Saturday, August 7, 2010

Public Interest Intellectualism

I came across a recent paper by Amb. J.V. Mwapachu on the University of the Future in Africa,* discussing the policy side of tertiary education and the place of academia in development. In it, I found this opinion quoted:
"In his critical paper, 'From Neo Liberalism to Pan Africanism: Towards reconstructing an Easter African Discourse.' Shivji laments, in the context of the impact of neo-liberalism on higher education in Africa, that the "public intellectual, whose vocation is to comment, protest, caricaturise, satirise, analyse, and publicise the life around him or her is rapidly becoming history."
Part of this might be explained by the gap between the analogue and digital generations. Professor, may I introduce you to the blogosphere? Comment, protest, caricature, satire? Check. Analysis, publicizing the life around? Check, check, check. Nonetheless, I think Mzee has highlighted a crucial point- at least one major part of the public intellectual's discourse was the discussion of Ideas.

While I would like to assure Prof. Shivji that there are some young intellectuals working in the sphere of public discourse through various means- newspaper articles, online fora, discussion panels- I don't know that this is necessarily done as frequently in blogging, where we tend to focus on events and people/celebrity. In my experience, the pressure in blogging is to get as close to the event horizon of whatever is current in your areas of interest. This does not leave much room, or sympathy, for broader ruminations.

I have also been struck by the fact that there is a gendered aspect to this field. Surprise! There are just not enough female or feminist intellectuals sticking their oar in the stream of 'hard' public discourse.
But that's a tangent- what I wanted to say is that the above quote does point to a vacuum in our public discourse: the discussion of those Ideas on which our plans and actions are supposedly based. For instance, how do we perceive our practice of democracy today in Tanzania- should we be content with personality politics? Are our gender roles are in keeping with our 'utu' philosophy on the worth of human life? What about the concept of excellence in animal husbandry (small-holding, humane treatment and transport infrastructure) that might result in The Perfect Steak being an exemplary product of Tanzanian agricultural prowess- is that supported by Kilimo Kwanza?

To kick it back to our education system, I haven't really seen much evidence of it being geared towards developing critical thinking and the creativity, independence and daring required to innovate. That might be something to worry about when talking about the University of the Future. Anyways, here's a little treat I found about a different form of intelligence for those of you with an inner geek . Have a thoughtful weekend.

* 'The University of the Future: Perspectives for Tanzania.' Paper presented by Amb. Dr. Juma V. Mwapachu, Secretary General, East African Community, at the Tanzania Higher Education Forum on "Universities for Sustainable Development: Trends, Prospects and Challenges," Arusha, 12th May 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting posting! Just a quick comment: The Prof. was making that observation when the neo-liberal assault on African intellectuals was at its peak. I really doubt if he will make a similar observation now as he is part and parcel of the revival of public intellectualism among the youths through the Mwalimu Nyerere Chair in Pan-African Studies in the context of the crisis of neo-liberalism. Moreoever, he is an avid reader/visitor of the blogosphere. In fact in one of his recent talks he even quoted an entry from a blog. Anyway, I am pretty sure he would love to read your post, forward it to him at


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