Monday, August 22, 2016
Reading Khanga, Exploring Academia
With excitement I picked a topic on “Reading Khanga as a Historical Source”. History, whom I have met a few times, seen here and there is becoming a familiar figure. I can listen, laugh or even ask him when he permits. But when I want to talk, he wants evidence. He says if he had let everybody talk he would have died in infancy. He survives on evidence. It has to be his story.
I said “Mwanamke hupigwa kwa upande wa khanga” (A woman is beaten by a piece of khanga). He replied: “Can it be verified or revisited?” It is not just evidence, terms and conditions apply as well. The evidence has to be weaved into arguments and may be then he will listen, depending also on this patron’s mood.
I am struggling, not just with evidence and argument, but also with Objectivity. He works in the discipline office, he trains you to distance yourself from yourself. And if you try to bypass your non-academic memory and thus become a big time professor, then people can listen to the memory of that young woman. He assures you they will love how you turned frustration into inspiration. You will be a living monument, book after book, and conference after conference, until you shake hands with the Marx, Hobbes and any of your favorites men of letters and historians, in print. If you want to have a conversation with yourself, don’t be loud – and use holidays, not school time.
Yet I thought I was writing about my womanhood and the femininity and masculinity around me. Of that khanga we used as a curtain in the village house, I may not be able to speak about it now. It is the gap I have found in the studies on khanga that I am supposed to focus on even if the literature confines it to embodiment. As a friend recently reminded me, I claim to come to the Academy have come to write stories my mother can read. Stories are for verandas, he insists; if trends allow, they will be archived, it is the new truth I found. Objectivity says I should grow out of my mother’s khanga.
After navigating Postmodernism, Long Durée, Marxism and all their cousins, holidays are coming. How am I going to tell my mother the story of khanga? Of my grandmother whom I know partly from her photos and somehow connected to through the khanga? She did not feel as distant until I read that I am not also connected to other women’s struggles here but also to the whole of the Swahili coast, the Indian Ocean World and even the Dutch who produced early khanga. I am now connected to people from the late 19th century who will never reconnect with me.
Academics are busy reading people as problems and reading each other as debates. I am on that path now of reading, historicizing and trying to ask the right questions about khanga. My memory is not even of the native informant; it is that of the research assistant. Now I am not sure whose essay this is, those who have felt something for khanga and written about it or I who claim to be the legitimate heir apparent of khanga stories. It is funny that we read Machiavelli’s hopes as concrete program and I cannot even share a bit of my memory. Or when I do, I declare almost with embarrassment that it is my own voice.
After that we say: “subaltern this, marginalized that!” Bear with me, I am learning; I am not the ‘minority’. That term comes with political and economic or even social marginalization. I feel like to raise my voice for the sake of my memories is attempting to sail alone while others have big vessels and have accumulated the knowledge to challenge the sea. No wonder during my holidays a year ago my aunt told me:
“You should be grateful, when you finished high school while some of your colleagues were dropping out pregnant. Truly, many of your peers from University are married, but don’t you know how men can get when you are educated? You go and read at peace while thanking God for all he has done to you. But bring us good news before you finish. The way I see you, it will be a Muzungu.”
These readings are probably adding to my frustrations. This will not reach a psychiatry level because it is not under ‘nervous conditions’. The Swahili are cosmopolitan people, so the books read. When I tried speaking my parents’ language, they said I am Mswahili because of the heavy accent. There is a man who was looking for some degree of belonging in relation to my parents’ ‘tribe’– and supposedly mine too – to propose. The ‘interview’ included these prerequisites: if I could speak the Haya language, cook matoke and knew my clan name given that I was born and raised in Dar es Salaam. Once a young man from my neighborhood whistled to me, one dada told him (for me too to hear) “Her caliber are men from Masaki/Oysterbay” i.e. Uzunguni. But Keko for me is Uswahilini. Our parents may speak ‘vernacular’ to us, but we played in Kiswahili with friends, listened to Radio Tanzania and English was the ‘Math’ of primary school where all subjects were in Kiswahili.
What rubs salt to my wounds is that the scholars I choose to blend in with in the humanistic traditions don’t have me in mind when they write about the Swahili. It is as if they have turned the binoculars upside down. For them, Swahili is Muslim and patriarchal; Zanzibar and Mombasa.
So, here I am, hanging out with besties in Dar and following a bit of trends on Insta. I am just trying to see how I slot in the ‘grey areas’ I found about khanga while Nita is swearing at her mother that Ambindwile is not the father of Chimwemwe’s baby. Yet all along, I was reading so as to connect with my friends and our mothers; and the few times we have bought each other khanga in turns.
And here I am claiming to be in a humanities college. Have we imagined these humans too much that they reflect theory? Are humans are in the same direction but in different lanes which command different road safety instructions? Or what is social about this science that will deprive me of the social life that I have longed for the whole year?
Sunday, August 14, 2016
Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Reforming Makerere: Mamdani's Dream Deferred?
"The inspiration could be from the University of Dar es Salaam but the articulation from Columbia University" - Issa Shivji
This is one of those embarrassing moments when a writer ought to declare his 'conflict of interests' at the outset. My reading of Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire's Decolonising Makerere: On Mamdani’s Failed Experiment is colored by my personal and public interactions with the intellectual he is critiquing and his students at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR). Putting these camps into conversation would enable one to see why compelling as they are, most criticisms in the cited critique are confounding.
Our problem starts with Mwesigire's conflation of Mamdani's conceptions of colonialism and neoliberalism as well as treating the institute as if it is the embodiment of the university. Let us start with the latter. He writes: "Mamdani has said that the fate of Makerere affects him personally – commenting that “as a product of Makerere…I should also play my part in this reform process” – and in 2010, he got his opportunity to play this role when [he] was appointed director of....MISR." The verdict on the 'Nyanzi Affair' is then used as the basis of concluding that "Decolonizing Makerere" is "Mamdani's Failed Experiment." Hence we are told "Makerere’s march to become an inferior replica of an Anglo-American university in the name of “excellence” continues, led by Mamdani."
Now let us revisit the 'text of talk' that informed the piece Mwesigire cited and see if Mamdani had such a big dream and role. In a section entitled 'Decolonization', Mamdani aptly argues about the centrality of both research and producing researchers in making a university independent. The most important lesson they learned in the first six months, he pointed out, was the need to deepen their understanding of what it means to do so. "We could start a PhD program at MISR and borrow the curriculum from Columbia or Harvard", he further noted, but argued that they "would then be a satellite station of Columbia or Harvard...." This, he noted, left them with these questions: "What should we teach, at this time and in this place? What should be the content of our curriculum?"
Yet Mwesigire claims that Mamdani said "that a university becomes independent only if it is research-based, in combination with teaching." If that were the case, so many a university in Africa would be decolonized! What Mamdani actually did was to revisit the "protracted" search for an answer on how to come up with a decolonized curriculum. This was hardly a case of a Savior of Makerere who knew exactly how to decolonize its teaching.
Here is snapshot of what they went through:"We began by holding a brainstorming session with colleagues in the Humanities and Social Sciences at Addis Ababa University and the University of Western Cape. In 2011, we held five workshops under an umbrella title: Contemporary Debates. The idea was to invite scholars from around the world; not just from the Western world, but from the entire scholarly world, including China, India, and Africa."
In doing so, their dream was to get a new "curriculum global in content but crafted from a Ugandan, East African and African perspective." Thus, for Mamdani there is no way decolonizing the university could only be about doing research and producing researchers as those are neutral processes. In fact, he insists that the "question of perspective is important because research is not about finding answers to preset questions but about formulating new questions in response to both the evergreen flow of life and ongoing debates in and around the academy" as the "answer you get depends on the question you ask and the question you ask depends on who you are, where you are, and the dilemmas." How then can Mwesigire miss this apt point that implies that colonized questions tend to yield colonial answers in un-decolonized research settings?
Without presenting any analysis of the content of the curriculum that came out of that lengthy process or even the list of courses that is freely available on MISR's official website, Mwesigire jumps to this conclusion: "The PhD programme could also be critiqued from a decolonial perspective. Mamdani shied away from decolonising the structure and form of the university, and MISR’s PhD followed disciplinary modes developed in Western universities. Generally, Makerere remains a mimic of British and US universities aspiring towards their definition of excellence." There goes the conflation.
For sure - and to be fair to Mwesigire - the painful process of decolonization that Frantz Fanon eloquently unpacked on the eve of independence has not been fully achieved at Makerere in general and MISR in particular. However, intellectual honesty demands that we also deal fairly with Mamdani by providing evidence, if any, of his allegedly shying away from decolonizing MISR's PhD program.
Probably no one is a better candidate to 'vouch' for Mamdani than Sabatho Nyamsenda who is among those Mwesigire refers to as "dissenting Makerere students." In a debate we had on our network of 'Wanazuoni: Tanzania's Intellectuals', in 2015, I argued that, historically, the inspiration behind the new MISR was not 'purely' from African institutions. Nyamsenda's rebuttal was categorical if ironical: "MISR haifuati mfumo wa kimarekani. Nitajie inter-disciplinary PhD huko Marekani. Wamarekani wenyewe wanakuja kujifunza toka kwetu. Hiyo inter-disciplinarity inatokana na mapambano ya wanafunzi na UDSM miaka ya 1960. Iliundwa kamati maalum ya kufuta disciplines UDSM na kulikuwa na [midahalo] mikali juu ya hili. Fuatilia mijadala hiyo, nyaraka zipo; na wapambanaji wenyewe akina Hirji, Shivji, Visram, wapo. Inspiration imetoka UDSM sio Columbia." What he meant, if my truncated translation would do him justice, is that the inspiration came from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) where Mamdani once taught rather than Columbia where he has been teaching and even Americans come to learn from them at MISR.
Elsewhere, Nyamsenda basked in the success of student struggles in shaping the curriculum when I cited this statement from Mamdani as a proof that there are also influences other than African: "We agreed that nothing less than the development of a process of endogenous knowledge creation, including a full-time, coursework-based, inter-disciplinary PhD program, would do... Though we started with this ambition, the tendency was to borrow the curriculum from the Western academy – wherever each of us had just taught or graduated from – as a turnkey project. So students in the MISR doctoral program were supposed to take two courses in theory, Western Political Thought, Plato to Marx in their first year and another titled Contemporary Western Political Thought in their second year. At the same time, The Muqaddimah was to be read in a third course titled Major Debates in the Study of Africa. It is the students who began to ask whether we could redesign the theory courses so they are less West-centric and more a response to the needs of this time and this place. It is in this context that we began reading The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, first in a study group in 2011 and then in a PhD seminar in 2012."
So, what happened between 2015, when Nyamsenda affirmed the ongoing decolonizing process, and 2016 when he asserts, just like Mwesigire, that MISR's PhD Program is highly Americanized?
Could it be that the personalization of the decolonization struggles between strong (academic/activist) personalities - the Mamdanis, Nyanzis, Nyamsendas and Naimasiahs - at MISR has drawn the Mwesigire towards picking sides at the expense of capturing the nuances? As we pointed out in Misery at MISR: Looking Beyond Mamdani and Nyanzi, it is important to go to the crux of the matter.
By invoking phrases such as "the Mamdani experiment" and "the one-man vision at Makerere", Mwesigire is even closing the door that the revolutionary 'troika' of 'dissident' MISR students have been attempting to open for the sake of 'survivors justice' in this diagnosis: "Therefore, while the MISR project was established as anti-neoliberal, anti-colonial, enough thought and reflection did not seem to have gone into the institutional set-up to house this dream."
Don't you think deep down, in his intellectual core, Mamdani would not agree more with his students? After all, he is the one who argued that, institutionally, "the starting point of the critique of neoliberalism in higher education is to recognize that a university is not a business corporation but a place for scholarly pursuit. Its objective is to maximize scholarship, not profits. It is true that no one who lives in this world, even those with otherworldly pursuits like religious organizations, can afford to be blind to financial constraints and that a university is no exception to this rule. But if scholarship is indeed our core mission, then we must be prepared to subordinate all other considerations, including the financial, to the pursuit of scholarship. To forget this would be to lose our way."
Lest we forget, Langston Hughes thus remind us, rhetorically:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Posted by Chambi Chachage at 6:06 AM
Monday, August 1, 2016
Makala yaliyoandikwa kwenye Gazeti mmoja nchini Botswana na kuwasilishwa kwetu na rafiki kutoka Uganda yamechochea mjadala kuhusu hatma ya Uchaguzi wa Mwenyekiti wa Kamisheni ya 'Umoja wa Afrika (AU)' uliosogezwa hadi mwakani kufuatia 'kura kutotosha'. Tukumbuke kwamba Botswana ni nchi mojawapo iliyokuwa na mgombea wa nafasi hiyo, Pelonomi Venson-Moitoi, ambayo kwa sasa inashikiliwa na Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma wa Afrika Kusini. Lakini tukumbuke kwamba uhusiano wa Rais wa Botswana, Ian Khama, na AU umekuwa unatiliwa mashaka na baadhi ya wadadisi wa mambo. Uganda nayo ilikuwa na mgombea wake, Specioza Wandira Kazibwe, ambaye (alikuwa) 'anaungwa mkono' na Serikali ya Tanzania. Blogu ya Udadisi inauwasilisha uchambuzi ufuatao wa kimuktadha uliofanywa na Mwanazuoni Dastan Kweka ili kutusaidia kuelewa nafasi ya Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete kukikwaa kiti hicho na hatma ya Diplomasia ya Tanzania katika Nchi za Maziwa Makuu, Afrika Ya Mashariki na Kusini:
Ili tuelewe chimbuko la huu wasiwasi wa kama Rais (Magufuli) atamuunga mkono Rais Mstaafu (Kikwete) katika kuwania nafasi ya Mwenyekiti wa Kamisheni ya Umoja wa Afrika, AU, (kama itatokea), ni vema tukaangalia ni namna gani Rais (Magufuli) ameshirikiana na Rais Mwingine Mstaafu (Mkapa) katika jukumu lake la usuluhishi (facilitator) wa mgogoro wa Burundi.
Baada ya Rais Mstaafu (Mkapa) kuteuliwa na Jumuiya ya Afrika ya Mashariki kuwa 'muwezeshaji' wa juhudi za kutatua mgogoro wa Burundi, alianza kuzunguka katika ukanda huu kuonana na wadau mbalimbali ambao aliona ni muhimu katika kufanikisha mkutano wa kwanza (Tukumbuke kuwa ule uliokua umepangwa Desemba (2015) kule Uganda ulikuwa wa 'uzinduzi wa mazungumzo', na uliopangwa mwezi wa Februari na baadaey Machi (2016) haukufanyika. Hivyo basi, baada ya mzunguko, Rais Mkapa alimalizia kwa kuonana na Rais Magufuli na baada ya mazungumzo yao aliandika kwenye ukurasa wake wa twitter kuhusu 'kuruhusiwa' kufanya mkutano wa kwanza, kama inavyoonekana hapa chini:
Got green light from my President, my first session of the Burundi Dialogue will be in Arusha from 2-6 May @jumuiya
Ni vema kukumbuka kuwa kipindi Rais Mkapa anasema alikuwa amepata ruhusa (na uungwaji mkono?), Rais Magufuli alikuwa ametoka Rwanda mapema mwezi huo ambako alishiriki katika maadhimisho ya kumbukumbu ya mauaji ya kimbari ya Rwanda (Tarehe 07/04/2016). Pia ni vema kukumbuka kuwa, wiki moja tu baada ya Rais Magufuli kutoka Rwanda, Rais Pierre Nkurunziza wa Burundi alituma ujumbe maalumu kwa Rais Magufuli. Mjumbe maalumu "alimueleza Rais Magufuli kwamba ametumwa kuleta barua hiyo pamoja na shukrani za dhati kwa Tanzania ambayo ni rafiki, jirani na ndugu wa kweli wa Burundi kwa ushirikiano mzuri inaoupata" (msisitizo wangu).
Jambo ambalo lilikuwa la wazi katika ujumbe maalumu uliotumwa na Rais Nkurunziza na ambalo halikuandikwa na gazeti nililolinukuu hapo juu ni kuwa Rais Nkurunziza alikua na hofu na hatua ya Rais Magufuli kufanya safari yake ya kwanza nje ya nchi kwa kwenda Rwanda, ukizingatia uhasimu wa muda mrefu baina ya nchi hizo mbili. Hivyo lengo hasa lilikuwa ni kuikumbusha Tanzania kuhusu uhusiano wake na Burundi na hasa kwa Burundi/Nkurunziza kuonesha nia yake ya kuendelea kuimarisha mahusiano hayo. Mbali na ujumbe huo maalumu, uhusiano baina ya Tanzania na Rwanda umezidi kuimarika na matokeo yake, kwa upande mwingine, uhusiano baina ya Tanzania na Burundi umeendelea kudorora. Rais Magufuli amenukuliwa katika vyanzo mbalimbali akimuita Rais Kagame 'ndugu yangu, kaka yangu' n.k.
Pia, ni vema kuweka wazi kuwa, mazungumzo ya kwanza yahusuyo mgogoro wa Burundi yaliyofanyika mwezi wa 5 mwaka huu, yalifanyika katika muktadha huu wa kuimarika kwa mahusiano baina ya Rwanda na Tanzania na 'kutelekezwa' kwa mahusiano baina ya Tanzania na Burundi. Athari ya hatua hii, kwa mtazamo wangu ni kuwa Rais Mkapa, ambaye anaitwa 'muwezeshaji' (facilitator), huku Rais Museveni akiwa 'mpatanishi' (Mediator), ni kuwa ingawa Rais Mkapa amefanikiwa kufanya mikutano miwili mpaka sasa (Mmoja Mei na Mwingine Julai), amefanya hivyo katika wakati ambao Tanzania ina ushawishi mdogo sana kwa Burundi na haishangazi kuwa inamuwia vigumu sana kupiga hatua maana, kuna mantiki kufikiri kuwa, Nkurunziza siyo msikivu kwa Tanzania kama ilivyokuwa kabla ya mabadiliko niliyoyaeleza kwenye aya zilizotangulia. Kuna taarifa za kichambuzi kuwa Burundi ilipoona Tanzania 'imeitelekeza', ilizigeukia Angola, Afrika ya Kusini na China na Urusi (kwenye Umoja wa Mataifa-UN), katika mkakati wa kusukuma ajenda zake katika ngazi mbalimbali.
Maswali ya msingi ya kujiuliza na ambayo yanaweza kutusaidia kuelewa chimbuko la fununu za kama Rais (Magufuli) 'atamuunga' mkono Rais Mstaafu (Kikwete), ni je, kama Rais (Magufuli) alimruhusu muwezeshaji wa utatuzi wa mgogoro wa Burundi (Mkapa) kuendelea na hatua za kuandaa mikutano, hakujua kuwa kuendelea na juhudi zake za kuimarisha mahusiano yake na Rwanda tena kwa kasi ya ajabu, kungekuwa na madhara fulani, hasa hasi, dhidi ya juhudi za 'muwezeshaji'? Na je, kama alijua hivyo, ile ya 'green light' ambayo Rais Mkapa aliipata, ilikuwa ni uungwaji mkono wa roho moja au ilikua ni 'kafanye unavyoweza'? Nafikiri uzoefu huu unaweza kuwa ndio chimbuko la msingi sana la wasiwasi iwapo Rais (Magufuli) atamuunga mkono Rais mstaafu (Kikwete) iwapo atawania nafasi ya Mwenyekiti wa Kamisheni ya Umoja wa Afrika (AUC). Na hivyo basi, kutokumuunga huko mkono, kama kukitokea, kimantiki, hakutatokea waziwazi bali katika mazingira kama haya niliyoyaeleza.
Jambo jingine ambalo siyo la kusahau ni kuwa, tangu Rais (Magufuli) aingie madarakani, ameonekana kuweka mkazo zaidi katika diplomasia ya kiuchumi katika ukanda huu. Hata hivyo, zaidi zaidi anaonekana kuwa Rais ambaye anaangalia zaidi ndani (inward looking) kuliko kuangalia kote kote. Mpaka sasa hajahudhuria kikao chochote cha SADC, AU au cha ICGLR. kuna maswali mengi iwapo anaipa diplomasia ya bara zima (continent-wide diplomacy) umuhimu katika kufanikisha ajenda zake. Kwa mantiki hii, inawezekana pia asione umuhimu mkubwa sana katika 'kumuunga' mkono Rais Kikwete.
Rais Magufuli anaonekana kuwa na nakisi ya uelewa wa mambo ya diplomasia. Ukaribu wake na Rwanda unaibua maswali mengi kuhusu mustakabali wa diplomasia ya nchi yetu dhidi ya Burundi, DRC na Kenya. Kikwete ni mjuzi katika hili. Tayari Rais Kikwete anaonekana kupata majukumu mengi kimataifa kuliko hata Rais Mkapa alipostaafu. Kwa Rais anayeonekana kupenda umaarufu kama Magufuli, kumuunga mkono Kikwete katika adhma hiyo ni kuchagua (na kukubali) kuendelea kuishi katika kivuli cha umahiri wa diplomasia ya mtangulizi wake kwa kipindi cha miaka 4/5 ijayo - mpaka 2020/2021, na hata baada ya hapo.
Posted by Chambi Chachage at 8:51 AM