The country has of late been witnessing protests from students of higher learning institutions including the University of Dar es Salaam, University of Dodoma and Makumira - Tumaini University of Arusha.
These crises have raised public concern, because they mostly pit the administrations or the government against students, with some of them seeming unsolvable without use of force.
As we all know the running battles and the consequent expulsions eat into valuable academic time, divert resources both human and material and distract such institutions from their main objectives.
As we write this some of the institutions are trying various measures to resolve the crises and focus back on studies.
It is not a healthy development, when viewed against the country’s objective of increasing the pace of creating local human capacities to run its institutions.
Saying so does not however imply that we condone actions and decisions which suppress the basic rights of the students in these institutions nor do we give blanket approval to their chosen responses.
Our concern is the cost seen and unseen of these distractions and a seeming resignation to the chaos by society. Shouldn’t society be engaged in finding a lasting solution to these crises?
These institutions are not only fountains of knowledge, but also dynamic frontiers, where minds are trained and encouraged to roam freely and intensively in the search for new ideas, never afraid of questioning what may seem to be unshakeable truisms.
It is the successful moulding of many such minds that will complement the efforts of our country at development, not forgetting that of opening new vistas for humanity in general.
Indeed we share the concern by the Head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania, Bishop Alex Malasusa that society has been viewing the riots and grievances at the institutions of higher learning as primarily the concern of the respective administrations, rather than an issue that society needs to collectively address.
“If we, as parents or members of the society, ignore our children’s concerns until they throw tantrums and when they grow up we continue to shun their demands, we leave them with no choice but to riot,” Bishop Malasusa says, pointing out that many of the students’ demands can easily be addressed, but negligence on the part of authorities, parents or society drive them into acts of protests.
“We need to listen to our children and youth, respect their ideas and if there are demands or problems that need to be addressed we must act on them promptly instead of waiting until disaster strikes or the students launch riots.”
A major overhaul of the society’s mindset is being called for here. We must start viewing our young men and women in these institutions in a new perspective and learn to listen to them patiently, even if what they sometimes say seems to us too idealistic to be implemented. What is important is that they want to contribute to the process of building the nation.
They are stakeholders whose ideas and concerns must be given due weight, if we are to achieve our objective of increasing local capacity to push development.