Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Public Interest Intellectualism, again.

A Little while back I commented on something Prof. Issa Shivji had said about public intellectuals, trying to connect the idea to what is happening in social media. Thanks to Chambi Chachage connecting us, the conversation went a bit further when Prof. Shivji sent me this:

"Thanks Elsie. I checked out your blog and read your comment. I think the digital divide between generations and that the old guard do not visit blogs etc can only be partial, if at all, an explanation. It is not that public intellectuals (young ones, you meant, I presume) are not visible because the commentator is not aware of the blogs. The question is what goes into these blogs, whether what is discussed etc. qualifies as discourse of and in public interest, meaning altruistic, in the interest of the large toiling majority. Mind you, when one makes such comments as mine, one is really surveying the overall scene and doing it in a historical context, and, therefore periodizing trends. There are always exceptions, there is always a silver lining, lest we would have no hope. And there are blogs and listserves where a very fine public discourse is taking place (although it looks like it is very difficult to sustain such discourses, which is frustrating; I am sure you guys must have noticed it.)

And as Chambi says things are changing. The apparent dominance that the neo-liberal elites, including intellectual elites, appeared to have established during the last two decades, is declining. There is an upsurge of rethinking and revisiting, ironically although understandably, more in the bastions of capitalist neo-liberal centers than in our countries, the peripheries. I say 'ironically but understandably': ironic because it is we, the people - of course the large majority - suffer most under these hegemonies. Understandable because, as has been the case, by definition, in the peripheries our elites simply reproduce the fashions of the North in a caricatured form and take long to discard them even when the master (the originators) have left them behind and moved on. (It was Gordon Browne, the then British Prime Minister, who declared that the Washington Consensus was dead; not an African leader!)

I say this with respect, without wanting to pass any judgment, that there is a lot of caricaturing of the North in the young of neo-liberal elites, much of it utterly absurd. (The Facebook bears me out - you no doubt are likely to be more acquainted with it than me.)

But then there is a silver lining and I believe the silver lining is developing, expanding. There are rumblings of awakening in the youth of our country. Some of their blogs carry very deep thinking, concern and commitment - see wanazuoni, for example. Their commitment to change for the better in the interest of the wanyonge, and wavujajasho and the questioning of wavunajasho, is exemplary and inspiring- witness for example the way the spirit of voluntarism is displayed by JNIF Committees in organising the activities of the Mwalimu Nyerere Chair. And, mind you, unlike my generation which grew up in the context of one of the most revolutionary periods in history - independence and liberation, the Vietnam war, civil rights
movement in the US, the aborted French 'revolution' of 1968 triggered off by university students, a world-wide anti-imperialist movement etc - the present generation has to find its mission and define its vision in a period of the trough of the revolution.

Let me not ramble on ....

Elsie, thanks for provoking this response - the provocation itself is part of the silver lining. Kila la heri."


  1. The hyperlink directing to your earlier comment does not work.

  2. Hi Joji- Thank you. The link should be fixed now.


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