Author: Karim F Hirji
Publ: Daraja Press
Reviewer: Salim Vally
Karim Hirji’s erudite yet accessible collection of essays is bound to become an essential companion and a classic for all concerned with the underdevelopment of Africa and its educational doppelganger, under-education.
While the essays focus on Tanzania, they have continental resonance and remain globally relevant. His dialectical, fine-grained and multi-scalar analysis of educational issues traverses the period of colonialism, the first flush of independence through neo-colonialism to present day capitalist neoliberalism. The essays draw inspiration and critical lessons from many countries. Hirji’s education commentary is grounded in a dedicated praxis of over forty years. The collection reflects this breadth of experience and the depth of multifaceted struggles. It embraces many pertinent issues valuable for contemporaneous endeavours against miseducation as these relate to democracy, dependency, violence in schools, the privatisation and corporatisation of education, the uses and abuses of technology, cultural imperialism, academic dissent, publishing, reading and the qualities of an effective teacher.
The book, a milestone in connecting past and present struggles through the tools of political economy and historical materialism, recounts how after independence, students from the University Students African Revolutionary Front together with some progressive staff members such as Walter Rodney, John Saul and others contributed to making the University of Dar es Salaam a beacon of progressive scholarship. They championed decolonisation and while critically supportive of President Nyerere’s humanism and policies of Ujamaa, also warned of the dangers of neocolonialism - their critiques celebrated as the ‘Dar es Salaam Debates’ remain germane to revitalising the African academy today. The legendary student magazines Cheche and MajiMaji discussed in the book should be seen as exemplars of socially engaged and rigorous scholarship exposing the poverty of many academic journals today.
Written in a register that exudes deep honesty, wisdom, self-critical reflection and borne out of collective struggle, Hirji’s essays are indispensable to confront the current obfuscations, falsifications and the dominant right wing and indeed neo-fascist assaults on meaningful education and reason. The ideas and practices of Hirji and his fellow activist scholars such as Issa Shivji, and the much missed AM Babu, Haroub Othman and Walter Rodney remain pertinent today and will leave a solid legacy for future generations to build on.
Despite these bleak, dire and precarious times, this remarkable collection is an antidote to despair. Hirji’s injunction, not to lose hope is also a clarion call to action and a firm belief that, to quote Hirji, ‘…the struggle is a long term one; there are bound to be ups and downs. But ultimately, Africa and its people will triumph’.