Karim F Hirji has been a friend and comrade for over 50 years. Karim and I met in July of 1969 when I accompanied Walter to a lecture he gave on his return to University of Dar es Salaam. After the talk, a group of students continued the discussion over drinks at the campus bar – a popular meeting spot for the university community.
The Rodney’s home became the popular venue on campus for all things fun – big and small. Our hospitality was known to both local and international visitors. Guests spent many weekends enjoying good food, music, dancing, games, and political debate.
Karim was a member of a small group of students who engaged with Walter in a democratic way – as comrades rather than as the typical hierarchical student/professor relationship. Walter’s relationship with Karim and the late Henry Mapolu deepened during his writing of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. These two comrades/students spent many hours with Walter reviewing and clarifying sections of the text. Karim was also a member of the Sunday morning discussion group which sometimes met at our home on Kilikenny Road.
When it was our turn to host the group, they could expect a home cooked meal rather than the mundane cafeteria food. Karim along with the other students would often attend many social events at our home. These ‘extended’ family gatherings allowed me the opportunity to engage with them at a personal level. I was known to many of them as Mama Shaka.
On our return to Guyana in 1974, Walter and I kept Karim apprised of the news and the deteriorating political climate. The Dar group sent letters to the University of Guyana condemning the withdrawal of Walter’s appointment; and later made public outcries when Walter and four other WPA (The Working People’s Alliance)
members were fraudulently arrested and charged with the burning of a government building. Karim also reached out to me and the children, expressing condolence and solidarity when Walter was assassinated on 13 June 1980.
Karim and I had not seen each other until the 2006 International Conference on Walter Rodney organized by the Institute of Development Studies of the University of Dar es Salaam. Reuniting and reconnecting with old friends was an extremely moving experience for me and our three children. This was the place where Walter and I had built our family, made lasting friendships, and experienced love and support from an extended community. Our eldest, Shaka, arrived as a three-week-old baby in July 1966; the other two children, Kanini and Asha, were born at the Muhimbili Hospital in Dar. My friendship with Karim has remained steadfast throughout the years.
Karim’s incisiveness in the penning of The Enduring Relevance of Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (2017) published by Daraja Press shows his extraordinary capacity to challenge systematically throughout the text critics who claimed that Rodney’s work was ‘replete with distortions, factual errors, unfair selectivity and political bias’. Karim argues that, ‘Were he alive, Rodney would have brought out an expanded, corrected edition. Yet, and what is important, his framework for approaching history and his primary conclusions would not only remain essentially the same as before but could be presented with greater confidence.’
Karim is a brilliant academic and writer but most of all he is a kind, generous and thoughtful person. Although he retired from the academy and continues to battle with severe health challenges, he continues to be committed to the liberation of oppressed peoples globally by writing profusely and critically on diverse topics.
Although Karim resides in East Africa, more specifically Tanzania and I live in Atlanta, GA, 8,390 miles away; and though we have not seen each other since 2006 or speak often, we remain connected through email. Karim throughout this difficult period in his life has demonstrated amazing strength and courage as he continues the greatest fight of his life.
My family’s love and respect for this gentle man and his beautiful wife and companion, Farida, is beyond question. Our friendship is a lasting one and one I will always cherish.
May 9, 2021