Experience is the best teacher
But the tuition is high
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A SPARK CAN IGNITE A PRAIRIE FIRE. But, as Mao Zedong declared, the conditions must be ripe. The first graduation ceremony of UDSM on 7 July 1971 occasions the issuance of a potent spark. Taking the form of a rambling, vacuous oration by Vice Chancellor (VC) Pius Msekwa, it, to everyone’s surprise, catalyzes a major upheaval on the campus the very next day. The discontent that led to it has been brewing for a year now.
The acute phase of this episode is of one week in duration. But it will have unprecedented features and exercise a major long term influence on how the university will be governed.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Until the 1960s, institutions of higher learning in the West and the Third World, while claiming to be citadels of independent thought and inquiry, were beholden to the dominant capitalist and imperialist system. They generated a sizable creative output in science, technology, social science, medicine, art and literature. Yet, most of their endeavors were constrained by the values and demands of the prevailing system. Research, publication and teaching were, by and large, underpinned by capitalist ideology, corporate interests and national security priorities. A minor presence of academics who queried the status quo was tolerated. Overall, however, views at variance with the existing social order were rare.
Moreover, these institutions had rigid hierarchical structures. The atmosphere favored a pro-status quo bias in thought and practice, not broad academic freedom and discourse. Behind a superficial facade, these universities were elitist institutions run by the elites for capitalist and imperial interests.
For varied socio-economic and political reasons, the decade of the 1960s brought to the fore student movements that challenged that state of affairs. The influence of dissident academics grew disproportionately in relation to their numbers. The ivory towers were rocked to the core by massive and intense protests making demands of local and universal character. These movements sought inclusion of voices promoting social justice, racial and gender parity into university affairs, and demanded basic curricular reform, especially in law, social sciences, economics and education. They struggled to end the entanglement of the academy with pro-corporate policies at home, and policies of war and neo-colonial domination abroad. A key aim of these student movements was to democratize the governance of the university (Ali 2005; Chomsky et al. 1998; Derber, Schwartz and Magrass 1990; Schalk 1991).
The academy in Africa, Asia and Latin America, often a couple of decades old, faced further obstacles arising from overt interference from local politicians and intellectual dominance by expatriate academic staff, mainly of the conservative mindset. While protesters in the West faced tear gas and batons, in Africa, they braved bullets, arbitrary incarceration and regularly, torture and death (Legum 1972).
UDSM was no stranger to student agitation. It had become a hot-bed of radical action from the year 1967, the year of the Arusha Declaration and initiation of the policy of Socialism and Self-Reliance for Tanzania. Demonstrations, in-class confrontations, faculty sit-ins, self-education classes on Sundays, public lectures and debates, leafleting and petitions had become integral to the campus environment.
Mounted by left wing students, allied with like-minded academic staff, they invoked issues like curricular reform, the hiring of lecturers, discussions of national development policies, liberation of Africa, support for the people of Cuba and Vietnam, exposé of visiting pro-imperialist groups, among other things.
The UDSM students of those days fell into three ideological groupings. Some 5% subscribed to socialist, Pan-African politics. Another 5% had pro-Western, right-wing leanings. The rest, while imbued with nationalistic feelings, kept a distance from socio-political activism. Unless it was an issue of Apartheid rule or colonialism, they stood on the sidelines. In tandem with their elitist aspirations, they focused on study, entertainment and personal affairs. (These are order of magnitude estimates based on personal experience.)
The right wing students and staff promoted agendas of their own and mounted offensives to counter the innovative leftist initiatives such as launching an interdisciplinary course in development studies. But the favorable political climate of the era made it difficult for them to roll back the progressive gains on the academic front (see Cheche for details).
A NEW UNIVERSITY
In July 1970, this college of the University of East Africa becomes an independent academic institution, the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM). More than that, it now comes under the purview of a socialistically inclined government. The ball is set in motion at the founding event by inspirational words from Mwalimu Nyerere, the Chancellor. While calling for an academy that champions excellence in scholarship and operates under the umbrella of academic freedom, he also expects it to graduate dedicated experts armed with knowledge and skills of relevance to the socio-economic development of the nation. He implores the new university to promote the vision of socialism and self-reliance.
The man placed at the helm to set this grand project in motion is Pius Msekwa, the former executive secretary of TANU, the ruling party. The new VC arrives on the campus in a pompous style, on a motorcade organized by the TYL headquarters in town. The party paper boasts the next day that TANU is set to take over the university. All segments of the university community, irrespective of political inclination, are alienated by this statement. For, in the four years that have transpired since the Arusha Declaration, one thing has become apparent. There is a wide chasm between the rhetoric from the political leaders and concrete actions of the state. The ruling party is dominated by opportunists and demagogues who seek to further their own positions. They talk about socialism but have no clue or intention to implement policies that will benefit the broad majority and launch the nation onto a trajectory of genuine development. No one at the university, Tanzanian or not, progressive or conservative, looks forward to an administration with such a narrow minded and self-centered outlook. It is not that the staff and students dislike socialism as such. What they do not want is a pretentious brand of socialism undoing the strides made during the first decade of the existence of the university.
Within a week of the arrival of the new VC, our worst fears are confirmed. The substance and style of his leadership elicit grumblings from every segment of the campus community. He operates like a yes-man political appointee and shows no sign of a decent academic or social vision. He smiles all the time and at everyone, but few are taken in by his superficial geniality. It takes little time for students and academic staff, basically from all disciplines and political leanings, to query his credentials to lead the university. As the academic year rolls on, his actions not just confirm but magnify their misgivings.
He takes major decisions without prior consultation with affected parties. None are based on sound investigation. The directive to elongate the academic year to 40 weeks, thus, comes as a surprise to the university community. Even the Deans of the Faculties were not adequately involved. Seasoned academics declare it of dubious pedagogic value. Matters like teaching practice, research projects and other practical activities done during the long vacation are not factored into the vague plan. The academic staff require time away from teaching and routine work in order to do research and write. Does he regard the university environment a regular office type of situation? People wonder.
There is a serious shortage of teaching staff in many departments. Students and staff point to this problem through different avenues. Yet there is no satisfactory response from the VC or his administration. Extending the academic year will add to the teaching load of the already overstretched lecturers.
Over the past three years, the main radical student groups, the University Students African Revolutionary Front (USARF) and campus branch of TANU Youth League (TYL), and the progressive staff allied with them had confronted obstacles on two fronts. First, the ruling party leadership in town had developed strong misgivings about the stand they were taking on national and international matters. Second, these student groups had to conduct their activities in the face of practical hurdles placed by the conservative university administration. Support normally accorded to most student groups was either delayed or denied. Now, with the potent call for a socialistic reorientation of the university from Mwalimu Nyerere, they feel the situation may turn around. They harbor great progressive expectations. As a DUSO letter to the Chancellor written a year later put it:
[With the] appointment of a party cadre to the high post of Vice Chancellor of the National University, progressive elements at the campus and throughout the nation, hoped that the spirit of the Tanzanian Revolution would be enhanced at the Hill. (ACD-14).
But it proves to be a magnificent illusion. The first blow lands on none other than the leftists. In November 1970, in a move that transmits shock waves across the campus and beyond, the VC oversees a ban on USARF and its magazine, Cheche. This magazine, of which I am the senior editor, has, within a year of its existence, acquired a solid national and international reputation. The order emanates from the state house, i.e. the President’s office. The stated reasons, one being that the name Cheche (The Spark) is of Soviet origin, are clearly spurious. The ban elicits consternation among the African liberation movements that have their main office or a branch office in Tanzania. USARF has formed strong ties with these movements, both in terms of vision and activities. They find it strange that a government pledged towards socialism and Pan-Africanism has silenced an organization committed to the same goals (see the book Cheche for details). Pius Msekwa is now seen by the progressive groups as the front man for the implementation of a long term project to silence the genuinely socialistic voices on the campus.
Additionally, his administration enacts bylaws affecting the students in an abrupt fashion. They take particular offense to the rules restricting student movement at the residence halls. There is palpable anger: Are we primary school pupils? As adults, we have the right to determine our private lives. If an unruly student creates a disturbance during a late night visit, he or she has to be disciplined using existing regulations. It is unfair to punish all for the misdeeds of a few. When asked about it, the VC says with a straight face that he consulted the Tanzania Parents Association, a reply that incenses the students further. And, in a typical evasive style, he passes the blame onto the University Council.
Another point of friction is the opening of a university cooperative store. Though it is basically a welcome move, the associated absence of transparency irks everyone. Rumor has it that the top university officials want to use it for personal gain.
The campus workers, from cafeteria staff to clerks and messengers, have a mounting series of unaddressed grievances. These include payment of transport allowance, improved terms of service, enhancement of overtime pay, and loans for bicycles. The VC deals with them in a typical top-down style. Instead of negotiating with their campus leaders, he liaises with the officials of the national workers union in town, and over whom, as a former ruling party senior official, he can exercise greater influence.
The new VC’s administration differs in one major way from the previous administration of Dr Wilbert Chagula. While progressive staff and students had numerous run-ins with him, Dr Chagula was respected as a seasoned academic who had a good grasp of how to manage a traditional university. The new VC, on the other hand, is rapidly showing lack of credibility on all fronts and, within a few months, has no constituency left on the Hill.
A NEW STUDENT LEADERSHIP
UDSM was born out of the University of East Africa, and retains its international character, in terms of student and staff composition. The narrow nationalistic rhetoric associated with the ascendance of Mr Msekwa does not sit well in this environment. Like their Tanzanian counterparts, Ugandan and Kenyan students have participated in the broad spectrum of social and political activities on the campus. The ban on USARF narrows the avenues for them to be a part of left-wing student pursuits. Thus far, the main student union and the left-wing groups have had an antagonistic relationship. In the academic year 1970/71, that is set to change. A few ex-USARF members and new students with a leftist orientation manage to win leadership posts in the Dar es Salaam University Students Organization (DUSO). Two among them are Symonds Akivaga and Mauri Yambo. Jenerali Ulimwengu becomes a dynamic presence on the broader student political arena.
Akivaga, the DUSO president, is a popular leader. Exuding charisma, people listen when he speaks. In a departure from the student union leaders of the past, he harbors an enlightened social vision. With other progressive members of his cabinet, he successfully persuades students to view issues like the new bylaws broadly in terms of the basic right of the students to participate in decision making.
During the academic year, the administration functions like an unseen boss behind the curtain projecting a multitude of unnerving directives at the least expected time. In theory, students (and academic staff) are represented at the various levels of decision making, including the University Council. The Chairman of the Council claims at the first graduation ceremony a year on that it is the only university in Africa with such a representation (ACD-00) (The specific references for this chapter are coded and listed separately). But he does not note that in practice, it is a token presence. Their views do not count. Whatever they say, the higher ups do what they want to do anyways. Reflecting that spirit, the Chairman’s speech, though rich in flowery analogies, does not have specific references to the multitude of issues that had concerned the university community in the previous academic year.
One concern mounts on top of another. The DUSO leadership requests, time and again, an audience with the VC and other senior officials. Mostly, they are rebuffed. When a meeting is held, the VC appears sympathetic. But once the students exit his office, he proceeds with business as usual.
By the end his first year in office, he has alienated all on the campus apart from those within his narrow inner circle. For the first time at this university, students, radical, reactionary or moderate; academics, progressive, liberal or rightist; and the ordinary workers have come to develop strong feelings of disaffection towards an unmistakably inept, uncaring VC. The Hill is at a boiling point.
THE OPEN LETTER
Wednesday, 7 July 1971: And now comes that pompous speech from the VC at the first graduation ceremony. Both he and the Chairman of the University Council give a topsy-turvy portrait of the first year in the life of this university. The VC concedes that there were a few problems. But he ascribes them to ‘misunderstanding.’ The other pressing issues are pushed under the rug. For the student body, it is the final straw. Water is about to turn into steam.
Akivaga summons his cabinet for an emergency session the same evening. The consensus is that all the matters have to be brought out into the open. This is to be done in the form of an open letter to the VC. Somehow, the VC gets a wind of this effort, and tries to mollify them. But the DUSO cabinet sticks to its plan.
Thursday, 8 July 1971: The letter is brought out in the morning. Though signed by Akivaga, it expresses the view of the cabinet as a whole. The grievances outlined are genuine. Though, reflecting the accumulated frustrations, its tone breaches the norms of polite diplomacy. The VC is accused of making ‘major policy announcements in public places without prior discussion, consultation or even information.’ The cases cited relate to the 40-week academic year, the cooperative shop, and issuance of misleading declarations on the nature of the cleavage between administration, lecturers and students. The letter boldly calls a spade a spade:
[T]he university is like a floating ship without competent leadership to direct it. … Mwongozo, para 15 declares that leaders should desist of telling lies but you [VC Msekwa] publicly do and you know this. (ACD-01).
It concludes that the students will hold a general meeting to discuss these issues in a baraza the next day, and invites the VC to attend and explain his stand on the relevant issues to the students.
The Mwongozo invoked in Akivaga’s open letter is the shortened Swahili name for the TANU Guidelines (TANU 1971), a ruling party document issued three months earlier in March 1971. After the Arusha Declaration (TANU 1967) and Education for Self-Reliance (Nyerere 1967), this is the third key policy document on the implementation of the policy of Ujamaa in Tanzania. Its outstanding feature is the excoriation of the prevalent leadership and management style in the nation. In its place, the new policy calls for honest, humble leaders who respect people and their views. Participation of ordinary people in the making of the decisions affecting their lives and work is made into a firm requirement. The qualities it specifies for a leader exemplify its radical spirit:
There must be a deliberate effort to build equality between the leaders and those they lead. For a Tanzanian leader, it must be forbidden to be arrogant, extravagant, contemptuous and oppressive. The Tanzanian leader has to be a person who respects people, scorns ostentation and who is not a tyrant. He should epitomize heroism, bravery and be a champion of justice and equality. (TANU 1971).
Leadership styles proscribed above are rife in governmental and para-statal bodies as well as in schools and colleges. This pro-people document is the work a few leftists in the ruling party who seized an opening in the brick wall of tradition to push it through. Though it is an official ruling party document, high party functionaries and senior management personnel in state bodies dislike it. Walter Rodney explained the contradiction in a speech given five years later:
In many ways [the Mwongozo] is an even harder hitting document than the Arusha Declaration….. [T]he majority of Tanzanian people stood in [its] framework and that anyone who wanted to oppose it had to do so surreptitiously. (Rodney 1975).
No wonder, it gains wide and fast popularity among workers, peasants and students. The people treat it almost as a sacred text, citing key paragraphs in a bid to hold leaders with authoritarian practices to account. Soon a nationwide series of protests, some leading to occupations of offices, factories, schools and the university, are to erupt. When workers and students stand up against these autocratic, wasteful, elitist management bodies, they speak the truth. The consequences, as we shall see, are, however, far from what they expect.
Symonds Akivaga is a pioneering personality in this historic movement against heavy handed bureaucracy. His open letter is a key record of that eventful era when ordinary people across the nation decided to rise up in efforts to control their own destiny.
The DUSO open letter is duly delivered to the VC’s office. The copies posted on noticeboards attract crowds. Sentiments of agreement from students and staff dominate the scene. The officialdom responds instantly, in a pungent manner. A blunt note from the Chief Administrative Officer, AC Mwingira, charges Akivaga with three counts of indiscipline: libeling the VC, promoting disharmony at the university, and inciting disobedience among the students. He is ordered to appear for a disciplinary hearing early morning of the next day (ACD-02).
Friday, 9 July 1971: He reports on time. As the open letter was approved by his cabinet, they too are present. Yet, no one is called in. He is told to return after two hours. Shortly after 10 am, he climbs up to Mr Mwingira’s office. Immediately, he is handed a letter declaring that he is guilty as charged, and has consequently been rusticated from the university (ACD-03). He is told to pack his bags.
This procedure violates basic tenets of decency and justice. He has not been given even a modicum of a chance to defend himself. Furthermore, the University Disciplinary Committee is a one-man body, consisting solely of the Chief Administrative Officer. It cannot be expected to be fair and impartial, especially in a case that affects his boss and the administration as a whole.
As the stunned student leader and his cabinet appear at the exit of the administration block, a couple of hundred students are gathered outside. The exit is adjacent to the Senior Common Room, and it being the morning tea hour, quite a number of lecturers also look on. I am one of them. Among the crowd, I see some student comrades: Henry Mapolu, George Hadjivayanis, Munene Njagi, Joe Shengena (the campus TYL chair), Ramesh Chauhan, Naijuka Kashivaki and Wilbald Kavishe.
Everyone is eager to know the outcome of the disciplinary hearing. Standing atop the small stairway leading out of the building, Akivaga reads out the letter he has been given (ACD-03). ‘What does ‘rustication’ mean?’ It is a new word even to this educated crowd. ‘An indefinite suspension.’
There are loud cries of dismay and anger. Some students want to storm the administration block right away and confront the university bosses. But Akivaga has the good sense to calm the crowd. The Speaker of the Student Baraza, Mr Swai, brings order by formally declaring the gathering to be a baraza, an open meeting that constitutes the highest decision making body of DUSO. With the students seated on the ground, a spirited exchange is soon underway. ‘What is the next step?’ That is the main question.
The proceedings, however, are short lived. As if out of nowhere, a contingent of about fifty Field Force Unit (FFU, the riot police) officers swoops down from the main gateway of the administration block. Armed to the teeth, and with a reputation for ferocity, it is the most feared entity in the nation. Apparently, the VC has had it on standby. Interestingly, and astoundingly to the students, the officer in charge is Said El-Maamry, who graduated from UDSM with a law degree just two days earlier. Following his order, two policemen go four steps up the stairway and one seizes Akivaga by his arm. As he is pulled down, one student shouts loudly. He is hit with a rifle butt and arrested as well. Two students try to hold on to their leader but eventually submit to the strong pull of the policeman. Akivaga is placed under arrest and marched to the waiting police vans.
As the initial shock wears off, intense shouts of dismay are heard. A large group trails behind the retreating contingent, chanting for the release of their leader. In front of the main building underpass, the FFU forms a no-go barrier. Those who come close are roughly pushed away or struck with the butt of the rifle.
George Hadjivayanis is the boldest. He approaches the officer in the middle and calmly tells him that Akivaga and the students have violated no law. He goes on to say that what the FFU is doing is contrary to the national policy of Ujamaa that promotes participation of the people in decision making. At first, the officer is expressionless. As George goes on with his tirade, he says they just follow orders. Whether someone has committed an offense or not will be decided by the courts.
A whistle is heard. The FFU retreats in a reverse formation. Akivaga is huddled in one van, but we do not see him. The students follow. About fifty emerge from another direction onto the grassy lawn not too far from the police armada. As the FFU prepares to depart, a few hurl small stones at their vehicles. None strikes the target. In minutes, the contingent is out of sight, leaving us aghast in disbelief. We are to learn later that Akivaga was taken straight to the airport and put on a plane to Nairobi.
The gathered students simmer with anger. Calls to storm the administration building are heard once again but the DUSO Vice President and the Speaker manage to restore calm. As the baraza resumes its deliberations, loud calls for the VC to come down from his high perch are heard. After a while, it is not the VC but the Chief Administrative Officer who comes to talk with the students. But the students want the big boss in person. Mr Mwingira’s words are met with such angry verbiage from his audience that he has no choice but to retreat. About an hour on, George, Jenerali and two other hot-headed students lose their patience. They climb up the flights of stairs to the VC’s office, barge in, grab the stunned boss by his arms, and roughly escort him down. The moment he arrives, he is asked by the gathering to explain why Akivaga has been arrested. The seemingly shocked VC is initially unable to utter a single word. He is visibly shaking, perhaps afraid that the angry lot will beat him up. Finally, he says: ‘Comrades …’
That deceptive start ratchets up the temperature. Loud boos ensue. He stutters and cannot go on. Just then, fearing the worst, the Speaker urges students to continue their meeting. For the pathetic VC, it is a chance to bolt away from the scene. But he does with a promise that he will attend the next student baraza and explain his actions.
The resumed debate shimmers with harsh verbiage, but remains orderly. In a short while, four resolutions are passed with unanimity: (i) Students will boycott lectures and seminars until Akivaga is returned; (ii) They will not cooperate with the Administration in any way until then; (iii) The VC must resign; and (iv) They remain loyal to the Chancellor, Mwalimu Nyerere.
By this time, all academic activities have come to a halt. A group of students had gone from lecture theater to lecture theater, passing on the information about what was happening near the administration building. But, contrary to what university officials were to claim the next day, no act of violence or vandalism was committed. Many academic staff also stand in the vicinity.
Around four in the afternoon, a group of academic staff, exactly sixty four in number, gather to discuss the unfolding crisis. They are directly affected in that no student is expected in class tomorrow. Reflecting the overall staff composition at the time, one fifth are Tanzanian and the rest, expatriate. Critically, most in attendance identify with the progressive faction of the staff. All back the students. The academic staff too have misgivings, minor and serious, against this inept bureaucracy, and yearn for a change. A three-person ad-hoc committee (Joe Kanywanyi (law), Marjorie Mbilinyi (education) and Kighoma Malima (economics)) is empowered to convene a meeting of all academic staff the next day. The VC, his two senior deputies and the DUSO Cabinet are invited to attend (ACD-04).
Another vibrant baraza, this time in the main assembly hall, transpires after dinner. It starts by naming, amid applause, the academic staff who signed the petition supporting the students. Despite his earlier promise, the VC is not present. There is an extended discussion on how to implement the resolutions passed earlier. It is agreed that the Mwongozo, the document that emphasizes the importance of democratic decision making in the principal institutions of society, should be central to promoting their cause. There is little doubt that the university administration has transgressed it in spirit and substance. It is resolved that the next morning, students at each hall of residence should hold a mini baraza to discuss these guidelines, and come up with suggestions on how to promote their struggle.
With a few other academic staff, I stand at the back. Towards the end of the meeting, I raise my hand. The Speaker beckons me to the stage. The few words I say convey the message that their cause is just, that the authorities have acted in a disgraceful, illegal way and that members of the academic staff stand solidly behind them. There is loud applause. Two other staff follow suit.
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Comment: I remain proud that I was the first staff member to speak up openly in support of the students. As a lowly Tutorial Assistant with a tenuous position, I took a risk. Dismissal was a possibility. But some historic junctures generate a momentum of their own. What has to be done, must be done. I did not, though, realize that my act hammered the first thick nail into the coffin that would unceremoniously extricate me from the university in two years’ time.
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Saturday, 10 July 1971: The campus is abuzz with a host of gatherings as each student hall of residence convenes its own baraza. The one in Hall III, the female residence hall, stands out. Its activist chair-person Fausta M Materu steers it to pass a creative resolution urging students to do practical work like kitchen duties and cleaning the residential areas (ACD-07). Accepted by the general student body, its implementation begins right away.
After the mini barazas are over, the campus TYL Branch holds an open air meeting in the Revolutionary Square. Over four hundred members take part. TYL Chairman Joe Shengena and leaders of the Kenya and Uganda students’ associations jointly condemn the administration actions. A long TYL statement issued subsequently expresses ‘complete solidarity’ with DUSO, and full agreement with the resolutions adopted by the student body. It as well condemns the ‘fascist’ measures taken by the administration, calling the VC’s speech on the graduation day an ‘example of chicanery and loud-mouthed lies.’ Declaring the UDSM students’ demands to be in line with the national policies, it calls upon the youth and workers nationwide to support them. (ACD-06; ACNR-03).
The TYL statement, translated into Swahili, is distributed broadly not just within the campus but also in the city, particularly the adjacent working class neighborhoods. At the same time, DUSO releases a letter in Swahili, and addressed to the workers on the campus. Explaining the position of the students, criticizing the actions of the administration and the police, it says the workers and students have a common cause. Both support the national policies while the higher ups actively work against it. It also warns that the action taken against Akivaga may one day befall the workers. It concludes with the adage that unity is strength while separatism is self-defeating (ACD-08).
In those days, university TYL remained a radical organization, having inherited that mantle from USARF. For it, the issuance of militant statements was a part of its normal operation. But it is the first time in the history of the university for the main student organization to release a statement espousing unity with workers and peasants and declaring support for socialism.
The TYL and DUSO statements immediately get highly favorable reception from the workers at the Hill. They also welcome the participation of the students in work at the cafeteria and the halls of residence. In that respect, the students’ struggle gains a major boost.
The news of the class boycott at the main campus has reached the medical campus in the city and the Faculty of Agriculture in Morogoro. Students at both the places have now joined in.
The newspaper headlines are dominated by the class boycott at UDSM. The coverage is fairly balanced. The Daily News has a revealing photo taken at the moment of Akivaga’s arrest. (ACNR-01).
The academic staff hold their second meeting. Nearly two-thirds of the staff are present. Joe Kanywanyi chairs the session. At the outset, the VC is in attendance. It is obvious that his explanation and responses do not satisfy the audience. EA Moshi presents the students’ case. He, on the other hand, gets a favorable hearing. Ultimately, the meeting resolves to back the students and sets the return of Akivaga as a precondition for a peaceful and just resolution of the current standoff. The three-person staff ad-hoc committee is empowered to continue its work and draft a consensus statement expressing the views of the academic staff (ACNR-03).
The Dean of Students issues a curious public relations statement declaring that Akivaga has not been deported, only rusticated. It is a deceptive play of words. There is no doubt that the student leader was put on a plane and, as confirmed by the local media, now sits in Nairobi.
Sunday, 11 July 1971: No meetings are held today. But a good number of students engage in cleaning work and kitchen duties. In the process, they discuss socio-political issues with the workers. It heralds a new dawn. A spirit of camaraderie between the segments of the campus community hitherto alienated along class lines begins to sprout, mildly but surely. A couple of literacy classes for the workers are conducted by the students.
The Sunday News has four separate pieces on the crisis at UDSM (ACNR-02, ACNR-03, ACNR-04, ACNR-05). One reports that the University Council is to hold a special meeting to discuss the university crisis the following day. Another gives detailed and accurate accounts of the staff and TYL meetings held on Saturday. A third reports an interview with VC Msekwa in which it is revealed that the decision to rusticate Akivaga was made after consultation with the Chancellor, Mwalimu Nyerere. Other than that, the VC gives evasive and misleading answers to questions on the main aspects of the crisis. The editorial opinion in the paper gives a fair overview of the ongoing situation at the Hill and raises key concerns about the actions taken by the administration and the police.
The DUSO cabinet meets in the evening to draft an explanatory letter to the Chancellor of the University. Another highlight of the day is the issuance, by Andrew Chenge (law student) and Andrew Lyall (lecturer in law), of a pointed assessment of the legality of the recent actions taken by the administration. They conclude that basic tenets of natural justice as well as national laws have been breached. The deportation of Akivaga to Kenya, in particular, violated current rules and occurred without prior approval from the Minister for Home Affairs (ACD-11).
Monday, 12 July 1971: The day begins with a mammoth student baraza at the Revolutionary Square. The open letter to the Chancellor prepared earlier is read out and approved. It explains, in a systematic and diplomatic manner, the stand taken by the students. The large crowd, with creatively designed placards, sings and chants as it marches to the location where the University Council is to meet. In parallel, a small group of students proceed to hand deliver the letter to the State House.
During the day, quite a number of students work in the university farm and the cafeteria, and conduct adult education classes. Informal discussions of a political nature with the workers occur in several locations.
Unknown to people outside, the Council deliberations at the outset are fairly even handed. A series of voices critical of the administration are heard. The student representatives also get a fair degree of attention. Three hours on, Council Chair Nsekela is called to an important phone call. It is from Mwalimu Nyerere. He is told in a forthright manner that the language used in Akivaga’s open letter is unacceptable and the rustication of the student leader must stand. When the Council meeting resumes, the tone is changed. The august body spends as many hours to dissect the language of Akivaga’s letter. The contents are ignored.
The Council deliberations end at 10 pm. All this while, the tranquil student vigil has continued on the grass lawn outside. Yet, that night, there is no official word on the outcome for them. Though it is quite late and everyone is exhausted, a baraza is convened. It is addressed by the student representatives on the Council. Not authorized to release the Council resolutions, they can only give a general description about the deliberations. Their tone, however, indicates that what is going to come will not be favorable to the students.
Council Chair Nsekela raises the bogey of foreigners manipulating the students behind the scenes. He warns foreign staff not to indulge in local politics. The leadership of DUSO rejects this obviously false accusation outright but it features prominently in the national media.
Tuesday, 13 July 1971: Mr Nsekela conveys the Council’s verdict to the entire university community at 10 in the morning. It is a morale-shattering verdict: nothing but unqualified support for the VC and his officials. He further directs the students and staff to resume normal academic activities, and ends with two promises: that Akivaga will get a chance to appeal, and the Council will launch a probe into the roots of the crisis. To the staff and students, they sound like empty promises that most likely will produce in a bureaucratic whitewash.
After this meeting, the DUSO convenes a baraza to discuss the implications of the resolutions of the Council. The adverse verdict from the Council presents a stark choice for the students: continue the class boycott and most likely face retribution like mass expulsion, or compromise and continue the struggle by other means. The ensuing debate was summarized in a paper written two weeks later by a student activist:
The main theme of the deliberations that ensued was this: The Council had let us down and the only thing that remained for us was to choose whether to clash with the highest authority, the Chancellor and therefore the President of country, or to appeal to him to intervene on our behalf. To choose the latter we would have to make a gesture of goodwill because we did not intend to give the Chancellor an ultimatum but an appeal. The best gesture would be to go back to classes. The other side of the argument went as follows: If we gave up [at this stage] we would likely lose all we were fighting for and that would mean the whole battle had achieved nothing. Suppose again that the delegation we were to send to the Chancellor was told that we had to go back to classes without being given any guarantees as to our requests, should we still go on to obey?
It appeared as if there was a balance in the opinions. Some other bit of argument turned a majority of the students towards weighing the consequences of coming into direct confrontation with state power. If we refused to go back to lectures the Chancellor would probably order that the University be closed down, and those students who would ever come back would be completely cowed down into yes-men of the Administration. Further, scattered as we all would be, we would never be able to do anything as a student body and even the struggle for getting Akivaga back would die in the wilderness. On the other hand, if we went back to class, the Administration would have no pretext for trying to stop student leaders from carrying on the struggle now and in future. The student leaders could therefore rally all other sympathies, could lobby all those in power and build up enough pressure that could perhaps help in remedying the situation at the Hill. This is what was aptly described as a “tactical retreat”. Njagi (1971).
The students are aware of the dual nature of the Ujamaa policy which combines flowery words with pungent acts. Invoking a hallowed ruling party document and having the facts on your side do not guarantee a positive outcome. The sharp divide among the students is not a divide of spirit, but of fear of the consequences. The fact is the FFU has not left the campus; its vehicles still linger at the main gates of the university campus. Upon hours of wrangling, the conciliatory wing prevails. The baraza resolves to end the class boycott. And a two person delegation is chosen to visit to the Chancellor. At present, he is in Dodoma. This will give the students a chance to make their case to him directly.
But the situation is not all bleak. After the vote, a firm letter of support written by the Workers Committee of UDSM, entitled Grievances of the workers on the Hill, is read out. It both expresses unrestricted solidarity with the students and lists the numerous grievances the workers have in dealing with the university administration. It is met with ‘deafening cheers of appreciation from the students.’ (Njagi 1971; ACNR-12).
Furthermore, the majority of the academic staff continue to support the students (ACD-11). They have issued a statement urging far reaching changes in the governance structures of the university. Only a few reactionary academics, evidently promotion seeking lackeys of the administration, have expressed dissenting, anti-student views.
On a broader front, another thing that boosts the morale of the students is that the two main English language newspapers in the country, the government owned The Standard and the party run The Nationalist, have covered the crisis at the Hill in a fair manner. Their editorial opinions have taken issue with the actions of the university administration and have queried the legality of expelling Akivaga from the country. From what can be discerned, public opinion leans on the side of the students.
But the DUSO leaders are aware of something others are not. Earlier they were summoned to a secret rendezvous with the personal assistant of Mwalimu Nyerere. Held at the home of Lionel Cliffe, Head of the Department of Development Studies, the message from the Head of State was no different from that conveyed by the University Council: First end your class boycott. Then your demands will be considered.
That afternoon a five-person delegation composed of the VC, the Chairman of the Council, the Minister for Education and two students (EA Moshi and IM Dewji) flies to Dodoma. On arrival, they are immediately taken to meet with the Chancellor who is in a village some miles from the town. At first Mwalimu confers with the three officials. An hour later, the students are called in. While commending the UDSM students for going back to class, the Chancellor forthrightly declares that the rustication of Akivaga was in order. The language of the open letter was unacceptable. In an indirect gesture of recognition of the legitimacy of their demands, he however promises that the act of parliament that established the University of Dar es Salaam would be rectified to institute more participatory governance structures.
But this is far from satisfactory to the student delegates. They need something concrete to take back to their constituents. In particular, they need a word on the fate of their leader, Symonds Akivaga. But Mwalimu is in no mood to dwell on that point. When the delegates repeat their request, he expresses his annoyance by abruptly standing up and leaving the room. As if on cue, the army officers present in the background approach the students, place them under arrest, and march them to a detention room nearby. They remain under lock and key for about two hours before being escorted back to their hotel in Dodoma town. Profoundly unnerved and shaken by this unexpected experience, the duo are barely able to sleep that night.
Wednesday, 14 July 1971: EA Moshi and IM Dewji are up early to have breakfast and catch the flight back to Dar es Salaam. In the dining area they see Amir Jamal, the Minister for Finance, at one table. Much to their surprise, he calls them over. He tells them Mwalimu is profoundly sorry about what had happened to them the previous evening and wants to assure the students that Akivaga would be allowed to appeal his rustication. It is an attempt to mollify them. They also get a hint that for their future cooperation in bringing back normalcy to the campus, there would be tangible rewards for them in terms of their career prospects (This account derives from a personal communication with IM Dewji).
When the two return to UDSM in the afternoon, they find that classes have resumed. A final baraza is convened that evening. But it is a low key affair. Less than half the usual number turn up. As their representatives present their report from the visit to the Chancellor, a spirit of resignation prevails. Despite all their efforts, their leader remains in Kenya, his ultimate fate uncertain. And the VC whom they despise can, with impunity, continue his reign of error and intimidation. Having been brazenly let down by those whom they had trusted to be fair and just, the university from now on functions under an atmosphere of despondency that affects not only the students but also the workers and the academic staff. There is fear that a witch hunt may be in the offing.
Thus ends the acute phase of one of the most significant, and in crucial ways, an historically unique student uprising at the UDSM.
I resume tutoring the Vector Analysis course and plan my departure for study at LSE. Shortly, Munene Njagi and I write articles on the history, features and significance of the Akivaga crisis. Published a month later in MajiMaji, they get a decent reception at the Hill (Hirji 1971; Njagi 1971). Students and staff express their appreciation to us in person. To this day, these articles remain the only detailed firsthand accounts and analyses of this momentous episode.
Apart from a few committed leaders, the student body recedes into a state of political apathy. The lecturers perceive them as docile and demoralized. The mood of the hour is synthesized by a radical student:
The Revolution has been betrayed, hijacked and lost. Let me go to the Library and be consoled by the whisper of books, books – m m m – It was a beginning but how soon it subsided like ripples in the wide ocean. DUSO (1971), page 12.
Yet the Crisis-related contradictions rumble on. The 23 July 1971 letter from DUSO Vice President EA Moshi to all the students (ACD-20) describes the pressing issues:
- Though the students are back in class, the FFU maintains a presence on the campus, and the administration has put undue obstacles on the conduct of normal DUSO activities.
- The administration goes on spreading the claim that the whole crisis was instigated by foreigners. The students reject it outright: they are ‘capable of thinking independently.’
- While eleven ‘opportunist’ academic staff took a pro-administration stand during the crisis, more than seventy signed the petition supporting the students.
- DUSO is making preparations to launch the appeal on behalf of their rusticated President.
- The administration is sowing seeds of discord among the students. They are urged to resist and remain united.
- The Council is about to launch an inquiry into the roots of the crisis. The inquiry team will include two students.
- The students are to be commended for the oneness, patience and restraint they have displayed throughout these critical times.
From this point on, I give a summary of the ensuing events. For details, consult the documents, media reports and articles noted in the References.
On 25 July 1971, the University Council appoints a Special Committee to probe the university crisis. Chaired by Joseph Mungai, MP, it is dominated by pro-establishment figures. The key shortfall is that the university community is not adequately represented. At the outset, DUSO rejects composition of the committee. Later it agrees, albeit reluctantly, to cooperate with it. The Mungai Committee begins work in early August. Within a day, DUSO once again declares its strong dissatisfaction, this time with the Committee’s mode of operation.
On 26 July 1971, DUSO submits a formal appeal against Akivaga’s rustication. The DUSO President is allowed to return to DSM in the middle of August for his appeal to be heard. In a clear indication of bureaucratic obduracy, he is not allowed to enter the university campus. He remains outside in the city, presumably under the watchful eyes of security officers. And, in an obvious contravention of conflict of interest rules, the Appeals Tribunal is chaired by the Chief Academic Officer. The one-sided appeals process arrives at a swift, harsh, vindictive verdict. Akivaga’s rustication is changed into expulsion. As of 19 August 1971, he is no longer a student of UDSM, and thus must return to Kenya. Not only is the verdict unjustified, but also the Appeals Tribunal has ignored a key fact: that Akivaga did not sign the open letter to the VC as an individual but on behalf of the DUSO cabinet. If he is guilty, then so are all the members of his cabinet. Expressing their rejection of this gross miscarriage of justice, the DUSO cabinet resigns four days later, and the student representatives to all the university bodies withdraw as well. It signifies their complete disenchantment with the Msekwa administration.
After suffering one demoralizing blow upon another, the students return their attention to the traditional mundane bread and butter matters. Their interest in utilizing existing avenues to make their voices heard in the corridors of power is at an all time low. The level of participation in the election of student representatives to faculty boards, for example, is plainly abysmal. A generalized sense of disinterestedness towards everything but purely educational issues seems to prevail (ACD-21; ACD-24).
The University TANU branch calls an open meeting on 8 September 1971. The sole item on the agenda is the ongoing standoff at the Hill. It is the first time the main campus-based organ of the ruling party has tackled the matter. The meeting, chaired by economics lecturer Kassim Guruli, is well attended by the staff and workers who are TANU members. An extended but contentious discussion ensues. While most members voice their disapproval of the actions taken by the VC, senior administration officials staunchly defend them. The outcome is the opposite of what had been earlier anticipated by the students. The meeting votes by an overwhelming margin to pass a resolution criticizing the actions of the administration, asking for the removal of incompetent leaders and calling for the unconditional return of Akivaga. This clear vote gives a clear lie to the contention oft voiced by the VC that those who oppose his administration are doing so because they basically oppose TANU and its policies. The fact is that not just the youth wing but also the main wing of TANU on the campus is dissatisfied with his performance as the person in charge of running the national university.
The report of the Mungai Committee is released in November 1971. The presentation of why and how the Akivaga Crisis occurred in the report is biased and incomplete because it has chosen to ignore the views of the students who were members of the Committee. Both former DUSO cabinet members and the TYL University Branch reject it outright. The latter holds a public forum to explain its rejectionist stand. In late December, The Standard carries two detailed analyses of the flaws of the report. The one by Naijuka Kasihwaki is particularly noteworthy for its thoroughness (ACNR-31). Kasihwaki, who was the Chairman of USARF at the time it was banned, has played a central role in ensuring that the newspaper reports of the Akivaga Crisis, especially in The Standard, were as comprehensive and balanced as they were.
The sole redeeming feature of the Mungai Committee Report is the recommendation to enhance the level of participation of students and staff in the major decision making organs of the University. The details and nature of the recommendation though fall far short of the thorough changes proposed by the academic staff. The two exemplary proposals from the staff were inclusion of the non-academic staff and institution of the right to recall of university officials (ACD-12).
The academic year flies by. The authorities seek to end the impasse with a delayed gesture of goodwill. In July 1972, Akivaga is readmitted to UDSM to complete his final year of studies. As no election was held in his absence, the students continue to recognize him as the legitimate President of DUSO. But that is not what the administration and the external powers desire. As he subsequently boasted in his memoir, the VC conspires with a group of ultra-nationalistic students to carry out an unconstitutional overthrow of the Akivaga-led student government. As expected, the new leaders adopt a far less confrontational stand towards the administration. By that time, the student body is too alienated to care. The counterrevolution is complete. (see Appendix B for details).
In the history of struggles against injustice, such an outcome is not unusual. For example, the first genuinely socialist local government, the Paris Commune of 1879, was, after murderous suppression by the state, followed by prevalence of divisive, myopic tendencies among the masses. The inspiring civil rights and Native American movements of the 60s in the USA were followed in the 1980s by gang violence, drug usage and a youth without a sense of direction in these communities. Other examples abound across continents.
LONG TERM EFFECTS
The solid unity across the social spectrum, the astute manner in which the students and staff comported themselves, and the statements issued by them fueled a number of eminently laudatory long term effects. The three major positive long term effects of the Akivaga Crisis were:
- It galvanized a movement to counter an incipient trend to bureaucratize the university and bring it under TANU control.
- A few reactionary staff had, in writing, declared that the gatherings of the academic staff during the crisis were ‘unconstitutional.’ This raised the awareness among the staff of the need to have their own organization, and set in motion a long but fruitful effort in that respect.
- The official report on the crisis led to legislation that further democratized of the governance of the university.
The state and university authorities were, however, shaken by the solid grassroots unity displayed during the crisis. A potentially wayward bunch of students, staff and workers had to be placed under greater control. The spread of radical leftist ideas had to be curtailed. With the manner in which he dealt with leftist students at the campus right from his first day, and leading up to the ban on Cheche and USARF, it is evident that VC Msekwa had come to the Hill with a mission to stifle leftist activism. After the Akivaga crisis, the dilution of the influence of the genuinely socialistic voices, expatriate and local, gained renewed intensity. Non-renewal of the contracts of expatriate left-wing academics; reduced hiring of progressive academics from abroad; removal, in one way or another, of local leftists and strategies to de-radicalize student politics gained speed. Due to the entrenched left-wing momentum of the early Ujamaa era, this process took time and was met by resistance from below. It was in large measure completed under Pius Msekwa’s successors, who also were of identical retrogressive mindset.
The radicals, old and new, continued to promote their cause in varied ways for about two decades after the Akivaga Crisis. They held ideological classes on Sundays, published issues of MajiMaji with well researched, critical analyses on key topics, organized public lectures on contemporary matters, visited schools and colleges to give talks and organize events, and took up activities designed to promote the cause of African liberation, socialism and pan-Africanism. For at least four years after July 1971, the issues of MajiMaji contained numerous astute papers of critical relevance to these topics. A number of them were in Swahili, making them more broadly accessible outside the university arena. The ex-student activists like Issa Shivji and Henry Mapolu who taught at their alma mater played a significant role in these future struggles.
But the process entered a new, less-rooted phase. The neo-liberalism of the 1990s finally placed progressive struggles by students and staff in an extended state of hibernation that continues to this day. The UDSM experienced major expansion in terms of student intake, departments and types of courses offered. But the quality of education and scholarly output plummeted drastically. This decline of a once most stellar of the academic institutions in Africa can be attributed to a multiplicity of factors related to national and global economic and socio-political trends. Yet, its roots lie in the systematic assault of the left-wing scholars begun under Pius Msekwa. The succession of inept VCs appointed by Mwalimu Nyerere entrenched that trend. Hence, we now have an academia that does not shine either on the socialist or the traditional dimension. We have the worst of both worlds.
In an atmosphere of continued demise of progressive developments and politics, both in the nation and the university, the mechanisms for democratic governance at UDSM instituted after the Akivaga Crisis thereby increasingly became a formal shell devoid of substance. What is the meaning of democracy when the matters at hand are far from the lives and interests of the common folk. A significant portion of the blame for this outcome has, in my opinion, to be placed on the ultimate authority, Mwalimu Nyerere. Whether it was a question of dealing with workers’, peasants’ or student struggles, he was the person who made the final decision. This is a key point that present day analysts of left-wing persuasion have avoided. Thereby, they have left the rightist scholars an unchallenged venue to give simplistic, ideologically driven answers.
The Akivaga Crisis remains a one-of-a-kind, salutary event in the history of UDSM. Its signal features were:
- The students had two immediate demands, return of their leader and resignation of the VC, and a long term one, effective participation in the university decision making bodies.
- Throughout the crisis, the students acted in a peaceful manner.
- It was a mass movement. Residence hall and general barazas, where all the major decisions were taken, were held on an almost daily basis. A lively grassroots democracy matured into action.
- The students raised their own demands and brought up issues affecting the university community as a whole.
- The majority of the academic staff and workers firmly backed the students. This level of unity among the campus constituencies has not rematerialized to this day.
- The statements issued by the student and TYL leaders during the crisis were translated into Swahili. This improved communication with the workers and further enhanced their bonds.
- Students, male and female, held political and campus related discussions with the workers. They worked side-by-side with them in various campus facilities. Once more, this was a first-time occurrence at this place.
- Female students played an exemplary, progressive role during the class boycott. Prior to the crisis, their participation in left or right wing student politics had been abysmally low.
Most of the academic staff were non-Tanzanian. And Akivaga was Kenyan. Known stooges of the administration as well as the Council Chairman used these facts to raise the bogey of foreign instigators. But it failed to gain traction. The students knew that citizenship had nothing to do with why things were as they were. In any case, the staff who played the leading role in the crisis were all Tanzanians.
These exemplary features of the Akivaga crisis are recorded in the original documents and statements of the period, and are summarized in three first person commentaries published in MajiMaji and the Workers Committee statement issued at that time. I quote these to give a flavor of the spirit of those days.
While we commend all students for the staunch stand, we feel we have to note the special role played by the female students. During the boycott of lectures, they were the first to come out with the brilliant idea that students take on workers’ duties and hold political discussions with workers in their hall. This is a very good example of revolutionary political agitation, and the fact that it was set by female students who have in the past been notorious for their apathy makes it doubly important. Chauhan, Kavishe and Minja (1971).
Students, a large number of the academic staff, and the workers at the University stood together to express their absolute dissatisfaction with the University administration. All had tolerated maladministration and arrogance for long enough. Njagi (1971).
On the whole, the effect of the [Akivaga] Crisis has been educational….. The limitations of petty-bourgeois politics prevented the neo-colonial setup itself from being questioned. But it is the first time in the history of this University that the student body as a whole has taken a progressive stand. Hirji (1971).
In a statement of solidarity entitled: Grievances of the workers on the Hill, it was reported:
Never before had a [?] people on this University felt a sense of Unity to put right what was felt wrong, as this period of crisis, said one workman. (ACD-17).
The human struggle for material, social and cultural improvement is a long term, ongoing, worldwide struggle. It has ups and downs, gains and setbacks, but it never ceases altogether. The important landmarks in the struggle sometimes exercise a salutary, cumulative effect. The lessons they convey are used by people to elevate future struggles to higher levels. But sometimes, those landmarks are lost sight off, and people are then destined to reinvent the wheel.
Earlier struggles can positively affect later struggles through two mechanisms. One, they may institute lasting changes at personal, institutional and societal levels. And two, their memories may persist in a reasonably accurate manner through various cultural venues like popular and scholarly literature, songs, poems, plays, movies and art.
The long term effects of the July 1971 Pro-Democracy Movement at UDSM have been noted by several writers. But sound and comprehensive accounts of what actually transpired during this inspiring struggle do not exist. In fact everything that has been written about it after 1972 has been flawed, misleading and distorted in the extreme. One cannot expect otherwise from those who were close to the Msekwa administration. Even centrist, bourgeois scholars are prone not to reveal the singularly progressive features past historical events. But what is unexpected is that all the left wing scholars who have written about it have given us accounts that are selective and biased. Often what they have presented is either purely fictional or the exact opposite of what actually happened. I discuss this critical issue in depth in Appendix B.