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Friday, February 27, 2015

Conference on African Languages & Disciplines

On behalf of Professor John Mugane, Director of the Harvard African Language Program, we are very pleased to announce the Sixth Annual African Languages in the Disciplines Conference, which will take place on April 23, 2015, at Harvard University.

We would appreciate if you could circulate the attached flyer widely, and we hope that you will consider joining us as we continue to engage scholars and African heritage communities in serious discussion about the contributions of African languages to the disciplines.

 A schedule of panels and other presentations will be available shortly. 

With best wishes,

Lowell Brower, Erin Mosely, and Stephanie Bosch Santana

ALD Conference Organizers

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Teaching in Swahili:A Big Step Backwards to What?

 Teaching in Kiswahili is a Big Step Backwards to What?

Chambi Chachage

When the chairman of the CEO Roundtable speaks notable people notice. After speaking eloquently on “Is Africa really “rising”?” Ali Mufuruki has now spoken about the new education policy. For him “Tanzania’s Latest Big Change is a Big Step Backwards.

This is how he describes the step: “This change has led to the replacement of English as a medium of instruction in primary and secondary schools with our very own Kiswahili.” He then adds this interesting disclaimer: “As someone who was educated in a developed foreign country that uses its own indigenous language as a medium of instruction from Kindergarten to University, you would expect I would be supportive of this big change”.

Interestingly, two informative reviews of the policy from experts of education seem to interpret the (actual) change differently. Dr. Aikande Kwayu is more in line with Mufuruki, they only differ in terms of welcoming the change: She writes: “The emphasis of Kiswahili as the language of instruction (in addition to properly teaching English) is a wise move highlighting the true spirit of Tanzania and correlates with the underscored importance of educating people for peace. Research and literature has it that language of instruction should be what is spoken at home – in our case it’s Kiswahili. Teaching our kids in Kiswahili will improve learning to the masses in Tanzania”.

However, Prof. Kitila Mkumbo’s interpretation indicate that nothing much has changed in terms of making a solid decision about the language question. In other words, Tanzania is still maintaining what we have referred to as a sera ndumilakuwili’ (‘schizophrenic policy’) as far the medium/language of instruction is concerned. This time, though, it has been packaged in a policy language that easily appeals to those in favor of Kiswahili.

Prof. Mkumbo categorically states that the “policy is evasive” in regard to the language of instruction. “On the one hand”, he elaborates, “the policy seems to heed to the consistent call that has been made for years by some educationists and Kiswahili zealots to use Kiswahili as a medium of teaching and learning throughout the education System”. After citing policy statement 3.2.19, he points out that, “nevertheless, the policy also stress” that “there is a need to strengthen the use of Kiswahili and English languages as languages of instruction at various education levels”.

By way of translation from the original Kiswahili version, Prof. Mkumbo also notes that policy statement 3.2.20 states that the “Government shall continue strengthening the use of the English Language in teaching and learning at all levels of education and training”. Out of this observation he thus make this poignant observation: “Effectively, therefore, the policy recognises both languages (Kiswahili and English) as media of instruction in our education system. As such, the policy is not helpful to the campaigners of using Kiswahili as a medium of instruction in Tanzania”.

Having read all these three interventions, among others, what is clear is that we all want Tanzanians to be both fluent in English and Kiswahili – and, if possible, other languages too, both local and foreign. Our bone of contention, then, is how to achieve that given that the current reality is that we are “backward” as far as such bilingualism – let alone multilingualism – is concerned hence my query: A big step backwards to what?

Mufuruki informs us, tantalizingly, that he “was educated in a developed foreign country that uses its own indigenous language as a medium of instruction from Kindergarten to University”. He also affirms that he has “always believed that being able to acquire and to impart knowledge in local languages is a mark of progress and cultural maturity, not backwardness or weakness”.  Then he confirms that “most developed nations from North America through Europe, Asia and Latin America to Arabia use their own languages as medium of instruction for all stages of schooling”.

So why does he go out of his way to buttress his argument on why we are not yet ready for the big change by quoting at length someone who simply dismiss all this on the basis of an uninformed take on why it is important to teach – as in communicate knowledge – in a language that both the teacher and student are more familiar with? Who said switching to Kiswahili is simply about patriotism and (cultural) nationalism? Can Biyi Bandele, “the London based African blogger”, whom Mufuruki agrees with in regard to this big change tell us how the British switched from Latin to English as the ‘language of knowledge’ without having to first translate each and every Latin (scientific) word?

Bandele is thus quoted in Mufuruki’ intervention as saying this about our new education policy: “Until every single Mathematical theorem and every single theory in astrophysics and cosmology, and in medicine, and in chemistry, and in every single sphere of knowledge is written or available in translation in Kiswahili and Igbo and every other African language, I personally will always reject and abhor that easy [and easily comforting, xenophobic language] that dresses itself in the ultimately empty, and cheap, and hokey, and cheaply sentimental rhetoric of noble nationalism. I’ve been to Tanzania, and I’ve been to Zanzibar. And I’ve been to many countries in East Africa. What Tanzania needs now, what East Africa needs now, and what Africa needs now isn’t another instance of brainless, reflexive, macho posturing [which this is]. What we need, what we really need, is to have tens of thousands - millions - of our best minds, schooled, not only in Swahili, Hausa, Xhosa, and Yoruba, and every major African language but also in English, German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and in Urdu, Hindi, Arabic, Farsi, Chinese and Japanese, and in every single language on this little planet called earth, where knowledge, not just cheap, populist, propaganda, is disseminated”.

Now who said that in order to communicate the knowledge about a Mathematical theorem in Kiswahili, you have to first write or make it available in Kiswahili? What matters is to be able to communicate it and make others understand. As long as the teacher/educator has read (and understood) a theorem – whether it is Pythagoras that comes from a Greek Mathematician and hence the Greek language or about Algebra that comes from a book an Arab Mathematician wrote in Arabic – in whatever language, all that is needed is for him/her to be able to communicate it to students in a language they all understand very well.

I took Mathematics in both O-Level (where I got an A in the National Examination of Tanzania) and A-level (where I did not reproduced the A but still got a decent grade) that were examined in English and I remember we used Kiswahili to teach other even though we were using books that were written in English – even some of our teachers used Kiswahili when they realized we didn’t understand them. For example, one did not really have to know the etymology of ‘differentiation’ and ‘integration’ to know what they really meant and how to actually differentiate and integrate. We could explain what these Calculus concepts meant and proceed to communicate – and understand each other - easily in Kiswahili by saying, for example, ‘diferentieti’ and ‘intagreti’, which were our own Swahilized versions of the respective English words. For us what mattered was communicating, i.e., understanding. 
There is also this curious connection that Mufuruki makes: “I can say with confidence that if Rwanda had instead changed the medium of instruction from French to Rwandese, it would not be the much admired fastest growing African economy it is today”. It is as if switching to English is what has been propelling its celebrated growth. He also argues it is “a good decision because in everything that matters (books, systems, teachers), English is very well resourced even in Rwanda and”, allegedly, “the change did not cause any major disruptions at all”. Hence for him this “change from French to English was a step up, not a step down as will be the case with Tanzania’s policy choices”.

Such a canny comparison made me wonder about Rwanda. I thus recalled a paper Nephat Maritim wrote in his research project at Harvard University in 2013. It is titled Language of Instruction in the Rwandan Education System: Politics of Exclusion or Inclusion?

It makes this interesting observation: “There are three different but related events that contributed to the adoption of English in Rwanda as an official language. The first one was a weakening French-Rwanda relationship, the second, constitutional amendments that allowed for the recognition of English as an official language, and the third was an increased influx of American and British influence in Rwanda after the genocide.”

After elaborating on these three factors in relation to economic rationales, Maritim raises these pertinent questions: “Although these economic reasons make a lot of sense, it is difficult to ignore other realities in Rwanda that complicate the language issue. Of all the people in Rwanda, only 8% speak English, 14% speak French, and 99% speak Kinyarwanda. In addition, there are more people that speak Kinyarwanda and French than Speak Kinyarwanda and English. Therefore, if the transition is to enable Rwanda to open up to the English-speaking world, it is clear from these numbers that only a very small portion of the national population is being exposed to the Anglophone world. This means that the benefits that accrue from being able to speak English only go to a small section of the whole population. Is this an establishment of the returnees’ hegemony over the Hutus as an act of revenge, or is it an instance of pure coincidence? Does it not seem like the preference for English is serving an exclusionary purpose just like the other language changes that we have seen over the course of the country’s history?”

Such a ‘minority’ is present even in some African countries that we, in Tanzania, regard as being far ahead in English proficiency. The only difference is that they have more of those ‘elites’ than us. For example, the other day I stumbled on a journal article that presented these disturbing statistics: “It has already been observed that English, which is barely understood by 25% of the more than 34 million Kenyans, remains the official language, and is used in most of the official realm.” Yesterday I was even more shocked to read this assertion from a scholar: “The Nigerian intellectuals hate English colonialism but they speak a lot of English which Nigeria has adopted as the official language even though over 95% of Nigerians cannot speak, write, and understand English language”.

What I find more revealing is that Dr. Baruani Mshale’s reaction to Mufuruki’s article raises more or less the same issues even though he has not yet read Maritim’s paper. He writes: “I will just talk about the misplaced praise for Rwandas embrace of English away from French. Yes, it has worked and yes there are teaching materials in that language. But there have been serious problems with adopting English in Rwanda. In the short run, this move has excluded a significant number of Rwandans/Rwandese who were living in Rwanda and has benefited a minority Rwandans/Rwandese who were living abroad. I had been to Rwanda several times before the move from 2003-2005 and many people were more conversant in French than English”. 

Dr. Mshale goes on to make this observation: “The adoption of English was not just for technical reasons as [Mufuruki] puts it. It was intended as a political statement to distance itself from attachments to the [Belgians] and [French] whom Rwandans believe didn’t do enough prior to, during and after the genocide in building a unity nation. It’s a nationalistic movement to detach from colonial relations similar to policies adopted in Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zaire etc post independence”. He then concludes: “There are so many examples of people who have been marginalized by the adoption of English in Rwanda. A 50+ practicing lawyer trained in French and practicing in French, suddenly has no job because he cannot use French in the courtroom. So many of these examples. I have been following up on Rwanda very closely. [Mufuruki] may have a point, but it is based on wrong premises and lacks concrete evidence”.

Yes, indeed, and for me one such point is Mufuruki’s call to “make decisions that will allow Tanzanians to grow”. The same arguments that he has been making against the complete switch to Kiswahili now could be leveled against the complete switch to English. Various research over the years have shown, over and over again, that we are not well (human) resourced as far as using English as medium of instruction is concerned.

All is not well even in schools that are hyped for not using Kiswahili as a language of instruction. For example, an abstract from a recent Investigation of Pupils’ English Language Abilities in Tanzania: The Case of English Medium Primary Schools reads: “This article is based on the study which sought to assess pupils’ abilities in written English language skills among English medium primary school pupils in Tanzania. The objectives of the study were to examine pupils’ abilities in constructing complete and meaningful sentences; to investigate pupils’ abilities in using tenses; to assess pupils’ abilities in using punctuation marks; and to examine pupils’ abilities in spelling words. The respondents were 240 pupils from four English medium primary schools, based in Mbeya and Dar es Salaam Cities. The data collection process was done using an achievement test and the collected data were subjected to item analysis in which frequencies and percentages of students exhibiting the specified abilities were computed. The findings indicated that the majority of the pupils had serious problems in the tested English language abilities. It was recommended, among others, that English medium primary schools should recruit teachers who are proficient in English languages that they could serve as role models to the pupils.”

Now imagine a country that pretends to be teaching Physics, Chemistry, Biology, History, Commerce, Accounting, Economics, Geography and so forth in/through English even though the majority of our teachers who are conversant in those subjects can hardly communicate effectively in English. Isn’t that being ‘backward’, and if it is, switching to Kiswahili is moving backwards to what? For Mufuruki this switch now “spell disaster for the development of the Tanzanian human resource on whose strength the very future of this country depends”. But aren’t we in a disastrous situation already as many a job interviews of Tanzanian graduates from our universities/colleges also attest?

I, for one, support the usage of Kiswahili as the language of instruction simply because it facilitates communication relativelymore easily and connects what is taught and what surrounds us in our environment. At the same time I support the effective teaching of English as a second language to make us really capable of using it. That is the best methodology of/for teaching a new/second/foreign language and it should never be confused with simply using a language as a medium of instruction, especially in a country with a very low fluency in English, hoping that students would automatically learn that language that way.

What we are now having due to our imposed communication barriers in the classroom and the examination room is what language experts call ‘subtractive bilingualism’ in contrast to ‘additive bilingualism’. Put simply, the former makes one lose on both ends – ending up knowing little of Kiswahili and very little of English. But the latter makes one gain both ways – Knowing more of Kiswahili as well as English. More significantly, the former subtracts knowledge through lack of effective communication and the latter adds knowledge through effective communication. So, why should we get ‘lost in translation’?

At the risk of being repetitive let me end by recycling an anecdote of my own experience with our exercise in madness, i.e., our repeated attempts at teaching English by making it a language for teaching other subjects, expecting a different result, i.e., learning English:

One day my teacher wrote this definition on the blackboard: “Species are groups of organisms that can interbreed to produce fertile of spring.” I knew the meanings of fertile and spring. But I couldn’t figure out how they fit in. Anyway, I memorized and reproduced it in the examination. As you can guess, I got it right. It was only later, much later, when I came to know what species are. Actually, they produce fertile offspring. I don’t know whether it was my teacher’s fault or mine. What I know is that, as a young boy, I frustratingly tried to breed fish. But, alas, they produced infertile offspring! I didn’t know why. What a missed opportunity to relate what I was taught with what I practiced!

May we teach English and teach in Kiswahili. Both can be done. Let us do so now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Woman Scream Festival - Call for Participation


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Studying Capital in the 21st Century

Dear Friends,  

We are very excited to announce a very special event put on by the Program on the Study of Capitalism. Thomas Piketty, author of the bestselling Capital in the Twenty-First Century, will be presenting as part of the Seminar on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism in the Ames Courtroom of Austin Hall (just adjacent to the Science Center) on FRIDAY, March 6 from 2-4 PM. Piketty's lecture will then be followed by commentary from Christine Desan (HLS), David Kennedy (HLS) and Stephen A. Marglin (Economics, Harvard). We hope you can join us!  

All best, 

The Program on the Study of Capitalism

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Publicity and January's Quest for the Presidency

Publicity and January Makamba’s Quest for the Presidency

Chambi Chachage

What happens to the populace when our bright and brightest do your political bidding? Who can stop a politician who has mastered the art of political performance? When he runs for the presidency would any critical analysis make sense for the citizenry basking in his brand? Why, in fact, should we analyze him critically?

January Makamba’s quest for the presidency is indeed an exercise in the mastery of image building. After my lengthy critique of his conversation with Padre Privatus Karugendo that has been published as a book, I followed closely its publicity in the social media. What struck me was the extent to which socialites and other superstars have been branding its form without a serious public engagement with its contents.

It was thus interesting to receive in my inbox (yesterday) Ben Taylor’s analysis on Can January Makamba Be the Next President of Tanzania?. Famously known as @mtega among the ‘twitterati’ in the blogosphere, Taylor makes this observation after noting that in 2010 the Economist, a magazine that Tanzanian business and political elites pay attention to, published a “surprisingly uncritical interview” with January: “Fast-forward five years and Makamba now aspires to become Tanzania’s next president. And with the same charm and media-savvy that won over the Economists writer, he has risen from a rank outsider a few months ago to become a plausible candidate”.

The keyword is “media-savvy”. And as we now know, there is this thing called ‘social media’ with its blogs, listservs twitter, whatsapp and facebook. So we are also talking here of  ‘social media-savvy’.

No wonder yesterday we also received January’s letter via an email to Wanazuoni’s listserv. He wrote it – in his then capacity as the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Energy and Minerals – to the then newly appointed Minister of Energy and Minerals in 2011. Why is it about to go ‘viral’ now in 2015?

In a way it is a response to those of us who have been questioning his role, if any, in fighting grand corruption. This is a difficult critique to respond to no wonder even the sympathetic Taylor has this to say in his analysis of the recently-launched book on January: “But it’s easy to be tough in general terms, and anyone reading this book hoping to get Makambas views on specific past corruption scandals - Escrow, EPA, Richmond or the BAE radar - will be disappointed. I wasnt expecting any different….”

Yet the social media-savvy politician is relentlessly branding himself as the brand new hope for/of Tanzanian youth. And Taylor seemingly agrees when he says: “Makamba is arguably the best-placed CCM candidate to draw younger voters away from opposition parties, particularly Chadema, and back to CCM.  Besides his youth, he is relatively untainted by the corruption scandals of recent years and has avoided the worst excesses of CCM factionalism. He would probably deliver the party a bigger victory than any of the other likely CCM aspirants”. 

His apparent political ally in rallying the youth in(to) politics, Zitto Kabwe, who appears together with him in the last photograph in his recently launched book, wrote this ‘endorsement’ in 2010: “The constitution of Tanzania requires one to be 40 years old (not 45) and above to qualify for President. My friend January will be 41 in 2015… January is one of the brightest people I have ever met. According to information online he went to St. John's University, a Catholic university in Minnesota. A top school as far as I can gather….”

Such is the image that has been publicized over the last five years. In the spirit of building this image in July 29, 2013 January wrote about his Life and Times in the Presidency: The Teleprompter Magic. Therein we see the making of presidential campaigner portrayed as a brilliant political strategist. Earlier, in July 25, 2013, the facebook-savvy diplomat wrote this portrayal that numbed the nerves of those who questions his inexperience and massaged the ego of the incumbent President who partly holds the keys to the post-2015 presidency: “Lesson: diplomacy is tough and as President you have to be on top of the game. In my time working for President Kikwete I was amazed everyday at how good a diplomat he is”.

In July 27, 2013 he also wrote in his blog about his ‘experience with the presidency’, thus showcasing his apparent ‘influence’: “I was fortunate that President Kikwete is very open-minded. But you will have to be very well prepared to defend your arguments, as he will challenge you – sometimes with angles you hadn’t seen or facts you hadn’t considered. If you withstand the challenge, he will take your views on board.”

My attempt at writing a satire about January’s campaign for a parliamentary seat in 2010 failed miserably as the majority of its readers interpreted it as a praise song thus missing the motive of its writer. It has this line that probably captures the essence of this brief analysis – the need to look beyond the brand: “But it is not only this ‘youth power’ that is behind the rise of January Makamba. One only has to watch the video clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQevWZqk6Fs) to understand what kind of force was and is behind his stride. Here is a master strategist who knows the role of the power of performance in politics in this ICT age.” Now imagine when such a performer is the Deputy Minister responsible for communication in the country. 

Ironically, the name of the month of January is derived from Janus, the double-faced Roman god. He had one head/face looking back and another looking forward. By way of analogy, this could help us with a methodology of analyzing a brand that has become so ubiquitous to the extent that it has the potential of hypnotizing/duping/hoodwink us. What we need is to look back and forward closely and simultaneously, that is, critically.

Being ‘part and parcel’ of the CCM’s presidential campaign team in 2005, January learned from ‘the best’. By that I mean the best in ‘political machination’ that was dubbed ‘mtandao’ i.e. ‘web/network’. But some may say, ‘oh boy, he is his own man now’ yet one shudders at the thought of a ‘back to the future’ déjà vu.

That is the eerie feeling I got when I read this from a potential young voter: “I mean I am really rooting for January and if he does get the presidential ticket to run I hope I will not be voting for him because of his charisma and good looks (we did that 2005 and 2010 and look how great that worked out :-)”.

January is over. October is around the corner. May we probe and vote with both our emotional hearts and rational minds. Amen.

Africa

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Tanzania

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Dar es Salaam

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Karibu kwenye ulingo wa kutafakari kuhusu tunapotoka,tulipo,tuendako na namna ambavyo tutafika huko tuendako/Welcome to a platform for reflecting on where we are coming from, where we are, where we are going and how we will get there

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