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Spirit of the times: Lenin, A.H Mwinyi and the University of Dar es Salaam

16th December 2012
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Ali Hassan Mwinyi

One complicated area in the development of German philosophy and for that matter in the inner workings of Marxian philosophy is how it is possible to identify current thinking as proper in relation to the needs of time, and how it can be determined, or identified, to be outdated.

 One reason philosophers were troubled by that question was the ineluctable experience of the French Revolution in 1789, where ‘for starters,’ all priests (and bishops) that were seen around were executed by revolutionaries after a mob captured the Bastille, the prison in Paris and the symbol of the Bourbon despotism.
Judging by the intensity with which people rejected the monarchy, the church and everything else attached to it, in a violent storm of fury the like of which had never been experienced in history, philosophy started to come to terms with the issue of whether indeed philosophy was capable of knowing what ‘the present’ needs, or thinking simply lives enshrouded in petty illusions.

Right here at home such a situation is beginning to come up, not at the level of mob fury putting to ashes everything the current government stands for, but rather a problem about thinking – not national thinking as a whole but rather what people experience at any time that the University of Dar es Salaam is in the news.

A keen columnist posed the question at midweek, in a fairly well established national language daily, as to what is wrong with UDSM, that for ages the message coming from that place is the same, not changing one iota, nothing new seems to be coming out of that institution.

What it means is that to those who listen to what comes out of the Hill – and not necessarily what ‘objectively’ or in detail comes out of it, in its various workshops, seminars and gatherings – they hear more or less the same message, perhaps with a slight variation depending on who is speaking, but scarcely changing in terms of content, that something different is heard, not once, never.

Even without going as far back as German philosophy to see how it reacted to the shame that visited French philosophy and religion as a whole, living in illusion until the masses rose to sweep everything aside that shocked all the thinking world, one can focus for a minute on a thinker whom the UDSM environment cherishes, namely Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Russian Revolution of 1917.

One of his more notable aphorisms (formulas and witty expressions) was the declaration that “the living soul of Marxism is the concrete analysis of concrete situations,” which evidently most ‘Marxism practitioners’ at the Hill would admit, but seemingly without a realistic conception of what ‘concrete analysis’ would represent.

This is precisely what discerning listeners seem to be missing from the outside, though unavoidably there is a large body of opinion – in like manner as the run up to the French Revolution – which is pleased, enthused, totally reassured by UDSM repetitive rhetoric.

It is not going too far to see in the UDSM outlook in that context, now especially encapsulated in the Mwalimu Nyerere Professorial Chair (with widening spheres like environment in a recent workshop), also seeming to have taken over some of the tasks hitherto conducted by the Research and Education on Democracy in Tanzania (REDET) whose donor funding channel dried out early 2011.

The reason wasn’t, as far as knowledgeable sources at the Hill could explain the matter, having anything to do with REDET performance in the opinion polling leading to the late 2010 elections but budget reviews especially in Denmark, in the wake of current, extensive belt tightening in the entirety of the eurozone, a situation that needs no belaboring.

Still there is an element of coincidence in the two events, that while REDET was denied funding owing to belt tightening, an ‘evolutionary’ verdict was also apace, underlining to all and sundry that it was incapable of scientific precision on polls.

In that case the UDSM is playing the same role as ‘salon philosophers’ were doing in France in the run up to the 1789 Revolution, as most philosophy was being put up (books and paid travel, holidays and large fees for education of royal children) by moneyed nobility, while the rising bourgeoisie largely struggles, and only those tied up with the nobility was having an easy ride.

Tied to the nobility was the church, the supreme power in how people ‘ate, drank or slept,’ which no one could differ with and remain stable in his office, and thus there was plenty of twisting of thinking so that it doesn’t anger the church and the nobility.

While in countries like Britain a profound struggle had taken place for a century, from mid-16th century to mid 17th century, that profoundly altered the church and anchored the feudal accountability system in clearer democratic context, nothing like that occurred in France; philosophy was enthusiastic of the French natural order, not UK innovation.

Making parallels between French philosophical decay (failing to see what the movement of society required, and only enthralled in its privileged and often corrupt role in maintaining feudal absolutism) with the situation in Tanzania is a bit hazardous, but since ‘nature abhors a vacuum,’ the noticeable lack of innovation and spirited attachment to ideas of the past requires an explanation.

 At the same time it is evident that the lack of dynamism at UDSM reflects the broader character of Tanzanian society, on the basis of some findings of Afrobarometer, its latest survey (mid 2012) for comparison with an earlier survey conducted in 2008, and issued in the past month by REPOA, a development research outfit. 
The relevant finding said that Tanzanians are nostalgic and tend to live in the past, in which case they are afraid of change –they don’t expect to improve their lives in the next year or so, but expect things to change within five years, with a new leader in high office.

That is precisely what the University of Dar es Salaam stands for, on the one hand vibrant expectations of change and being the most militant of academic gatherings in the country, a few of its lecturers or professors often in open rebellion against the government – not for systematic change but for profound change of leadership outlook to reassert and implement cherished ideas of the 1960s and ‘70s.

That is why those on the outside who are slightly keen for change in the way things are run fail to get a semblance of answers from UDSM research activity as it is propagated each time there is a conclave or gathering, but at the same time UDSM undeniably is a Mecca of conservative Ujamaa thinking around the country, and – let it be said – no academic institution in the country has so far attempted to take over the chair of philosophical or ideological innovation from UDSM.

There is no other idea in town that unifies academics but socialism; UDSM is simply the leader not an exception.
To take this analogy with the French Revolution a bit further, there is also potential for a similar result, first in a violent overthrow of the state of things by mass revolt rather than programmed change since academics is toothless and clueless as to what the problem is, and how it can be resolved, and political parties tend to around mass feelings that there are bad people (looters) in the government, or leading the country.

This combination of things is what leads to a French type of shift of loyalties, not to a new idea as it doesn’t exist, and it can’t exist in the circumstances, but by revolt which subsequently leads to adopting a different idea as if by default, in the absence of any other workable idea, or one that makes sense, which in France the cry was ‘laissez faire, laissez aller,’ meaning ‘let him do, let him go.’

It means that one should be free to do anything, go anywhere to seek out a living so long he pays taxes, not to break laws of monopolies, local taxes, royal privileges.
 This slogan did not come from France itself but nearby, chiefly from English economics of free trade sounded by Adam Smith in 1776, at the time of the US revolt against privileges that the UK was giving franchised companies to control the US market, then its colony.

This slogan did not cut ice with French thinking, which continued a variety of ideas that commerce doesn’t produce wealth, nor industry, but land – not quite far from Mwalimu’s 1967 slogan of the ‘prerequisites of development,’ which essentially means people working on the land create wealth, improve their lives and the country at large.

There was an auxiliary source of the idea of economic liberty (laissez faire) and untrammeled freedom, namely the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in nearby Switzerland, who was nearly everything to everyone, as he also inspired revolutionaries with the formulation (aphorism) ‘man was born free, but is everywhere in chains;’ unable to buy and sell land, labour.

In the Tanzanian context this slogan is only a rehabilitation or continuation of the ‘rukhsa’ thinking of second phase president Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who took over the country in a deplorable state after ‘Moses’ had brought the economy to patchy desert where everything was in acute shortage and corruption was rife as to who gets sugar, rice, kerosene, sells beer or gets what foreign exchange amounts – the latter allocated right within the walls of State House.

 UDSM ideology, following Nyerere in his apologetic and later attacking tone concerning IMF and World Bank conditionality, blasted liberalization because it touched the sacred groves of employment of graduates and managerial appointments for lecturers, board membership and consultancies.
With civil service reforms diminishing employment opportunities, UDSM stuck to this rejectionist viewpoint, and has no idea that economic liberty, freedom to buy and sell land as well as labour, leads to progress, till the country explodes.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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