To replace pedagogies of the oppressed with education for the practice of freedom and to implement education for self-reliance, we must alter radically the political organization of the modern state of capitalist modernity. That is Mwalimu Nyerere's legacy in education, which remains relevant today.
The end of last November found us huddled around warm talk in a backroom somewhere on the toes of the Ngong Hills. Thoughts on pan-Africanism, our various political struggles, disenchantment with the university, and redemption songs defined the conversation amidst food and big laughter. After a gruesome year, exhausted from fighting the leviathan that is University Bureaucracy and living through the death of a dream at the Makerere Institute for Social Research (some of us), we were in urgent need of political solace. And so we had planned with friends and comrades from Ghana, Burundi, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda to have a meeting in Ngong (Kenya) to think through, as many others have before us, what is to be done? Our planning was located in the debris of our political devastation. We refused to seek for donor funding. We refused to make it an academics meeting. We refused to have a structured programme. Instead, we contributed kwa hali na mali (we gave what we had).
Our space and talk was intimate. We were workers, technical professionals, academics, artists, political activists, social movement stalwarts. We were also Pan-Africanists, Black, Marxists, Feminists, Queer, Africanists, Socialists, in ways that were cohesive and antagonistic at the same time, deliberating on what we have and what we are. Thinking together on what should be done. We spoke about our personal brutal encounters with the system. Our fatigue with endless critique that did not produce direct action towards emancipatory politics. And even our elitist encounters with alternative politics.
Because it was the beginning of a very long journey together, we realized in the course of our debates that no grand political strategy was to be immediately forged. And so after four days of fierce debate, debilitating laughter, deep introspection, eating and dancing, we decided. That we would go back home and reinvigorate or indeed create a forum that would pursue these deliberations with serious political intent. The urgency was real, and we did just that.
A number of us in Kenya, all involved in community organizing and social movements decided that a practical way to begin these engagements would be by reflecting on Azimio La Arusha (Arusha Declaration) 50 years on. We met weekly and planned around the anniversary dates (the last week of January). We read through it, in Kiswahili and English, and planned to facilitate discussions on self-reliance and socialism in the context of our political history and current reality in Kenya. We read the Sessional Paper no. 10 on African Socialism (1965), which contrary to its title was highly conservative and upheld colonial class privilege. We also read Milton Obote’s Common Man’s Charter (1968) that seemed more invested in the creation of a strong state that would undermine ethnic kingdoms.
The reflections took place in the course of one week in three different spaces. The first was Mathare Social Justice Center, a community organization located in one of the biggest informal settlements in Kenya, whose main campaign is against extrajudicial executions. The community meetings held every Saturday formed the basis of the reflections. The second one was at Pawa 254, an NGO located in an uptown location near the city center that holds, amongst other things, a session on Tuesdays dubbed ‘off the record’ discussing matters of social and national concern.
The third was held in Ziwani, also another informal settlement in Nairobi, at Single Mothers Association, an organization concerned with the social well being of young single mothers, facilitating their education, vocational training, health and child care. Ziwani is incidentally the place where Julius Kambarage Nyerere lived when he was in Kenya in the late 1950s. After the session, we visited his former residence, which neighboured Tom Mboya’s and Milton Obote’s houses. As it happens, these three men wrote the blueprints (Tom Mboya wrote Sessional Paper No. 10 for Kenya, Milton Obote wrote the Common Man’s Charter, and Julius Nyerere wrote Azimio la Arusha) that would become fundamental to the political and economic systems of post-independence East Africa. Even though we reflected on Azimio la Arusha, Education for Self-Reliance with reference to Kenyan history and context, the person of Nyerere loomed large, punctuating every other debate and proposition.
Kambarage Nyerere, more fondly known as Mwalimu (the teacher), was born in colonial Tanganyika, and continued to teach there after his undergraduate degree at Makerere and masters at Edinburgh University in Scotland. He was consequently well acquainted with the oppressive dynamics of colonial education as both a teacher and a student.
After becoming the President of Tanganyika, and forging a union government with Zanzibar to form Tanzania in 1964, he authored the Azimio La Arusha and a month later, a paper on Education for Self-Reliance. His intention for post-independent Tanzania went much further than protest actions that characterize deeply necessary decolonization efforts. He declared the purpose of education to be for self-reliance. Self-reliance, not in the anarchist sort of way that is premised on the supremacy of the individual, or even the idea of democracy as the tyranny of the majority, but rather self-reliance within the political ideology of Ujamaa, articulated in the nationalist frame of the modern state. Nyerere’s treatise on Education for Self Reliance was written one year after students of the University College of Dar es Salaam went on strike against a national service law requiring graduates to work for national service for six months and contribute 40 per cent of their salary to the state for eighteen months. All 300 students were expelled from the university by a furious Nyerere who was enraged by their class privilege, which was clearly a product of the education system. A system that created an exploiting class premised on inequality and accumulation. Education for Self Reliance was, in many respects, a response to this kind of education, an education for exploitation, individualism and inequality.
At the time of writing Education for Self Reliance, Nyerere felt that decolonization in education had not interrogated the fundamental basis for its existence; its capitalist and colonial underpinnings which determined its purpose. For certain, the quest for high salaries in the modern sector of the economy seemed to him to be one of the main reasons why education was pursued, premised, as illustrated by the striking students, on inequality and individualism. It is true that Tanzania had endeavored to systematically decolonize education. To start with, the racial and religious distinctions within education were abolished immediately and complete integration of the separate racial and religious systems was established. There had also been a great expansion of schools everywhere including the tertiary levels that had only been intended for the white minority students. Decolonizing the curriculum by making the content Tanzanian and African rather than imperial had been vigorously implemented in history, the arts, but most especially in language. The civics classes were used to present the organization and aims of the newly independent Tanzanian state.
Even then, in Nyerere’s reflections on education, he acknowledged that these changes though crucial only served as modifications of the inherited colonial system. For education remained elitist; inducing a sense of inferiority and superiority as well as a fundamentally class structured society. Education was inflationary; with one level of education intended mainly to lead to another where the price of acquiring education would increase in inverse relation to the value added. His critiques on the nature of the school as an institution meant delinking learning from the community, presenting books and school teachers as the only sources of knowledge, with the classroom becoming so abstract as to isolate even the events happening within the school compound remain radical even today. The school concretized the conception of the expert, an individual who would spend most of their childhood and young adult life not working, or accumulating skills necessary for social and economic survival, but rather acquiring a particular technical skill that would ensure a job and a high salary in the modern economy of the city.
In contrast, education for self-reliance would be modeled on the governing ideology of Ujamaa articulated in the Arusha Declaration. It would use what there already was, that is, people and land, most of whom and which respectively, were to be located in the rural areas. In a way Nyerere was critical of a particular kind of modernization. A capitalist one that was centralized and grew from the towns, drew people into cities and focused aspiration, growth and resources around them.
Instead, the intimate social relations that governed many cultural structures were to be expunged from their tribal colonial restructurings to an ‘African’ socialism that emphasizes equality, cooperation, the primacy of the rural context and direct democracy. And education would be restructured to integrate the social and productive lives of the community into the school system. Nyerere envisioned schools that would be self-reliant. They would have their own farms and productive units and members of the community would be integrated into the system, teaching and learning with the students. They would be radically democratic, with students deeply involved in creating the policies and participating in the everyday running of the schools. He saw exams as a crude and even oppressive method of assessment, meant to ‘assess a person’s ability to learn facts and present them on demand within a time period’ and imagined a system of assessment that would gauge the power to reason, the willingness to serve the community and the character of the student.
The wave of student protests for decolonization internationally articulated so intensely by the Rhodes Must Fall movement are making similar assertions that Nyerere did, nearly 50 years before. In fact, I would argue that Nyerere’s ideas of decolonizing education were far more radical as they effectively presented a completely new system of education rather than a reformation of the one that currently exists. One of the major differences, of course, is that unlike the agitating students, Nyerere was the head of state with the resources and power to implement his nationalist decolonization agenda. In my thinking, this gave him incredible agency but simultaneously severely limited his capacity to formulate the kind of education that he envisioned precisely because it could only be envisioned for the people, rather than with the people, perhaps the only method available within the institutional confines of power of the modern state.
Unlike many post-independence heads of state like neighbouring Kenya which was ruled by a political elite intent on amassing huge tracts of land, Nyerere was without doubt a great visionary. But his ideas and intentions for the future were not a function of democratic negotiation from the bottom up, nor could they be counterpoised to other visions conceived in the local villages through which he sought the implementation of Ujamaa. Rather, they were a deeply hierarchical in nature, entangled in bureaucracies that successively drained out any assertions from the people. The power of the modern state was designed to be effected with astounding force, providing only certain designed possibilities for direct public participation like the ill-fated electoral democracy, and serving exponentially the agenda of capitalist modernity.
The hierarchical nature of the modern state, its centralized bureaucracy and its legal framework were developed within the systems of imperial and colonial law. The problems experienced in the colony were abstracted and formulated into the legal charters characteristic of the sovereign modern state. Its premise of appropriation of surplus, racism, patriarchy, dispossession and subordination of all groups into nations that undergirded imperialism fused old structures of state formation and new and old nationalisms together in a quest for capitalist modernity. The school, where one is required to spend most of their childhood and young adult life, was a fundamental way of enforcing the methods and consciousness needed to establish the political and economic hegemony of the modern state. It predictably followed that the powers inherent in inherited colonial state positions were used by their new managers to accumulate vast wealth. In Tanzania, they were named the Wabenzi (a localized version of the Mercedes Benz as a symbol for the new rich).
As Issa Shivji argues in his paper on Nationalism and Pan-Africanism, Nyerere responded to the expanding capitalist regime that the nation state seemed to automatically enforce by producing a different version of the state. Through the Arusha Declaration, Education for Self Reliance and later on, and more radically, Mwongozo he called for the nationalization of the means of production, the legal curtailment of accumulation by the political class and the democratization of political structures that encouraged political decision making from below.
However, these changes were met with structural hostility; the system fought back. Major strikes began to plague the public sector, so much so that they ‘stagnated’ the economic ‘stability’ of the state. Nyerere responded by calling for an end to these strikes. The Ujamaa villages that were to facilitate collective ownership of the means of production had been initially intended to be voluntary. However, by 1973 the directive changed and the process was declared compulsory with the resulting exploitation by state monopolies devastating the villagization process. The seeming opposite of free market capitalism as nationalization was instead churned out as state capitalism.
It is clear from these examples that the prospects of direct democracy from below that would include direct and voluntary participation as well as immediate political accountability were undermined, precisely by a capitalist, hierarchical political system that was inherently incapable of facilitating economic and political equality.
When Nyerere, through Ujamaa and Self Reliance tried to steer the country away from capitalism, he was accosted by internal fractures and external economic and political wars. There was a mutiny in the army, which he decided to disband and form a new one, establish a single party and trade union affiliated to the state. Furthermore the war in 1979 with Uganda drained the already fragile economy.
The internal implosions that accosted Nyerere’s attempts at creating an African state were further compounded by the African economic crisis that was the legacy of colonization. Tanzania was not spared the wrath of the Washington Consensus resulting in the Structural Adjustment Programmes that corroded the already flailing public sector. Privatizations, fiscal austerities, deregulation, debts and political conditionalities modeled on neoliberal policies dealt a fatal blow to Nyerere’s politics of Self Reliance and Ujamaa.
Reflecting on education for self-reliance in these times, one contemplates on what kind of society self-reliance must be modeled on. In our neoliberal context, we bear witness to the generations that were fed from the very beginning on the aspiration diet; on the idea that anyone can make it if they have dreams and are ambitious; if they work smart and network in the right circles; that education would catapult them into material success; that it would make them competitive in a world limitless with possibility. A generation that was placing these desires on a university that was shaping their courses around the requirements of corporates that were in turn automating many functions and needing fewer students, and consequently inflating education so that more qualifications become increasingly necessary to secure employment. As for the majority who flood the market with no prospects for employment, there is always entrepreneurship , a recourse that weathers badly in a context without startup capital. Or free labour also known as serial internships that stretched the hope that work was on its way, sometimes for years. Or even NGOs that deepen dependency and usurp all the youth passion against injustice into placid, donor pleasing, aspiring middle class depoliticized selves. All this taking place where the nationalist project has refused to produce a viable decolonization agenda, shrouded as it is in the ambit of the modern state.
But the realities of oppressive colonial education, unemployment, debt, unaffordable education, autocracy, finite resources and opportunities reserved for the affluent have punctured the aspirations and desires that refused stubbornly to materialize. Like the student movement of the undercommons, my firm belief is that the university as we know it was never historically intended to facilitate knowledge production and learning for the purposes of creating a just, inclusive or radically egalitarian society. Instead, it was always implicated in colonial practice and slavery, constantly using and then subjugating the knowledges it encountered through the most violent forms to produce a capitalist modernity stratified at every level. The inequalities of class and gender, race and sexuality are incorporated in its special, pedagogical, textual and structural apparatus and eschew communal potential, radical democracy and equality that are contained in an education for self-reliance.
With neoliberalism, the structure of the university, like all other institutions of the modern state, conspired to produce market actors and transform every aspect of the institution and the human to an economic one. Notions like democracy, learning, shared and redistributed resources and even the imagination are converted to economic registers and understood in a context of competition, individualism and economic aspiration that make them abstract and incoherent.
But. Resistance has reared its head once again; so much for the end of history. If the student protests and social movements sprouting anywhere are anything to go by, it feels like the world has come to, confronting the political deceit that had captured the imagination so fervently.
One thing became clear during our sessions at Mathare, Pawa 254 and Single Mothers Association. That the Self-Reliance that Nyerere spoke about could never grow in ‘the system’. The system that reinforced the deep poverty in Mathare and Ziwani and with it the attendant horizontal violence like sexual and physical gendered violations, alcoholism and drug abuse, extrajudicial executions of young men and increasingly young women, murders, recruitments to al-shabaab, the historical land injustices and continued dispossession and speculation. That elective democracy was farce and it was never going to change our lived realities, as we see it in Kenya.
As we saw it, Education for Self Reliance was a fundamental way to shift our understanding of our own histories, and to address the deep injustices that capitalism continues to inflict. The very existence of Mathare Social Justice Center, Single Mothers Association of Ziwani and even Pawa 254 are testament to the growing arena of resistance to the violence of the market and the state. But what kind of world would education for Self Reliance be based on? If it is not the Ujamaa of Julius Nyerere, then what could it be? Could Kwame Nkrumah’s idea of Pan-Africanism as an anti-colonial struggle have led us to a different political future, released from the vagaries of modern nation state? What ideas could be collected from Nyerere’s philosophies of Self Reliance and Ujamaa placed within Nkrumah’s hope of Pan Africanism in our social movements built on the debris of nationalism and neoliberalism? What kind of education could be imagined and for what purpose?
In his speech given during the Ghana’s 40th independence in 1997, Nyerere expressed clearly his misgivings of the post-independent nationalist African project. He stated that ‘once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national passports, seats of the United Nations, and individuals entitled to a 21-gun salute, not to speak of a host of ministers, prime ministers and envoys, you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in keeping Africa balkanised’.
He also went on to say - ‘I reject the glorification of the nation state [that] we inherited from colonialism, and the artificial nations we are trying to forge from that inheritance. We are all Africans trying very hard to be Ghanaians or Tanzanians. Fortunately for Africa, we have not been completely successful’. And it is from these fortunate failures that our movements are finding traction.
Social movements, as I see it, are the most viable political spaces to forge education for Self Reliance, based as they are on direct democracies and our concrete realities. That is, only if the imagination of our future is Pan-Africanist, built from the ground horizontally and if it enforces Communal Reliance based on many of our still existing cultural practices and radical REDISTRIBUTION OF RESOURCES; if it is modeled on Radical Love and Empathy and continuous deliberation; if it is intersectional and does not thrive on the suffering of one group for the freedom of others; where our differences are a source of challenging and expanding our political community.
To replace pedagogies of the oppressed with education for the practice of freedom and to implement education for Self Reliance, we have to seek to alter radically the political organization of the modern state of capitalist modernity.
I end with Nyerere’s final words during his speech at Ghana’s 40th independence commemoration in 1997. ‘My generation led Africa to political freedom. The current generation of leaders and peoples of Africa must pick up the flickering torch of African freedom, refuel it with their enthusiasm and determination, and carry it forward’.
This article first appeared in a digital book published by a popular education collective called Pathways to Free Education. The collective, born of the recent student-worker uprisings in South Africa, exists to create content and facilitate space for popular education in the hopes of supporting movement building activities.
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