Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A quest for African ontologies and epistemologies


With reference to the ongoing discussions (in Wanazuoni) on African universities and diaspora academics, African academy and policy-oriented research, African scholarship, African education systems, the 'need' for innovation in African universities and 'innovation universities' in Africa and to what others think the need to Africa to have its own methods of evaluating things (Rev. Kishoka), I have been thinking about African ways of engaging with ontological and epistemological questions. To make it clearer, I'm talking about African ways of questioning about existence, reality and its nature, and knowledge/truth and the relationship between an observer and what can be observed and how? This implies the need for African philosophies, philosophers and metaphysical thinkers. But, one may ask, is there a need to have African ontologies and epistemologies? What have been the implications on African development planning and policies, and African academia in general?

Whether being a positivist/realist, or a constructivist/deconstructivist, critical realist/pragmatist etc. we have all been influenced by non-African ways of engaging with the ontological and epistemological questions. From Achille Mbembe, Kwame Appiah, Mogobe Ramose to Wole Soyinka, they have all been influenced by non-African philosophy. Michel Foucault has significantly influenced Mbembe's 'necropolitics' and other writings. I'm not sure about Soyinka's influence, but it is certain that Hegel influenced Appiah (at least for how I read his writings and thinking).

I have heard of African 'philosophies' such as Ubuntu etc., but there are almost no sustained academic engagements with such philosophies, especially in terms of deciphering complex and not-easy-to-understand concepts, and make use of them for African scholarship and development at large. At least Mogobe Ramose has written extensively on Ubuntu, check his book, African philosophy through Ubuntu. On the other hand, I know with heterogeneous African societies and cultures, it is unrealistic to have universal African ontologies and epistemologies i.e. to have universal African forms of knowing and truth/reality. But, I wish for more engagements with Ubuntu and other unknown African philosophies.
As someone with interest in conservation and development (both at theory and practice levels), I sometimes wish I could engage more with the discussions from African ontological and epistemological viewpoints. I find that necessary especially in today's complex, place-based and dynamic environmental problems and challenges. I wish for a 'movement' against hegemonic scientific orientations/frameworks for understanding socio-economic and socio-ecological processes in Africa, and Tanzania in particular, and coming up with local-specific ways of dealing with the problems. I wish for African ontological and epistemological paradigms in contrast to the Western ones. Do we have African thinkers cum philosophers who have written about ontologies and epistemologies without being influenced by non-African philosophers? Thinkers who have written on African metaphysics, ontologies and epistemologies before colonisation? 

I might be wrong, but this is how I see it so far.

What do you think?
Ndugu Bukhi's contribution to the discussion on the African 'wasomi' and 'wanazuoni' needs to be taken very seriously and critically. I have italicized the words 'seriously' and 'critically' on purpose. Many of us are not yet intellectually conscious enough to realize the gravity of the 'African problem'. For that reason they do not take critical thinking seriously. The problem with the 'African problem' is about the African meaning of meaning. It is about what and how an African makes sense of the fundamental common sense. The fundamental common sense is the meaning that a critical thinker discovers intellectually and conceptually to be what existentially drives human beings commonly.

That paragraph above, I know, has already raised some questions to anyone who is reading this! If that has happened, I am glad to say that we are moving in the right direction. The thing is: very unfortunately our higher learning institutions are so intellectually and cognitively lazy that they do not teach or give instructions on what I call 'critical thinking about thinking'. For me this 'critical thinking about thinking' is what the Western people have called 'philosophy', although the Greek etymological meaning of the word 'philosophy' is 'the love of wisdom'. Philosophy per se is not an academic discipline! It is part of being a rational human person! It is the effort to seek answers, solutions and responses to questions, problems and challenges respectively about the meaning of human existence. Since Africans are human beings, they must have their own way of seeking such answers, solutions and responses.

I do not want here to start a discussion within a discussion on the issue of the definition of philosophy. However, we African intellectuals need to raise critical questions such as: Is “philosophy”, in the way it was brought to Africa and taught to Africans by the West, a scholarly methodology for examining logical truth? Or is it a coherent set of beliefs about the nature of the world and the place of human beings in that world? If it is a methodology and/or a set of beliefs, then what we have is a Western methodology and/or a Western set of beliefs about the universe and humanity. If this is so, then what I have said before, i.e. the problem with the 'African problem' is the African meaning of meaning, needs to be followed up. In other words, we need to follow up this question: What meaning do we Africans give to Western philosophical methodologies and their philosophical beliefs? Is what is meaningful to a European or a Western man/woman meaningful as well to an African man and woman?

One way of following up this effort to search for answers, solutions and responses, is posing the questions: How do we Africans identify ourselves intellectually? What do we Africans make sense of our historical existence? What kind of thinking is behind our systems, structures, beliefs and ideologies which support our efforts in education, politics, economy, development, etc? What sense do we Africans make of what is beyond the sensible, the physical, the measurable, the empirical? But in making such sense, how do we know that this answer, solution or response makes sense to an African? What African criteria or theory do we have to justify or explain that such knowing is African?


Just one comment: how come there is no mention to people like Cheikh Anta Diop, Théophile Obenga, Ernest Wamba dia Wamba? 


I am so delighted going through your thoughts and your view of Afrikan approaches on matters of Philosophy and thoughts. Your thoughts seek to understand Ontological and Epistemological approach of Afrika in various questions.

If I was to be seen in your thoughts I would have advised that for you to understand better this question hereby in thoughts I would have asked you to engage in "HOW KNOWLEDGE HAS BEEN PRODUCED AND DISSEMINATED IN VARIOUS SOCIETY AND THE WORLD AT LARGE" this would give you a right approach of ontological and epistemological usage in various! It isn't that Afrika does not engage in Ontological and Epistemological analysis but rather there is a one sided side of the story about knowledge Production and Philosophies!

Asking yourself why you are not seeing such approaches and Afrikan Philosophies, Afrikan Philosophers and thinkers apart of the mentioned in the usage of non Afrikan ways other than Ubuntu, is the step towards recognizing that you have been all time through trading on only one sided of the story of knowledge and philosophical approaches!
For more than 10 years, under the Directorship of the late Prof. Dan Wadada Nabudere, the Marcus Garvey Pan Afrikan Institute, now Marcus Garvey University in Mbale Uganda, reviewed a very similar question but in a manner that is concerned with re tracing the source of knowledge, how it is produced and disseminated basing on Afrikan Cosmology! A new approach was devised named “AFRIKOLOGY, TRANSDICIPLINARITY AND WHOLENESS”.  A paper was also published in the Journal of African Renaissance Studies, Pretoria by Nabudere, D. W[2005] titled 'Towards an Afrikology of knowledge production and African Regeneration'.

This new approach being a science of knowledge production that maximizes Afrikan cosmology aimed at explaining scientifically knowledge production that has roots in African Cosmology. This due to uncertainty and acrimony in the way we understand the world and the way human beings understand each other as manifested in the way knowledge is being organised and managed today.

“It becomes so important to trace the role the ancient Africans played in laying the ground for the institutions of knowledge creation and its application to human needs. In this way, we shall then be able to see how Afrikology as an all-inclusive epistemology based on the cosmologies emanating from the Cradle of Humankind, can play in rejuvenating the Universal knowledge, which our ancestors first put in place in their growing spread around the world.” Nabudere D. W [2007]

Its role is to retrace this humanistic tradition in order to rid our world of those hierarchies of life that Greek philosophers, especially Plato, introduced from their one-sided understanding of knowledge from the Cradle of Humankind, which has increasingly created the kind of fragmentation in our consciousness that imperils our very existence as a civilised human society.
“We are confronted with an ever more urgent need to find a new morality: a new means of humanising man in society, a new civilisation, or else shake ourselves finally to pieces” [Davidson, 1969:67]. 

I am certain if you go through Afrikology you will definitely understand that it has been a fact in all these philosophies you are trading with but it has been not the truth for far too long. The earlier you discover this in your heart the better you will be able to fit in this world of deception when it comes to knowledge transfer, curriculum development and a sense of human living. 

The truth is that there Afrika has been cut off from many issues that describe black and white of Knowledge and how the world has benefited from the Afrikan cosmologies! You have heard of the saying “know thyself” go read the Pharaoh of Afrikan Antiquity (Cheik Anta Diop) Diop, C. A [1974]: African Origins of Civilization: Myths and Reality, Lawrence Hill Chicago, Diop, C. A [1980]: Civilization or Barbarism: An Authentic Anthropology, Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago you will understand that even that saying was not from Plato as many believe and know! Anyway remember there is a saying which is not so famous; wisdom is not acquired by reading of books but of men!


Today I returned to this mail and its subject, not with answers, but as part of a contemplation of the environment within which the 'quest' for the African onthologies and epistemologies might take place.
I am sure you are aware of current incidents in which African academics are making headlines (for the wrong reasons). There is the Stella Nyanzi-Mahmood Mamdani 'performance' at Makerere, of which I can only ponder how any academic dispute could arrive where it did...

The other that I note is sparked by a mail I received via you, about another Professor, Ibrahim Abdullah at Fourah Bay College (FBC) in Sierra Leone. The case which the petition highlighted, from my understanding, seems to raise some big question about the state of institutions of 'higher' learning and knowledge, and if they really can facilitate any real quest. 

Again, my understanding, there is a war against academic freedom, but the battle lines are so infantile and superficial, it is ridiculous. At FBC it seems, Ibrahim Abdullah has pissed off many, maybe by his personality, but more it seems, because he challenges or is challenging how history should be taught and/or understood. In a country where there are less than thirty professors, and as one report reminds, '... Nearly all departments at FBC have lacked running academic journals for several years now...'; where are the grounds for a dispute based on what has been call 'envious hostility'?

Whether or not this is an accurate term, is left to be judged. However, the academic dispute wrapped up in this situation seems to be at its core, about 'attitudes and epistemology about African' ( In my understanding, Ibrahim Abdullah seems to be saying (among other things) that there is no such thing as colonial and post-colonial history. There is instead Temne/Thaimne and other Sierra Leone ethnic histories. This of course, and 'the question of ethnicity within the context of Sierra Leone historiography' (, has political resonances (in a country recovering from an atrocious civil war), even as the academic potential is lost in the mist....

So returning to the contemplation of the envisaged 'quest', not only is there the question of the facilitating environment, but equally, in service of what is this quest suppose to pursued? Maybe, at least in the Sierra Leone case, it not simply that 'Nationalism should Trump Ethnicity' (C. Magbaily Fyle in Research in Sierra Leone Studies (RISLS): Weave Vol 1 No 2, 2013), but that a dynamic Pan-African agenda is needed to take academic inquiry away from a need for 'positive spin', towards a more open and critically engaged debate. Here hopefully the need to sack and lock out would not be part of resource bank.

As you can see, I have referred to a few papers. These require more serious critical attention, but I have used them as a backdrop to consider the meaning of the situation indicated by the two incidents (Sierra Leone and Uganda) which suggest bad news in the prevailing state of academic affairs.


Good thread and good ideas but indeed complex ones. I cannot offer any solace but we must bear in mind that we live in the global world even before the term globalization was created. So we cannot take a purist/nativist position of finding something purely African in the sense that it has not been contaminated by other ideas. Mamdani asks how long does someone or something need to stay in Africa to be African?

But I think, we can start from African archives and libraries--in Mudimbe's sense--to find some of the epistemological and theoretical paradigms to address todays complex issues. If I may suggest, one way to start to take very seriously the life, experience and actions of fellow Africans not simply as data but explanatory models about our social and empirical worlds. 
One book that I would like to recommend, it is an anthropological text on the Kaguru Modes of Thought, I found this text illuminating and charting a way for us to take African ideas seriously as useful analytical and theoretical concepts. I think, it will be great if we start employing middle level theories and concepts developed from our own experiences and testing them out to see how they hold in comparison with other theoretical ideas such as derive from Foucault or Hegel etc. I am will be watching out for your reactions and further reflections.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Exhibition: Women in Liberation

Throughout 2016, Ireland is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 1916 Rising. The 1916 rising was a major catalyst in Ireland's journey towards independence and the foundation of the modern Irish state. 

As part of our centenary programme, the Embassy of Ireland is hosting a panel discussion and exhibition on the theme of Women in Liberation, to be held on the evening of 19th May, 2016, at the National Museum in Dar es Salaam. 

Irish historian Dr Mary McAuliffe will join a panel of Tanzanian women to explore the role of women in liberation struggles and share insights from the experiences of both countries. The discussion will be accompanied by an exhibition on the lives of women in the Irish and Tanzanian liberation movements. For further information please visit

Udadisi on 'Decolonizing the Academy'

We will be joined on twitter by Chambi and Katy from 15:30 - send them your Qs via

Misery at MISR: Looking Beyond Mamdani & Nyanzi

The fiery exchange between Professor Mahmood Mamdani and Doctor Stella Nyanzi at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) is only part of a larger battle for academic freedom and democratisation of higher learning institutions in Africa. However, in personalising this in terms of the two heavyweights we may miss out on the struggles that some students themselves are carrying there. In the interest of foregrounding them for wider engagement, I post below my response to one of the students and her rejoinder.

Chambi Chachage:

Folks, I have not said any learning form must be dictated at a strict point. My point is simple - and not new: A university by its very foundation is not a democratic institution, administratively. We may claim it is, intellectually. But when it comes to 'administrating' it as a 'modern' academic institution, it is not simply about sharing opinions and ideas as our good professor Kitila Mkumbo (PhD) seems to profess:

"Prof. Mamdani is the one who has been teaching young scholars how to argue intellectually. He is a strong advocate of an academic and intellectual freedom. I can't believe he's the one saying 'a university is not a democratic institution'.... If universities cannot practice basic democratic principles characterised with open and frank exchange of ideas and opinions, then I argue that there should never be democracy at all anywhere on the soil!" - Prof. Kitila Mkumbo's reaction to Noosim Naimasiah's A Response to Prof. Mamdani's Press Release and the debate about Makerere

A university is all about 'hierarchy' hence the provisions of 'titles/rank's - you get this then you become that. You become that then you can do this. Even the use of Latin is part and parcel of that legacy of 'pontification' from the 'Roman' era. Do we even wonder where the terms we use come from? Refer to these definitions:

DOCTORATE: ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from medieval Latin doctoratus ‘made a doctor’. 

SENATE: ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French senat, from Latin senatus, from senex ‘old man’.

CHANCELLOR: ORIGIN late Old English from Old French cancelier, from late Latin cancellarius ‘porter, secretary’ (originally a court official stationed at the grating separating public from judges), from cancelli ‘crossbars’.

MASTERS: ORIGIN :Old English mæg(i)ster (later reinforced by Old French maistre), from Latin magister; probably related to magis ‘more’.

DEGREE: ORIGIN Middle English (in the senses ‘step’, ‘tier’, ‘rank’, or ‘relative state’): from Old French, based on Latin de-‘down’ + gradus ‘step or grade’.

PhD: ORIGIN from Latin philosophiae doctor.

A student, having being attracted to MISR primarily if not precisely because of Mamdani, cannot thus argue for what he terms 'Mamdanism' as opposed to 'Mamdanisation' in their #MamdaniMustWalkHisTalk as if in its quest against neoliberalism, Mamdanism is about turning upside down the university that was hierarchical and undemocratic way before the ascendancy of neoliberalism. For the author of "Ideological State Apparatuses and the Reproduction of Alienated Subjects: An Insider’s Critique of the MISR PhD Programme" to also think that 'Neoliberalism [is] the ideology at the root of all our problems' as if universities were so socialist and democratic before the neoliberal turn is ahistorical. It is truncating the history of universities to what Samir Amin would refers to as a parenthesis - a bracket - in the long history of human 'civilisation'. A very short period indeed that 'may' not last. Hardly 100 years.

My conclusion is thus also straightforward - and not novel: If we want to truly democratize knowledge provision/ administration we have to dismantle the 'whole' apparatus/edifice of learning through such a hierarchical system by committing 'class suicide' as 'educated elites' who 'accumulate' masters, PhDs and other ranks that 'reproduces' what Althusser aptly captured below when analysing the structure that emerged before the coining of the term neoliberalism - a structure we aped since colonial times:

“It takes children from every class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most 'vulnerable', squeezed between the family State apparatus and the educational State apparatus, it drums into them, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of 'know-how' wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy). Somewhere around the age of sixteen, a huge mass of children are ejected 'into production': these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on: and, for better or worse, it goes somewhat further, until it falls by the wayside and fills the posts of small and middle technicians, white-collar workers, small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to provide, as well as the 'intellectuals of the collective labourer', the agents of exploitation (capitalists, managers), the agents of repression (soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators, etc.) and the professional ideologists (priests of all sorts, most of whom are convinced' laymen). Each mass ejected en route is practically provided with the ideology which suits the role it has to fulfill in class society: the role of the exploited (with a 'highly developed', 'professional', 'ethical', 'civic', 'national' and apolitical consciousness); the role of the agent of exploitation (ability to give the workers orders and speak to them: 'human relations'), of the agent of repression (ability to give orders and enforce obedience 'without discussion', or ability to manipulate the demagogy of a political leader's rhetoric), or of the professional ideologist (ability to treat consciousnesses with the respect, i.e. with the contempt, blackmail and demagogy they deserve, adapted to the accents of Morality, of Virtue, or 'Transcendence', of the Nation, of France's World Role, etc.) (p. 118-119)" - UDADISI: Schools as State Apparatuses for Failing Students

Can our dear compatriots - Sabatho, Baha and Diana - at MISR have their cake (PhD) and eat it too?
Noosim Naimasiah:

My response to this 'fascinated academic' argument is this, adding onto what Sabatho has already writen. You are right, this is not a new argument. The apparatuses of the modern status are fundamentally undemocratic even though they use, among other functions, representation which is ideally democratic to run their institutions. The struggle, as I see it, is to expand this function of representation with the modern state and by extension, the university, and adopt increasingly and radically, the political alignments from our culturally historical or/and emerging notions that in their imagination and operation center love and expansive horizontal participation.

As for the question you ask Sabatho, Baha and Diana - it can be asked to literally anyone struggling against forms of injustice in its varying degrees anywhere in this world. Because we are living in this world. A world which for the most part, in varying degrees is informed by hierarchy even at the microlevel, and the struggle is to raise ourselves, beyond ourselves, which though never complete, provides a new horizon, partly for ourselves (because we are always tied to the hierachies we have known, at least in part), and perhaps entirely for others, who come after us.

Friday, April 15, 2016

For or Against outsourcing of Liberian schools?

C. Patrick Burrowes has given the following clarion call: Wanted: An international campaign to block outsourcing of Liberian schools. Find below two opposing responses to the call from Wanazuoni, a listserv of Tanzania's Intellectuals. You may also wish to revisit: Outsourcing - A 'Bridge' to Quality Education?


Standing in the way of progress, aren't we?

There are three reasons I am quite open to this idea of outsourcing of Liberian schools and may even advocate for the same to be attempted in Tanzania. One, because I see it working in Telecoms. Two, the existing systems have proved to be too ineffective, and, three, if their situation is as bad as ours, things cannot become any worse. 

In Telecoms this is quite normal today. Whole departments such as operations, technology, customer support, asset management, logistics and warehouse, etc. have been outsourced to those better equipped to manage them thus making the companies lean and focused on their core businesses. For example, a customer care agent employed by a contractor will probably handle three times the number of issues at half the pay. Efficiency.

Similarly, I can see the same dynamics at play in the Education system. First, considering the number of teachers and staff in the education department, this is a significant burden administration-wise to the government. It might be better for the government to focus on its core functions which is not managing staff but delivering services. Second, everything that the government can do the other firms can do too. Same teachers will be employed by the contractors - only that they will know how best to deploy and manage them. Third, the government will remain as a client, hence it will determine the curriculum and monitor the achievements of the pre-agreed standards. Fourth, since the consultants will be profit driven they will most likely introduce radical approaches to achieve efficiency. The author argues that good teachers are irreplaceable in early childhood education. Probably, but I think nobody is arguing against using good teachers but for addressing issues related to the system which make their presence irrelevant: number of teachers, classrooms, desks, books, libraries, labs, too many pupils, etc. 

In management and leadership, sometimes we have to experiment to learn and get solutions. When Deng Xiaoping started experimenting with the state-controlled capitalism he didn't even know where he was going with the idea. He only knew that the status quo was unacceptable. So it is wrong to reject this idea at face value. (I am actually impressed that the Liberian government has had the guts to break away from the norms. When this move is compared to the Nyerereian Ujamaa experiment in Tanzania, it is much less disruptive and has significant chances of success.) 

I have some concerns though: it probably would have been better to implement the idea gradually, a couple of districts or regions at a time instead of going wholesale from the beginning. Also, it would have been better to contract three or four firms to introduce an element of competition and giving the best performing firms more schools to administer and vice versa.

The idea is brilliant in my opinion. The campaign organisers are misguided.

Charles, previous posts already show that we don't agree on this one. I think your comments are interesting, but there's an unfair market bias running throughout. 

A few thoughts on your comments:

(1) I don't see the parallel between outsourcing certain services in a telecommunications operation and outsourcing the entire education system (teacher recruitment/training/employment, curriculum design, school building construction, etc). Should the provider prove unsatisfactory, it's not like the Liberian government can just switch to someone seemingly better, as in a competitive market. The entire system, and all the expertise for running it, will be in the hands of a single company, leaving the Liberian government as 'client' in a pretty poor position. 

(2) You say that managing teachers/staff in an education department is a burden to government, so it should focus on its 'core functions' of 'delivering services'. How are these two separate? Delivering quality educational services is, I'd say first and foremost, about managing teachers/their training. 

(3) You say, 'everything that the gov can do the other firms can do too. Same teachers will be employed by the contractors--only they will know how best to deploy and manage them.' This smacks of pro-market ideology, as if firms are always better than government. As noted in the Pambazuka piece, a lot of would-be excellent Charter schools in the states have been an utter disaster. 

(4) You say, 'the government will remain as a client, hence it will determine the curriculum and monitor the achievements of the pre-agreed standards.' So to build on (1), this is assuming some kind of competitive market scenario where the all-powerful client can simply dump a non-performing firm and opt for its competitor. That is not the case here at all. Even if there were multiple firms competing within Liberia, investing in schools, teachers, curricula, etc. presents a sunk cost. You can't go about changing everything on the fly if you're unsatisfied with performance. How is the Liberian government going to go about pressuring BRIDGE to up its game if it is dissatisfied further down the line? It won't have its own administrative capacity to replace the private company, and the resource requirements to contract someone new would be huge. The government is at a fundamental disadvantage in any future negotiations with BRIDGE. 

(5) You say, 'since the consultants will be profit driven they will most likely introduce radical approaches to achieve efficiency.' So profits before education? That should terrify us, not be cause for celebration. 

(6) You say, 'I am actually impressed that the Liberian government has had the guts to break away from the norms.' What norm is the Liberian government breaking with? If anything, it's simply going with the latest fad being propounded by the World Bank, and contracting out to an American company which the leaders of the World Bank are probably very happy to do a little soft diplomacy in supporting. Also, this is as neo-liberal as it gets, and last I checked, that's been the new normal since the 1980s. 

(7) You say, 'It probably would have been better to introduce gradually.' Well yes, at the very least, this needs to be evidence-based policy following a trial run. And as noted in the Pambazuka piece, similar trials have been attempted in the US, with poor results. Meanwhile, the best performing educational systems around the world are those where the government invests heavily in building up the state/administrative capacity to ensure it delivers quality education. Of course those states struggled with poor education services in the past, when they were industrializing and still had high illiteracy rates. But part of their development trajectory involved overcoming those state weaknesses, and building up their education systems to be something they can be proud of today. 

Obviously there are problems with the educational systems as they currently stand in Liberia and Tanzania for that matter. But this just simply is not the way to go. And if you want some more concrete evidence, look at how Tz's East African neighbours have already soured on BRIDGE, as I mentioned in an earlier post. One last thing, education is not just any other commodity to be bought and sold. This is where by own bias comes out but seriously, it should be a right, and a public service, which everyone has access to. However 'efficient' BRIDGE might seem, tallying up the costs (tuition, books, exam fees, etc) shows that for an average to low household budget, this is just an impossible expense. If for no other reason, that is enough to scrap the Liberia plan. 

Michaela, I support the model because I can see how it can addresses the weaknesses in the existing system. Critics don't have the luxury of simply highlighting weaknesses but they too have to offer solutions to the existing failed systems. If the problem is BRIDGE not delivering, one ought to find the firm that delivers.

But, first, let's try to align our views a little bit by addressing a few assumptions.

1. I do not propose that the government relinquish its responsibility vis-a-vis educating its people. For this purpose, I consider curriculum development and teachers training to remain the government's responsibility.

2. I only envisage contractors to play the role similar to that of 'Property Managers': they don't build properties but they ensure that they are run profitably. In this case the government will continue to build and expand schools on the basis of needs, while contractors only manage them to deliver quality education (and surplus as profit for themselves, of course.) The return on investment will be measurable quality education.

Now, to go back to the issues you raised.

1. The problem you highlight is related with implementation and not the model itself. The government can choose to, as I propose, contract multiple firms at once and expand their roles on the basis of performance. We do the same things in Telecoms projects. Besides, you assume that the government will have no role to play in education altogether while I assume that only administration of the 'operations' of delivering education will be outsourced. 

2. Focusing on education service delivery is not synonymous with administering hundreds of thousands of teachers. What needs to be outsourced is the administration part while making sure that the quality of service is maintained. In telecoms terms, the service people get may require the work of thousands of engineers, while operators only employ a dozen or two to monitor performance of the contractors. Contractors know that their pay and competitiveness is attached to their performance. So they work hard. Meanwhile the management teams (operators') become better equipped to achieve their KPIs when it is isolated from the mundane tasks of operations (however necessary they are.)

3. It is important to remember that we are looking for alternatives because existing models have failed. Hence, we are comparing failed models with theoretically improved models. Now, I don't know anything about the American charter schools to comment on them, but I think the example would not be appropriate for our environment. Given that the standards are relatively quite high in America the cost of improving quality from one grade to the other will be much higher compared to the cost for comparable gain in performance in Tanzania. 

4. You are assuming a complete overhaul of the educational system is required while I am assuming that only the administrators (and, as a result, operational approach) needs to change. Also, I have already commented that it would have been better if the Liberian government had contracted multiple firms for obvious reasons. That is an obvious weakness. Also, since the councils' and ministries' education officers will remain for oversight purposes, I don't see why the move will be difficult to reverse. Again, it is possible that my focus is on the model (the concept) while yours is on this particular implementation of the concept. The way I see it, I don't see the problems you point out. 

5. What I am saying is that a profit motive will make private firms work harder at delivering the given education quality objectives. Unlike many, the idea of profit as a motivation does not terrify me. Yes, profit and quality may appear as two opposing forces but a good business will understand that for profits to be sustainable quality must be delivered. Besides, isn't it the responsibility of the client to ensure that the quality parameters are met? 

6. Is that the reason the Liberian government's act is considered to be Africa's first? I think it is first because it is a departure from the existing assumptions. I consider that to be impressive. Besides, while we in Africa have been brainwashed to believe that everything that the WB/IMF suggested in their SAP recommendations to be evil, the last time I reviewed some of them they were quite sensible. I mean, any intelligent person will tell you the same thing. E.g. too many government employees - restructure. What is Magufuli trying to do now with ghost workers, not the same thing? Non-performing state companies - privatise. These principles are being applied in the business world all the time. That Africans failed to implement these commonsensical recommendations is not WB/IMF's problem. I am surprised that you uncritically join this mob.

7. That might be true historically but that is not the reason not to hasten the process by attempting alternative models. Besides, where are the resources? I joined an Electronics class at the UDSM in early 2000s without ever being taught fundamentals of Electronics in class - even though it was in O-Level and A-Level syllabuses. How do you propose that Tanzania address a problem like that? And I went to some of the better performing secondary schools in Tanzania. How do you propose that nations like Tanzania and Liberia radically transform their education infrastructure and systems while everything else is not working? 

In my view you are condemning the alternative by proposing more of the same. Alternatively, we can restructure the system. Reduce the weak government's part in operations and allow experts to manage education delivery system. There will be innovation. Novel ideas. But isn't that what we are aiming for?

High Level Debate on History in Tanzania

Sunday, April 10, 2016



Make it of light complexion
and of less complication,
Make it simple, attractive, precise
Make it sexy...
Tena, have it end with an 'ie' instead,
As the 'y' doesn't have much entice,

Embrace it with beauty
Thus (we) the young ones would generate our affection,
Speak of it in a tone appealing to the tongues
and the minds of the young,

Lecture it not
For your lecturers are boring and long,
Instead (Professor) make it a song,
Sing it...
4 to 5 minutes tops,
All at once and in rhymes we'd be able to grasp,

One more thing "Doctor",
Take back your books
and have them in your shelves,
Post us your book reviews in your facebook page instead,
Further summarize them in 140 words...
So as we'd be able to tweet
and share them to the world,

Make Pan Africanism sexie
and you shall see if it (Pan Africanism) won't be trending.

©Jasper Kido

Is CCM with Magufuli?

Is his party with him? 

By Michael Collord

Analysts argue that widespread corruption and economic stagnation In Tanzania have much to do with the internal politics of the long-time ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). In recent decades, competing factions have increasingly divided the party, hindering its ability both to control corruption and to implement a coherent economic policy agenda. As Brian Cooksey argues, ‘within the ruling party, the use of rent-seeing of all types to advance the interests of groups of rentiers intent on taking control of the party has heightened pressures to loot the public purse and natural resources.’ Hazel Gray meanwhile underscores how, despite CCM’s strong formal institutional and appearance of centralized authority, ‘neither the president nor any one particular faction could enforce its particular agenda within the ruling party.’

There is a possibility that Magufuli is well positioned to impose discipline within the party in a way his predecessors could not. For one, Magufuli’s path to the presidency has left him relatively unencumbered by the kind of political baggage that has hampered his predecessors. He built his reputation as a competent, largely scandal-free minister, who most people discounted out of hand during CCM’s hotly contested presidential nomination struggle. One major reason for this was Magufuli’s lack of a strong mtandao, the Swahili word used to refer to the opaque political networks behind successful candidacies within CCM. And yet he emerged the surprise winner after two rival factions, one headed by then President Jakaya Kikwete and another by his former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, dealt each other a mutual, knockout blow.

A second factor that could play in Magufuli’s favour is the exit, or at least temporary silencing, of the faction within CCM associated with Lowassa. After losing out on his nomination bid, the former PM left the party to become the opposition presidential candidate during last year’s general elections. Politicians who were known to support Lowassa, and yet remained within CCM, are now being made to denounce their former ally while others have been threatened with the prospect of expulsion from the party. Meanwhile, members of the Tanzanian business community who backed Lowassa now find themselves in a very precarious position, with some reports of businessmen taking their operations abroad. Senior officials within CCM have suggested that, far from weakening the party, the fall from grace of one of its strongest factions could actually help restore unity, at least temporarily.

Another important point in his favour is that Magufuli himself has made an accurate diagnosis of the political challenge ahead of him. When delivering his inaugural address before Parliament, he identified two obstacles to achieving his development aims: ‘leaders like us in here and crooked, deceptive businessmen.’ Unlike his predecessors, who have made similar observations, Magufuli is showing signs of actually following words with action, notably through his crackdown on tax avoidance. He is also set to take over as CCM Chairman later this year and, along with the reform minded Secretary General, has hinted at a political cleanup in the 2017 internal party elections.

Finally, Magufuli’s popularity since taking office also makes it more difficult for any political opponents within the party to criticize him openly.

Each of these apparent advantages has its downsides, though. Magufuli’s lack of a strong network coming into office makes him vulnerable as much as it frees him from costly political debts. Discussions with some insiders have pointed to a potential isolation within the party, something which may not be helped by his tendency to appoint technocrats to key positions, or by his promise of an aggressive crackdown on political financiers and corrupt politicians alike. The purge of Lowassa supporters in the party, which former President Kikwete is leading, also shows signs of creating more divisions rather than restoring unity.

Ultimately, it is unclear how Magufuli—or anyone else—could do away with the entrenched cronyism that has come to characterize CCM. Since the 1980s and 1990s when first economic liberalization saw the party lose control over parastatals and then political liberalization cut its lucrative government funding, CCM has grown to depend on financial support from the private sector, which it then rewards through government tenders, tax breaks, and other kickbacks. This state of affairs is what has helped fuel party fragmentation across rival clientelist networks, as observed by Cooksey and Gray earlier in this piece. While Magufuli appears to have a window of opportunity to reign in rent-seeking within CCM, and deliver substantive development gains in the process, it is unclear how long his agenda can endure without a relapse into the old way of doing politics.

Corruption - A Structural Issue?

Find below a couple of responses to Which Individuals Institutionalise Anti-Corruption?


Nice blog post! 

I had a couple thoughts reading it. I agree with you that individuals and their personal attitude definitely matter, particularly if we want to admit any room for individual agency in fighting corruption. And yet in general I think I see corruption as more of a structural issue. I've probably been over-influenced by recent writing by people like Khan, Whitfield, Gray, etc., but there is a large political economy literature emerging at the moment, which focuses on corruption in developing economies as discouraged/encouraged depending on the distribution of power among elites. 

As in, where you have a strong, centralized leadership, corruption may persist (in fact it's generally assumed that in most developing economies a degree of clientelism is almost inevitable), but if the leadership is interested in containing corruption, this will be possible as a result of the tight control exerted from the top level and also the institutions put in place to reinforce/further centralize that top level power. Countries like Rwanda (Behuria, ROAPE article) or Vietnam (Gray, African Affairs article) fit this model. By contrast, where the leadership is factionalized, you may have competing clientelist networks both engaging in corruption and effectively unable to hold each other accountable due to shared guilt (Tanzania pre-Magufuli according to Gray). 

So from this analysis, it appears what may prove most effective is a strong leadership that can centralize control and discourage corruption, and crucially (this is where individual attitudes come in), sees a value in doing so. There are plenty of cases of a strong, centralized leadership where all you end up with is a kleptocracy (Angola under Dos Santos might be an example of this, or maybe Gabon under Omar Bongo). 

Of course, there's something somewhat depressing about thinking a strong, centralized leadership is key to fighting corruption. It is not a very democratic vision. And I certainly think there are other, messier and more round about ways of progressively decreasing the scale of corrupt activities (in the US, for instance, clientelist politics seem to have slowly declined as a result of a multiplicity of factors, e.g. economic growth, a growing associational life, a more educated population, progressively stronger institutions, etc). 

Anyway, these are just a few thoughts. Otherwise, really enjoyed the piece!


A very thought-provoking article. Interesting. But just a couple of comments:

1. In Mwl. Nyerere Tanzania probably had the person in your Group 1. Yet, after decades as President, Nyerere failed to build a serious group of followers. In fact, the very people that he annointed went on to become the main conductors of the corruption scheme. How do you reconcile this with the views expressed in the article?

2. I once attended a Christian businessmen seminar and during discussion time the question of bribes came up. While I initially thought that I would hear a very conservative position, akin to what you would expect from members of Group 1 but, alas, people had found ways to rationalise bribery. In my opinion, that would have been unthinkable 20 years earlier. One of the question which was asked was 'What if a family member was very sick and needed emergency care and the only way to get it was through bribes. Would you give it?' Even the Pastor responded affirmatively. The point is: these are not people I would consider to be predators. These are people who are very well grounded in their moral compasses but for some reason they have adopted what Prof. Joseph Fletcher had called a 'situational ethics'. In the most extreme cases, situation ethicists may rationalise murders. I think these people ought to be considered as survivors, possible the biggest victims of the situation they help sustain through their pragmatism. (I know of one contractor who had not won any contract for over a year and he went to a Pastor crying of the situation. You would think that the Pastor, who also owned a similar business, would tell him to persevere. He didn't. Over the years I have seen myself treading the same thin line between my conscience and situations, from being a hardline G1 to a pragmatic G1 - or G2?)

3. About those in Group 3, these are the people of whom I wrote that the behavioral conditioning principles of Edward Thorndike and B. F. Skinner apply. The stakes should be high. You comply, the rewards should be great and immediate. You don't, the punishments should be quite severe. What JPM was supposed to do was to go for several symbolic 'sacred cows'. In Nigeria Bukhari is going after military generals and the officers of the National Security Adviser. These are the sacred cows. But here in Tanzania I think evidence suggests that JPM is being partial - a respecter of persons in his anti-corruption crusade. As long as some people know that different rules apply to them, corruption will never be routed out. 

I tend to agree with those who believe that corruption is more of a structural issue. In Tanzania, its roots are entrenched in people's views of success and being clever. Apart from building institutions to combat it, it is important to do things which symbolise a surgical departure from the past. Public shaming of, and recovery of ill gotten assets from, the top leaders may be necessary. JPM has not mustered the guts to do so yet. We probably can link this with the de-Stalinasation process in USSR and a similar process against Mao's legacy in China as a break-away from the previous practices. So, the question 'which individuals institutionalise corruption' is apt. Those are the 'high places', 'exalted altars' which must be destroyed.

Outsourcing - A 'Bridge' to Quality Education?

Christine Mungai's article on An Africa first! Liberia outsources entire education system to a private American firm. Why all should pay attention has sparked a heated debate in the social media. Find below some interesting responses and connections


"The word "outsource" was a bad choice. It's my understanding that they are entering a partnership to have Bridge take over a limited number of schools. I don't know a whole lot about the situation but I'm hopeful that it can bring some level of positive change to the education landscape in Liberia. We'll be watching to see what actually happens" - From a Liberian friend involved in the education sector in Liberia.


This joint letter from a number of Kenyan CSOs to the President of the World Bank provides an interesting critique of how Bridge International Academies [BIA] has performed in Kenya, and also of the World Bank, Gates Foundation etc. provide support for the private company and not for the Kenyan public educational system. The letter may help inform our own analysis of the BIA/private v. public education issue. 

The criticism breaks down into (a) specific complaints about BIA and its performance and (b) a critique of the principle of supporting a private education provider instead of the public system, which at least in theory strives towards achieving the principle of free education for all. 

On the performance of BIA, the CSOs note: 

-A BIA education is actually quite expensive/not affordable for most Kenyan families, with lots of hidden costs not included in the $6 per month (which in itself is not exactly cheap).

-There is no independent study confirming that BIA students actually out-perform their peers, despite the company claiming high performance rates.

-The company does not invest in school infrastructure, but rather builds flimsy wood and sheet metal structures that will not last.

Now with these criticisms of BIA, it's possible to think that maybe another private provider could do better, or perhaps its just a question of BIA improving its own game. But I think the CSOs raise some interesting, and more fundamental concerns, about private vs. public education provision and the basic need/right for a public system:

-A public education system, which includes trained teachers, is crucial to a country's development, and self-reliance (although they don't quite phrase it that way).

-They specifically criticize the WB for supporting a private, US provider instead of the Kenyan public education systems. This limits the potential to build up durable state capacity in the education sector and also to work towards achieving the principle of free primary education for all, which is in any case guaranteed by law.

I would add to this critique that this shift towards more private education mirrors a trend in the US, which as seen the rapid spread of Charter Schools. They've been aggressively championed by Republican but also Democratic politicians, who argue that they can help solve the budgetary challenges that many school districts face, while also improving performance. The reality is somewhat different:

-The spread of charter schools has actually increased the financial burden in many school districts, because they have an obligation to both maintain the public schools while also subsidizing the charter schools. 

-Charter schools do not out-perform public schools, and when they do, they've been known to expel poor performing students while retaining the better performing students, and this in order to boost the charter schools' exam results and thereby to substantiate their posturing as good performers. This then drains public schools of the better students, adding a further handicap for them. 

-There is a lack of effective oversight of charter schools and a systematic under-reporting of their failures, which is consistent with the aggressive political campaign in favour of charter schools (largely ideological in nature - i.e. private is better than public).
-The roll out of charter schools, which has opened up a lucrative new area for investment, has been plagued by corruption, including politicians contracting out to companies owned by personal/political allies (c.f. Philadelphia in particular). 

I'm not saying all of these issues would resurface in a Liberian or Kenyan context, but they do highlight some of the challenges of a US-born enthusiasm for private education providers, and the largely US-led export of this model to developing countries. I also very much believe that there are no shortcuts to a good educational system (admittedly this is based on my own intuition/ideological proclivities, but the other side of the debate hasn't been any better in providing sound, evidence-based arguments). Whether its the US, Kenya or Liberia, the hard work of building a public education system is the best way to achieve the goals of equal and improved access, quality, and good performance. It's obviously not easy, and there have been plenty of abject failures (corruption, lack of infrastructure, lack of/poorly motivated teachers, etc). But I don't see how a durable solution involves simply throwing in the towel.

 In Kenya, there are already signs that BIA is not achieving its goals while diverting financial support that could otherwise go towards tackling issues in public education. And let's say Liberia does substitute its entire public system with BIA schools, how do you then go back? In 50 years, will Liberia still be dependent on BIA? What if they want to change the BIA approach, will the government have any power to influence the private company through its own education policy? If the government decided to re-invest in public education, where would it find the trained teachers, or teacher training colleges, or even the basic infrastructure? It'd have to start from scratch. 

Of course, that latter scenario seems unlikely, particularly if Chambi's friend is correct and this is only about a few schools and not the entire educational system. Still, it's interesting to extend the logic of privatization and see where it lands us, namely a pretty dystopian situation where a private company controls education, substituting and subordinating the state in the process.


I absolutely agree with Michaela. Although actually i would prefer an alternative to schools altogether that is for another day. But simplistic, externally driven solutions do not work. When I was in Ethiopia they had introduced a South African system through videos in good South African English. When there was a semi-uprising against the government, the first things students burned in the schools were the video sets. This might seem counter-intuitive but in fact these programmes, which the majority could hardly understand were not providing education but merely emphasising to the students that they could not access such an education. 

For those who argue public bad private good let us not forget that the majority of private schools in Tanzania are still pretty hopeless. It is only a few which gain the limelight.


I don't think if it is practical to expect African governments, and Tanzanian in particular, to provide 'equal access to quality education'. We neither have the resources nor the strategic capability to pull that off.

Given the state of education in this country I think we ought to experiment with different models and with time we will know which ones work best. The idea of private firms managing operations of existing systems can help improve efficiency and effectiveness. It is a model that is being used in many industries - so why not education?

Also, when a firm builds temporary buildings for classes purists might find that offensive - but what is the point of education, improving buildings or developing minds? This is where expectations ought to be managed. If that is considered a priority the government can choose to focus on the building infrastructure and allow private firms to manage operations.

NB: This idea is a major trend in Telecommunications. Also see this example from the hospitality industry in India and see how this model can improve operations, efficiency and profitability. As long as it is the owners who still determine the policies and objectives, I don't see why the model should be rejected at face value.

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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