Thirty years have now passed since the birth of one of Africa’s most renowned centres of learning – the University of Dar es Salaam. Very few universities in Africa have been able to attract the kind of international interest and financial support that Tanzania’s first institution of higher learning has managed to drum up. Even fewer have intellectually flourished independently of government directives while at the same time training their quota of skilled managers and technicians for Africa’s know-how-starved economies. But the economic stagnation of the 1980’s chilled much of the intellectual fervour that had marked the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In October 1961 the Faculty of Law of the University of East Africa was opened in its temporary quarters in the TANU party building in Dar es Salaam. Meanwhile Western donor funds were invested in a new dream campus atop the lush hills on the outskirts of the city. President Nyerere officially opened proceedings on ‘the Hill’, as the new campus of the University College came to be known, in August 1964. The euphoria of independence was still very much in the air; students enjoyed quite privileged circumstances, and as time went by, some began to acquire the reputation of being elitist. One thing is clear: they dubbed their main dining hall ‘Harvard’ and, as campus legend has it, wore shirt and tie to meals and ordered from proper menus!

The Canadian professor Cranford Pratt, one of the foremost scholars on Tanzanian political economy, was appointed the first Principal of the University College. He would soon be joined by a host of other foreigners – among them Terence Ranger, Goren Hyden, Helge Kjekshus, Lionel Cliffe, John Saul, Andrew Coulson and Michel von Freyhold – who came to typify the kind of Western intellectual of liberal to radical bent who would arrive on campus over the next twenty years, drawn to Tanzania by the progressive rhetoric of President Nyerere and the promising spirit of ‘Ujamaa’. The University was to attract prominent Third World intellectuals as well including the famed Marxist historian from Guyana, Walter Rodney.

The quiet days at the Hill came to an abrupt end in 1965 when the government sent police to break up a student-organised attack on the British High Commissioner in protest at Britain’s non-committal stance on Rhodesian UDI. The following year the National Association of Tanzanian Students organised a march to State House in protest at the governments’ plans to mandate two years of national service for secondary and university school leavers. Particularly arrogant phrases in the student declaration (‘This is an ultimatum’) and the unfortunate presence of some offensive poster board slogans (‘Colonialism was better’) no doubt sparked President Nyerere’s ire. Nyerere’s response was to become legendary and certainly left its mark on Tanzania. In response to student complaints about high salaries of leaders and civil servants he slashed his own salary by 20% and agreed to revise the salaries of others permanently. Some 400 students were sent home and before they were allowed to return, Nyerere had released the Arusha Declaration which included strict guidelines on the accumulation of wealth by party and government leaders.

After the students were allowed to return and during the following years the ideas of Black Power and workers’ revolution were powerfully advocated by visiting lecturers like Stokely Carmichael, C.L.R. James and A. M Babu. For some time the increasingly radicalised university community welcomed Nyerere’s socialistic rhetoric and supported the policies of TANU.

In July 1970 the University of East Africa broke up and the Dar campus became a fully fledged national university. Some students began to dissent. The law student Issa Shivji came out against the ‘sham socialism of the Arusha Declaration and the ‘bureaucratic bourgeoisie’ of the party and government machinery. An intense debate followed on the nature of Tanzanian socialism accompanied by such incidents as the detention of the student organisation president, a student boycott of classes and a period of a year during which students refused to cooperate with any University institutions – including the campus bar.

As events during the 1970’s threw a hard light on both the socialist experiment of Nyerere’s government and the debates in the university, the left became split into warring factions. There was still a large group supporting Nyerere’s policies but another group continued to argue that the bureaucratic bourgeoisie had ‘hijacked’ Tanzanian socialism. Then, in 1978, the government announced salary increases of up to 40% for leaders. This was seen by students as a clear contradiction of the Arusha Declaration and, on March 5, 1,500 students marched on the city centre. They were brutally attacked by the police. 400 were taken away to their homes without due process of law and the government media engaged in a concerted campaign against them.

By 1980 the country had entered the most profound economic crisis of its 20-year history and by 1986 the University had ebbed to its lowest point ever. The once beautiful facility on the Hill had collapsed. The water system had broken down and lack of spare parts delayed its repair until 1990. Campus restrooms became unserviceable and the odour of backed up excrement pervaded the campus for years a pungent metaphorical reminder of the rot that was spreading through the land. Shelves in the bookstore remained empty save for the dust-covered stacks of Lenin and Mao. Staff salaries could not support the most modest of families. The once-vindicated supporters of Nyerere quietly sought sabbaticals. Expatriates trickled home. Corruption soared; twice – in 1986 and 1988 the students struck against corruption and deteriorating conditions, but to no avail. The University fell into the hands of those who would not rock the boat.

By the middle of 1988 the university was bankrupt and unable to open for class as scheduled in July. When classes were finally resumed in October, one of the last foreign radicals, the Jamaican political scientist, Horace Campbell , a disciple of the late Rodney, was no longer on the University payroll. His release was symbolic of the new Mwinyi government’s attempt to forget about Nyerere’s socialist dream while still attempting to maintain a monopoly on political power.

A new conservative generation dominated the University staff. Regardless of ideology, however, they were just as susceptible to the temptations of political corruption as their illustrious predecessors and just as capable of feeling the pinch of economic want. Despite numerous ‘campaigns’ against corruption and despite the new signs of life slowly emerging in the country’ s economy as a result of the Mwinyi economic recovery programme, the plight of the University teachers and students continued to deteriorate.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in the autumn of 1989 again stirred the students to action. Now it appeared that they had the weight of world events on their side. Not only could they present their former demands for an end to corruption and a consequent rehabilitation of the campus, but also a new call for a multi-party democracy.

Readers of recent issues of the Bulletin will be familiar with happenings on the Hill since then. The boycott of classes in May 1990, the ‘wall literature’ which so offended President Mwinyi, the subsequent closure of the University, the Mroso Commission (which vindicated the behaviour of the students), the rapid rehabilitation of the physical plant of the University (running water was now reaching all parts of the campus), the transfer of the popular Vice-Chancellor, Professor R. G. V. Mmari to head the new Open University and the launching, in June 1991, of a ‘Dar es Salaam Declaration of Academic Freedom’. Back in the days when President Nyerere – then himself a writer and intellectual of growing repute – used to casually stride around the corridors in his capacity as University’ Visitor’, and used to candidly discuss matters of national significance with students, such a declaration would have sounded odd.

Now, in October 1991, as the third decade of the University winds to a close in the wake of the dramatic collapse of socialism in the Soviet Union, it remains to be seen what will become of the University.

The University community – once again acting as the conscience of Tanzania – may again find itself on uncomfortable ground. Even if it wins the current battle for free intellectual expression, and even should CCM party hegemony eventually come to an end, to which ideological corner will this new ‘conscience’ turn when it becomes clear that the much vaunted’ multi-party, free-market democracy’ has failed to deliver the promised goods?
Paul A Isbell Munch

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