Teaching creates
All other professions

Author Unknown

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TODAY IS THE DAY. Externally, I am calm. Inside, I bubble with excitement and elation. I can once again say: ‘I am a teacher.’ It is almost the end of October 1975. I am to report at the National Institute of Transport (NIT). My appointment letter designates me an Instructor in Transport Statistics. But first, I need to go to the head office of the National Transport Corporation (NTC) on what is now Samora Avenue. The NIT is the training wing of the NTC. I am warmly received by Chief Patrick Kunambi, the Director of Administration of NTC, and the person in charge of NIT.

We have been waiting for you, Mr. Hirji.

After I have filled out the employee forms, he tells me:

Come. I will introduce you to your colleagues.

I am taken to a room where two men sit at a round table. I guess both are in their fifties. The short, plump man is Mr Sanga, the Principal of NIT. The tall, muscular man is Mr Billa, Head, Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics. Both shake my hand vigorously. After exchanging pleasantries, my first question to my new boss is:

Where is NIT located?

This is the NIT.

You mean this room!

Yes, for now, this room is the NIT.

I am flabbergasted. He informs me that NIT is about to open its doors. We three are its first employees. As such, it is our mandate to make sure that this educational institution takes off, and in a successful way.

According to the plan given by Chief Kunambi, NIT will have three academic units: the Department of Transport Management, the Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics, and the Department of Transport Operations. The first one, to which I am posted, will offer a three year course leading to a Diploma in Transport Management; the second, a three year course leading to a Certificate in Motor Vehicle Mechanics; and the third will conduct short courses for drivers, conductors, loading clerks and other junior workers in transport firms.

He also tells me, with an encouraging smile, that as I am the first teacher recruited for the Department of Transport Management, I am, until further notice, also the acting head of that department.

Where is the study program for the diploma course? Does it contain detailed outlines and list of books needed for each course?

It is your responsibility to develop a detailed plan for the three year study program, formulate the syllabus for each course, including making a list of the required and subsidiary books.

What about the other teachers?

No other person who had responded to our advertisement was found suitable. We may get more applicants. But in the meantime, I need to look in different places and recruit fellow instructors.

When are we supposed to start?

In January 1976. The announcement for application to study at NIT will appear in the papers next week.

And where will the teaching take place?

Temporary wooden structures for classrooms and offices are being built behind the Urafiki Textile Mill. I went there yesterday. I am sure they will be ready for use in a month’s time.

I do not sleep well that night. What a drastic transformation! From a do-nothing job that entailed reading old newspapers to pass time to a job where I have to conjure up, from scratch and in a couple of months, an entire advanced academic study program in an area I hardly know much about. Do I have what it takes to undertake that stupendous challenge?

My consolation is that two other people also have a similar responsibility. Though I am to find out that my particular task is a much more onerous one. While courses of the type they have to devise exist within the nation, no college in sub-Saharan Africa offers diplomas in transport management. I feel like a lone blind man dumped in an alien terrain without even a walking stick for guidance.


The basic questions are: What is to be the underlying theme of the diploma program? What types of courses are relevant? How should they be structured? In addition, I need to construct at least the outlines of their syllabuses and locate required course material.

The only thing I get from the Principal is a brochure from the Chartered Institute of Transport in the UK. It lists the study topics for membership examinations of that Institute. But a major portion of their contents does not seem suitable for the African context.

I first go to the Ministry of Transport and talk to senior staff. Some of them had got advanced training abroad. I get an idea of the type of courses they had studied. I pay a similar visit to the transport unit of the Prime Minister’s Office. Then I visit the UDSM, my old hangout. I go to the Economics Department, the Geography Department, the Economic Research Bureau, and the Bureau of Resource Assessment and Land Use Planning. There are several reports dealing with transport issues in Tanzania and East Africa. Some can be used for our courses but most are too advanced.

Critically, through these visits I come to know that over the years, a number of short courses dealing with transport matters (covering road, marine, rail and air transport modes) have been held in the country. For some I get the outlines and for some, I am lucky to find detailed course material. Though this material is for courses of two to four weeks in duration, for me, they are a gold mine. From other places, I find the syllabuses for diploma and degree level courses in general management and administration.

In two weeks, a broad outline forms in my mind. In the first year, our students will take courses on management at a general level, and in the second and third, we will build on that foundation to offer them specialized transport related courses. Each academic year will have three study quarters and a long vacation. During the latter, students will get practical training in the form of attachment to transport organizations and firms for a period of two months.

My priority is to pin down the first year courses, and sequence them by academic quarters. I initially decide on Introduction to Management, Economics, Accounts, Transport Statistics, Basic Commercial Law and Development Studies. The last course gives an integrated, historical perspective on social, political and economic conditions in Africa and Tanzania. It is offered at most higher education institutions in the nation, though we have to teach it with an emphasis on the development of transport systems.

The remaining years will have courses like Transport Policy and Planning, Transport Logistics, Personnel Management, Financial Management, Law of Carriage and Goods, Traffic Safety, Quantitative Methods, as well as courses covering different transport modalities like road, rail, marine and air transport.

It is, as yet, a hazy plan. To solidify it, I need instructors for the first year courses. Then we can finalize course sequencing and detailed syllabuses, and procure the relevant material for teaching.

I can do that by myself for two courses: Transport Statistics and Quantitative Methods, the courses I will teach. The latter course will contain varied mathematical methods that are applicable to transport planning and logistics. Some of these methods were included in the courses I took at LSE. Though now I have to teach them in a simplified and practical style.


At this juncture, I need to mention a unique characteristic of NIT. Unlike many higher educational institutions in Tanzania, this one has zero foreign funding. No bilateral agency, from Norway, Denmark or Canada, or multilateral agency like the UNDP or the World Bank is slated to provide funding, experts or any other form of support. We are on our own. The NTC and the Ministry of Transport have agreed that the Institute will be funded mainly from the transport licensing fees paid by transport entities. In addition, private and public transport entities that sponsor students for study at NIT cover a part of their tuition and other costs.

I cannot count on any group of external expatriates who will overnight descend on our campus to help us get going. For now, it is like a sky high obstacle to surmount. In the long run, however, it will be a blessing in disguise.

Where to get the instructors? A couple of new applicants are to be interviewed. But their application forms leave me doubtful about their suitability for the job.

While doing my investigations about course material, I had been sounding out local experts in the ministries and educational institutions about teaching at NIT. Some are willing to do it on a part time basis and help write a preliminary syllabus. This takes care of first year courses like Accounts, Manage­ment, and Basic Commercial Law. I pitch in too. In addition to my regular course, Transport Statistics, I teach Development Studies, and assist the Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics by teaching Basic Mathematics to its first batch of students. This is on top of discharging the myriad of duties of a head of department.

It is thus that the Department of Transport Management of NIT starts to function on January 1, 1976. A few months on, graduates with a first degree in management and administration, economics, and political science are taken on board as teachers. Initially, they teach the basic courses. Later, they go abroad for master’s level studies in Transport Economics and Planning, Transport Policy and Development, etc.

Two years on, there is an effective academic team in the department. The Tanzanian instructors include Anthony Kondella, S Kaombwe, AK Selemani, TE Mrema, Mr Swai and Mr Mwangu. Interestingly, S Kaombwe had been my student at UDSM. At that time, he had also been an active member of the transportation club I had initiated.

But there is more. Without well qualified instructors specialized in diverse areas of transportation, we cannot offer the second and third year courses in a satisfactory manner. But we do not find any suitable person locally. Overseas recruitment is essential. Chief Kunambi, our boss at the NTC makes a critical decision. We should advertise for instructors in India and Pakistan. Cost is the key reason. It is far cheaper to employ a person from those areas than from say, the UK or Sweden. I endorse it for a second reason. Experts from those nations are more likely to be aware of the type of transport problems we face and the approaches to resolving them than experts from industrialized nations.

We get several applications. Looking over their qualifications and experience, I recommend a couple. The Principal and the Chief fly over to interview them. Our first external instructor, Mr Khalifa Afzal Hussain, arrives in August 1976. He hails from Pakistan.

We could not have asked for better. Mr Hussain is to turn out to be a valuable gem for NIT and our department. In the six years he is destined to stay at NIT, he will function like a solid academic and practical backbone for the training given to our students.

In ways more than one, he is a remarkable person. After getting a BA in commerce from Punjab University in 1933, he worked in large rail and road transport corporations and public bodies. He rose through the ranks to posts like Chief Traffic Superintendent and General Manager. Along the way, he got higher training in the UK, edited the magazine, Punjab Transport, and lectured in Transport Studies at the Punjab University. By the time he joined NIT, he had written three books, and was regarded as one of the top experts in transport in Pakistan.

Now he is almost seventy years old. Yet, he assumes his duties at NIT with the vigor and stamina of the youth. Soon, he and I are able to formulate detailed syllabuses for second and third year subjects like transport economics, planning, development and logistics. He shows me a copy of his most recent book, The Development of Roads and Road Transport in Pakistan (Hussain 1973). Though it focuses on Pakistan, the technical concepts it employs for describing, financing, regulating, planning and operating road transport systems apply well to our context. It can certainly be of use in such courses. He tells me that ten extra copies are on the way. He will donate them to NIT. Most critically, with his clear and patient teaching style, and an-ever jovial personality, he is an instant hit with our students.

A year later, we recruit Mr. Choudhri, a transport economist from India. In addition to good academic qualifications, he has years of teaching and practical experience. His teaching style is systematic and rigorous. His examinations are quite challenging. His students are on their feet all the time. He sets a fine model of academic quality for other instructors to emulate. Until I leave NIT in August 1980, these are the only expatriates we have in our department. Yet, they are of greater value to us than ten experts from Europe, UK or USA.

At times, a critical shortfall occurs when an instructor is on study leave or away some other reason. Then it falls on me to teach his subject: Transport Policy and Development, Transport Logistics and Planning, or Development Studies. I have to read the relevant books. Preparing for and teaching such a class takes a heavy toll on me.

In early 1978, I come to a decision. I have been a confirmed Head of the Department of Transport Management for two years. But administration is not my forte. I prefer to teach, do research, interact with students, and write papers. I tell that to the Principal. He is surprised. It is rare for anyone to voluntarily vacate a position that comes with perks, official and unofficial. While other senior staff utilize the Institute’s resources like motor vehicles for personal purposes, I never do. Such perks are not on my menu.

I suggest to him:

Anthony Kondella is an efficient, dedicated person who gets along well with his colleagues and students. He has assisted me often. So I know he has good administrative skills. I think he would make a good head of department.

Earlier, I had talked with Anthony. He did not have any objections. Fortunately, my suggestion is taken up. At the outset, I assist him. Soon, he earns the respect of the staff and students. Until I leave NIT, be it in calm or rough waters, he steers the departmental ship as a competent and popular captain.

One reason why the Principal accepted my decision to step down was that now I would not be there to tenaciously dispute most of his pet proposals in the NIT Management Committee meetings.


The Diploma in Transport Management program admits two types of students. First, we accept persons with adequate Form VI level passes in subjects like economics, geography and mathematics. And we also consider those who only have Form IV level passes provided they have at least three years of relevant experience in a transport organization. They as well must demonstrate their suitability through an interview and an entrance test.

There is a sizable response to our newspaper advertisement. The diploma program begins in earnest in January 1976 with twenty learners on board. The wooden classroom structures pose no barrier to effective instruction. In three years, a total of some eighty students study at one time in the diploma program. The attrition is minimal. Apart from a few stragglers, most are capable and diligent learners. Though, they find my specific subjects, Transport Statistics and Quantitative Methods, to be the two most difficult ones.

Our mature age students are from diverse organizations. In the main, they come under sponsorship from public and private road transport firms. Our horizons expand as the Tanzania Railways Corporation, several manufacturers and distributors with large vehicular fleets, and the companies in other transport modalities begin to send us students. I make a special note of Major JB Gama, an officer in the Tanzania Peoples Defense Force. He has managed a large fleet of the army’s vehicular armada. He joins our diploma program in 1978. Upon graduation, he returns to the military forces. Our reputation spreads beyond the nation’s borders. In the 1978 intake, one of our students hails from Zambia.

The Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics enrolls a similar number of students in the certificate program. Initially, I assist them by teaching Basic Mathematics. Later, upon my recommendation, Shiraz Ramji is hired to do it on a part time basis.

The Department of Transport Operations has two experienced and capable instructors for training bus and heavy duty truck drivers, and bus conductors. They run courses lasting three weeks five to six times a year. The courses are popular and always well subscribed.


By the end of 1977, the permanent buildings for the Institute are up and in use, a hundred meters from the wooden rooms. Our department has most of the second floor of the two story academic block. The other departments occupy the first floor. Our floor has two classrooms, the office of the Head of Department and a couple of staff offices. The administrative offices of the Institute, the library, and a lecture hall are connected to it by cement corridors. The student dorms and a well-equipped motor vehicle repair workshop are at the rear. The wood structures continue to be used as staff offices, store rooms, and student recreation venues.

On the academic front, there is substantial progress along several fronts. I delve into six: short courses, international recognition, research and publication, student journal, the library, and occupational safety.

Short Courses: In its third year of existence, our department begins to offer courses of two weeks duration on varied transport related topics. One or two courses are held per year. Usually twenty to thirty employees, from transport firms and companies like the breweries and cooperative unions that maintain a large fleet of vehicles, attend. Initially, I organize the courses. Mr Hussain and Mr Choudhri are invariably the main academic pillars. Anthony Kondella and I contribute to the lectures as well. Once in a while, I invite a part-time instructor from the Ministry of Transport, UDSM, or elsewhere to give talks on specific topics.

A short course photo in Appendix D shows the instructors, students, and NIT and NTC officials. Mr Hussain is at the extreme left in the rear line. Next to him is Anthony Kondella. In front of the left pillar is Shiraz Ramji, an invited instructor. The man in the middle sporting a beard, glasses and white shirt is myself. On my right in white shirt is Chief Kunambi and next to him, stand Mr Sanga, the NIT Principal. Mr Choudhri is at the extreme right in front of the right pillar. Almost everyone else is a course participant.

Such courses are popular, and well attended. We get critical feedback at the end of each one. I am surprised at the level of positive responses we get. Most attendees recommend a follow up course building on material taught in the current one.

International Recognition: As a long time Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Transport in the UK, Mr Hussain keeps the UK institute informed about our activities and progress. He shows me the letters he gets from there. I can see that they are visibly impressed. He also sends them our syllabus and copies of the final exams we set for our students. Now, to become a member of the Chartered Institute of Transport (MCIT), you need to pass its two phase examinations. By 1980, the UK institute accepts that the NIT diploma program is of a sufficiently high academic caliber to be accorded a rare exemption. According to this, a Diploma in Transport Management from the NIT of Tanzania allows a candidate for MCIT to proceed to the phase II examination. In other words, the person does not have to sit for the phase I examination papers. It is a worthy tribute to the innovative efforts of the pioneering academic team of the Department of Transport Management at NIT. 

Research and Publication: During my tenure as head of department, I encourage the instructors to conduct independent research on relevant issues of the day, and publish reports and research papers. In due course, I am appointed as the Head of the Research and Consultancy Committee of NIT. It is my responsibility to review and approve the research and consultancy projects proposed by academic staff, and for the approved projects, set the level of funding. It is a laborious, contentious task. I have to be encouraging and fair. Yet sub-standard proposals have to be returned to the proposers, on occasion, for two or three rounds of improvement. This is one of the few times when the stringent requirements I set made a couple of the academic staff grumble about me. I was told of this by other instructors.

As a new institution, we have no tradition in research or consultancy. Yet, slowly but surely, these activities take off. To give one example: AK Selemani and I compile Directory of Transport Firms in Tanzania, 1978. It is a comprehensive directory covering the road, rail, air and water transport firms in Tanzania. For each firm, we give the name and address. For the Tanzania Railways Corporation, the location and management contact information for each station and substation are given.

Books on the varied modalities and aspects of transportation are not hard to locate. But almost all are published in the West, are of minimal relevance to Africa, must be imported and are mostly beyond the budget of our students. Of value is the book written by Mr Hussain. In addition, we compile readers for our courses. These are cyclostyled, soft bound volumes of teaching material and papers gathered from varied sources by the instructors. Besides relevance, a key requirement is that the material be at a level accessible by the diploma students. It is a time consuming endeavor. The instructors usually attend to it over the long vacation. In the long run, it pays off.

Thus, in 1977, KA Hussein and I compile Transport in Africa: A Reader. A year later, TE Mrema follows up with two volumes of Transport in East Africa: A Reader and Mr Choudhuri comes up with a well selected Financial Management for the Transport Sector: A Reader. The second volume of Transport in East Africa has a long theoretical piece I had written earlier, The Political Economy of Transport. It ponders on the question whether transport is a productive value-adding endeavor, or it is a service providing activity. The answer is that it is both, depending on what is being carried and to what end. Over the course of time, other instructors contribute to this pedagogic endeavor.

Student Journal: In early 1978, I float with the idea of launching a journal run by NIT students to the President of the student organization, NITSO. He discusses it with his cabinet. The students are unanimously enthusiastic about the idea, he subsequently tells. And they already have a name for the magazine: The Transporter.

I place the proposal at a meeting of the departmental heads and the Principal. Their first concern is cost. I have roughly calculated figures at hand. It is agreed that for one or two issues per year, the funding can be included in the budget of NIT. While there is consent around the table about the idea as such, it comes with a proviso: The students should not undertake this project on their own, but should be supervised by members of the academic staff.

Who will do this donkey work? Instructors rarely undertake extra work that does not come with extra remuneration. Aha, but Hirji is here. After all he came up with the idea. I guess that is the way our Principal reasons.

I am hence the Chief Adviser to The Transporter. Two advisers are to assist me: H Bantu, Head of Department of Transport Operations and A Shebuge, Instructor in Motor Vehicle Mechanics. The Principal will be the Patron of the magazine. Needless to say, my two colleagues feature only as named entities in each issue. I do all the work with the students.

Not that I am averse to doing it. NITSO elects the first set of members of the editorial board. Elias P Matteso is the Editor in Chief. The board is willing to put in the needed effort but is unsure about how to get going. My experience as the senior editor of the student magazine Cheche at UDSM comes in handy. After a couple of meetings with them, they take off in earnest. Over the ensuing four years, the editors of the magazine talk to me regularly, sometimes at my home during weekends.

By March 1980, four issues of The Transporter are in print. Their articles mainly address the policy, practice and personnel matters connected to the transport sector in the nation. Many are well researched and articulated. Articles on student affairs and socio-political issues augmented by short narratives, poetry and humor enrich and enliven the issues. It is striking that almost all of these contributions are by the students and instructors from within. Material from external sources appears only once in a while. I contribute an article to each of the first four issues.  The second issue of The Transporter, whose table of contents are shown below, is a case in point.

The Transporter, NIT
Volume 2, March 1979
Elias P Matteso, Editor-in-Chief
Author Title Page
Editor Editorial 0
KF Hirji Interpretation of Road Accident Statistics 1
H Abdallah Problems Affecting Drivers When on Safari 11
JL Mmari Forecast of KAMATA’s Required Capital
Investments in Vehicles to 1982 14
AJ Kabero The Working Conditions of Drivers and
Conductors Employed in Urban Transport 42
SJ Mlaki Working Conditions and Industrial Relations
in Road Transport 52
? ? Return Load Generation – BITCO 61

Apart from my article, the other five are written by our students. They are the product of research done by the students during the field attachment. The best five reports, reflecting sound data collection, systematic analysis and a professional writing style, were selected for publication in this issue.

Under Khalid Kachenje, the next Editor-in-Chief, issues with more varied content come out. Some articles are in Swahili, making it accessible to the drivers and conductors attending NIT short courses. Issue No. 4 has a photo of the first batch of graduates of NIT. For this issue, I write an article, under the pseudonym, A Correspondent, entitled Democracy and Education which overviews the relationship between students, teachers and administrators in the education sector and proposes actions needed for improvement. (As it paints a picture of a key aspect of the education system in Tanzania in that era, an edited version has been placed in Appendix C of this book.)

The Library: A couple of months after NIT takes off, it is apparent that a set of reference books to be utilized by our staff for teaching and self-education is needed. I obtain the funds and scour the bookstores at UDSM and the city center. Soon a mini library, really a single shelf of books and reports, materializes in my office. Six months later, the shelf overflows. Also, the comings and goings create too much disturbance. A small room is found. With three shelves fitted, it is our nascent library. And, who else to take care of the collection? I am designated as the librarian. The other departments, whose collection is smaller, move their books and bound volumes to the new so-called library. It is kept open for a few hours a week by our departmental secretary, the able Stella Maji. She deals with loans and returns, and I ensure that the books are well organized on the shelves and an up to date inventory is maintained. Though it serves its purpose, it as an amateurish undertaking.

In anticipation of the completion of the new library building, a professional librarian is hired. The knowledgeable, efficient, hard-working Mr JG Mkingilma is the right man for the job. I hand over the collection to his care. Having secured two assistants and a typist, he wastes no time getting down to business. Furniture is ordered and installed; import license is obtained; books, encyclopedias, and dictionaries arrive; a modern cataloging and borrowing procedure is set up; a reading area comes into operation, and orders for technical journals are placed.

Along the way, he has to tackle several bureaucratic hitches. Initially it starts operating in a small way as completion takes time. By early 1980, however, NIT boasts a state of the art library with a fine selection of material on transportation and other fields. It is the one place at NIT about which hardly any student or staff complains.

Occupational Safety: I have just read Daniel Berman’s revealing book Death on the Job (Berman 1979). It tells me that even in the economically advanced nations, workers face major occupational and safety hazards which take a heavy toll on life and limb. The officialdom and corporations tend to play down the problem. Under reporting is commonplace.

What is the situation in Tanzania? In particular, what kind of workplace accidents occur in the motor vehicle repair shops in the country, and at what rate? I am aware of the poor state of statistics in Tanzania in general. I thereby do not expect the data in the official reports on this matter to be accurate or complete. Looking into this issue should of the task of the Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics at NIT. But they are asleep at the wheel.

By this time, as explained later, I am in good terms with the students in that department. Summoning several of them to my office, I propose that in their next field attachment, they can be posted to various motor vehicle workshops in Dar es Salaam to conduct research on this vital topic. I can assist them with designing the research plan, data collection forms and doing final analysis of the data. They are enthusiastic as it is the first time their field attachment will have a concrete plan. I talk to their head of department and tell him that I will make the arrangements with the companies, the student assignments and supervise them. Since it takes a burden off his shoulders, he takes no time in giving his approval.

Some fifteen students participate in this project, and a detailed report describing the work conditions, safety problems and recommendations is written (Hirji and NIT Students 1980). It is the outcome of the first fully fledged and systematic field research done at the NIT. It has been done at minimal cost with the students doing the data collection in the course of their regular practical training. The students who took part tell me that it has been a highly instructive experience. The data from the research are analyzed in a statistically appropriate manner. As the Chairman of the NIT Research and Consultancy Committee, I set a precedent. It is my hope that it will stimulate the instructors to conduct well planned scientific research of relevance to the nation. Our report, printed as Research Report No. 1 of NIT, is placed in the library. This happens just before I depart from NIT.

Hiccups: In the first five years of its life, other than confronting the developmental hurdles of the sort I have described, the staff and students at NIT also encounter internal impediments on a regular basis. They largely stem the fact that the Principal has priorities other than academic excellence and efficient use of the scarce resources at our disposal.

For example, there is a chronic shortage of paper instructors can use for class handouts. Yet, Mr Sanga issues printed notices and pronouncements almost on a daily basis, often dealing with non-consequential matters. Where three copies placed on the noticeboards are sufficient, he sends a copy to each instructor as well. Ensconced in his secluded corner, he wants to issue a daily reminder as to who is the boss around the place. I suggest that only one copy be sent to each department, and the paper be used on both sides. My words, however, just irritate him.

Mr Sanga previously headed educational institutions but has little transport related experience or knowledge. Yet, he comports himself as an expert in the field, tending to second guess the academic staff. I have to fight for funds for books yet money for superfluous office equipment and out of town trips by senior personnel is always at hand. Educational visits to local transport sites are delayed because trip scheduling for our two buses is done in an erratic manner. And this at a place that teaches transport logistics! And so on.

One issue over which places us at loggerheads on an annual basis is the criteria for admission into the diploma program. Though they are clearly set down in our brochure, he wants me to relax them so as to admit more mature age entrants. It will generate more revenue as their sponsoring organizations will pay the fees. I resist him on the ground that merit must be the primary eligibility criterion for admission. Else, dubious practices may sneak into the process. What is the point of having a student who cannot adequately grasp the material in our courses? Will we change our pass/fail level for him or her? Yet, Mr Sanga persists: ‘Hirji, you are too rigid.’ But as long as I have a say, financial considerations do not supplant the academic ones.

Complaints about cafeteria services and the upkeep of student residence halls abound. Favoritism affects the hiring of support staff. A dark tale is afoot about the Principal’s secretary. A new one comes aboard from time to time, a dainty, young girl who usually is not that competent. A few days on the job, and she is as big headed as if she is the boss. Even heads of departments find their work unduly delayed. Rumor has it that she accompanies the Principal to entertainment venues after work hours. But I cannot verify it one way or the other.

And something is seriously amiss in the Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics. In practical terms, Mr Billa, the Head, is an undisputed expert. He can take the engine of a heavy duty truck apart and rebuild it seamlessly to make it run like new. He is an able, friendly instructor. But as far as administration goes, he is on shaky grounds. Things like teaching schedules, arrangements for field attachment and student evaluation are not done as needed and on time. And strange anomalies occur. Capable students at times get low grades and poorly performing ones get high grades. The students complain but to no avail. I hear about this and more through my students.

Inevitably, the matter reaches a point of no return. One day in 1978, I hear a loud commotion down below. As I descend the stairway, I see all the students from that department in the corridor. They are visibly angry. Many are shouting. Mr Sanga and Mr Billa are trying to persuade them to return to class but they are adamant and refuse to heed his call.

Finally, he asks them to be patient. He will convene a meeting of the NIT Management committee right away to look into the matter. So the three heads and the Principal gather, in a gloomy atmosphere.

What is going on, Mr Billa?

I am not sure, Mzee. I think they are being incited by a few trouble makers.

I cannot let that usual excuse pass.

We should appoint a Committee of Inquiry to determine the full story. Otherwise, we are risking a full scale strike.

All eyes are on me, none too kind. That sounds distinctly disconcerting. Aware of my good rapport with the students, Mr Sanga sees how he can turn the situation to his advantage.

Let us assign Mr Hirji to lead the inquiry. It will calm down the students.

He is prescient. When the decision is announced, students return to class. I feel Mr Sanga wants to buy time. The process may take a while. Eventually, my report can be implemented in part and shelved. And life will go on. Sensing his possible shenanigans, I also have a plan up my sleeve.

I am the only person in the commission of inquiry. Not discouraged, I begin the work that afternoon. For a week, I set aside all else except teaching. I slog late into the evenings, interviewing students, instructors and Mr Billa. I examine departmental and instructor records. In five days, I have sufficient evidence to make a case. Two days later, I submit my report.

I find several problems with adherence to the curriculum: some topics are taught repeatedly while some important ones are barely covered. Instructors lack clear guidance on setting assignments, exam questions and practical work evaluation. Paperwork for field attachment is oftentimes delayed. The major problem is maintenance of student records. What is in the instructor’s book can be at variance with what is noted by the Head and that too may differ from what the secretary types. No checking is done. Hence the anomalies observed by the students.

Problems are numerous: The conclusion is evident. The department is not being run as it ought to be run. Mr Billa bears the responsibility for the mess. Though I do not say it explicitly, a new head has to be found. The management does not welcome my findings. Mr Billa defends himself by saying that no one is perfect and that the errors I show are few. Mr Sanga agrees and declares that my conclusions are hasty. There is a need for additional investigation, they all conclude.

The committee wants to bury my report. But I have guarded against it in advance. I had leaked a copy to the President of NITSO. Further, I send a copy to Fatma Alloo, a reporter with the Daily News. She comes to the NIT campus to interview the students. Much to the embarrassment of the Principal, the crisis at NIT becomes front page news.

There is no other alternative now. It has to be seen by the public that remedial measures are being taken. He issues a statement saying that a few serious but unintentional problems have been detected through an inquiry he had authorized. Steps are being taken to remedy them.

And steps are taken. Records are rectified. Instructors are assigned administrative responsibilities normally discharged by the Head. Things run more smoothly. But Mr Billa stays on as the Head. In part, the students are mollified; in part, they grumble on, but among themselves.

Within our department, I recall one dismaying incident. It is 1977. I am supervising the exam in transport statistics. The Principal’s secretary enters the room: ‘The Mzee wants you in his office. It is urgent.’ I rush down. The boss has to send off the annual budgetary request to the NTC. He asks me to verify some items. Back in the exam room in ten minutes, I find the class silent. Each person is immersed in his/her own script.

As I mark the scripts at home over the weekend, what I find dismays me. I had set one difficult question in order to demarcate the diligent, smart students from the average ones. Yet, all have done it well. It does not smell right. All have employed an identical approach. All have the same six digit answer, stated up to four decimal digits. But there is an error in the final computation. The answers in all the scripts are erroneous in an exactly identical manner.

To have the same correct answer in twenty five scripts, while unusual, is within the realm of possibility. But to get a wrong answer within that number of scripts in the way described is not. The probability of such an outcome arising by chance alone is somewhere in the region of 10-150, a tiny number less than one in which 149 zeros after the decimal point are followed by the digit 1. Something fishy has transpired. The next day I summon the class. I am visibly angry.

I know that when I was out of the room, all of you copied the answer to Question 5. You copied it from Mr X.

They look down in shame. No one denies my charge.

I trusted you, and you have let me down.

At this point, Mr X and another student have tears rolling down their faces. A student stands up.

We are extremely sorry, Mr Hirji. We made a big mistake. It will not happen again.

I feel that they are genuinely remorseful.

Well, I will set a new exam. You have to take it tomorrow.

Other than this, I do not recall any serious issue involving the students in our department. A class without stragglers who want to get by with minimal effort is a rarity. NIT is not an exception to this universal rule. Yet, in the five batches of students I teach at this institute, I have mostly diligent students putting in due and satisfactory effort in theory and practical work. Their relations with the instructors are on the amicable side. In each batch, I become particularly cordial with two or three socially aware students, who, once in a while, visit me at home for general socio-political discussions. The current editor of The Transporter is one of them. A cooperative, harmonious relationship prevails among the instructors as well. In the presence of the venerable Mr Hussain, the atmosphere is always jovial. His usual refrain to me is: ‘Cheer up, Karim, you’re too serious.’


During the long vacation, each first and second year student at NIT is attached to a transport company or organization in Tanzania. Most of these entities are public firms spread across the expanse of the nation. Besides undertaking the duties assigned by the company, the student has to write a report on how that firm is functioning and the work he or she did. An instructor from NIT pays a visit, at least once, to make an on-the-spot assessment of his or her work.

I go on supervisory visits for four years. Twice I am in the Northern Zone, supervising students in Moshi, Arusha and Tanga regions; once I traverse the Tanzania Zambia Highway, visiting students in Iringa and Mbeya regions and then all the way to Lusaka to supervise a student from Zambia. Once I elect to remain in Dar es Salaam, visiting students not in my department, but in the Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics (The reasons for this are described elsewhere).

My teaching practice supervisory visits at UDSM taught me about how secondary schools in Tanzania were functioning. Correspondingly, the NIT supervisory visits give me lessons on the state of the transport sector in Tanzania that I could not have garnered from any book or report.

In each area I visit, an NIT student is attached with the local Regional Transport Company (RETCO). A typical RETCO has a fleet of twenty or more buses and trucks operating within the region and adjacent regions. During these three to four days of the visit, I initially meet the managerial personnel. They tell me what the student has been assigned to do and how well or not he or she has been doing.

My student shows me around. We visit the offices, depots and garages. I am informed about the company, his/her work and the challenges he or she has encountered. It gives me a chance to converse with office staff, drivers, bus conductors and mechanics. On two visits, I am at the local branch of the Tanzania Railways Corporation, where an NIT student is on field attachment.

My students know that I stand on the side of the underdog, that is, with students and workers. In addition to getting the official story, I thereby get frank opinions about that company from the other side of the workplace equation.

In general, it is a disappointing tale. Despite being publicly owned, the company runs like a typical capitalist entity. The national policy enshrined in the Mwongozo gives the workers a say in decision making and operating the company. In truth, it is a policy devoid of substance. What the boss says goes. Whoever takes issue with that is shown the door.

Lower tier workers are dissatisfied with pay and benefits. The long work hours on road trips are inadequately compensated. Comparing their poverty laden lives with the perks of the senior management, they ask, ‘What kind of Ujamaa is this?’ No wonder, industrial actions like work stoppages surface now and then. At times, when a manager is clearly exposed to have acted recklessly, causing major losses to the company, he is transferred to another post. Appropriate disciplinary, financial or criminal sanction is imposed but once in a blue moon.

Under such circumstances, the company is generally run in an inefficient way. Maintenance schedules for vehicles are not followed. Theft of spare parts and other items is common; a lot of funds are misspent; corruption at the top abounds. The workers talk of the collusion between private businessmen and company officials to defraud the public. Spare parts are not ordered on time, leading to cannibalization. The vehicle inventory is smaller. Records for operations like cargo and passenger loads on the trips, fuel consumption, tire and battery replacement, and trip revenues are riddled with gaps and errors. The data on company operations often are kept using faulty units and aggregating methods.

Another crucial shortcoming that makes a strong impression upon me from the field attachment visits is the lack of intra- and inter-sectoral integration. There is no centralized policy for ordering trucks, buses and smaller vehicles for the companies operating under the NTC. One RETCO has Italian vehicles, another Swedish, another British and so on. Where to get them is decided by the external financier. A policy of say two vehicle manufacturers for the whole system could drive down costs through economies of scale and enable the system to utilize a well stocked spare parts, tire and battery depot. If the vehicles are selected on the basis of appropriate technology, manufacture of some spare parts locally could be done. That is how it should occur in the context of a planned socialist economy.

It is not uncommon to witness oversupply of vehicles at one time and location and under supply at another. Where agricultural commodities are piled up, there are not enough trucks for the job, and elsewhere, trucks lie idle. There is a Ministry of Planning but it basically specializes in World Bank style financial estimation, allocation and projections.

The issue of keeping appropriate and accurate records tends to bring our students in conflict with the management. Having learned these techniques at NIT, they are eager to apply their knowledge to remedy the problem. But when they make a suggestion for improvement, it falls by the wayside. If they persist, they are told not to meddle in tasks they have not been assigned. It dawns upon them that there is a sound reason for not keeping accurate records. Good records expose bad deeds, an outcome no typical manager seeks. His philosophy is to let the sleeping dogs lie. The problem is not lack of knowledge but lack of good intentions. Invariably, I find dejected students with long tales of how they tried to make such and such positive contributions but failed to make any headway.

The existing management views our students as a potential threat to their status. When they graduate, they might replace the clearly inefficient fellows. Hence when our graduates join the state companies as full time employees, they regularly find themselves marginalized and frustrated. Play our game, join the club, else you will not get anywhere: that is the unmistakable message they get.

I can provide no better instance of this tendency than the case of AK. He joins our diploma program under the sponsorship of the TRC. Upon graduation in 1978, he returns to the corporation and is placed in the planning and logistics unit. At NIT, he was a bright, diligent student. With TRC, he is a dedicated employee often taking steps beyond those directed by his superiors. Subsequently, he is sent for higher studies in the UK. As a part of this study program, he does an extended internship with British Rail.

I reconnect with him in early 1989, having just returned from the USA. I find him hunched over his desk in a basement office at the TRC HQ that lies across the DSM railway station. He is quite pleased to see me. After telling each other about what we have been up to in the decade past, and the whereabouts of mutual friends, we turn the present day.

The TRC has got a multi-million dollar loan from the World Bank to computerize many of its operations. The project has begun, and I am involved in it on a more than full time basis.

For Tanzania, these are the very early days of wider utilization of such technology. Pointing to the clutter of paper and printout in each corner of his room, he adds:

It is a demanding assignment, but my experience at British Rail has given me sufficient background to implement it.

I am proud that my former student has developed such expertise. But, instead of sharing my expression of joy, he seems pensive.

Mwalimu, to tell you the truth, I am not happy.

What is the problem?

A World Bank expert is in charge of the project. He is my boss, yet he knows so little about computerization of a railway system. He always asks me: how do you do this and how do you do that? In practice, I run the show.

He pauses for a second before continuing.

Despite the hard work I do, I do not get any credit. In the meetings with the management, I am ignored. But when he speaks, they are attentive. He presents my ideas as if they are his own. It is quite frustrating.

That is terrible.

And he is paid US $6,000 per month, not counting the benefits. What do I get? Just a meager US $100 per month. It is a big joke, Mwalimu.

The outcome of such demoralization is inevitable. AK hangs on to that job for a while before throwing in the towel. Ditching the profession in which he has become one of the foremost experts in the nation, he enters politics to eventually get elected as a member of parliament for the ruling party. He serves his constituency well and is a popular, youthful MP. At times, he fall preys to infighting among those who jockey for power and position by hook or crook. But he has gained the ear of the man at the top. In the 2000s, under the Kikwete administration, he is appointed the Head of the Parastatal Reform Commission (PRC).

There is more than a touch of irony here. The mission of PRC is to privatize state owned companies and service entities. It is a policy that the World Bank and IMF have, through the financial muscle they exercise, forced all the nations of Africa to adopt. In Tanzania, as elsewhere on the continent, it is executed in a way that can only be described as grandiose daylight robbery. Valuable public assets are transferred to mostly foreign firms at ludicrously low prices; influential local businesses and senior bureaucrats also secure windfall gains. The valiant promoters of free market capitalism, from the UK to the USA, from Norway to Sweden, herald this 100% corrupt process as ‘real economic reform’ and lavish accolades on the leaders overseeing the demolition of their nation’s ability to stand on its own feet.

I am not happy to see one of my stellar students at NIT taking charge of this nefarious project. Moreover, he does that under the Kikwete administrations which is now known beyond doubt to have been home to numerous multi-billion shillings’ worth of corrupt and shady practices in all sectors of the government and the economy.

Paradoxically, it is under AK’s stewardship that the TRC, his earlier home-base, is partly privatized to a company from India. It does not take long for the move to turn into a veritable disaster for the local stakeholders, namely, the users of the rail service, the employees of the TRC and the state treasury. As the foreign management prioritizes quick enrichment of the parent company in India, it neglects the task of creation of efficient, affordable railway services in Tanzania. Passengers and customers with long distance cargo face erratic schedules under rising costs, disaffected workers are perpetually on strike against an insensitive management. At times, the treasury has to bail out the loss making corporation. Like the other privatization schemes, this one has propelled the nation from the frying pan into the fire. Rail service reaches a crisis point in a few years, leaving the government no option but to repossess the corporation. A hobbled, but crucial entity has to be reconstructed from the base. And it comes at a steep cost to the public. That it was a fiasco overseen by an erstwhile nationalist with expertise in the operations of railways adds a distressful dimension to the episode.

Not that it is a unique episode. Most NIT graduates I knew faced similar conditions. They started off at their places of work with enthusiastic diligence, keen to apply what they had learned to promote company and national development. Most received a cold shoulder and were cornered into routine tasks. Sadly, only a very few stuck to their principles. The majority joined the system of bureaucratic bungling and self-enrichment.

The transport sector in Tanzania, and especially its publicly owned segment, remained in the same unsatisfactory state as if there was no NIT. Despite the well trained planners, management personnel, mechanics, drivers and bus conductors injected into them by this one-of-a-kind Institute, the large transport firms under the NTC and all the regional transport companies remained grossly inefficient entities that eventually ran aground.

+ + + + + + +

Comment: In the Ujamaa era, the talk was about ‘Revolution by Education.’ Today, it is about ‘Trans­formation by Education.’ The experience with NIT and a host of training institutions established in Tanzania demonstrates the fallacy of such talk. Transformation by education can occur only if accompanied by complimentary transformations in the social, economic and political facets of society. If the ruling party elite, senior state officials and the heads of economic enterprises lack a concrete sense of direction and if the people remain politically alienated, then an educational institution, however relevant and distinguished, can at best exercise only a marginal impact on the economic development of the nation. In fact, by producing a cadre of misemployed, underemployed or unemployed youth, it may lead to profound disharmony and social conflict.

+ + + + + + +


When I join NIT, I am not allotted a staff quarter. We stay for a couple of months with my parents, a couple of months with Farida’s mother, six weeks housewarming a comrade’s flat at the UDSM campus, etc. In the midst of this instability, our family experiences two calamities. In March 1976, NIT students are on a short break. We visit my student day comrades in Moshi. After a pleasant week, we are headed home on the night bus. Around midnight, our bus collides with a truck carrying heavy logs. More than ten of our fellow passengers die on the spot. Farida sustains minor bruises. Rosa is thrown out from the back window into the bush. Yet, by some miraculous interplay of gravitational dynamics, there is not a tiny scratch on her body. I have a long gash above my forehead and am bleeding profusely. Passing vehicles ferry all passengers, alive and lifeless, to the nearby Korogwe Hospital, where my wound is stitched up. A Bohora family graciously takes us to their home in the morning, and feeds us a sumptuous breakfast. By evening, Farida’s brother and a friend arrive from DSM in a car to take us home.

Barely two weeks after this accident, Farida is in the kitchen to warm up milk for Rosa. Unfortunately, the gas pipe has sprouted a leak overnight. There is a loud explosion just as she lights a match, and she sustains deep burns on both legs. Usually, Rosa runs after her mummy into the kitchen. By a miraculous operation of human behavioral dynamics, today she did not.

Farida is discharged from hospital after three days. But her wounds get infected. She is feverish; oral antibiotics do not help. It is on the verge of becoming critical. Luckily, a wise doctor prescribes application of potassium permanganate solution on the burn area. I do that twice a day after work. It is a laborious task. The solution has to be applied with a small brush between the numerous tiny bits of the crusted skin on both legs. The sting is sharp and painful. Yet, Farida bears it with a brave face for nearly ten days. Finally the germs are vanquished, the fever abates, and we breathe a sigh of relief. Complete healing takes over a year. The stretching of the skin over the burn area is at times so distressing as to keep her awake late into the night.

NIT allocates me a house in the Mikocheni area in June 1976. It is, however, too far from where my parents live. They have been taking care of Rosa much of this time. The house is in an isolated location. Safety is an issue. Farida has applied for a job. If both of us go to work, who will take care of the girl?

Just then, my father, in all his magnanimity, comes up with an ideal solution. Some three hundred meters from their place and on the same road, a two story flat is on the market for TSh 54,000, or approximately US$ 5,400. I have TSh 12,000 in the bank. He grants us the remaining amount. The deal is done and, in early July 1976, we move into our new abode. (It is in the same place that I write these words in 2018.)

Farida is employed as a secretary with the Kibo Paper Company. Our family settles into a decent routine. Kristina, our maid, clocks in early each weekday morning. A short while later, Farida boards her company bus and I ride to work on the NIT bus. On his way to his shop in Kariakoo, my father takes Rosa to a nearby nursery school. He collects her during the noon hour and takes her to his place. My mother is happy to pamper and over feed her precious granddaughter.

Rosa is brought home around two in the afternoon. Kristina gives her a bath and puts her to sleep. Farida returns from work around 4 pm, and I come home between 5 and 6 pm. Kristina cooks well. Hence on most days, a decent evening meal lies in wait. In all my five years at NIT, apart from a bout of measles and a couple of infestations with worms, Rosa remains in robust health. But we have to guard against a quirky tendency: the moment your attention is diverted, she puts whatever is in front of her straight into her mouth. And she has an affinity for small shiny or colorful things. Twice, a marble lodges in her throat. Luckily, I am right there. Both times, I hold her upside down, thump her back with vigor, whereby it is dislodged and ejected.

During these times, we host comrades from UDSM and elsewhere on Sundays. A discussion on a book we have read or on current socio-political affairs is topped by a sumptuous lunch of pilau and kachumbaro. Rosa, however, is the star attraction for the guests.

Apart from her burn injury, Farida is in a tiptop shape. At work, she is valued as a diligent, conscientious, and efficient employee. In 1979, she is sponsored by her company to pursue a Certificate in Management and Administration study program at the Mzumbe Institute of Development Management. It is a nine month program. The institute lies about 180 kilometers from DSM.

Never having been away for an extended period, she is apprehensive at first. But it does not take time for her to bond with her classmates. Water supply in the student dorms is unreliable, and cafeteria food is not too appealing. So they cook in their room now and then, and find creative ways of dealing with the other challenges. We have relatives in the nearby Morogoro town. That helps. Studies are demanding, but class friends help one another.

In those nine months, Rosa and I see her only every other weekend. That is, apart from the two short vacations, each lasting three weeks. In the final phase of her program, she has to do on-site research with an industrial firm. By a stroke of chance, she is posted to the Urafiki Textile Mill, which not only is in DSM, but is as well located right next to NIT. The entire family rejoices the day she is awarded a deserved certificate by none other than Mwalimu Nyerere.

In terms of health, my story purses another trajectory. In Sumbawaga, I was in stellar shape, able to endure many a trying circumstance with ease. In DSM, I am beset by a multiplicity of ailments that worsen over time. It starts in mid-1976 with acute sinusitis which leads to fever and acute bronchitis. These attacks recur, about every four months. I take antibiotics as if they are candies. A dry cough turns persistent. One doctor says I have TB, and puts me on anti-TB drugs. The side effects are not pleasant. Careful tests at the Muhimbili Hospital reveal it was a misdiagnosis. A year later, I am admitted to this hospital in order to flush out my excessively congested sinuses. It just provides a temporary respite.

Then come recurrent backaches, leading to X-ray upon X-ray, and bottle upon bottle of pain pills. Happily, this condition resolves after a good doctor, the same one who had shown us the remedy for Farida’s infected burns, shows me a series of exercises to alleviate back pain. I adhere to his advice to the letter. Soon that pain is history. His wise guidance serves me well to this day.

Not that I am off the hook. In 1978, I start getting heartburn on a daily basis. It settles into an established case of duodenal ulceration. Medications only partly reduce my distress. I walk around with a pack of biscuits; the moment I feel a pang of hunger, I pop two into my mouth.

By early 1980, physically speaking, I am in the doldrums. The cumulative effect of the huge work load, in the form of a multiplicity of responsibilities, that I have been carrying since the inception of NIT is leading me to a state of physical and mental exhaustion. Yet, there is no end in sight. I need time off from the unrelenting stress.

Further, a distinctly sour atmosphere now prevails between the NIT administration and myself. In the first two years, due to my persistent stand against bureaucratic inefficiency and waste, and for making student interests a priority of the first order, the Principal had considered me a thorn to be avoided or ignored. After my investigations into the student unrest in the Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics, I become Public Enemy No 1. He now isolates me as much as he can. If there is an out of town trip or conference, I am not chosen even if I am the ideal choice. When important visitors come to NIT, I am not invited to the table. NIT has a staff training program. Scholarships can be availed through the Ministry of Transport or the NTC. He knows that I want to get a doctoral degree in statistics. But no opportunity is sent in my direction. No doubt, it is sheer vindictiveness. I am lucky that my promotion to Senior Instructor came through just before this crisis; else he would have jockeyed to delay it. Students and staff are aware of his hostility towards me.

For reasons of poor health, excessive work stress and further education, I decide to strike out on my own. I also want my family to see the world.

Over this time, I have developed a keen interest in medical statistics. What I have read in relation to my own ailments no doubt cemented that interest. I send in an application to enroll in the Master of Science in Biostatistics at Harvard University in Boston, USA. It is a two year program, I aim for it to be a stepping stone into the doctoral degree program. I as well apply for the Harvard Agakhan scholarship.  Administered by Harvard, two scholarships are available every year to eligible students of Muslim background from all over the world. Competition is stiff. But on the strength of my GRE results and educational record, I gain admission into Harvard as well as get the scholarship.

As I present this to Mr Sanga, he has no choice but to grant me study leave. Else, he knows that I will tender my resignation. He does not want to lose a useful work horse. As I leave his office, he manages to utter a barely audible word of good luck.

I am scheduled to depart for Boston in early September. I hope Farida and Rosa can join me three months later.


When they get the news, the NIT instructors congratulate me and wish me well. I hear the students are a bit dismayed. But they remain silent, and continue to interact with me as if nothing is afoot.

It is the final days. I pack my papers and books in my office and set aside that which I will give to the NIT library. Major Gama, the President of NITSO enters:

Mwalimu Hirji, we have organized a farewell party for you. Can you and Mrs Hirji attend?

He hands me a typed note of invitation. I am pleasantly surprised.

Of course, we will attend. This is very nice of you.

On the day of the party, Farida and I are at the NIT campus just after 6 pm. Shiraz Ramji, who has been a part-time instructor at NIT, is with us. The program indicates an elaborate three hour event (see below). Major Gama escorts us to the venue. As we enter, pleasant Taraab music delights our ears. The place is packed with NIT students. The instructors from my department sit at the front. Anthony Kondella, the head, is also present.

Senior administrators and the heads of the other departments have chosen not to attend. The Principal is to give a short speech but he has other priorities. NITSO had wanted to hold the party in the main hall of the new complex. But the facilities manager did not approve the request saying that the event lacked clearance from the Principal.

So we are in the student recreation room in the wooden block. Though congested, it is a fitting place since that is where I had held my first class in 1976. All present are in ebullient spirits, unshaken by the petty insults from a petty personality.


Program: Farewell Party for Ndugu KF Hirji
NIT Bar, 28 August 1980

TIME                    EVENT
18:30 Arrival of Guests (soft Blues/Taarab Music)
19:00 A Word: Chairman of Organizing Committee
19:05 Speech: NITSO Minister for Education
19:10 Speech: Head of Department of Transport Management
19:15 Speech: NIT Principal
19:20 Soft Music
19:30 First Poem – Mr Shabani
19:35 Music – NIT Orchestra
19:45 Amusement Show
19:50 Boxing Show
20:05 Music: NIT Orchestra
20:15 Second Poem: Mr. Riwa
20:20 What NIT Students Say
20:35 Third Poem: Kichekesho
20:40 Amusement Show
20:45 Gifts Presentation
21:00 Speech: Ndugu KF Hirji
21:15 Soft Music
21:20 Shaking Hands with Ndugu Hirji
21:30 Program Closing (Official)

It unfolds as a colorful, joyous occasion with three speeches, three poems, live music, amusement episodes, presentation of gifts and handshaking (Photos in Appendix D). People dance during the musical interludes. To the delight of all, Farida joins in. The boxing match and the tummy-pillow fight are staged with a touch of hilarity. Mr Hussain enlivens the atmosphere further with his regular jocular interjections. I hear one after another student express appreciation for what I have accomplished at NIT, and several of them roundly denounce the administration for how it has treated me. I get a chance to say a few words at the end. But I am too overcome by emotion to say more than a few words. I just thank everyone for this wonderful party and wish the student success in their studies and lives. Below is one of the poems composed and recited by a student.

Farewell to Mr Hirji
by JWM Shabani, 28/8/80

Ladies, Gents, … Let me tell you a story about a man.
He is a lecturer, …. An academician.
A friend of students, …. A simple man.
Indeed, he is a man of the people.
We love him, … We admire him.
We enjoy his presence, … We accept him.
He is nobody but Mr Hirji.
Come to the Institute, … Ask for Hirji.
The transportants will show you.
The technicians will say they know him.
Mathematics for the technicians.
Transport Statistics for the transportants.
And not to forget the quantitative methods.
Mr Hirji, … You are going back to school.
To learn more and come back with more knowledge.
We pray for you.
Your services shall be remembered.
Your dedication shall not be forgotten.
You were able to quench our thirst.
Thirst for knowledge!
Away you go, … But we shall miss you.
Go well and come back safely.
May Allah be with you.

And this is a shortened and edited version of the speech of the President of NITSO.

Tribute to Ndugu KF Hirji
JB Gama, NITSO Chairman, 28/8/80

The students and members of staff of the National Institute of Transport are assembled here today in a reception to honor Ndugu Hirji who is soon going for further studies at Harvard University. We gather to express our appreciation for his exemplary work to further the academic and social life at NIT.

Ndugu Hirji joined this institute in October 1975. He played an essential role in the development of its academic program, enabling it to start in early 1976. He was later joined by Ndugu Hussain. They encountered many problems but managed to place the NIT onto a high academic standing. That is what we celebrate today.

Many qualified people in the nation have run away to more rewarding and satisfying jobs. He did not. Instead, he stayed and struggled. But now he is going for further studies.

His academic life here has been like a jack of all trades. His main subjects are Mathematics, Transport Statistics and Quantitative Methods. In addition, he has taught Transport Development and Planning, Transport Logistics, Economics and even Siasa. He has done all that with commendable results.

His devotion to students is equaled by his dedication to teaching. He sought to mint educated students instead of standardized robots. He is a simple man. He has helped us around the clock, in academic and social problems. Students go to him in his office, in the corridors and even to his home. We admire his intellect, sympathetic attitude and democratic approach. Even outsiders come to seek his help.

Ndugu Hirji has served the Institute in many capacities. He headed the Department of Transport Management, and served as the Librarian, Chairman of Research and Consultancy Committee, and Chief Adviser of the students’ journal, The Transporter. His regular contributions to this journal are indicative of his closeness to the students.

He is not corrupted by power. He puts the interests of the majority before his own. Many times he has suffered for his defense of the truth. We cannot mention all he has done for NIT. It needs him more than he needs it. His unique scholarship, willingness to share knowledge and readiness to learn from them demands appreciation. That is why we are assembled here.

In that spirit, the students and staff of NIT would like to give him six presents that reflect his vision and spirit. They are our awards of honor to him.

The first two gifts are books on history and social analysis, the third is a Makonde carving representing a wise teacher surrounded by his students, the fourth is a pen to enable him to conduct his academic battles at Harvard University, the fifth is an NIT bag to remind him not to forget his students and the nation, and the last is a special gift for him from his close academic comrade, Ndugu Khalifa Afzal Hussein. They founded our academic program, and actively promoted it all this time. The material on our library shelves is indicative of that effort.

Finally, we all wish him a good time at Harvard University.

Farida and I are deeply touched by this grassroots expression of love, solidarity and appreciation. Students, not only from my department but also from the Department of Motor Vehicle Mechanics, have turned out in full force. The party has been organized at their own initiative and expense; the administration did not contribute even a cent. And what pains they have taken to make it a resounding success.

If I am asked to point out the foremost highlight of my four decades of teaching, I would say it was this spontaneous demonstration of love from my students. I have always regarded my students as a part of my extended family and have endeavored to do my very best for them. In the midst of the personal difficulties I had faced, I did not miss a single scheduled class at NIT. Rain or shine, the students knew that Mr Hirji will be there. He works hard for you, so you better sweat away accordingly as well. And, with this farewell party, they are proclaiming in a loud, clear voice that they consider me as one of them. Despite the exhaustion and health effects I have endured, it has truly been worth it. There is no bigger award a teacher can aspire to.


My arrival in Boston starts an over three decades long venture into the beguiling arena of health statistics. In that period, I will learn the subject in depth, teach it at leading universities in three countries, do extensive theoretical and applied research, and publish voluminously. My work will win a prestigious international award as well as bring me face to face with novel ethical conundrums. That tale, however, has to await another day. Here I note my final official interaction with NIT which occurred during that period.

In 1986, upon graduating with a doctorate in Biostatistics, I write a letter to Mr Sanga. I say that due to the nature of my specialization, it would be more appropriate for me to teach at a place where my training was of specific relevance. I also send a job application to the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology of the Faculty of Medicine of UDSM. This I do in the expectation that my earlier ‘sins’ matter no more. What will carry weight, I hope, is that I am the first Tanzanian with a doctoral degree in Biostatistics. And that in a nation where there are at most ten citizens with a master’s level degree in that field. Hence I rate my chance of joining the Faculty of Medicine as quite high.

Mr Sanga does not wait to respond. In a strongly worded letter, he accuses me of violating the contract I had signed with NIT and absconding. Further, he tells me that if I do not return to NIT immediately, legal proceedings will be instituted against me. But he stands on shaky grounds. My subsequent reply makes three points. First, I am not absconding but seeking a transfer from one public educational institution in Tanzania to another. Second, by requesting his consent, I am following a procedure allowed by the contract. Third, according to that contract, for the first three years of my study leave, I would be paid a portion of my salary. I tell him that actually not a single cent was deposited into my bank account (This fact has been conveyed to me by my father). Turning the tables, I declare that it is NIT and not I who has violated the contract. I add that someone in the NIT finance office has pocketed the money due to me. Thus it is I who should report the matter to the police for appropriate action. After this I do not get any further communication from the venerable Principal.

Over the years, I have kept in touch with former students and colleagues from NIT. Several of them continue to visit me at home. Over a cup of tea, we muse about the good old days and damn the confounding modern times.


It is apropos at this juncture to list the key developmental features of the National Institute of Transport during the first five years of its existence.

  • It was financed through locally generated revenues.
  • Its study programs, course curricula and organizational structure were formulated by local experts and stake holders.
  • Reliance on foreign instructors was minimal. The two who were employed were selected on the basis of academic relevance and lower expenses.
  • Local graduates in relevant disciplines were recruited and sent abroad for specialized training. By the end of 1980, the Institute had a decent number of qualified Tanzanian instructors.
  • The training offered at the Institute was embedded within the national transport sector and economic policy.
  • By 1980, the Diploma in Transport Management granted by the Institute had received international recognition.
  • It was the only academic institution of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa and was beginning to attract students from neighboring nations.

Consider these features in the context of the national policy of Socialism and Self-Reliance. Elaboration of this policy for the educational sector was provided in the document Education for Self-Reliance (ESR). In Chapter 6, I presented the case that in secondary schools, ESR was implemented without appropriate plans, or practical guidance. A key shortfall was the lack of integration of ESR activities with the academic curriculum. The school system was thereby ensnared in an existential limbo, with profound dissatisfaction reigning among the students, teachers and parents.

The institutions of higher learning were as well not provided a coherent guide to implement the national policy. Each one was left to its own devices. In pedagogic and organizational aspects, each institution went on operating essentially as in the past. The occasional directive from above just made them scramble to show that what they were doing was aligned with the political mood of the day.

In this atmosphere of failure and fumbling, there were a few islands of exemplary achievement. Dedicated teachers in these schools initiated well planned and executed projects. Transparency and control over misuse and abuse of project resources sustained student enthusiasm and participation. For example, the ESR projects at the Kantalamba Secondary School in Sumbawanga were run in a reasonably successful manner. The proceeds from the school farm had enabled the opening of a student run shop on the school premises.

In the context of higher learning institutions, I hold that the noted features of NIT qualify it to be designated as an outstanding case of implementation of the policy of ESR. And this not just in terms of specific projects but together with the setup, operation and societal role of the institute. It operated in the spirit of self-reliance and, by producing skilled manpower, it served to enhance self-reliance in the national transport sector.

Yet, ultimately, it only achieved a small level of the success with respect especially the second goal. That was due to two primary factors. First, NIT functioned in a sea of trends in the transport sector and the national economy that entrenched external dependency. Second was the fact the existing management in the state transport firms and senior bureaucrats across the transport field were not receptive to the ideas and youthful enthusiasm of the graduates from NIT. Often, they were frustrated and sidelined. Be like one of us, or you will get nowhere — that was the message they got. Given the social pressures of the day, it is not surprising that many joined the system, and contributed to the eventual bankruptcy of the entire public transport. Only a few hardy NIT graduates swam against the conformist tide for quite a while and made meaningful contributions to the organizations and firms they worked for.

This type of outcome was also observed for many specialized educational establishments in the nation. You cannot create a revolution by education alone. If education, however sound and relevant, is not complemented by revolutionary trends in the key sectors of the economy, and a real transformation of the relationship between those in power and the ordinary people, it can not only lead to nowhere but can even backfire.

I end this chapter with a general remark on where NIT stands in 2018. It recently celebrated its 40th anniversary. It now has a much larger student body enrolled in a wider variety of programs and grants degrees. It trains many types of vehicle operators, and carries out vehicle inspections on behalf of the traffic police. And of recent, it has launched training programs for pilots and air services personnel. Indeed, to this day, it stands out as a unique educational establishment in sub-Saharan Africa.

Like the other higher education institutions in the nation, it underwent a marked decline in the 1980s. With the advent of the neo-liberal era, many institutions received more funds, particularly from abroad, and through student fees. Student numbers, buildings and facilities, and the variety of study programs increased. But the quality of education, as measured by a multiplicity of criteria, plummeted. Now you have graduates in literature or science who comprehend their subject at a level not that distant from that of a Form VI leaver of the 1960s.

I am not sure of the extent to which this general observation applies to the present day NIT. Has the quality of training it offers been diluted by quantity? It is not within the purview of this memoir to give a comprehensive history of the NIT. I leave that task to others who possess a much longer familiarity with it than I do.

But what I would like to say is that the lessons and features of the first five years of the life of NIT remain relevant to this day. The need to stress relevance to national requirements and promote self-reliance through usage of local manpower, funding, and creative thinking, and avoid ‘donor’ dependency is as crucial as ever. Self-reliance is not isolationism. It signifies resorting to external resources on our own terms, at our own pace and at our own price. It means not succumbing to the agendas and constraints set by foreign powers and the agencies they control. It means ditching policies that benefit a wealthy few and the multinational companies and adopting those that will develop the nation as a whole. And that applies to all sectors of the economy including transportation.

The fundamental message is a simple one: Either we stand and run on our own feet towards our goals, or interminably hobble about on crutches and just go round and round in a cycle of mass impoverishment.


The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher Copyright © 2018 by Karim Hirji. All Rights Reserved.

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