Francis B. Nyamnjoh reflects on the central role Issa Shivji has played in the development of African revolutionary scholarship.
It is 15th July 2006 at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Issa G. Shivji, at 60, is giving his valedictory lecture. Titled “Lawyers in Neoliberalism: Authority’s Professional Supplicants or Society’s Amateurish Conscience”, the lecture marks the end of a rich and distinguished 36 year career of selfless service that started as a tutorial assistant in May 1970 and was crowned with full professorship in July 1986. The lecture is on a theme that has been at the centre of Shivji’s humanity and scholarship since his student days in East Africa and the United Kingdom. If neoliberalism cultivates corporate greed and reinforces an elitist order that never tires of globalizing a culture of poverty, Shivji as a lawyer and scholar has positioned himself passionately and selfishly at variance with neoliberalism. He uses changing land and labour regimes in Tanzania to criticize the changing concepts of personhood and human agency that have tended to question cultures and socio-political communities underpinned by collective success where greed is not the creed. Drawing on leading labour cases, Shivji convincingly demonstrates how Tanzania and Africa have jumped “from the frying pan of state nationalism into the fire of corporate neoliberalism”, hence his criticism of lawyers who come across more as technicians oiling the wheels of neoliberalism than as saboteurs to the corporate greed and global consumer culture it champions.
As he argues, neoliberalism generates a transnational legal intelligentsia to serve and oil it. The neoliberal elite globalizes the so-called ‘rule of law’, not as embedded in liberal political values of the Enlightenment period, but rather as “firmly rooted in the exigencies of the ‘rule of capital’ in the service of a corporatocracy.” The result is the global “expansion and protection of property relations and private appropriation of surplus value,” to the detriment of multitudes of poor and ordinary citizens simply seeking to get by. In the valedictory lecture, reproduced in the popular pan-African Pambazuka electronic news bulletin: Shivji is scathing in his criticism of African lawyers and intellectuals at the beg and call of neoliberalism, which privileges profit over people and is interested in development and culture only to the extent that these guarantee profitability. Shivji has remained consistent and uncompromisingly critical over the last forty years.
In 1968, he published “The Educated Barbarians”, an article that was passionately critical by the injustices of unequal encounters that had reduced being cultured to emptying oneself of all meaningful cultural difference vis-à-vis neocolonial forces and its harbingers in Africa. In those days, as today, Shivji was committed to Africans old and young passionate about making the world a better place politically, economically and culturally. In his words, “We discussed Fanon while we worked in cashew nut farms around the University, taught literacy classes in Mlalakuwa based on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, built our own shelters, called houses, through self-help.” It was an exercise of making both development and culture in tune with the lives and expectations of those called upon to partake of both.
This passionate commitment to challenging the culture of injustice and greed with the culture of equality of humanity and the celebration of difference seems to diminish in Africa by the day. Shivji is worried, and blames the insidiousness of Neo-liberalism, which “has taken its toll and the language of consultancy has displaced and replaced the language of conscience and commitment.” He argues that “corporatisation of the university is part of the neoliberal ideological attack on critical thinking, on intellectuals who would ‘Speak Truth to Power’. It undermines the university as a critical site of knowledge, as a mirror of society. No doubt, temptations are great and none of us is immune.” This recognition, notwithstanding, Shivji is particularly scandalized by the fact that even the committed progressive scholars of yesteryears “can only agonize and gradually forget even to diagnose the ills of our society.”
Professor Issa Shivji has had a rich career as one of Africa’s leading experts on law and development issues. He retires as director of the Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law at the University of Dar es Salaam where he has taught since 1970’s. In Tanzania where he was born in 1946, Shivji has served as advocate of the High Court and the Court of Appeal of Tanzania since 1977 and advocate of High Court in Zanzibar since 1989. He has served as visiting professor in Mexico, Zimbabwe, South Africa, United Kingdom, India, Hong Kong and USA, and has won several awards and distinctions. Shivji’s influence as a lawyer, scholar, professor and public intellectual is global. He has researched, written and published extensively on a broad range of issues including on human rights, land tenure, labour, higher education and the politics of recognition and representation.
He has published 15 books that include his 1989 groundbreaking The Concepts of Human Rights in Africa - a critique of dominant ideologies of human rights that seeks to reconceptualise human rights from the perspective of the working people of Africa, 6 monographs, 33 book chapters, 36 articles in scholarly journals, and over 40 other papers, reports and writings in newspapers, newsletters and bulletins. His most recent book -- Let the People Speak: Tanzania Down the Road to Neoliberalism—published by CODESRIA to coincide with his valedictory lecture, consists of 90 critical and thought-provoking essays selected from over 150 written between 1990 and 2005 in three different newspapers. The book captures the richness of Shivji’s contributions as a public intellectual. It deals with the period when Tanzania under external pressures from donors and financial institutions was forced down the road of neo-liberalism. The local compradorial elites whose economic appetites had been suppressed under Nyerere’s radical nationalism now openly flexed muscles to get a place under the capitalist sun as nationalism, radical or otherwise, was abandoned, and neo-liberalism uncritically embraced.
The essays are on varied subjects ranging from the politics of multi-party, the strains and stresses of the Union with Zanzibar, the deep-seated extra-constitutional behaviour of the ruling elite to the hopes, fears and resistance of the working people. In these essays, contemporary Tanzanian history is recorded in sweeping journalistic strokes without burying the commitment of a critical public intellectual in turgid scholarship. As a warning on the slippery slope that neo-liberalism constitutes, Let the People Speak will echo in many an African country. Hence the salience and relevance of Shivj’s renewed call for the resurrection of a radical, people driven Pan-Africanism. Shivji sees in the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), an institution that epitomizes the Pan-Africanism he would want to resurrect. CODESRIA was created in 1973 with a clear mandate to promote the production and dissemination of multidisciplinary social research by African scholars. It was tasked with the responsibility of doing this simultaneously with an investment of effort in transcending the various barriers of language, geography, discipline, gender and generation that hamper cross-national African networking for the advancement of science.
As a foundation member, Shivji has played important roles in the life of CODESRIA. He has been an authoritative and important voice. His high standing and commitment to intellectual activism have played a pivotal role in CODESRIA’s history. The Social Science community in Africa has benefited enormously from the spread of his ideas and influence, and from the encouragement that he has never relented in giving so many people. Shivji has served CODESRIA in various capacities over the years, including as: Chair person for the Drafting Committee to the 1990 Dar es Salaam Declaration on Academic Freedom & Social Responsibility of Academics; Director of CODESRIA Democratic Governance Institute, July – September 1996; Chairperson, CODESRIA Governance Reform Committee, 2000-2002; and Executive Committee member of CODESRIA, 2002-2005. It is this African and global social science community which Shivji has shaped and been shaped by that reacted with outpours of email messages of congratulations and recognition when Shivji made public his retirement through an open invitation to his valedictory lecture.
Without space to do justice to the scores of testimonies in praise of him, let me refer only to a few: Carlos Lopes, a scholar of Guinea Bissau currently Assistant Secretary General at the UNO, writes:
When I was still a teenager I was already reading Issa Shivji, thanks to my mentor's insistence, the late Mário de Andrade, leading Angolan intellectual and founder of the MPLA. When later I wrote my first book, in 1982, quotes from Shivji were prominent. So despite being from a totally different generation I feel I have been in dialogue with Shivji for decades now; and, as a result, consider his enduring influence on my thinking, very important. However what I really would like to mention is the personality of this scholar that always considered himself an agent of change, a revolutionary, committed to the transformation of our beloved continent. From the Dar School to the activism of AAPS, or CODESRIA, Issa has been a reference figure because of his personality. Bonds were established because of his intellectual honesty. We know what he stands for and we know his personal interests matter little for he is a man of convictions, and his convictions are for the good of the collective. At this moment I would like to pay tribute to him and his colleagues that have put the University of Dar es Salaam in the radar of Africa's transformation. We need you!
Dr. Thandika Mkandawire, former Executive Secretary of CODESRIA, author of African Intellectuals, and currently Director of UNRISD in Geneva, writes: Dear Issa, Thanks for the invitation. I really wish I could attend this event to pay tribute to a courageous and inspiring scholar I hope you realise that your retirement at such an early age simply marks a new beginning. I therefore look forward to more of your seminal work. Warm regards
Dr. Jacques Depelchin, a committed intellectual, academic, and activist for peace, democracy, transparency and pro-people politics in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and author of Silences in African History, writes:
Dear Issa, For your fidelity and commitment to emancipatory politics at all times, we can never thank you enough. However, do not worry, although things might look gloomy, there are unmistakable signs that --to paraphrase Ayi Kwei Armah in his novel KMT-- the people of the Sphere shall prevail over the people of the Pyramid. It is easier to heal than to give into the idea that everything has fallen apart. Do take care
Dr. Jimi Adesina, Professor of Sociology at Rhodes University, South Africa, and co-editor of Africa and Development Challenges in the New Millennium, writes: Mzee: Wished I could be there. Thanks for the years of inspiring intellectual leadership that you given all of us and the space that you continue to provide for the intellectual project at the service of ordinary people, who daily do extraordinary things. I am sure this is only a formal end of employment at UD rather than a retirement. May your cooking place never grow cold!
The President of CODESRIA Teresa Cruz e Silva, a Mozambican Historian, had this, among other things, to say: Professor Issa Shivji is a brother, a friend, and in many ways an inspiration to Africans big and small, an intellectual animated by a passion for freedom, a passion well summed up in the title of his latest book: ‘Let the People Speak’. After such an illustrious academic life rich in contribution to the development of Social Sciences in Africa, Professor Issa Shivji deserves his formal retirement from the University of Dar es Salaam, although I doubt, given his wisdom and generosity of spirit, that he is going to allow himself the rest he needs. On behalf of CODESRIA, also represented today by the eminent Professor Archie Mafeje and two former Presidents of CODESRIA, Professors Zenebeworke Tadesse and Mahmood Mamdani -- all three of them founding members of CODESRIA, allow me Professor Shivji to congratulate you and the University of Dar es Salaam for your outstanding academic production and your contribution to the formation of new generations of African scholars in the last decades. Allow me also, personally, to express my gratitude and my tremendous admiration for your scholarship and integrity, as well as your strong intellectual activism illustrated by your writings on Africa and particularly on contemporary Tanzanian issues, and your consistent and very honest positions concerning world politics.
My first true memory of Issa Shivji´s name come from the mid to the late 70´s, after the independence of my country, Mozambique, when at the very new African Studies Centre at Eduardo Mondlane University and under the leadership of Ruth First and Aquino de Bragança, an uninformed young and enthusiastic group of Mozambicans received all the strong influence of the Dar es Salaam school, particularly the very first contacts with issues related with African development, the new research approaches on African history and for the first time a rare chance to read African authors. For scholars of my generation, Issa Shivji´s name always has been a source of inspiration and an extraordinary example of struggle to build up African universities not only with high standards, but with scholars committed to the development of the continent. The huge range of Issa´s achievements was and is still recognized by successive generations of scholars who have his work and intellectual commitment as a source of inspiration. Today we are here to celebrate a transition from one fruitful stage to another one in the academic life of Professor Issa Shivji. Issa´s energy and commitment have been a vital resource for CODESRIA, and for the social science community in general. We sincerely trust that he will continue to guide the young generations and to give more and more of his commitment to African Development. Which is way I say to him: Issa, for this new phase of your life we wish you happiness and good fortune, but CODESRIA cannot guarantee you the rest you so badly need after working so hard. For we need you even more than ever to mentor the younger generation in whom you have sown the seeds of HOPE in a bright future for Africa.
Professor Issa Shivji has never been a lip service scholar, less still a scholar who pays lip service to social responsibility. He does not thrive in dissemblance, and would state his mind even at the risk of being the only voice who dares to say the king is naked in his new clothes. Not untypical therefore, he found reason to voice his concerns about the the Mo Ibrahim Prize for a retired African president which was awarded to Joachim Chissano of Mozambique. In this commentary titled “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul” (see Pambazuka), Shivji argues that “it is naïve, if not mischievous, to award a person – moreover with a cash prize – for bringing peace or democracy to his country.” He questions the reason for the award – “good governance”, the yardsticks by which this is determined, and the derogatory assumptions vis-à-vis Africa, its humanity and dignity that surround the award. He particularly regrets the “uncritical and unqualified celebration” of the award “by scribes and even academics and intellectuals”.
It is too simplistic, he argues, to assume that African problems are created exclusively by Africans, or that the excesses of the world out there has little bearing on the excesses of the world in here. Not to recognize this especially by scholars is dangerous, as it could easily lead to mistaking villains for heroes, mercenaries for savours, dictators for democrats, exploiters for philanthropists, capitalists for socialists. Only such critical understanding can put in perspective the fact that no one who has “made millions of dollars from the sweat and blood of the African people” can be celebrated when instead of returning “a few million to the people through providing badly needed schools, dispensaries, and water wells, proceeds to “add insult to injury by robbing (poor) Peter to pay (rich) Paul.” As Shahida El-Baz remarked in an email to me and others when she read this piece by Issa Shivji, “This is really refreshing. To read/hear such honest, brilliant and committed analysis is like a glowing light in the middle of darkness, where a great number of those, who used to be called progressive intellectuals, enjoy adopting uncritically the fashionable concepts and policies of imperialist globalization. It is also a typical description of what is happening in all our countries. Thank you Issa for holding the torch so high. Keep going…”
The magnitude of Professor Issa Shivji’s scholarly, legal, political and educational contributions to development and culture in Africa and globally, and his humanity, honesty and generosity of spirit constitute a glowing example worth emulating of intellectual and social responsibility in action and in tune with Africa and its predicaments.
* Francis B. Nyamnjoh is Associate Professor and Head of Publications and Dissemination with the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA). Email: [email][email protected], Website: www.nyamnjoh.com