Monday, October 23, 2017

Andika na Soma: Shindano la Hadithi Fupi

From a Visiting Student at an African University

I was a bit surprised when I did a few "guest lectures" for a UDSM [University of Dar es Salaam] politics option course, "Legislatures and and legislative processes in Africa", that the lectures I listened to were all about Hobbes and Locke. For the few weeks I was part of it, I was the only one to talk about an African institution. It struck me that there was something odd going on there. 

Now teaching "comparative government" back in Oxford, I can also appreciate how African scholars (or even Africanist scholars for that matter) are almost entirely unrepresented in the syllabus. To illustrate, here's what the week on colonialism looks like:
It's not just that particular reading list, though. This exclusion is baked into political science as a discipline, how scholars are trained and how work is rewarded. Those who succeed, who get into top journals and land plush jobs at high ranking universities increasingly tend to adopt a particular theoretical angle (e.g. rational choice institutionalism) and use a particular set of methods (mostly quantitative). These are only taught to the requisite standard at a select set of institutions (mostly American and some, not all, European). Meanwhile, comparative historical and political economy analysis is underrepresented. This imbalance (in my view) impoverishes the discipline in general, but certainly is one way to keep it very Euro-America focused. 

So, in sum, the "study of Africa" (and the study of politics/social sciences perhaps most especially) definitely calls on us to "open the disciplines", to Africanise them, pluralise them, whatever you want to call it. My own background in African Studies, admittedly taught in the UK and with some clear limitations, has nevertheless probably helped make this more obvious than it might otherwise have been, so perhaps African Studies can serve as an incubator, a launch pad from which we can take on the disciplines themselves.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Are All African Intellectuals Studying African Studies? An Auto-Critical Response to Issa Shivji

Are All African Intellectuals Doing African Studies?

Chambi Chachage

It is difficult, indeed redundant, to respond to someone or something you almost fully agrees with. However, when a point of disagreement close to one’s own heart, no matter how small, emerges, one is bound to respond. So, here I am, responding to Shivji’s take on African Studies.

Shivji presents a profound personal and collective “auto-critique” of African intellectuals. In doing so, however, he singles out a “few, brilliant ones” who “migrate to the North joining ivy leagues.” Although he does not name names, one can sense that the example par excellence is none other than his friend and colleague during the heydays of the radical Dar es Salaam School of the 1970s, Mahmood Mamdani, currently based at Columbia and Makerere. Shivji queries:

Karim Hirji, another colleague of Mamdani during the famed Dar es Salaam School, shares Shivji’s nostalgic sentiments. However, Hirji is more overt as he does not shy away from naming names. In his recent book on The Enduring Relevance of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, he devotes a whole section on Mamdani as “an instructive example”:

Contrast that with what Shivji lamented about in 2003 on Mamdani’s apparent metamorphosis:

This background enables us to see where Shivji is coming from when he thus laments in 2017:

As someone who has studied African Studies in both the ‘Global South’ and the ‘Global North’, I find it difficult to agree with Shivji’s rhetorical question that seems to imply that all our studies are African Studies. For instance, to study Sociology in Africa does not necessarily makes one study African Studies. Its ‘holy trinity’ remains Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Marx Weber and not Ibn Khaldun, W.E.B. Dubois and Ida B. Wells. In my erstwhile discipline, Psychology, it is the same story – we start with the likes of Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers rather than Frantz Fanon and Chabani Manganyi. An African student in the Philosophy department may graduate knowing the German George Hegel without having heard of the Ghanaian Anton Wilhelm Amo who taught and published in German universities in the 18th century way before Hegel. As Ernest Wamba dia Wamba reminds us, the “foundation of African scientific research is still based on a philosophy of returning to the Western sources.” Shivji himself has captured this intellectual predicament in regard to his discipline elsewhere:

So, no, we are not all doing African Studies. However, all African intellectuals ought to do it irrespective of our disciplinary boundaries. Harry Garuba has consistently made a case for this by highlighting that the study of Africa has not yet been fully integrated in the traditionally Western disciplines. The “study of Africa”, he aptly notes, “was calling upon us to open the disciplines rather than adopt and justify their self-admittedly fragmentary understandings of the world.” It is what he refers to as the “blinkers of the inherited disciplines” that needs to be fully smashed. What is a better way of doing it than ‘Bringing back African Studies to Africa’?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Launch: Taken for a Ride - 6 November 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

We are Satisfied with Democracy in Tanzania But...

The Majority of Tanzanians are Satisfied with the Way Democracy is Working in our Country But...

Chambi Chachage

I have been particularly annoyed with the ways some of our compatriots have been using the corporate Western media to portray the purported decay of democracy in Tanzania. "Upheaval in Kenyan, Ugandan politics as Tanzania cracks down," one such outlet purports in an article entitled: Brawls, Autocratic Moves Threaten East African Democracy. But is the situation that bad?
It was thus refreshing to read Professor Ian Bremmer's tweet indicating that Tanzania, alongside India and Sweden, has the highest percentage of people (i. e. 79%) who are "satisfied with the way democracy is working in their country." The dose of skepticism from Tanzanian critics and wall of defensiveness from supporters of the regime has sent me back to the original source.

Indeed the Pew Research Center's survey on 'Globally, Broad Support for Representative and Direct Democracy' released on October 16, 2017 indicates that we are way up there. "Majorities in Tanzania, Ghana, Senegal and Kenya", it asserts, "say their democracy work well" (p.14). But that is not the end of the story.

In terms of how much we "trust the national government to do what is right for our country", the 79% is virtually halved as 48% said "a lot" whereas 41% said "somewhat." Since my interest in this blog is to simply - and gullibly - interpret Pew's results in their own right, here is their standard interpretation of such glaring differences:

"Attitudes about the functioning of democracy are closely tied to publics' trust in their national government. People who are satisfied with how democracy works in their country also tend to say they trust the national government to do what is right for their country" (p. 16).

Interestingly, Pew adds the 48% of those who say they were satisfied a lot and 41% those who say they were somewhat satisfied  to get a total of 89%. One can only but wonder what we - the ever cautious Tanzanians - actually mean when we say "somewhat."

Ironically, only "53% of... Tanzanians hold the view that representative democracy is good" (p. 20). This makes one to even wonder what type of democracy, then, are the 79% satisfied with?
Is it another version, one that makes 39% of us say "a system in which a strong leader can make decisions without interference from parliament or the courts" is "total[ly] good" (p. 26)? Of course, 57% of us responded by saying it is "total bad" and 39% said it is "very bad" (Ibid.) But is isn't 39% more than a third of Tanzanians?

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