UDADISI: Rethinking in Action
Friday, December 6, 2013
"I then truly realized that I was in a country ruled by Africans. For the first time in my life, I was a free man. Though I was a fugitive and wanted in my own land, I felt the burden of oppression lifting from my shoulders. Everywhere I went in Tanganyika my skin color was automatically accepted rather than instantly reviled. I was being judged for the first time not by the color of my skin but by the measure of my mind and character. Although I was often homesick during my travels, I nevertheless felt as though I were truly home for the first time. We arrived in Dar es Salaam the next day and I met with Julius Nyerere, the newly independent country's first president. We talked at his house, which was not at all grand, and I recall that he drove himself in a simple car, a little Austin. This impressed me, for it suggested that he was a man of the people. Class, Nyerere always insisted, was alien to Africa; socialism indigenous" - Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom
Posted by Chambi Chachage at 3:25 AM
Thursday, December 5, 2013
Explanations as Excuses
Could it be that we fail more when we explain why we have been failing? What if all our analytical explanations amounts to apologetic excuses? Does explaining helps?
Let me explain by way of anecdote. I have been trying to learn how to swim on and off since I was 7 years old. This time around a very good friend of mine invited me for swimming lessons. As usual, I started explaining my limitations to the trainer: Sir, you know what, my left leg is slow – I broke it when I was a kid and it’s a bit shorter!
Surprisingly, he did not even pay attention to my explanation-cum-excuse. Little did I know then that my friend had thus told him beforehand: “I am bringing a new student today, he will give you a lot of reasons why he can’t do this or that, just don’t listen!”
It may just be a personal story but maybe it also applies to the public realm. Here I am talking about the reasonable explanations that we give about why our country is stuck in poverty. Yes, there was colonialism. For sure there is neoliberalism. But what if our analyses of these constraints, among other valid reasons, are tantamount to excuses?
My interest is by no means to excuse the negative effects of structural constraints to our progress as a people. As an analyst I am not interested in seeing us turn into what Mahmood Mamdani critiques as those activists whose focus is “to act before seeking to understand.” But the activist in me would not like to be stuck in the other extreme.
The need to analyze, explain and thus know more about our concrete condition before we bring about social change should not turn into another exercise in excusing. In this regard activists that Mamdani critiques were right when recalling the Rwanda of 1994 as a time when we waited to find out, “when we thought we needed to know more” but, “it was too late”, as needing “to know turned into an excuse for doing nothing.”
A balance is needed if we are not to fall into the trap of feeling “we need to know no more in order to act” especially when what we (think we) know is “not enough to call for action.” This brings me back to the personal anecdote on my swimming classes.
There is no doubt that I knew enough about my conditions prior to the lessons. I have explained them so many times – in the soccer pitch where I can hardly exercise in unison with my fellow players; in the dance floor where I miss the steps more often than not; in wedding marching where my left leg goes up when others’ legs go down.
What I need to do is quit using that explanation – and many others that range from having hearing difficulties to having a bad posture – as an excuse. By the way, I am already overdoing it here – excusing myself by explaining! All I need now is to act.
The same logic can be extended to the society as a whole, especially one that Eckhart Tolle refers to, psychoanalytically, as having “national and racial pain-bodies.” They already know enough about why they are on the ‘periphery’ and our analysts are still busy studying them to know more about that ‘great divergence.’ Perhaps the matter of more urgency now is to indeed prioritize doing over knowing as we know so much.
For quite some time now I have been wondering why Ben Carson tends not to dwell on explaining the structural limitations that makes it hard to succeed like him. Why, I pondered, does he think anybody can rise above any condition just because he did?
Here is a sample of such seemingly Carsonian ‘pep talks’: “It doesn’t matter if you come from the inner city. People who fail in life are people who find lots of excuses. It’s never too late for a person to recognize that they have potential in themselves”; “So after a while, if people won’t accept your excuses, you stop looking for them.”
Now I am starting to make sense of Carson’s emphasis. We cannot simply explain our structural limitations away. But we can seriously expand our capacity to change them.
For sure, as Barack Obama correctly noted in his touching “statement about Trayvon Martin”, it can be frustrating when context is being denied. But, again, that does not mean societies and individuals that are ‘marginalized’ have to spend all the days of their lives explaining and explaining why they are where they are in the first place.
As one analyst once concluded: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” To that I would add: We have explained our situation away, in various excusable ways; the point is to change it. Let’s just act now.
 Mahmood Mamdani (2009). Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. <http://www.amazon.com/Saviors-Survivors-Darfur-Politics-Terror/dp/0385525966>
 Eckhart Tolle (2005). A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. <http://www.amazon.com/New-Earth-Awakening-Purpose-Selection/dp/0452289963 >
 From “President Obama Speaks on Trayvon Martin” < http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2013/07/19/president-obama-speaks-trayvon-martin#transcript>
 Karl Marx (1845). Theses On Feuerbach.
Posted by Chambi Chachage at 6:05 AM
Monday, December 2, 2013
When we, the Legal Aid Committee of the University of Dar es Salaam, did the Mama Wejja election petition in 1981/82, Sengondo Mvungi was a reporter with Uhuru/Mzalendo. He covered the Wejja case brilliantly, from an angle which is unusual with our media these days, or even then, – the angle of the working people. Mama Wejja was no big shot. She was a typist with Radio Tanzania earning Shs.500/= per month. But she had dared to petition against big potatoes, including district party bosses.
Mvungi later became my student. He joined with dedication the legal aid work that we were doing. A number of young people/students then did voluntary legal aid for the working people - workers, single-mothers, oppressed women, landless, tenants and peasants whose lands were being threatened to be taken over by parastatals. We travelled as far as Kigoma on legal aid camps. No one expected any rewards. It was not a career-building stunt. Today’s young generation have to draw lessons and inspiration from the commitment of young intellectuals then.
True, like his many colleagues then, he took a different path later in his life. But unlike some of his colleagues, who joined the Establishment and sometimes even worked against the interests of working people, by and large, Mvungi retained a soft spot for the poor in his life style and work.
I last met Mvungi when I went to address the Constitutional Review Commission. I was invited at the very beginning to exchange views with the Commission. As I was approaching my seat, having just finished my presentation, Sengondo spontaneously stood up and gave me a big hug. I was moved. That proved to be the last hug.
I hug you farewell, comrade, as you join our anscestors.
First (former) Mwalimu Nyerere University Professor of Pan-African Studies,
University of Dar es Salaam
Posted by Chambi Chachage at 9:47 PM
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Please spread the word to prospective post graduate applicants from Tanzania....
For serious prospective applicants for post graduate courses:
Please read the instructions on the link provided and direct any issues direct to them but be aware all info supplied in the link is self explanatory hence don't waste time in sending queries.
Posted by Temu, A.B.S at 3:07 AM