Monday, October 12, 2015

On the Futility of Ranking African Universities

A more important question from the point of view of sociology of development is whether, if nations are at different levels of development, they should implement the same development strategies or whether nations should develop and implement development strategies that are appropriate to their level of development and priorities at particular historical junctures. For instance, one wonders whether some of the kind of technology exported to developing countries is truly addressing the priority of their development challenges since all technologies have a social component to them. The developer of the technology does not develop it in a social vacuum. 

In a continent that has over-supply of labor and high level of unemployment, labor-saving technology (if that is the primary goal of the technological innovation) when not thoughtfully adopted and adapted, can worsen employment problems. External interests and criteria drives the innovation in the developing countries. Those that benefit from the system continue to justify it even though from the perspective of the masses it is not making a difference, or if so, very marginal.

With regard to education I raise the issue above because Alexander Hamilton wrote a very good critique of Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" which was published in 1776 when the USA was still an agricultural society. Industrialization did not take off fully in the country until after the civil war. Hamilton in response to Smith argued that, in the long run, free trade is good, but it is only good when the nations are more or less at the same level of development.

 Thus, given that U.S. was by 1776 behind European countries and an agricultural society, he said if the U.S. were to embraced Adam Smith's economic orthodoxy prescriptions, then comparative advantage means U.S. would specialize as a producer and exporter of agricultural commodities while importing manufactures from Europe. Hamilton thought that adopting such a development strategy is not in the national and security interests of the U.S. Thus he pushed for industrialization which Thomas Jefferson refused, preferring the U.S. to remain a nation of small farmers. The debate has implication for the role of the university or public education in developing countries.

The problem with ranking is that if the same universal criteria is used for ranking, it may mean while African countries at their present level of development are trying to figure out their paths, Western nations may be imposing priorities or criteria that, while not inherently bad, are definitely not responding to the concerns and challenges of the poorest of the poor in Africa. We can have many African scholars publishing and meeting the expectations of western journals or publishers, but this may have nothing to do in terms of responding to the challenges of many of the ordinary Africans that one meets in the continent especially when you interact with people in the rural communities or social margins of the society.
Indeed, the universities may be doing well but the books published by scholars are not accessible to the majority of the citizens of the country. The university remains truly an "ivory tower." Sometimes when you are trying to figure out your own path, you of course need to be aware of what others are doing but you need to have a certain degree of distance, autonomy and courage to define your priorities. When Sigmund Freud was trying to develop his own thoughts, he refused to read other people's work so that there will be no interference with his trend of thought and research orientation and he ended up producing something unique.

Alasdair MacIntyre argues that every kind of practice has its own standards of excellence, which is internal to the practice. A university in, for instance, Jigawa State, Nigeria, can function well as a university and be excellent in its own way but not by doing what a university in Lagos, the commercial center of Nigeria or even sub-region is doing. One can make the same observation for different regions of Kenya and Ghana for example. Each university should in my view, as Frantz Fanon said, discover for itself out of relative obscurity and historical moment what is its primary mission for its environment. And once it figures that out, it can pursue excellence in that respect or betray the purpose. 

An examination of the history of U.S. universities will show how they have changed across historical time depending on the challenges that the nation faced at any particular historical moment. There was a time when they had to introduce courses related to minorities because it was a meaningful way to address the pressing challenges of the nation. To impose development policy or criteria that is meant for advanced nations to nations still wrestling with basic issues of development is a kind of systematic distortion of a people's effort, even when it is genuine.

African universities and scholars can learn from all sources of knowledge, adopt and adapt them to their realities, but the public university has a fundamental role to serve the people in its society who are indirectly funding it. Using evaluation criteria that might mean great success for some people while not touching the lives of the masses is not only elitist but out of touch and a kind of epistemological violence.

Uzinduzi wa Filamu: Maisha ni Siasa

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Tanzania General Elections-A Retroactive Voting?

On Prospective and Retroactive Voting in Tanzania

The slogan 'Lowassa kwanza, viwanda baadaye' (which of course could just as easily read 'Fukuza CCM kwanza, viwanda baadaye') recalls ideas of 'retrospective voting' in political science. 

Bernard Manin in his (very good) book The Principles of Representative Government distinguishes between 'prospective' and 'retrospective' voting, which refer to two different possible mechanisms whereby we (as voters) are able to hold our elected representatives to account. Manin argues that only 'retrospective' voting could actually work as a mechanism for enforcing accountability. Here's why. 

If we think of voting as 'prospective', the idea is that we are voting for the candidates/party who we feel articulate the best policies and who we think will perform to our liking once in office. The problem here is that candidates can then promise anything and everything (e.g. they can all just promise 'mabadiliko', however defined). Once in office, nothing actually compels these freshly elected representatives to remain true to their campaign promises. The voters have already given them their votes (prospectively); they have no further power to hold their representatives to account. 

Manin goes on to argue that the only accountability mechanism that can (logically at least) work as a basis for influencing representatives' actions operates via 'retrospective' voting, i.e. voting on the record of the incumbent. If elected representatives know/expect that voters will judge them based on how they perform in office, if these representatives anticipate that by going against the desires of the electorate, they will get booted out at the next election, then these same representatives will begin to amend their behaviour to better suit what they believe the electorate wants (and not just offer up cheap promises). The trick is, representatives have to really believe/anticipate that voters will judge them on their record (and not simply continue to give them their vote out of 'loyalty to the party' or whatever). 

Now the whole prospective/retrospective thing has spawned a pretty big debate (and there are certainly grounds for questioning Manin's analysis). But on a basic level, what Manin's theory suggests about the upcoming elections (as I read it anyway) is that there is certainly a distinct logic to voting against CCM (even if one doesn't have complete faith in Ukawa as a replacement). The idea would be to show that what representatives do while in power matters, and that the electorate will punish them for going astray.

 By forcing a handover in Tanzania, this would encourage politicians (from both CCM and Ukawa) to begin anticipating more keenly how the electorate will respond to their actions while in office. That anticipation then becomes the mechanism by which voters are empowered to hold their representatives to account. 

I don't mean this as an endorsement of either CCM or Ukawa. I'm just giving a more long winded/jargon-filled analysis of what [the epigraph above] already put so succinctly. 

*This post is a response to a debate that Aikande Kwayu's blogpost has triggered in Wanazuoni's listserv.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Maonesho ya Picha za Mwalimu: 8-14 Oktoba 2015

Friday, October 9, 2015

Kwa nini hawaleti haya mawazo nyumbani?

Waafrika kupigwa butwaa Ughaibuni hakujaanza leo. Pamoja na harakati za kupinga Ubeberu wa nchi za 'Magharibi', hali hiyo imeendelea kutusumbua. Hata Wanamapinduzi wa Kiafrika hupatwa na hisia hii. Zifuatazo ni nukuu na rejea kadhaa zinazoonesha kwamba kuna hitaji kubwa sana la kubadilisha hali ya nchi zetu ili tusiendelee kubaki na bumbuwazi japo kwa kiasi kikubwa mabibi na mababu zetu wameshiriki kujenga nchi za watu:

Mwaka 1932

Mwaka 1984

"[H]ivi hawa viongozi wetu akina Msuya, etc. wanapokuja Washington kila mwaka, hawaoni hizi infrastructure za wenzetu? Kwa nini hawaleti haya mawazo nyumbani? - Freeman Mbowe (Kwa mujibu wa Emmanuel Muganda)

Mwaka 2015

Chambi Chachage:

[P]ia nilifanikiwa kufanya utafiti kwenye makavazi ya maktaba yao kuu [ya Chuo Kikuu cha Cambridge] na za Colleges zao 3 kati ya Colleges 32 walizonazo - wamejipanga vizuri mno, natumai ipo siku nasi Watanzania tutajipanga hivyo 

Anna Mghwira:

Ninajua inawezekana, na kuwa tunahitaji / tutahitaji kujikomboa, tunahitaji kujikwamua katika mfumo huu na kuhakikisha kuwa tunaanza kusimama kama watu, kama taifa/mataifa ya Afrika...sehemu ya dunia. 

Nguvu kubwa ya wengi inahitajika kufikia lengo hili, la sivyo naona kama waliotangulia pia wasipokubali kushirikiana nasi katika vita hii, itatuchukua muda mrefu sana kuwapinga na kujikwamua nao.

Mgune Masatu:

Nchini Japan, mathalan, suala la usafi na kutupa takataka linaanza kufundishwa nursery schools. Watoto hao wanafundishwa namna ya kutenganisha takataka (plastics, burnables, etc) na wanadeki vyoo wao wenyewe - I was so surprised! Na yote hayo yanakuwa sehemu ya maisha yao ya kila siku. Jambo kubwa nililojifunza kutoka kwa wajapani ni kuweka maslahi ya umma kwanza kisha ndio maslahi binafsi yanafuata. Jana nilibahatika kuingia kwenye maktaba moja ya ughaibuni - hakyamama sina maneno ya kuelezea! We will have a long way to go with our current mentality.

Aikande Kwayu:

Well, I still remember some of the main points of which I thought contributed to Japan’s economic growth and left Tanzania hundreds years behind despite lots of potential that my country has. http://aikandekwayu.com/japan-from-my-eyes/

Mathew Mndeme:

Nadhani swali alilojiuliza Mbowe hiyo miaka 30 iliyopita ni maswali ambayo kila Mtanzania anayeipenda nchi yake na kuumizwa na hali iliyoko anajiuliza siku ya kwanza anapotoka nje ya mipaka na nchi yetu, hasa anapokwenda nchi zinazopendwa kutembelewa na wale "waliojaliwa" kupewa/kujipa nafasi ya kutuongoza kisiasa na kitaaluma pia. 

Nakumbuka miaka kadhaa iliyopita mimi na watanzania wengine tuliokua hatufahamiani tulikutana kwenye ndege tukielekea chuo kimoja huko [Uru] Kishumundu [i.e. UK/Uingereza] kuanza masomo kwa muda wa miezi kadhaa. Wote ilikua mara yetu ya kwanza kufika kwenye ile nchi. Kesho yake tukaamua tutembee kidogo kuona mazingira. Tulijikuta wote tunashangaa kila kitu tunachokiona na kwa muda mwingi mjadala wetu ulikua ni kujuliza swali hilo hilo:

Viongozi wetu wakija huku huwa wanafuata nini? 

Huwa wanaona nini? 

Mbona vingine tuvionavyo huku vinahitaji maamuzi tu na ushawishi na vikabadili hili na lile bila hata kuhitaji rasilimali?

Huwa wanajisikiaje kutembelea huku kila siku halafu wanarudi nyumbani wanaendelea na maisha "business as usual" hadi watakapopata safari nyingine?

Haya mamilioni wanayokuja kuyatumia huku kila siku kwa mikutano, semina, kujifunza, mafunzo ya vitendo, ziara, mikutano...kwa nini basi angalau yasingerudisha fadhila nyumbani kwa kuiga mawazo na vitu wanavyokutana navyo huku?

Tulipoanza kuingia madarasani na kuona mfumo wa elimu na miundombinu yake tukaanza tena kujiuliza:

Mbona kule kwetu karibu maprofesa wote tunasikia wamesoma huku? Kwani hawakupata cha kujifunza wapeleke kwetu?

Mbona kule kwetu wanawaza kikwetukwetu sana kama vile hawajawahi kukutana na mawazo mapya?

Mbona kuna baadhi ya vitu wangeweza kufanya kwenye vyuo vyetu vikaleta mabadiliko na maboresho hata bila rasilimali nyingi?

Mbona, ..

Nakumbuka mjadala ule uliendelea kila mara kwa miezi kadhaa hadi tuliporudi "nchi ya kitalii yenye mlima Kilimanjaro na visiwa vya Zanzibar". Tulipofika nyumbani tukaanza kushangaa kuanzia pale "Njia Panda ya Ulaya": 

Kwa nini hapa kwetu kuko hivi? mbona hewa nzito? kuna harufu, kuna foleni, kuna vumbi, kuna,...kuna...kuna...kuna...kuna ...kuna...

Baada ya wiki chache nasi tukazoea kuwa haya ndiyo maisha, tukaacha kulalamika, tukaendelea na maisha na kusahau tuliyokuwa tunayashangaa huko Kishumundu huku tukiyazoea tena yale ya kwetu. Nikahisi huenda lililotukabili sisi ndilo linalo/lililowapata akina "waliolala mauti", akina Msuya, akina Warioba, akina Salim, akina Malecela, akina Miwinyi, akina Mkapa, akina Sumaye, akina Lowasa, akina Kikwete, akina Pinda na akina "Watakaokuja".

Jibu jepesi nililonalo hadi leo (maana gumu sijalipata) ni kwamba:

 "Sisi tunaridhika kirahisi sana na kwa vitu vidogo sana hivyo ya nini kujichosha? Zaidi ya yote hatujaona sababu ya msingi ya kuyafanya maisha yetu kuwa na thamani na dunia yetu ituzungukayo kutuvutia, kutupa matumaini na hatuthamini kuishi/maisha ya furaha"

Huenda tukaendelea kusimulia maajabu ya tunayokutana nayo huko Kishumundu kwa miongo mingine mingi sana hasa ukichukulia kwamba wao bado hawajaridhika na wanatafuta kuhamishia makazi kunako "Pluto" kama sio "Sayari Nyekundu".





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