By Professor Issa Shivji
Director, Nyerere Resource Centre (NRC)
Mhe. Mzee Mkapa, Mhe. Mzee Msuya.
Dr. Hassan Mshinda, the Director General of COSTECH
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and comrades.
Let me add my thankful voice to that of Dr. Mshinda in welcoming you all to this our milestone function. It comes to mark the end of three years’ research work. You have made us proud by accepting our invitation and attending.
Some three years ago, together with two colleagues, Prof. Saida Yahya‐Othman and Dr. Ng’wanza Kamata, we embarked on what we knew then was an ambitious project, and what we know now to be a VERY ambitious project. This was to write a biography of Mwalimu Nyerere. I am pleased to say that Dr. Mshinda enthusiastically accepted our request to provide the funding for the project.
Any intellectual project of this nature is as exciting in the research as it is in the writing. We were fortunate that we were able to visit, both internally and abroad, various libraries, archives and personal collections. We also conducted numerous interviews. I am very delighted to see many of our respondents here today. All of them, including many of our leaders, graciously accepted to sit with us for long hours, sometimes in several sessions, to have conversations with us. We may have buried or mutilated some traits of Mwalimu’s legacy, but one has lingered on, especially among the first generation leaders, and that is humility. Former presidents, prime ministers, ministers and senior public servants; heads of the army and security and parastatals, and above all Mwalimu’s family, sat with us for long hours, engaging in animated discussions – frankly and completely devoid of arrogance. A couple turned us down; a few had selective amnesia, but those were rare exceptions. The majority opened up and eagerly talked to us. They gifted us their time and their rich memories, albeit with a little nudging from us. A few opened their private collections to our inquisitive eyes. This gives me courage to appeal to others who have similar collections to make them available to researchers ‐ maybe through the Nyerere Resource Centre! To all who received us with such generosity, we are extremely grateful. Ahsanteni sana.
The research for the biography had two expected outcomes. One, the obvious one, was the book, which we hope to complete in due course. The second, the less obvious, is what we are inaugurating today ‐ the Nyerere Resource Centre. The essential objective of the Centre was simple and clear to us from the outset – to store, preserve and make available to other researchers the material that we had collected in the course of our research. That is the archival function of NRC. COSTECH has agreed to provide us with a new home for that documentation aspect. But the other major function became apparent to us in the course of research. As we read the documents – Mwalimu’s file notes, letters and draft articles – and ruminated over them for long hours in animated and infectious exchanges, we felt that the ideas and thoughts expressed were not for archiving. Documents are archived, ideas are not, or ought not to be. Ideas must live and we should continually breathe life into Mwalimu’s ideas. The only way to enliven ideas is to critically discuss, debate, question and analyse them. Discussion is the mode of existence of ideas. It is through a clash of ideas that knowledge develops. We therefore, decided that the second major function of NRC would be to organise, in different ways and through different formats, a contestation of ideas. And what could be a better place to provide the space than a Centre in Mwalimu’s name under a Science – I underline Science – Commission?
There was another aspect that we discovered in the course of interviewing retired leaders, particularly those of the first and second independence generation. We found them agonizing over what they were observing, wanting to talk, to reflect on their own roles and their own place but also to engage in current debates and prospects for the future of our country. This made us add another important dimension to NRC ‐ a platform, a space, a forum for these leaders to meet with each other and to interact with intellectuals, scholars and researchers to discuss and reflect freely on vital issues, without being constrained by the bland niceties of protocol or the prejudices of partisanship. You will find these considerations and thoughts reflected ‐ albeit in a small way ‐ in our programme for these two days. No doubt this is an initial effort – we are learning to walk. Nonetheless, we are very much encouraged by the way the idea of NRC – KAVAZI LA MWALIMU NYERERE – has been received. We depend on all of you for support. Don’t expect unanimity or uniformity in our discussions; don’t expect partisanship and politicking in our debates and discourses. We aim to discuss and debate grand ideas. And through debate and discussion – and in our short training courses ‐ we want to develop strategic, long-term thinking. We want to take a longer view of history and we want to think beyond the next election, beyond political parties, beyond existing forms of governance and, for that matter, beyond existing forms of democracy and economics. Humankind is not so depraved that it can only think of democracy in terms of a game of musical chairs – changing the faces of its rulers every five years. No, we are not so bereft of thought that buying and selling of commodities – the market ‐ sets the limits of our economic imagination. We are starting small but we want to think big ‐ without expecting Big Results Now.
Let me end by mentioning two things, one fundamental, and another mundane. First the mundane and expectedly, it is the money question. We would like KAVAZI to be self-sustaining, at least in its operational costs and to achieve this we have set up an endowment fund. We are grateful to NSSF, and Dr. Ramadhani Dau, for making an inaugural contribution. We invite others to follow suit.
We are thankful to the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation for giving us a grant to cover the operational costs for the first year. Rosa Luxemburg is a great name in the history of socialism. She fought for the cause of the downtrodden, the oppressed and the exploited of the world. And she gave her life for the cause. “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains”, she said.
Indeed. And noticing our chains is not enough. We noticed the chains of slavery, we moved, and broke them. We felt the chains of colonialism, we moved under the leadership of Mwalimu, and set ourselves free. Now we must perceive the intellectual and ideological chains of mental slavery, neo-colonialism and neo-liberalism, and move to unshackle them. May KAVAZI make a small contribution towards that movement.
Second, and more significant is the name ‐ KAVAZI LA MWALIMU NYERERE needs to be explained. There have already been surprised enquiries and raised eyebrows. The Kiswahili for archives is MAKAVAZI. It has no singular. But we wanted to accentuate both the singularity and the greatness of this particular makavazi, storing as they do documents by and on Mwalimu. We wanted a name and conceptualization which would reflect their distinction. We also wanted to demonstrate the infinite generative and creative capacity of all languages and of Kiswahili in particular. So, KAVAZI “la” Mwalimu, the great archives, to be made greater by what all of us can contribute to its diversity and depth. We are aware that there is no singular for MAKAVAZI, just as there is no singular for Archives. But, if the English speaker wanted to underscore the greatness of particular archives, he or she wouldn’t flinch from saying ‘The Archive”.