a force on another without experiencing a force itself.” To accomplish, perfectness can never be achieved. For the rich to exist, there also has to exist poverty, and vice versa. I can’t help to think that this might be the subconscious reason for politicians to benefit themselves and eventually become eager; You can’t create the perfect system if everyone has succeeded. Then at least one as a politician gains more by becoming greedy. I’m going to discuss this further in contrast to East African politics.
The theorist Lyman Tower Sargent argues that the concept of Utopia is contradictory; since societies are not homogenous, people have different desires. Desires which are irreconcilable for many reasons, including the fact that they are completely antithetical, from intention to result. In the end, a utopian society can in fact become a danger when it’s tried to be conquered.
Throughout history we’ve seen many empirical examples of when different political regimes have tried to achieve Utopia, to achieve a certain vision for the people, for the best possible and “beautiful outcome” . The Mao Era in China consisted of communistic reforms to implement extensive changes for the country by creating an ideal society. Business was owned by the state, and a five year economic plan was designed for China’s industrialization. The utopian “idea” was that China would transform from an agricultural country to a leading industrial state, eliminating the differences between urban and rural areas, and between intellectual and practical work. In a way they succeeded in transforming China into a leading industrial state.
Nazi Germany and the NSDAP is an obvious example from history of an extreme attempt to create one’s own vision of a utopian society and a common passion for creating one’s own place on earth; The “grandiose” urban-planning inspired by ancient Roman architecture, exclusion of the Jewish community to create a homogeneous population. The NSDAP vision was to create a clear and organized path for the Germans where Berlin would become the metrolpoly of the world. Ironically I can’t help to think that Berlin is today the total opposite of Adolf and the Nazi-Germany’s vision of Berlin, which is a very different, “decadent” and chaotic city nowadays compared to Hitler’s vision of Berlin as a structured, and homogenous place. According to the ancient Greeks “Utopia” cannot be truly achieved: the word Utopia in fact means “no place”, A creation of such a perfect and idealized society is impossible, but this did not stop Hitler and Mao from trying.
In contrast to the political reforms in China and Germany, Sweden was governed, during the 60s, by the charismatic leader Olof Palme and his futuristic vision. Palme was a person who aroused strong feelings both for and against him, both nationally and in international politics. One could argue that from that time until today Sweden does come across as a country having a strong self-image of being a good country. Palme’s reforms back in the days made way for the moral policy we can see today, which includes financial independence for women. This has been somewhat a utopian desire; It seems likely it’s been in the tradition of Sweden to put itself forth as a moral role model. Basically a society that represents the highest hopes of the American left. Some of the side effects of the reforms are presented in Erik Gandini’s documentary “The Swedish Theory of Love”. The documentary looks at Swedes’ obsession with independence and self-sufficiency, and how this ideal, coupled with the welfare state that has provided for every physical need since the 1960s, today has provided loneliness and alienation among the Swedish population.
Something that I’ve come to recognize in the aspect of Utopia when spending time in East Africa is how politicians in most “totalitarian” countries have created their own utopian society for those who have political influence in the country, abusing power on a whole different level. Benefits are distributed to family members, same with the political clique and friends. Keep in mind that nepotism is the reason for this and is common within this kind of political culture. The standard of living is in fact absurd and what I’ve witnessed: Politicians use escorts that use sirens to avoid traffic. I’ve encountered these escorts often, myself, and been forced to drive down into the road ditch. These people are living like celebrities.
One of the bigger politicians himself is currently building a private town meant for him and his family members in the future. One of the opponents for the next political election is currently touring around the country using helicopters to get around in the country, which may seem odd to many people. An inside common knowledge among accuaintances within the local community in Kenya is that he has throughout the years gotten rid of a a lot of opponents by murder, which of course is not documented via media. A similar incident occurred January 2020; A kenyan politician and chairperson of the students organization of Nairobi University named Babu Owino released video footage from a nightclub that shows him having a conversation with the DJ at the nightclub, moments later this man gets shot by Babu. The shot man is later captured on video dragged on the floor outside the club. Babu Owino got released on bail, and was freed from charges.
Unlike Kenya; President Magufuli in Tanzania tried to nationalize enterprises in order to prevent corruption within the big companies, by scrutinizing the companies and catching the “big dogs”. They have gone overdue – to taxes. These drastic changes for ending corruption has in fact resulted in hundreds of Tanzanians’ unemployment, also not allowing work-permits for foreigners.
However, I’m a young female with no rights to anything other than my freedom of perception and as my job entitles, I question factors that are yet to be and further scrutinizing may be of hindrance. As in my previous examples different attempts have tried to be accomplished to create varied utopian ideas, so to my own skepticism I’ll leave this to the readers to perceive the unbalance as previously mentioned about Newton’s third law, that is a physical fact not a perception. Having the past and those events in mind can eventually create a better future.
By Alexandra Ndisi Grantham
Illustration: Merle Ecker