Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rodney's Intellectual Shoes - Too Big to fill?

Find below an interesting debate in Wanazuoni sparked by Special Tribute to Prof. Walter Rodney:
This is a nice tribute.

Nevertheless, I have some serious reservations in respect to whether we are doing enough to honor and keep alive the spirit and dreams of this great historian and fighter. Walter Rodney was at UDSM in the hey days of its intellectual life. I have argued in one of my articles which is yet to be published that ``Tanzania is going through a phase of retarding intellectualism``. UDSM is not hereby excluded. Where are the hot and deeply ideological debates of the 1970s? 

There was a time when UDSM was  a theater for decoding neo-liberal secret service transmissions. But of now,this dear alma mater of ours is a den of consultants (with few exceptions) who stab us in the back whenever we think of revolt.
- Dan

It is possible that Walter was a capable intellectual, and probably he deserves to be celebrated for his excellence. But we need to understand that Walter Rodney's worldview was the product of the days he lived in. His self-identity was very much linked with the ideas of liberation: for him as an individual and for the peoples he identified himself with. So, naturally, like many of his compatriots, he aligned himself with the political-economic ideologies which provided answers for the experiences he had.

Now the times have changed. While in the past one could think 'they-against-us' now it can be 'us-against-us'. Those we considered comrades are now part of the same system we fought. Even within us we don't really know whether we are all one of us. Does an intellectual have to align or marry his thinking to a particular ideology to explain the world? Do we have to be limited to a certain paradigm of thinking to understand the what happens? We have had one generation of experience by seeing the world as we used to, and can compare the results with the experiences of others holding similar or opposing approaches. I think the results are obvious for all to learn what works, and what doesn't.

I theorise that, with the changes of time, UDSM has lost its orientation and cannot find a new purpose for existence beside manufacturing- thanks to one Mwanazuoni- 'half-cooked' graduates. The problem of that UDSM finds itself in springs from the nature of its previous 'reactionary intellectualism'. What happens when the object of this reaction 'ceases' to exist or changes its nature? The essence of one's existence gets lost. Reading from a number of people in this forum and other sources, I tend to think that some of these people can hardly see the relevance of their work apart from the ideologies they hold. They have to maintain the course, even by finding and inventing new causes to identify with- otherwise they are lost. How misguided they are!

Earlier this week I read your 'expression of outrage' on Goran's views on 'modernisation' of small scale farming in Tanzania. What can motivate a person to argue against 'modernisation'? Is it the idea of modernisation one is against, or the perceived consequences that he expects? Assuming that it is not the policies of modernisation one is against, why doesn't he address the need for a better regulatory framework to oversee the practices? Does this confusion of the distinction between forward-looking policies and corrupt practices arise from the writer's incapability to differentiate the two because, based on the ideology he identifies himself with, they are all one and the same? My conclusion was: take heed to observe Mwapachu's words. Otherwise you might end up fighting the same thing you want to achieve. Why not orienting yourself to address the practices? A review of the reasons for failure of Communism in Europe can be quite enlightening here. Don't throw the bath water out with the baby!
 - Charles
UDSM has lost its focus and partly because the "reactionary intellectualism" has repeatedly failed to identify, locate and analyse what to "intellect" on and about.

I believe the very same ends (goals) of the 1960/70 on political and economic liberation of a particular class/sect/etc remains. Only that the oppressor and the oppressed have changed forms such that it is difficult to revolt against. In my work for instance, I am comparatively analysing how rural communities resisted State interventions aimed at transforming human-forest interactions by comparing how communities interacted with the colonial governments (1890s-1950s), the independent socialist Tanganyika State (1960s-1980s) and the post socialist state (1990s - 2010). It is fascinating how local people in contemporary times fail to identify State representation at the local level since the state is now represented variously, inter alia, village councils, NGOs, private sector, district councils, researchers, consultants, etc. All these actors have State like tendencies, knowledges, powers, technologies, to the extent that rural communities confuse between them and hence fail to revolt effectively.Similarly, UDSM intellectuals have failed to identify what and how to do it in instilling the right kind of intellectualism among University graduates. The changes have been so abrupt such that the institution has become almost obsolete except for the consultants.

Your classification of the 1970s intellectualism at UDSM as `reactionary` is purely ideological and controversial. Reactionarism in the academic world has a belittling effect when used to describe a rival. It is often employed by bankrupt scholars. I honestly think `reactionarism` is reductionist and obscures analysis.  

In respect to your question
``Does an intellectual have to align or marry his thinking to a particular ideology to explain the world? Do we have to be limited to a certain paradigm of thinking to understand the what happens?``
The centrality of ideologies in analysis can not be overlooked. In fact ideology guides our line of thought and scope of interpretation. Basically,nothing falls outside the realm of  ideology. Every idea,no matter how trivial, is conceived as a result of influence from a certain ideology.  Even the so called Pragmatist approach,which is wrongly considered to be `less/non-ideological` comes as an amalgam of a compromise between two or more contending ideologies.  Knowingly or unknowingly ,we are victims of  this or that ideology. 

Nevertheless,we are not supposed to confine our thinking to a certain paradigm. But paradigms are invented to perpetuate and internalize certain ideologies. Unless you have an alternative paradigm from a different ideology,you can hardly see weaknesses in others. Let us be firm ideologues if we really want to be good thinkers.

I situate `the phase of retarding intellectualism` at UDSM and across the country as emanating from the victory and preponderance of  neo-liberalism (another manifestation of capitalism at its imperial stage). It is important to note that the nostalgic debates of 1970s took place under ujamaa and fortunately coincided with cold war politics. In 1986 Tanzania accepted WB and IMF package and thus NEW PUBLIC MANAGEMENT. The culture of entertaining consultancy over teaching draws its seeds from this transition. Higher learning institutions(UDSM) experienced acute shortage of funds and therefore few staff,a rarely updated library etc. This was a systemic and strategic assault on `ought to be` think tanks of a country. It is in this same period that the culture of ANGELIZING
NGOs and demonizing the state took shape. 

Ludicrous recruitment as my teacher (Shivji)  describes it,currently,haunts the need to reverse the situation. I have argued elsewhere that ``In this country where university education is a privilege, youths that luckily go through it are supposed to be the harbinger of true, pro-people and people’s revolution. Frankly, given the scramble that characterizes the process of getting into universities, successful students deserve the best education as per the challenges that haunt their identities, societies and nation in general``.  (From my article titled `Revolutionaries or Employees of the Revolution? : The Scourge of Mercenary Intellectuals in Tanzania-yet to be published.)
- Dan


Chambi Chachage July 1, 2012 at 2:17 PM  

Habari Bro,
My comments have not been appearing on Udadisi. It seems, they is some technical glitches on your side. This is a small comment I have written on the state of intellectualism at UDSM. I would appreciate if you post it on Udadisi. And I know you are busy but I would like to hear yourthoughts on my previous email.
Mohamed Yunus

Comment follows:

Theories are inmportant but they are in constant flux as history and context changes. Marxism has also evolved alot one could think of the Frankfurt School as one of the attempts to question, re-evaluate and extend some of its analytical capabilities in the post-Nazi era. But as a Tanzanian and an African who is passionate of African intellectual history and knowledge production in general, I am still perplexed at how we are so quick to use and defend western theories not recognizing that they are not "one size fits all" situation. I wonder where is what Mudimbe has called "African epistemologies and conceptual orders". I think this discussion of theory and context also replicates or undergirds the larger exchanges that has structured the socio-economic relations between the "more consuming and less consuming nation"s where the former is the place of value and knowledge and the latter where data or raw materials are extracted. Similarly, our institutions become a way to test these theories but not as places to produce theories and framework. I think, the consultancy culture is a good example of this mode of exchange. Mwalimu like Mudimbe did call for "locals modes of understanding and framework"--this exercise, I think has also been largerly abandoned at the Hill. The hill is haunted by the calls, sweat and blood of our antecedents that have invested in liberating our minds and bodies.

PhD in Anthropology at Brown University
Yale 2010
Jacob-Javits Fellow : Hewlett Fellow 2010-2011
ISPU Fellow 2011-12

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