Mamdani on the African University

Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani has an excellent piece in the LRB on the African University. Here are excerpts:

On the state of affairs:

The African university today is still very much what it was from the start: a colonial project with a monolingual medium of instruction, framed in terms of a European ‘universalism’ from which a large majority of the colonised were excluded.

On language (channeling Ngugi wa Thiong’o — an idea that keeps growing on me with age…):

Makerere

Makerere University

Is there an intellectual mode of reasoning we can describe as African, in the way Mazrui spoke of a ‘French’ or a ‘Western’ mode of reasoning? Not an ancestral or genetic mode, obviously, but one which weaves together a set of discourses communicated in a common language that presupposes – or suggests – an intellectual community with a long historical formation. Language is our first obstacle here. Most of those of us who have come out of colonialism speak more than one. The languages of colonialism are inevitably languages of science, scholarship and global affairs. Then there are the languages of colonised peoples – languages whose growth was truncated by colonialism. Our home languages remain folkloric, shut out of the world of science and learning, high culture, law and government. There are exceptions. In East Africa, Kiswahili is the language of popular interaction, culture, and official discourse, also the medium of primary and secondary schooling, but not of university education. At East African universities, it has the status of a foreign language, with departments of Kiswahili studies. It is not the bearer of a scientific or a universal philological tradition.

Finally, on decolonizing the university:

What would it mean to decolonise a university in Africa? The East African experience suggests that one answer would be the opposite of what is happening in American and British universities: reducing the cost of a university education, by state grants and subsidies, to make it more inclusive. In the first place, therefore, fees would have to fall. I was at the University of Cape Town from 1996 to 1999; in the years that followed – the heyday of South Africa’s independence – fees began rising. In the second place, there would have to be multilingual projects designed to provide Westernised education in several languages and to nurture non-Western intellectual traditions as living vehicles of public and scholarly discourse in those languages. This is not a demand for a revivalist project, but a call to include the languages of popular discourse, which in South Africa would mean centres for the study of the Nguni and Sotho languages and traditions (the opposite of area studies), and translation units, carrying the best academic literature – global, regional and South African – back and forth between the new linguistic centres and the older faculties. Broadening the referential world of African universities means competence in the languages which embody non-Western traditions.

Read the whole thing here. Mamdani serves a great narrative on the intellectual history of East Africa.

In reaction to Mamdani Chris Blattman makes important points in this thread.

Also, let’s bring Transition back to life.

Georgetown University Summer 2017 Hoyas in Tanzania Program

Deadline is February 7th, 2017. And Non-Georgetown students can apply. More information here.

You know you’ve lucked out when your school’s most exciting summer program is in the same country/region as your main research projects.

That was me this summer. Students took Kiswahili classes at the University of Dar es Salaam in the mornings and did research/internships in the afternoon. We also visited Bagamoyo and Zanzibar. And in the last week we topped it all with a visit to Arusha and safari in the Serengeti. While in Dar students stayed with host families (all faculty members) on the UDSM campus.

Here is my students’ summary of their experience:

You’re barreling down a dirt road through the middle of Serengeti in the late afternoon. Wildebeest are flashing by your windows but you’re in a race against the setting sun to get to the lodge before dark, so you keep driving. You feel tired, and also a little bit like you’re in The Lion King; you find yourself humming “The Circle of Life” as you try not to fall asleep. You’re jerked awake by a sudden slam on the breaks; the zebras are crossing the road. You try to wake yourself up. Professor Opalo tells you that, while everyone was sleeping, the car passed by a baby lion. . You find his opportune lack of witnesses suspicious. You resolve to stay awake, but find your mind drifting….

What have you done in the last six weeks? Well, most recently, you went on safari and you came within arms reach of a lioness and a hyena, a warthog and a zebra, an elephant and a wildebeest. Before that, you went climbing on mangrove trees in Zanzibar and visited Oldupai Gorge. You saw thirteenth-century ruins at Bagamoyo, Tanzania’s first capital. But in between all the big days were the equally memorable ordinary ones. And those are the days you’re thinking about right now (note: by now you’re probably at “Hakuna Matata” on your mental soundtrack).

A Day in the Life of a Hoya in Tanzania

6:00AM: It’s still dark outside but you’re already awake with toothbrush in hand so as not to lose your spot in the family line-up for the bathroom. You run downstairs to drink your chai and eat your banana and chapati before you have to leave for school. Then you run back upstairs because you forgot your malarone and back down again and out the door as you shout, “Have a good day!” back to the house girl.

7:00AM: You start your trek to school and pick up your friends at their various host families along the way. If you’re lucky, Baba will pity you as he drives by on his way to work and give you a ride. Otherwise, you continue on the sometimes quiet, sometimes chatty walk and stop every so often to take a picture of the local monkeys. You usually arrive 15 minutes before class starts and sit on the bench in the hallway to wait for Mwalimu to unlock the classroom door. All the professors strike up conversations in Swahili with you as they walk by and you get a little overwhelmed and immediately forget all the Swahili words you’ve learned.

8:00AM: Class starts. You start to remember some of the Swahili words you forgot in the hallway as you try to correctly recall your home address, the directions to your host house, and the name of your SFS major. Professor Opalo shows up and takes your passport but you’re not sure why. You just roll with it.

You can read the whole thing here. 

Non-Georgetown students interested in learning Kiswahili (at all levels) can apply to the program. Application details can be found here.

Also, my students are the very best.

Kenya is at peak Tanzania envy

There’s a veritable reason President John Pombe Magufuli is a Tanzanian, and not a Kenyan. It’s the same reason Chief Justice Willy Mutunga is a product of the University of Dar es Salaam, and not the University of Nairobi. President Magufuli embodies the immutable character forged into the Tanzanian identity by President Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the philosopher-king. It’s a national character of service and selflessness that made Tanzania the anchor of the African liberation movement — the Mecca of all black freedom fighters.

It’s a mchicha [sukumawiki] culture of simplicity that eschews public gluttony, impunity, and vileness. That’s why #WhatWouldMagufuliDo has become a household hashtag. Not since President Nyerere have we seen the likes of Mr Magufuli in Africa. There’s a famous quote, attributed variously to Alexis de Tocqueville or Joseph de Maistre, which speaks of the character of a nation, a people. It says that “In a democracy, people elect the government they deserve.” The keys to the nugget are “democracy” and “elect.” In other words, it speaks of the free expression of the will of the people through an open plebiscite. In Tanzania, the people decided to “elect” Mr Magufuli over the opposition candidate, former PM Edward Lowassa. Even before the election, Mr Magufuli had distinguished himself as the hardest working member of the Kikwete government. Mr Lowassa was wildly popular, but Mr Magufuli beat him hands down. The people spoke.

…… In contrast, faced with a stark choice in Kenya in 2013, my compatriots were said to prefer Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto over CORD’s Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka. The former faced charges for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. I was one among many who placed obstacles in Mr Kenyatta’s election. I argued that electing an ICC indictee wasn’t in the national interest. But voters were polarised along ethnic blocks and failed to see my logic. Today — three years after the election — Kenyans are more depressed than ever, and every new scandal sinks the country into a deeper funk. Most Kenyans today wish Mr Magufuli was a Kenyan. I hate to say I’ve no sympathy.

That’s SUNY Buffalo law professor Makau Mutua writing in the Standard.

This is among a long line of Kenya-Tanzania comparisons that often serve to highlight the relative moral/ethical deficiencies of the former. Kenyans are corrupt and boorish; Tanzanians are polite and virtuous. Kenyans are rabid tribalists; Tanzanians have a strong national identity crafted around Kiswahili as a national language and the great Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s vision for the Muungano (full disclosure, like Mutua, I am also intellectually enamored by the Dar es Salaam School).

Like all sweeping narratives there is some truth to these comparisons. And bucket loads of unsubstantiated hype. For example, under both Mkapa and Kikwete Tanzania had its share of mega corruption scandals, not unlike what happens north of the Kilimanjaro. Kenya ranks 145/175 in Transparency International’s perception of corruption rankings. Tanzania is at 119/175, still experiencing widespread corruption. The same slight differences are depicted in Afrobarometer survey results (See above. Tanzania is on the left. Question asks for respondents’ perceived share of government officials involved in corruption).

Also, the income of the average Kenyan is almost 1.5 times that of her Tanzanian counterpart. The infant mortality rates (per 1,000 live births) are 37 and 51 in Kenya and Tanzania, respectively.

Mwalimu once quipped that Kenya is a dog-eat-dog society. To which Kenya’s then Attorney General Charles Njonjo replied that Tanzania is a man-eat-nothing society.

Tanzania’s economy may yet outpace Kenya’s in the near future on account of the former’s solid foundation of nationhood. But for now I think it is fair to say that Kenya’s faux “African Socialism” beat Tanzania’s Ujamaa in delivering the goods, the morality of it all notwithstanding.tanzania

Oh, and what about the tired stereotyping of Kenyans as being more hardworking than Tanzanians? Well, according to Pew survey findings a bigger proportion of Tanzanians (than Kenyans) believe that the best way to get ahead is through hard work.

So there is that.