THE JULY 1971 PRO-DEMOCRACY UPRISING at UDSM, commonly called the Akivaga Crisis, was described at length in Chapter 5. The features of this student led movement included formation of bonds solidarity between students, academic staff and the campus workers; grassroots discussion and decision making on a daily basis; the progressive nature of the demands; the special role played by female students; and its long term impact. Such features make it a unique and one of the historically most important occurrences at this university.
After 1972, many authors of varied social and political persuasions have written about this event. My review of this historical record shows that it is filled with errors and misrepresentations. Not a single writer has given an accurate and balanced picture. This type of historical record needs to be corrected. Hence the aim of this appendix is to review and critique these writings and investigate the sources of their flaws.
It is logical to begin with the voices of the two principals in the crisis, Symonds Akivaga, the student leader and Pius Msekwa, the university Vice Chancellor. The student leader subsequently lectured at the Department of Education of the University of Nairobi before retiring around 2010. My attempts to contact him through several channels, however, did not bear fruit. I learned with sadness that he passed away in 2017.
The former VC has been a prominent political personality in Tanzania. Interviewed by my research assistant in February 2017, he at first denied that there had been a class boycott during his time at UDSM. When he was shown the documentary evidence, he declared that the media had a tendency to distort and exaggerate. He terminated the interview shortly thereafter. More details about his version of the Akivaga Crisis are fortunately available in Msekwa (2014). On pages 107–109 of this book, the following points are noted:
- Msekwa’s arrival at UDSM was associated with the University coming under the purview of the ruling party, TANU. Some people, especially foreigners, disliked this and began to work for his ouster.
- Recognizing the rebellious nature of students, Mwalimu Nyerere had advised him to have sound reasons for his administrative decisions. Because he followed this advice faithfully, no major problem or unrest had occurred during his tenure at UDSM.
- After Akivaga, a Kenyan, had issued a statement calling for his removal, he held a meeting with the student government. He saw that there was no substantive problem. The statement reflected plain political intrigue. That was why Akivaga was suspended for a year.
- The move generated politically motivated student unrest, demanding his return to the campus. He attended the meeting of the academic staff and explained his reasons. Yet the staff meeting supported Akivaga’s return.
- At this juncture, the Chairman of the University Council called a meeting of the Council. His aim was to make the Council support the return of Akivaga to the university. During the course of the meeting, the Chairman received a call from Mwalimu Nyerere. He was told that the immediate return of the student leader was out of the question. Akivaga had to serve his suspension first.
- Throughout this period, a tranquil atmosphere prevailed at the university. There was no incident that could have led to suspension of classes or closure of the university. An FFU unit had come to the campus. After ascertaining that everything was orderly and peaceful, it had left.
- Patriotic Tanzanian students, led by George Mkuchika and Ahmed Kivanuka, were disturbed by the political machinations behind this event. After Akivaga’s return, they made a plan to disband his student government. When he was informed about their plan, he assured them that the university administration would recognize and work with the new government. Thus a new student government led by Tanzanians came into being, and started work without any hitches.
- Throughout this crisis, he had the full backing of Mwalimu Nyerere.
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Comment: Pius Msekwa’s account hides many key aspects of the crisis and is replete with errors and distortions. According to him, the basic problem was a conflict between Tanzanians and outsiders. His account serves to portray his tenure at UDSM in a favorable light. Nonetheless, it is revealing in two aspects: the role of Mwalimu Nyerere in this episode and the part played by his administration in the overthrow of a democratically elected student government.
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Next, consider the official history of the University of Dar es Salaam, as presented by Kimambo, Mapunda and Lawi (2008). Three chapters in this book touch on the Akivaga Crisis.
Kimambo (2008) traces the roots of the Akivaga Crisis to the entry of ‘new, non-academic bureaucrats’ at UDSM. However, his case is based on the words of the first two vice chancellors of UDSM. The conflict at the university is reduced to a conflict between patriotic Tanzanians, on the one hand, and non-Tanzanians and Marxists, on the other.
Itandala (2008) just makes two brief points about the Akivaga Crisis: Democracy at the university was the key issue in the crisis, and that it generated the momentum towards the establishment of an organization of the academic staff.
Of the three chapters, Mihanjo (2008) has the most coverage of the Akivaga Crisis. The main points in that regard are:
- DUSO under Akivaga was a militant student organization.
- ‘Lack of effective communication’ fueled the conflict between the administration and the students.
- Rustication of Akivaga led to a four-day class boycott.
- Students accepted the call by the University Council to resume classes.
- Akivaga’s rustication was endorsed by the Executive Committee of the Council.
- The Council set up a commission to look into the crisis. DUSO did not cooperate with the commission.
- DUSO cabinet resigned on 23 August 1971.
- Akivaga was reinstated on 1 July 1972.
- A ‘revolutionary’ student government displaced Akivaga and his DUSO cabinet, and ruled for fifty four days.
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Comment: The version of the Akivaga Crisis in Kimambo (2008) is too one-sided and unsubstantiated to deserve attention. The comments in Itandala (2008) are too brief. Scrutiny reveals that almost all the material in given in Mihanjo (2008) relating to the Akivaga Crisis is extracted from two official annual university reports (UDSM 1973; 1974). But the page citations are incorrect and several sentences are reproduced almost verbatim without using quotation marks. A few sentences are arbitrarily truncated, distorting the meaning of the original. The pro-administration biases in the annual reports are thereby reproduced and compounded.
Consider the role of the university TYL branch: ‘The TANU Youth League University District, during the year under review, was somewhat dormant because of the student unrest.’ (UDSM 1973, page 225). Itandala (2008) converts this to: ‘Students’ absence during the crisis between 1971 and 1972 made the TYL University Branch dormant.’ (page 213). The annual report lists in part the activities of the TYL Branch, which gives the contrary impression, that the branch was quite active during that academic year. Itandala (2008) doesn’t have the list but goes on to claim that ‘The (TYL) Branch tried to intervene so as to solve the student crisis but the efforts were unsuccessful.’ (page 213). The source of this assertion is unknown, as it is not present in the annual report.
The fact of the matter is that the University TYL Branch played a prominent role in the Akivaga Crisis. It consistently sided with DUSO and strongly castigated the administration. It held meetings and issued a detailed statement analyzing the roots of the crisis and branding the university administrators as ‘Hitlerite fascists.’ This statement, written in English and Swahili, was widely circulated on the campus and beyond. The branch later held discussions of the Mungai Report and wrote a critical analysis. In sum, Itandala (2008) is replete with factual and conceptual errors, and tends to favor the administration’s account of the crisis.
None of these three chapters in this book refer to any document or newspaper report of the time. With such distorted and restrictive accounts, the official history of UDSM does a poor job in documenting the development of the Akivaga Crisis, one of the most important episodes in its history.
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Next I look at the publications of scholars who have written about the Akivaga Crisis. First I consider the traditional scholars whose works reflect an implicit or explicit pro-capitalist orientation.
In general, these scholars mention the crisis briefly and note a few basic points: (i) The crisis was caused by the authoritarian nature of the new administration, (ii) It led to the democratization of the governance of the university, and (iii) It catalyzed the efforts to establish an organization of the academic staff (see Mkude, Cooksey and Levey (2003); Ngirwa, Euwema, Babyegeya and Stouten (2014); and Mbwete and Ishumi (1996)).
One exception is Omari and Mihyo (1991). It stands out in three aspects: (i) It is based on documents and on newspaper reports of the time, (ii) It gives a fairly accurate day by day account of how the crisis progressed, and (iii) It presents a perceptive picture of the multifaceted nature of the crisis.
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Comment: Nonetheless, I place this book together with the previous three publications because their common underlying message is that the crisis emanated from the attempts by the new administration to inject the ruling party’s socialist policies into the academia. It is a simplistic narrative that permeates most convectional writings on Tanzania. All the problems in Tanzania of that era are attributed, in a formula like manner, to socialism. Yet, the practical contents of this socialism are not examined in depth.
To elaborate this point, consider Table 2 ‘Causes of Student Unrest’ in Omari and Mihyo (1991). It groups the causes of the Akivaga Crisis into four categories: (i) Political, namely, ‘protest against banning of student’ publications and independent associations, introduction of military training at university, introduction of Party Youth Wingers [?] as the official student union, and bureaucracy and corruption’; (ii) Academic, namely, ‘protest against lengthening of academic year from 31 to 40 weeks’; (iii) Welfare, namely, ‘use of and bylaws passed by Parents Association opposed, consultations on university governance wanted’; and (iv) Managerial, namely, ‘students disagree with Vice Chancellor’s graduation speech’ (page 31).
On the political causes, note that only one student association (USARF) was banned. Further it and its publication Cheche had a staunchly socialist orientation. The membership of USARF did not exceed five percent of the student body. Its radical stance often brought it into conflict with the main student organization. Though the students and academic staff in general did not approve the banning of these entities, the disapproval did not rise to the extent of becoming a major grievance of the student body.
The military training started at UDSM during the 1970/71 academic year was for Tanzanian students only. Conducted for a week during vacation time, it was a part of the National Service scheme in which the students were already enrolled. By this time it was no longer controversial. Many students took it as a welcome break from demanding mental work. What the students took exception to was the fact that the VC bragged about it as if it was a major achievement on his part.
The existing official student union, DUSO, was enshrined in the act of parliament establishing UDSM, and the question of replacing it with the Party youth wing, TYL, did not arise during the academic year preceding the Akivaga Crisis. Even the university branch of TYL did not forward such a demand. Actually during this period the university TYL was regularly at odds with the administration. During the crisis, it expressed strong opposition to the stand taken by the administration.
The students did take exception to the bureaucratic behavior of the administration. One arena of potential corruption they were concerned about was the cooperative shop. Yet, they were not opposed to this socialistic move. The idea was welcomed by the staff and students as it would provide an accessible venue for purchasing essential supplies at reasonable prices. What was not accepted was the lack of transparency associated with the project. It was felt that senior administration officials would use it for their personal benefit.
The extension of the academic year was opposed both by students and lectures because the decision was taken in haste without due consideration for implications on research and teaching, and without consultations with the affected parties. The bylaws relating to the residence halls took the students by surprise. When asked why the students were not involved in the decision, the VC claimed that he had consulted the Tanzania Parents Association. But the bylaws were formulated by the administration and not by the said association.
All the segments of the university community were alienated by the actions of a bungling, authoritarian administration that lacked a vision or plan for how to govern and develop either a traditional university or a socialist university. Apart from a few lackeys, everyone, from leftists to rightists, had problems with how the university was run by Mr Msekwa. The process of reorienting the university curricula towards a more Africanist, socialistic direction had begun long before he arrived at the university. It was an internally generated endeavor deriving from protracted efforts of progressive students and staff. If anything, the steps taken by the Msekwa administration worked to undermine and reverse those pioneering initiatives.
To view the Akivaga Crisis as a conflict between socialism and capitalism, or that arising from the attempts by a nationalistic bureaucracy to make the university education relevant to national needs is to obfuscate the reality. It is indicative of unwillingness to explore the complexity of the situation and ideological bias.
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Finally, I turn to the scholars whose writings generally display a clear socialist orientation.
John Saul, an internationally renowned left wing analyst, portrays the Akivaga Crisis in a dramatic fashion:
[The] student president Akivaga [was] whisked away from the campus and summarily dispatched home in a waiting plane: his crime, apparently having been to invoke ‘Mwongozo’ in criticism of the university’s hierarchy! Saul (2011).
A paragraph on, he continues:
Here I refer to the invasion of the campus of the University of Dar es Salaam by the Field Force Unit in 1970. Standing in the nearby coffee area next to the central administration building, straining to see what the soldiers were upto, I saw my own student Simon Akivaga, the Kenyan leader of the University Student Council, having been summoned to a meeting with the principal, being dragged, at gun-point, down the cement stairs at the front of the building, tossed like a sack of old clothes into a waiting army vehicle and sped away to his aforementioned expulsion from the university and the country. Saul (2011).
For him, this crisis was an instance of the stark contrast between the rhetoric of grassroots empowerment enunciated in a ruling party policy document and the harsh suppression of the people who attempted to puts its message into practice.
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Comment: This essentially is the sum total of the description of this crisis from Saul. Parts of the same description appear almost verbatim in a number of his writings, for example, Saul (2009). It is a firsthand account. He was at the scene of Akivaga’s arrest, he attended staff and student meetings during the crisis, and signed the staff petition supporting the students. All that make his report a particularly important one.
Yet, almost every sentence he writes has errors. One, the TANU Guidelines is correctly dated to the year 1971, but the Akivaga Crisis is wrongly placed in 1970, a year earlier. How could Akivaga have invoked a document that had yet to be issued? Two, the student organization is given an incorrect name. Three, the Field Force Unit was not an army unit but a branch of the police. This is a critical point in the context of what was happening in Africa in that era. Four, his student’s first name was Symonds, not Simon. Five, Akivaga had been summoned not to a meeting with the ‘principal’ but to appear before a disciplinary hearing. Six, the formal title of the head of the university administration was not the principal but the Vice Chancellor. Seven, Akivaga was marched out, not dragged out; he was not tossed into the vehicle but was made to climb in. Eight, Akivaga was standing on a small six-step stairway when he was arrested. He was pulled by a policeman, not dragged down. Nine, at that point in time, Akivaga was not expelled but ‘rusticated’ (suspended) from the university.
In a sense, these are minor errors. That so many are packed within a single paragraph that constitutes his main description of the crisis is disconcerting. A tendency to exaggerate and play around with facts is on display here. John Saul had earlier written a perceptive paper on student radicalism at UDSM to his credit (Saul 1973). Yet, in relation to the Akivaga Crisis, he has no further comments of the causes, actuality and consequences. The sole thing he notes about this is the dismissal of Arnold Temu of the History Department that occurred later on.
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Next, I look at an article by Haroub Othman, a veteran, prominent socialist scholar (Othman 2005). I quote his description and comments pertaining to Akivaga Crisis in full:
In July of  the University held a graduation ceremony where the Vice-Chancellor, Mr Pius Msekwa (now the Speaker of the National Assembly) made a speech. The students’ union, known then as the Dar es Salaam University Students Organization (DUSO) took strong exception to the Vice-Chancellor’s speech and this was expressed in an open letter signed by the DUSO President, Mr Symonds Akivaga. The University authorities decided to rusticate the student leader, and since he was from Kenya, it meant also deporting him back to Kenya. The students reacted by boycotting classes and staging a sit-in at the entrance to the Administration Block, demanding the rescinding of the rustication order. Riot police, known as the FFU, were called in and with their fingers on the trigger, surrounded the students.
In those days, my office was in the Law Faculty Building, and on that morning, I was walking to the Senior Common Room to have my morning tea. I came face to face with the students and saw the riot police forcefully taking away Symonds Akivaga. My immediate reaction was to rush to Walter Rodney’s office which was in the building next to the Administration Block. Walter was busy writing his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. After telling him what was happening, we rushed out to the Administration Building. On arrival there, Walter went straight into the crowd and stood on the stairs of the building and addressed the crowd. He urged them to be calm and not to destroy any property.
The students’ boycott was total, and the next morning academic staff held a meeting, in this very lecture theater where we are today holding Rodney’s commemorative meeting, and called on the university authorities to rescind the rustication order. Later on Akivaga was allowed to return to the campus, DUSO was dissolved and a new students union was established. But what was interesting were the stories that followed, no doubt put forth by the university authorities and disseminated by politicians in town, that the Left, headed by Rodney, had engineered the world episode! Othman (2005), pages 301–302.
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Comment: The first paragraph above is an accurate account of the central episode of the Akivaga Crisis. But the second one has a major error: Walter Rodney did not climb up the stairs and talk to the assembled students. If he was around, he maintained a distance from the center of action. The two people who calmed the enraged students were fellow students: the Vice President of DUSO and the Speaker of the Student Baraza.
The errors continue in the third paragraph. The first meeting of the academic staff took place that same afternoon. As indicated from the names of those who were present, Walter Rodney was there. In the staff meeting held the next day, the VC and student representatives were also invited. Rodney did not play a prominent role in these meetings. Additional comments on the role of Walter Rodney in the Akivaga Crisis will be given later. Another misstatement concerns the dissolution of DUSO. This did not occur during, or in the immediate aftermath of, the Akivaga Crisis. It happened years later, in connection with another student demonstration.
Othman does not talk about the unity that developed between students, academic staff and campus workers in this period, the outstanding part played by female students, the broader political dimensions or the long term consequences — issues one would expect a socialist scholar to highlight.
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Now consider the words of Professor Issa Shivji, a prominent Tanzanian socialist scholar, on this crisis. In one article, he wrote:
The traditional student body at the university, the Dar es Salaam University Student Organization (DUSO), under Akivaga, a former member of USARF, raised some fundamental questions which culminated in what came to be known as the ‘Akivaga Crisis’. In 1971, in response to the Vice Chancellor’s graduation day speech, Akivaga, in an open letter, accused the University administration of bureaucracy, high-handedness and undemocratic behavior. Students boycotted classes and staged sit-ins. The show of commitment, solidarity and firm-ness on the part of the student body was unprecedented. Once again the state could not tolerate such ‘insolence’, similar to those of the workers. The FFU was dispatched post-haste to round-up Akivaga and shove him off to the airport wherefrom he was deported to Kenya, his home country. Shivji (1987), page 137.
On the following page, he adds:
Student struggles everywhere revealed the impatience and spontaneity of its petty-bourgeois social base as it indeed did in the Akivaga crisis. In that episode, an excellent opportunity [??] with the striking workers was missed, nay never even considered. While a few elements called for a protracted, public debate on the place of the University outside the Campus involving broad sections of the population, the large majority of the student population was only interested in getting Akivaga back to the Campus. When the university administration cleverly conceded by flying Akivaga back to the Hill, the wind was taken out of the sail. Students returned to classes and settled down on getting their certificates, marking an end of an important period in the history of student struggles and ideological debates at the University. Shivji (1987), page 138.
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Comment: First note the obvious errors. The students had resumed classes by the middle of July but Akivaga was allowed to temporarily return in the middle of August in connection with his appeal. No concession, clever or otherwise, was offered by the administration. The appeal was summarily rejected and he was served with an expulsion order. Though the class boycott did not resume, the DUSO cabinet resigned, an atmosphere of noncooperation with the administration prevailed, and the struggle continued in other forms. For the rest of the academic year, the demands for Akivaga’s return and democratization of the university remained in the forefront.
Following the acute phase of the Akivaga Crisis, ideological classes and public lectures by progressive personalities continued on the campus. Many issues of the radical student journal MajiMaji with well researched papers (including those by Shivji) and informative debates were published. Progressive students worked in Ujamaa villages and distributed socialist material in schools. It is thereby inaccurate to call the ending of this crisis as a point denoting the end of student and ideological struggles at UDSM. Historically, it is more valid to call the fratricidal ideological tussles of the mid-1970s between leftist academics at UDSM, which demoralized the entire progressive community, as the turning point in that respect.
Shivji does not give a reference for his assertion about the call for ‘a protracted, public debate’ during the Akivaga crisis. What and who he refers to are unclear. In actuality, that had been a long standing demand of the socialists among the staff and students at UDSM. There is no evidence that it garnered enhanced attention during this crisis.
On the key issue of worker-student relationship, elsewhere, Shivji adds:
Though the students showed remarkable unity [during the Akivaga Crisis], they failed to mobilize fully the staff and workers who labored under the same debilitating bureaucracy. They paid scant attention to the grievances of their natural allies. Shivji (1980)
To buttress his depiction of this as an anti-worker episode, he quotes the English translation of a statement written by some campus workers that was published in MajiMaji No. 13, of January 1974. In part, it reads:
In the University [Akivaga] crisis of 1971 which resulted in the rustication of the students’ leader (which was preceded by the banning of the most revolutionary organization to have existed in the history of the University—U.S.A.R.F.) one of the most important things the radical students did was to shout in the name of workers and peasants. But not a single worker answered their call even though some of us—the workers—were fighting the same enemy. Source: Shivji (1980).
All these assertions are factually flawed and highly misleading. The Akivaga Crisis was the only event in the history of UDSM in which solid bonds of cooperation between students, staff and campus workers were formed. Student representatives attended staff meetings, and staff and worker representatives attended the student barazas. Important student statements were translated into Swahili and disseminated among the workers. The campus Workers Committee issued a statement in support of the students that was read out in a baraza amid much applause. Students held discussions with workers, conducted literacy classes for them and joined them in work activities in the cafeteria and the halls of residence. Female students played a leading role in those endeavors. But DUSO never claimed to be shouting ‘in the name of workers.’
In contrast, USARF, ‘the most revolutionary organization,’ which did shout ‘in the name of workers [and peasants]’, never concerned itself with issues affecting the campus workers. Not a single one of the numerous statements it issued during its lifetime reflected their concerns. While it can be lauded for its Pan-Africanist and socialist stand and activities, it had a noteworthy shortfall on the domestic front.
Shivji and the worker statement he quotes, written two years after the Akivaga Crisis, conflate the actions of the (few) radical students (under USARF) with those of the main student body. Earlier, the general student organization at UDSM had restricted itself to student bread-and -butter matters. During this crisis it, for the first, and thus far the last, time formed a solid alliance with the campus workers.
A crucial thing Shivji does not bear in mind is that when the Akivaga Crisis began, the post-Mwongozo struggles against heavy handed, irresponsible leaders in work places and educational establishments were in their infancy. The open letter signed by Akivaga, which explicitly cited this important policy document, was a pioneering step on that front. It stimulated and energized this struggle, and thus deserves to be given due credit.
Another observation made by Shivji is:
Walter Rodney was once again one of the most prominent participants in staff and joint student/staff meetings during the [Akivaga] crisis, which lasted for fairly long. Shivji (1980).
What he notes on this score is consistent with the words of Othman (2005). As will be shown later, this is not just a matter of detail but has important methodological implications.
When it comes to considering the long term consequences of the Akivaga Crisis, Shivji sets a different tone.
The first cry against incipient bureaucratization process on the campus was raised by the Akivaga episode. Once again, it involved mainly the student body, although eventually members of staff were also drawn in. It was through their participation in the so-called ‘Akivaga crisis’ that the staff for the first time realized that they lacked an organization and a forum of their own; hence their demand for an academic staff assembly, which took a whole decade to materialize. (It has not been said for nothing that the struggle is a process for self-education.)
Following the Akivaga Crisis and the Mungai Report, formal democratic structures were installed at the University. This took the form of a proliferation of committees on which staff and students were variously represented. To that extent, the demands of the 1968–71 student struggles were partially met. Shivji (1981).
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Comment: Here, Shivji is right on the mark. Yet, he fails to explain the manner by which an event he otherwise disparages had such positive consequences.
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Finally, we look at a paper by Chris Peter and Sengodo Mvungi, two former law students and later, members of the academic staff at UDSM (Peter and Mvungi 1985). It contains an apt rendition of how the initial phase of the Akivaga Crisis unfolded. The deficiency of democracy at UDSM is placed as the central issue in this crisis. Affecting both students and staff, it formed the basis for their united stand. The furtherance of democratic structures and initiation of the drive to form an academic staff association are declared as the two major achievements of the crisis. But otherwise, their verdict on the crisis is not a salutary one:
The Akivaga Crisis, for example, was the best example of the deterioration in the content of the student struggle. …. [The students] failed to involved [sic] in their struggle the workers and members of staff who had similar grievances against the university bureaucracy. Their resistance had no articulate and deep going analysis of the events. Peter and Mvungi (1985).
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Comment: The general take on the Akivaga Crisis of these authors is almost identical to that presented by their professor. It appears that the summary of the initial days of the crisis in Shivji (1987) was based on their article. Both reflect the same type of errors. Hence my critique of Shivji on this matter applies equally to their work. Also, what they say about the staff student relationship at this juncture is not consistent with what they write elsewhere.
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Overall Comment: To put it mildly, the presentations of the Akivaga Crisis by these progressive intellectuals are hardly satisfactory. They are limited, distorted and flawed. Since they write about their natural constituencies, workers and students, we expect them to give faithful, comprehensive accounts of their struggles. Yet, they do a shockingly poor job.
The question is: How come? Is it a shortcoming confined to this particular event, or does it have broader ramifications? And what are its methodological roots? We pursue these issues next.
SCIENCE AND ERROR
Science is more than a body of knowledge. Primarily, it is a method of acquiring knowledge. Its evolution was spurred by a growing realization that what we think is the truth often is not, a realization that was frequently contemporaneous with emergent practical needs in society.
A proposition that is patently false, factually and conceptually, is held as the gospel truth by the multitude even today. Science aims to uncover such mis-perceptions of nature and society, understand their character and origins, and design methods of collecting, collating, analyzing and interpreting information that will give us an as accurate and valid a picture of a usually complex reality that can be had with the technical and conceptual means at hand.
Scientists categorize the errors skewing our understanding of the reality into two basic types: systematic error and random error. Take the case of measuring blood pressure. If the nurse performs the task in a hurried manner, she can overestimate or underestimate its true value. Better training and an unhurried setting will reduce such an error. But it cannot be avoided altogether. As long as no pattern exists and provided they are small, such errors do not skew the doctor’s judgment about the patient’s condition.
On the other hand, suppose we are looking at two different drugs for treatment of high blood pressure. Most of the patients getting the new drug are obese while most on the old drug are of normal weight. This dissimilarity in the patient groups can produce readings that give a deceptive picture of the comparative efficacy of the two drugs. An error of this form is called a systematic error, or bias. To counter such bias, study designs that generate patient groups that are similar according to key features that effect disease status and outcome of treatment are necessary.
Biomedical researchers have identified more than two hundred different types of systematic errors, and have devised varied ingenuous strategies to control them (Mullane and Williams 2013). Yet, bias remains an entrenched feature of health research. Critical external factors influence why it is persistent. Many investigators have inadequate training in research methods, and do not consult research method specialists at the stage of designing their study. Seeking to fatten their cvs, they compromise the quality of published papers. Conflicts of interest, commercial and other, intrude onto the health research arena as well (Angell 2005; Editorial 2004; Editorial 2006; Kassirer 2000; Mayer 2005).
I note two examples from my own work. I conducted critical, in-depth analyses of two highly regarded, award winning papers published in prominent British medical journals. One dealt with the treatment of ear infections in children, the other, with the initial treatment of children with severe malaria. Each paper was seen to have serious methodological, practical, analytic and interpretative errors and biases (Hirji 2009; Hirji and Premji 2011).
In the social sciences, including history, the scope for such errors is greater. Material from the past gets damaged over the years; memories become hazier. Existent documents reflect the biases of the recorders, both in observation and opinion. Lives of the upper strata of society get more detailed, gentle treatment while the material on the lower strata often is scant and unfairly presented.
No history can be a faithful mirror. If it were, it would be as long and dull as life itself. It must be a selection and, being a selection, must inevitably be biased. T E Hulme.
The almost cavalier treatment of truth found in the works of prominent authors writing about East Africa is disconcerting. For instance, the memoir of the acclaimed Asian-Tanzanian-Canadian author Moez G Vassanji, And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa (Vassanji 2014), has a plethora of elementary errors of fact, and pervasive methodological, economic and racial biases (Hirji 2016).
While the elucidation and control of systematic and random errors has secured extensive attention, consideration of one overarching source of error has been sidelined. This error, of central importance to history and the social sciences, derives from the framework for the analysis of human society consciously or subconsciously adhered to by the researcher. While its character differs, it affects both conservative and progressive scholars.
Every historian operates under a particular world view, an overall framework for visualizing the structure and functioning human society. She does not collect information about the past in a random fashion. Rather, she focuses on types information and relationships deemed relevant by her world view, and disregards or pays scant attention to items not regarded as critical or relevant by it. Because a vast ocean of information exists, every historian has to select. The young historian engaged in research becomes ensnared into a particular, dominant world view because almost all the historians around her employ the same approach. It is held that it is an objective, fair minded approach. The minority who take issue with it are viewed with suspicion. They are called the biased scholars who introduce politics in the academy.
Bias of this form is internalized subconscious bias. It promotes ideologically driven selectivity and affects historians of all social, political, economic and cultural spectra. The operation of this type of bias is encapsulated in the following quote:
Born with blue spectacles, you would think the world was blue and never be conscious of the existence of the distorting glass. T E Hulme.
The paper ‘Maoism in Tanzania’ by Priya Lal is an instructive instance (Lal 2014). Based on a Cold War era driven conceptualization of Tanzania and China, utilizing an extreme degree of selectivity of events and data, employing an inconsistent manner of citation of sources, and resorting to numerous superficial analogies, it solemnly arrives at the acceptable conclusion for the US academia that Maoism exercised a major influence on the policy and practice of Ujamaa under Nyerere. The author claims to be countering negative perceptions of Africa. But if you subject this work to a systematic, fact-by-fact scrutiny, its premises, method, analogies and conclusions begin to unravel in no time.
Purely objective history does not exist. Those who profess such objectivity are deluding both themselves and their readers. Instead of striving for a mythological form of objectivity, every historian should declare her basic premises and overall framework in a transparent manner. Having done that, she must approach her task with scrupulous eyes on the control of random and systematic error of all forms, and strive to render an as valid an account of history as she can. While ideological bias is unavoidable, it is not a license to compromise the truth.
This is what Walter Rodney does in his majestic work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. At the time he began his work, the approaches toward the history of the continent masked the depth and structural scope of the impact of imperialism on Africa. When the struggles against colonial and racist rule gained traction, a new generation of African and expatriate historians began a massive empirical and theoretical project to present a more authentic view of African history. Standing in the forefront of this effort, Walter Rodney’s two principal works exemplify meticulous research and astute socio-economic analyses enjoined with novel interpretation of the past.
Establishment historians branded him as a politically minded, shallow scholar. His approach, which integrated economics and class analysis into historical analysis, was anathema to those who focused mainly on cultural and political analysis, and that with a bourgeois slant. A major crime in their eyes was that Rodney combined the struggle for social justice with scholarship. Today, while the hostility of the mainstream scholars remains unabated, Rodney’s works are regarded as indispensable to a comprehensive understanding of Africa’s past. Key elements of his methodology are integrated, but in an unacknowledged form, into most of the major writings on African history nowadays (Hirji 2017).
Rodney declared the framework of his analysis in a comprehensive and clear manner. While his major work can be corrected in terms of some errors of fact, he cannot be accused of disguising his methodological principles and predilections.
MISREPRESENTATIONS OF THE AKIVAGA CRISIS
With these introductory remarks, and bearing in mind that all the accounts we have seen of the Akivaga Crisis were, in one way or another, seriously flawed, let us pose the question: Were the noted flaws instances of random error, or do they signify forms of bias?
In one case, the answer is apparent: The bias in the one-sided accounts from the university administration stems from a tendency to defend the socio-political system of that era as well as the desire to rationalize the actions of prominent personalities. In the case of the mainstream scholars, the limited nature of their accounts originate from a subtle form of bias, namely, their unwillingness to transcend the confines of the capitalist world view. That reduced their capacity to present an in-depth and balanced account of the crisis. For, such an account would call into question their simplistic view the policy of Ujamaa in Tanzania.
The main enigma arises for the accounts of the left wing writers. How come the pictures they painted were full of major errors and gave impressions the opposite of what would be expected from them? Were some forms of bias at work here? To help us tackle these questions, we consider the case of Walter Rodney, now not as a historian, but as a subject of history.
Rodney spent approximately eight years at UDSM. His life and work have been described in a number of biographies (See Hirji (2017) for an almost complete list). But a thorough account of his life, writings, teaching and politics at UDSM does not exist. Issa Shivji deserves the most credit for keeping the memory of Walter Rodney alive in Tanzania. Yet, there are some aspects of his work that can assist us in addressing the question of bias posed above.
Let us begin with the Rag Day, an event of British origin some African universities emulated in the 1960s. On a designated day, students dress up in rags to march around the city to raise funds for charity. For the year 1968, the Rag Day at the Dar es Salaam University College was scheduled for 9 November 1968. Viewed as an opportunity for fun by the student body, many eagerly awaited it. However, members of USARF felt that it was a hypocritical gesture that mocked the poor, and embodied a counterproductive approach to combating poverty. On the morning of the scheduled event, they mounted an action that led to its demise at this university for good. Rag Day was replaced by voluntary farm work done by students on a regular basis. The proceeds went to worthy causes including the African liberation movements based in Dar es Salaam.
What role did Walter Rodney play in this battle against the Rag Day? On this issue, we have four sources; three by one author, and one by two of his students:
Some of the members of USARF could not stomach this out-right mockery of the masses. They called a meeting on the eve of the so-called Rag Day. At this meeting of USARF the whole question of the role of charity and philanthropy in a bourgeois society was analyzed. Comrades, among whom was Rodney, discussed issues at great length …. (Shivji 1980).
USARF called a public meeting on the eve of the rag day to discuss the rag day. The role of philanthropy and charity in capitalist society was discussed at great length. As Rodney, summed it up, ‘Charity is giving by the ounces and taking by the tons.’ (Shivji 1992).
In the text of Shivji (2016), we read
[USARF’s] view of charity was summed up as a ‘euphemism for those who plunder by the ton and give by the ounce.’ (Shivji 1992).
In an accompanying footnote, the source of the phrase under quotation marks is declared:
Quoted in Peter C and Mvungi S, ‘The state and the student struggles’ in Shivji IG (ed.) The state and the working people in Tanzania, CODESRIA, Dakar, 1986. I believe the phrase was originally coined by Walter Rodney during the meeting on the eve of the Rag Day. (Shivji 2016).
Peter and Mvungi (1986) cite that phrase but do not give a source or attribute it to any person. It is likely that they obtained it from their professor. But in the process, they modify it but nonetheless place it in quotation marks. As Shivji (2016) then repeats the second quote, we do not know what Rodney exactly said on that day.
The bigger question is: Did Rodney make any statement on that day? I was present at the meeting in question and took part in the sabotage of the Rag Day the next morning. My diary, though, says that I first met Rodney in early July 1969, eight months after the Rag Day. How could I have not met him on that day? Are my memory and my diary leading me astray?
It is an indisputable fact that in the middle of October 1968, Rodney, based at the University of Jamaica, was at a conference in Canada. He was then barred by the government of Jamaica from returning to the island. Was it possible that he subsequently flew to Tanzania in time to participate in the Rag Day debacle? I wrote to Patricia Rodney and inquired as to when she and Walter had returned to DSM after he was expelled from Jamaica. Her reply:
I returned to Dar in December 1968 with Shaka and pregnant with Kanini. Walter stayed in Cuba until June 1969 when he returned to Dar. Kanini was three months old when he saw her for the first time. (email from Patricia Rodney, 2016).
Rodney surely did not take part in those Rag Day actions as it was physically impossible for him to have done so. To locate and quote him in that context is pure fictionalized history.
Consider another milestone in the history of student activism at UDSM, namely, the ban on USARF and its organ Cheche. The fundamental reason was that USARF and Cheche championed socialism and Pan-Africanism in an uncompromising manner, and exposed the shortcomings and contradictory tendencies of TANU and the state on these issues. Thus, its special issue featuring Tanzania: The Silent Class Struggle by Issa Shivji exposed the pseudo-socialist nature of the nationalizations of banks and other firms done in 1967. What role did Rodney play in the prelude to the ban? We read:
The issue [of Cheche] that followed carried commentary on my long essay. One of the comments was by Walter Rodney, and after that the journal was banned and the organization [USARF] deregistered. (Shivji 2013)
But if you look at ‘the issue that followed,’ namely, Cheche No. 4, you find that it does not include Rodney’s commentary. Cheche was banned in November 1970, while this commentary appeared in January 1971, in the inaugural issue of a new magazine called MajiMaji. So, as is implied, Rodney’s commentary could not have been one of the factors that triggered the ban.
Besides being factually flawed, Shivji’s declaration is also conceptually contentious. Rodney’s commentary (together with that by John Saul) was presented at a regional social science conference in December 1970. Shivji was in London at that time. On his behalf, I presented his long essay in a session in which Rodney and Saul gave their comments. I recall a sharp exchange with both. What they said, and published, was more conciliatory towards Tanzania’s socialistic endeavors than the take home message from Tanzania: The Silent Class Struggle. It can be argued that had Rodney and Saul’s articles appeared in Cheche, it would have been a mitigating factor for not imposing the ban on the magazine.
Let us return to the Akivaga Crisis. The question of relevance is: What was Rodney’s involvement in the crisis? As we noted earlier, the answers to this question emanate from Haroub Othman and Issa Shivji.
Othman’s depiction of the role of Rodney in this crisis, written more than 35 years later, does not reference any supportive documents. While it is a firsthand account, it is purely a memory based one. The major flaws it contains have been described earlier.
Issa Shivji, on the other hand, was in London at this time. Chris Peter and Sengondo Mvungi came to UDSM much later. None of them cite any relevant documents of that period. Did Shivji acquire his perceptions of the crisis from subsequent discussions with students and academic staff, including Walter Rodney? We do not know.
The names of academic staff who played a prominent role in supporting the students are found in the newspaper reports and documents of that period. Rodney is not one of them. Rodney kept a low public profile during this crisis. The radical students held private talks with him and progressive academics. But that did not make him ‘one of the most prominent participants’ in the gatherings held. Rodney’s name appears in the first academic staff memorandum issued during the crisis. But it is one among sixty four names, the majority whom are non-Tanzanians. I retain a copy of this document. The names of the academic staff who actively backed the students and addressed the student baraazas appear in the newspaper reports and documents of the crisis. None of them bears Rodney’s name. Had he been publicly and prominently active, it would have been reported by Naijuka Kashivaki, the former chairman of USARF, who wrote a series of excellent reports of the crisis for the main English language daily, The Standard, and in the stellar summary of the crisis in Njagi (1971).
Rodney’s stand of keeping a distance was consistent with two key aspects of his conduct at UDSM. He held that at times, the right to self-determination outweighed the possibility that it may lead to a faulty course of action. Tanzanians needed the space to decide their own future without an external ‘expert’ telling them all the time that this was good and this was not. They would learn from their mistakes. Secondly, he was aware that the bogey of foreign agents could be employed by the authorities to suppress a genuinely internal movement. Such a call was indeed issued by some reactionary academics, the administration, the Chairman of the University Council and politicians who wanted to derail the unity generated by the crisis. The students did not buy into this propaganda, but it did permeate the national media.
I have two photos taken at the time of Akivaga’s arrest by the FFU. They are 8×10 inch photos (Appendix D). There was a time when, with the help of a magnifying glass, I could identify many students and students in them. But now I can pinpoint just three persons among them with any degree of confidence, one of them being George Hadjivayanis. What I can affirm is that Rodney (or Haroub Othman, for that matter) was never in my identifiable group. But John Saul was.
During his time at UDSM, Rodney worked closely with the radical student groups but was not involved in the activities or affairs of the main student union. That was also the case during the year leading up to the Akivaga Crisis. Furthermore, he had had major tussles with the state authorities just a short while back. It is unlikely that he was in the frame of mind to initiate another one. In practical terms, he was, as noted by Othman, in the final stages of completing his major work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
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My assistant and I interviewed, by email and in person, over 15 people who were at UDSM during the Akivaga Crisis. One thing that stood out was the extremely varied nature of their recall. The fickleness of human memory makes an exclusive reliance on it for writing history fraught with danger. It is generally affected by not only the biases one had in the past, but critically, one’s present day biases as well. Excessive dependence on memory magnifies the operation of confirmation bias, namely, the tendency to collect, select, recall, present information in ways that favor one’s prior beliefs or conclusions on the issue.
The distortions and exaggerations found in the accounts of the Akivaga Crisis in general and in some actions ascribed to Walter Rodney by the left wing scholars can largely be attributed to confirmation bias. Rodney was a principled activist intellectual who got involved in grassroots struggles wherever he was. Thereby, reliance on memory alone would lead you to stipulate that most probably he was intimately involved in these episodes. No other research is done, and a stipulation is converted into a fact of history. Rodney’s stellar accomplishments, however, do not need embellishment. As a meticulous historian, he would have frowned upon such deviant renditions of the actuality of his life.
Saul’s exaggerated rendition of an episode from the Akivaga Crisis exemplifies a tendency to enhance the brutal and arbitrary nature of the actions taken by the state authorities in that era. Indeed, numerous actions of this type did take place. But there is no need to magnify any to make that point. And he gets so carried away by these enhancements as to omit from his writings the exemplary features of the Akivaga Crisis he witnessed in person.
The progressive scholars on this crisis have given us accounts and verdicts that seriously misrepresent one of the most important episodes in the history of UDSM. And because those accounts are accepted widely and quoted by other scholars, these misrepresentations persist to this day. Here we observe the operation of bias towards authority, namely, the tendency to uncritically accept statements made by a person regarded as an authority expert in the field. If the premier progressive writer in the nation has drawn such a picture of the Akivaga Crisis, who will see the need to question it?
Another form of bias emerging here is citation bias, that is, the bias generated by inappropriate citation. One instance of this is circular citation. Thus, scholar A presents a supposition; then B cites it as an observation; and C converts it into an established fact; which later is cited by A to back up his initial supposition. In the biomedical literature, such practices lead to the persistence of scientifically dubious propositions. In the case of Rodney’s role in the 1968 Rag Day event, Shivji made a memory based claim. Peter and Mvungi, relying on him, repeated it. In his subsequent work, Shivji cited these authors as his source, thereby giving greater credence to it.
Another important matter is that of apportioning blame. For Saul, it lies with the university authorities. But Shivji and his students go a step further. They blame the victims, the students, for not mobilizing their ‘natural allies.’ Their accusatory tone is predicated on the assumption that students are the sole agents of social change. The issue of how these natural allies acted is not raised. Did the academic staff or the leadership of the workers contemplate undertaking a go-slow or non-cooperation type of action? Did they directly raise demands of their own, as fellow workers in the nation were doing? While expressing solidarity with the students, they did not take a concrete step that would have sustained the momentum of the struggle. Had that been done, a potential opportunity to examine the substance and function of the university in a society aiming to build socialism could have materialized. Objectively, it was a general failure among the three disenfranchised and aggrieved campus groups to form a solid coalition and struggle for change. To solely the blame the students is not historically accurate.
An important issue they avoid is the role of the Chancellor, Mwalimu Nyerere, in this crisis. First, he appointed a man lacking vision, knowhow or experience to lead UDSM towards lofty academic, socialistic heights. And when that man’s high level of ineptitude was revealed beyond doubt, he backed him to the hilt. It was this crucial act on his part that downgraded the morale of the campus community.
The student uprising of 1971 had many ideological and practical limitations. But it also had unprecedented and singularly laudatory features from which many lessons relevant for our day and age can be drawn. It was a short lived episode. History rarely marches in a linear way. Ups and downs, some of a transient variety, are the general norm. The Paris Commune, which laid the basis for a modern day socialist state, was crushed in a matter of weeks. Yet, it served as an inspiration for generations that followed.
Those who desire social change must strive to keep the authentic memories of the past alive. The activists of the future will be inspired and educated by them. More work thus needs to be done in relation to the Akivaga Crisis. An accurate picture of what went on during a time when grassroots democracy, tripartite solidarity and hope bloomed on the UDSM campus, and how and why all that was quashed, is required. And it has to be done before the records of the era and the persons who were involved in it are no longer accessible.