The University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) can be an interesting place for anyone who wants to study how dons at, and from, the “Hill” see themselves vis-a-vis each other and the rest of the world.
Tanzania’s premium learning centre has had quite a distinguished history, having produced a number of alumni who have gone on to make their mark in the country and elsewhere.
The Faculty of Law, in particular, enjoys pride of place in this regard, not least because it was the founding member of this fraternity of learners who have spread their legal wings to shape, for better or for worse, the affairs of societies and enterprises.
The faculty is a revered reference point, and its true members (those who teach, or have taught there) are usually regarded with awe by those who learnt at their feet. Wherever they have gone after they left the Hill, they never lost the moniker “mwalimu,” and I have a nagging impression that they tend to carry themselves with a measure of healthy arrogance.
Which must be why, I suspect, that people who passed through the Hill, and especially the faculty, have expressed dismay and shock at the words of our current minister responsible for foreign affairs before a large gathering chaired by President John Magufuli at the State House a few days ago.
The minister, who can be eloquent at times and has a preference for the eye-catching and the dramatic, stunned many people when he thanked Magufuli profusely for “elevating me from the rubbish-heap and placing me where I am today. Who am I to be where I am?’ the minister asked rhetorically.
Now, it is hard to find anybody who could be fished from a refuse dump and hauled all the way to the Cabinet, but the man speaking at that function is/was a law professor until his “elevation” to minister, and his statement raised the question whether the Faculty of Law at UDSM is such a dump as to prompt some of us to deny we ever went there.
Some of those touched by those words were wondering aloud whether this was the price to be paid by anyone who seeks favour with the appointing authority, and if so, the question is why seek it when you already have it, or is it a way of ensuring you maintain it? Does anyone who uses such demeaning terms really think that his boss is a dunce to believe in such hogwash, or do they suspect that flattery, however ridiculous, is the food of our rulers’ souls?
Apropos of nothing at all, I started asking myself: Why are such inanities allowed to be aired in public, on live television, when they could have been X-rated to protect our children who may well start thinking it is not worth going to university if even the professors there think they are in a garbage-pit?
I pity those tutorial assistants who must now wonder what their station is in that sewer whence their erstwhile professor came from.
You do not even want to ask yourself about the poor freshmen who have just entered what they were promised would be the groves of academe, but which have now been professed by one who knows the environment to be little more than the Slough of Despond, which the reader may have encountered in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.
But what is the true measure of the elevation vaunted here? Is one really elevated when one is shanghaied into believing that one has to continually massage one’s elevators’ egos, or is one truly elevated when one says “The things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels,” as in the song by Paul Anka.
To all those who went through UDSM and cannot understand what has happened to their alma mater, all I can say is that the times have changed, but only a little bit.
Praise singers have always been with us, even if it is true that some are more nuanced than others. It would seem that praise singing has gone into overdrive, and that is not good for anyone.
This country has to face up to thousands of problems, most of which elude easy categorisations and facile solutions. That means we must shun praise and promote conversations, but at the rate we are going, we will soon be lost in praise, and fumble to create even the most rudimentary conversation.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]