Issa Shivji is one of the great public intellectuals of postcolonial Africa. He was a law student (1967-1970) at the University of Dar es Salaam, growing up amidst distinguished leftist scholars such as sociologists Giovanni Arrighi, Immanuel Wallerstein and John Saul. These scholars came from all over the world, attracted to the formative intellectual ferment at the university. Even as a precocious student, Shivji began to challenge the socialist policies of the Ujamaa regime of Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania. During this early period he wrote such celebrated and widely-debated works as The Silent Class Struggle that drew attention to the social forces that were politically (un)represented in the new postcolonies of Africa. After receiving degrees from the London School of Economics and the University of Dar es Salaam, he took up a post in the Faculty of Law which he never left until retiring in 2006. During that time he became a public figure devoted to land reform and constitutional law. He survived political turbulence despite his outspoken commentaries on the turn to neoliberalism in the 1980s as well as the corporatization of the university. In 2008 he was awarded the Julius Nyerere Chair in Pan-African Studies with the express purpose of restoring the university as a center of public debate. Professor Shivji has inspired many younger academics, such as the political science lecturer, Sabatho Nyamsenda, who conducted this interview. He was also an active participant in the ISA’s World Congress in Durban, South Africa (2006).
SN: Your association with the University of Dar es Salaam (also known as Mlimani, or the Hill) started in 1967 as a law student, and after graduating you joined the law faculty at the same university – a position that you held for 36 years. Why did you decide to remain at the University while most of your progressive colleagues joined other institutions?
IS: True, many of my comrades joined other institutions including the National Service Office, the Party and even the army. In hindsight, it may sound a bit naïve, but the truth is that it was a collective decision of comrades as to who would be most effective where. Comrades thought, and I agreed, that I should remain at the University to do progressive intellectual and ideological work.
The University did provide relative space for progressive ideas to flourish, a terrain where progressive intellectual camaraderie could be created and sustained. At the time, the overall nationalist commitment combined with the deeper intellectual understanding of the imperialist system helped to cultivate radical young scholars, many of whom ended up as teachers in secondary schools thus further fertilizing progressive thought and practice.
I have never regretted spending the whole of my working life at the Hill.
SN: In your Accumulation in an African Periphery you divide the post-colonial experience of African countries, and Tanzania in particular, into three phases: the nationalist phase (1960s and 1970s), the critical phase (1980s) and the neoliberal phase (1990s to the present). How did these changes affect Mlimani? (the University)
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