Prof. Ali Mazrui’s Life in Perspective


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Tanzania-China Relations go back into the 1950s to the present

Tanzania-China Relations go back into the 1950s to the present

By Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi

The emergence of China as major industrial giant in the present millennium has provoked tremendous interest and triggered off a sense of apprehension among the major global powers, especially the U.S. and Western European states. China’s ascendance in Africa is new, but not in Tanzania, where it has been operating in many sectors since the 1960s as one of the most trusted and reliable development partners. Tanzania has enjoyed special relation with Tanzania, largely as a result of the great bond created during the Cold War when the two countries were regarded by the capitalist West as socialist and communist bastions. Tanzania enjoys a special place in China’s foreign partnership priorities. Many elites in Tanzania and many other African countries are trying to woo China as a partner in order to enhance their economic status regionally and internationally. The emerging consensus in Tanzania seems to suggest that China has boosted the fortunes of many people by extending soft loans and fair lending terms that would not have been possible under IMF and World Bank in the past fifty decades. Many import-export businesses are thriving and Dar-Es-Salaam port has more arrivals and departures from and to China than anywhere else in the world. It is interesting to note that one of the peculiar characteristics of engagement is the primacy of global geopolitics on one hand versus national economic interests, in influencing and shaping the political, socio-cultural and economic interaction between China and Tanzania.

China appears to have good intentions for Tanzania going by the quality of development that is taking place in the country with Chinese assistance. In 2012, China’s trade with Africa reached US$200 billion, an increase from $170 billion in 2011. The United States has seen trade with Africa decline to $100 billion in 2012 from $120 billion in 2011. The hosting of 48 African heads of state in 2006 in Beijing, China demonstrated this mutual understanding. China’s success has also been boosted by her rich historical relations with African countries during the colonial era, as much as by the adverse impact of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPS), imposed on most African countries by the neo liberal leadership of the West in the 1980s.

From the 1980s, Chinese presidents have visited Africa more than Western Presidents and Prime Ministers combined. Former Chinese President Hu Jintao, visited 17 African countries in a period of just 10 months. During his ten year rule as President, Hu Jintao visited over 20 African countries including giant regional players such as South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria to the smaller players such as Mali, Mauritius, Namibia and Cameroon. This is different from the approach of US Presidents who visit only demonstrated democracies. In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first overseas trip to Africa, making it clear that the continent was the number one priority for China, and as expected Tanzania was among the countries that he visited, indicating to the world the special place of Tanzania in the mind of China. President Xi Jinping visited many African countries with goodies that no western country or United States has been able to match.

Tanzania-Zambia (Tazara) Railway is perhaps one of the most successful and single-most transformative investment projects by China in Tanzania and Zambia, costing a lot of money. Therefore, the infrastructure development in Tanzania today owes a lot to China new focus on Africa, where China is engaged directly or indirectly with over 35 out of 55 countries on the continent. China has systematically demystified aid and removed all the obstacles the West has previously put up as conditions for aid. The argument is that accessibility for funds is much less complicated and the terms and conditions are much more flexible than many lending facilities across the world. China is embraced in Tanzania; recent trips by Chinese leaders easily confirm this closeness. One of the nations that achieved the highest level of integration and cohesion in Africa is Tanzania. The factors that make Tanzania the best model for cohesion and integration in Africa lies in the fact that the country has never experienced major political instability which scholars attribute to the ethos and values of Ujamaa ideology. What many observers have noted is the shared similarity in terms of reverence for founding father of the Nation Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, in ways similar to Mao Zedong for China.

A visit to Kariako market in Dar-Es-Salaam reveals that Chinese electronic products and automobiles are increasing moving into the Tanzanian market. Foto trucks are increasingly joining the fleet on Tanzanian roads. Untapped Tanzanian market that was increasingly getting disillusioned with expensive European and Japanese goods serves as magnets for Chinese manufactured goods. Tanzania now serves a rich terrain for re-investment of Chinese capital in areas of service provision such as banking as well as infrastructure development. Complementary to the significant Chinese economic and political interests are vigorous cultural expansionism exemplified by the introduction of Mandarin (Chinese language) in a number of colleges and schools in Tanzania. Complementary to the significant Chinese economic and political interests are vigorous economic and cultural exchanges visible at places such as Kariako.

The revolutionary treatise called The Great Leap Forward by Mao Zedong has often been compared to The Arusha Declaration of Tanzania by first President Julius Nyerere and which placed Tanzania on a great socialist development pedestal. Nyerere enjoyed special relation with the founder of Communist Party of China, Mao Zedong. The success of the Communist Party of China encouraged young revolutionaries in Tanzania such as Nyerere. Nyerere embraced socialist ideas in ways that were different from other countries, because he created his own philosophy of development, known as ujamaa. Ujamaa was a hybrid of sorts, borrowing heavily from Nyerere’s upbringing in Butiama among a large Zanaki family, influenced by his Catholic upbringing of hard work and consideration for the needy. Ujamaa was also largely informed by Karl Marx and the twin Marxist ideologies of socialism and communism. Nyerere was also influenced by Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward as well as other socialist revolutionaries such as Argentine Che Guevara, among others. Nyerere was also influenced by the writings of William Shakespeare, especially the controversies surrounding industrialization in which the peasants constantly found themselves under the exploitation of the landed gentry. Nyerere embraced these many influences and used them to shape the kind of development we see in Tanzania today.

China’s interests in Tanzania are diverse. It has moved into areas of oil and mineral exploration in Tanzania, as well as agricultural development. At present, China is involved in the construction of over 20 major official road improvements in Tanzania. Those opposed to Chinese expansion in Tanzania have argued that Chinese strategy is motivated by the need to exploit the rich mineral and petroleum resources in Tanzania, due to the high demand for fuel needed to power the rapid industrialization process back in China.

In conclusion, China is aware that she has to devise a new friendly approach towards African leaders in order to access vital raw materials in places like Tanzania, which are also coveted by the Western countries, as opposed to the Western powers that have a patronizing attitude. Nevertheless, China’s success will be determined by her ability to persuade Tanzania that China is not going to be an exploiter but a dependable development partner, operating under mutual respect. There has been a lot of negative media and propaganda on the investments and activities of China in Africa by the Western media, which are easily ignored for obvious reasons. China stood with Tanzania during the Cold War and during the tough times of SAPS and many in Tanzania associate more freely with the Asian giant more than western powers. They see in China a friend who has a similar past, embedded in socialist ideals and policies that promote the interests of the ordinary person.

Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi is the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Kisii University.

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Quota System should be used in selection to public Universities in Kenya

Quota System should be used in selection to public Universities in Kenya

By Maurice N. Amutabi, PhD

The selection for University first year admission has first been completed and as usual national schools and high cost private schools have run away with the majority of slots for premium degree programmes such as Law, Medicine, Engineering, Architecture and Dentistry. There is a problem that we are creating in which students from county and sub-county schools do not have opportunity to send their students to premier and popular programmes at our public Universities.
The Ministry of Education Science and Technology may need to create a quota system in which students who attend national schools should not be weighted on the same scale as students from poor sub-county schools. This should be difficult. It needs to change.

The cut off points established by the Kenya Universities & Colleges Central Placement Board was 60 points for boys and 58 points for girls. The assumption is that boys and girls have the same facilities.

There is a feeling that cut off points for students from national schools, county and sub-county schools should be different. Cut off points for students from poor sub-county schools should be lowered so that those getting C+ of 54 points should be put on the same place with those who score A in a national school.

There is need to have separate cluster requirements for students from poor schools in order for them to access prestigious programmes at out universities. If this is not done, there is no way students from these schools will ever succeed to be sponsored by the government.

Government sponsored students pay about KShs.8,000/= per semester, which is heavily subsidized by the government, whereas privately sponsored students pay about KShs.50,000/= per semester on average. It is unfortunate that children from rich families who make the bulk of students from good performing national schools and private schools are the ones whose fees is subsidized and yet the students from poor school and poor backgrounds are the ones who deserve to be subsidized.

Students from poor county and sub-county schools work very hard to get even C+ on the KCSE exams. It is not the same with students from national schools which have the best facilities and adequate teaching staff. We cannot compare this with students from sub-county schools which do not have adequate facilities and teaching staff and operate under very hard and difficult conditions.

Research has revealed that students who enter University with C+ as privately sponsored students do as well and sometimes even better than those who come in with B+ and above, under Government sponsorship. It will therefore only be fair to open, say 40% of slots in premium programmes such as Law and Medicine to students from county and sub-county schools, and allow those getting C+ to come in under government sponsorship from such programmes.

In countries such as South Africa, students who come from rich and well endowed former white only schools are selected on higher points compared to students from formerly historically black schools in rural and poor neighbourhoods. Kenya needs to have a similar arrangement in order to assist students from poor rural schools and informal settlements to get opportunity to benefit from government subsidy.

Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic and Students Affairs), Kisii University.

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Senior scholars in Kenya need to invest more in Memoirs

Senior scholars in Kenya need to invest more in Memoirs
By Maurice N. Amutabi

Autobiographies are becoming a popular genre in the world, and some publishers such as East African Educational Publishers under Henry Chakava are encouraging this. They need manuscripts by people in public, to tell us how they lived, what they did well and if they have any regrets in doing things the way they did them. When is the right time to write one’s memoirs and reflections about life struggles and challenges? Very few Kenyan scholars have given us autobiographies, despite many promises of delivering them. Autobiographies play an important role, in reminding us through direct voice, how life was in the past, from which we draw lessons.
In the past few months, I have been surprised to read articles by senior scholars such as Prof. Austin Bukenya, Prof. Chris Wanjala and Prof. Henry Indangasi, many of which have been nothing but nostalgia and reminiscences about the glorious past. My argument is these articles belong to memoirs and we should not waste useful newspaper space on the things that will not improve the present status, and seek to change the quality of life of our people. I was a little bit frustrated particularly with Prof. Bukenya’s preoccupation with flying in East Africa in the 1960s. I was shocked because to me that is small talk, to villagers, at funeral fires in the night and not to a public forum like a national newspaper. I thought that this type of stuff belongs to youthful exuberance and should be erased after the maiden flight and be replaced by bigger issues and bigger ideas.

That Prof. Bukenya spent over 1000 explaining how it was like to fly in the 1960s and suggesting that female crew were more beautiful than today, really riled. There is no big deal in spending in the same hotel with airline crews, and even that should really excite a scholar who has been all over the world, fifty years later. I noticed the same excitement about Machakos of the 1960s and 1970s at Machakos Teachers College and Machakos High School. There is nothing wrong with such reminiscences but they belong to memoirs and not in public newspaper papers, where people are interested in issues that are of immediate concern and relevance to us. I am sure Kenya Airways will not even be interested in how East African Airlines functioned and who patronised it, and Machakos is now thinking to big and too post modern and its attendance affluent to be reminded and taken back to the 1970s school festivals and drama. From Uganda, John Ruganda is perhaps one of the writers that influenced me most, besides Semakula Kiwanuka. Ruganda’s books such as The Burdens and, The Floods evolved around ordinary plots, with ordinary people, spaces and sites. We nicknamed one of our teachers Kaija, and the name remained.
The article by Prof. Wanjala was perhaps the most problematic because he went on and on about his many publications, many of which are unknown and which have not enjoyed wide readership. He avoided some of the public confrontations he has had with his contemporaries and which have been embarrassing, instead choosing to focus on only his strong points and good times. Prof. Wanjala is among few scholars who believe that only those who hold PhD degrees should write for University audiences. He was known to loudly dismiss the works of people like Meja Mwangi, Cyprian Ekwenzi, David Mailu, among others because they did not have PhDs. For the record, I liked Going Down River Road, Kill Me Quick and The Cockroach Dance by Meja Mwangi. I also read some of the books by David Mailu, when growing up, alongside James Hadley chases.
In 1989 at Education Theatre II at the University of Nairobi, Prof. Wanjala took on Cyprian Ekwenzi who was giving a talk about popular literature. I was at the time, a master’s degree student and was keen to listen to academic heavyweights such as Cyprian Ekwenzi. We had been informed that Ekwenzi did not have a PhD and was teaching at University and that he was going to be lynched by our professors. After Ekwenzi had completed his presentation, during question time, we saw Chris Lukorito Wanjala rise up, smiling, with his mischievous trade mark smile, and we knew he was spoiling for war. He asked Ekwenzi’s opinion on people who do not hold PhDs writing for university audiences and if it was proper for them to teach at the University. It seemed like Ekwenzi had been expecting this question and was really prepared for it, to our total excitement. Ekwenzi jumped at it and went on to extol the popularity of his books, especially Jagua Nana and People of the City. Many people had read these two books as well as Burning Grass. Ekwenzi had just released two books in 1987 and was coming to launch them to the East African audience, these were Jagua Nana’s Daughter (1987) a sequel to Jagua Nana, and Behind the Convent Wall (1987). Ekwenzi was exciting as a speaker and explained why popular literature cannot be left in the hands of people like Chris Wanjala. He explained how when it came out, Jagua Nana was on the dashboard of every taxi in Lagos and other town in Nigeria, how it was shared by school boys and schools girls in Nigeria, some reading it under their blankets with a torch. Jagua Nana was translated into 12 languages and ranked second to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart in times of copies sold. That was how popular his books were. Although the audience felt that Prof. Wanjala had lost the battle, he went on to insist that he cannot recommend Jagua Nana to his students because it is uncritical and is based on uncomplicated plot that will not stretch the imagination and mind of a university student.
I have always admired Prof. Henry Indangasi for his simplicity and unassuming attitude. He has always come across as simple and approachable. I had serious misgivings about his recent article in the Daily Nation, which was a reflective peace, reminiscences on his encounter with the Great Chinua Achebe. He wrote about how he was impressed with Chinua Achebe’s simplicity and how he was moved to be the one to introduce the great scholar to the audience of the University of Nairobi, when he visited Kenya. This is clearly material for memoirs and not for a national audience grappling with many issues of development. This is not the time to tell Kenyans about your little impressions about Chinua Achebe, but rather how the country can get out of the present problems of cohesion and integration and dealing with Islamic radicalization and terrorism threats. In this article, Indangasi came out as a hero worshipper and one who loves power, authority and influence. He was boasting about how he sat close to Chinua Achebe and thereby implying that he is also a literary great in his own right. Unfortunately, I have not come across any of the works of Indangasi apart from the article he presented at Jacaranda Hotel in 1989 at a colloquium organised by my teacher Prof. Mwangi wa Githumo at which I made my maiden conference presentation. In the article, Indangasi spends a lot of time on his times as a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He laments about many things, including how there was no African literature. I would recommend he commits many of those old ideas to paper, as part of his memoirs.
There are certain reminiscences that are exciting, such as those one comes across in William Ochieng’s narratives, on growing up in Yimbo, or when E.S Atieno-Odhiambo tells us about Liganua, his village and how they made starch from cassava. I have always got some attention when I discuss my growing up in Ebunangwe. I have always received appreciation from my undergraduate students when I explain to them ethno-weather, telling them how to read the skies and behaviour of winds and how I am more accurate in predicting rain than their so-called weather experts on TV and radio. They get excited to hear how we were taught how to trap moles by grandfather, and many youth get amused when I catch the moles, for they learn a new skill. Those are the type of stories I would like to tell when I become grandpa, not about defunct East African Airlines, or how I greeted Chinua Achebe in 1989.

Prof. Amutabi is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Kisii University.

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Explaining Intellectual Fatigue and Malaise in Kenya

Explaining Intellectual Fatigue and Malaise in Kenya

By Maurice N. Amutabi

There is an increasing level of ambivalence, apathy and intellectual disengagement that is worrying many public intellectuals in Kenya. Things were never like that. Kenya has many intellectual giants and should cede space to foreign intellectuals many of whom cannot adequately speak about Kenya in ways that are deep and more informed. Because of the vacuum, we are increasingly seeing pieces written by foreigners begin to dominate our local newspapers and magazines. Our university students have no role models and wonder how to write critical pieces. University lecturers are busy moonlighting, campus shuttling, selling eggs and farming, while university students are busy entering contents as dancers and DJs, while others are taking to modelling and other types of part time engagements that have no connection with what they are doing on campus.

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Rounding Up Natives to Take Tea in Colonial Kenya

Rounding Up Natives to Take Tea in Colonial Kenya

By Maurice N. Amutabi

On February 24, 1929 staff from Agricultural extension office threw a security cordon around Luanda market in Western Kenya, rounding up natives in order to give a taste of tea. Many natives took to their heels while others refused to swallow the mixture of tea, milk and sugar, fearing that it was birth control medicine to make men impotent and women infertile. There are those who took off, believing that it was the white man’s poison, to kill off natives. This was during the Great Depression and the British government was trying to spur growth in the colonies in order to stem the biting effects of the depression. Markets for British goods such as sugar had collapsed and colonies were seen as useful means of reigniting economic growth………

{For full article get in touch with Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi, at}

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The Abaluhya are the Oldest Centralized Community in Kenya

The Abaluhya are the Oldest Centralized Community in Kenya

By Maurice N. Amutabi

Book writing is not for everyone, and book reviews need to be truthful so that readers are adequately informed and advised before investing in a book. On February 20, 2014, I received an e-mail message from Shadrack Amakoye Bulimo, inviting me to look at two books that he had recently authored. I acquired the two, ready to review them, only to discover that they were pamphlets doing everything to unmake the history of the Abaluyia as presented by professional historians. The two pamphlets titled Luyia Nation: Origins, Clans and Taboos and another titled Luyia of Kenya: A Cultural Profile have attracted some attention due to what one can only explain as short-sighted enthusiasm, but miss by a large margin the meta narrative of the Abaluyia nation.

I have been going through the two journalistic pamphlets and I must say that I have been deeply disappointed by Bulimo’s unsuccessful attempt at legitimizing some of the wild claims that have been made about the Abaluyia nation (Kenya’s second largest ethnic group) by politicians, all and sundry. Painfully reading the pamphlets justified my worst fears. The manner in which facts and speculation are conflated confirmed my initial suspicion and ambivalence about the books’ lack of authenticity, depth and historical facts. I was shocked when I saw some of the reviews done by literary scholars and other non-historians who did not notice glaring factual mistakes the author makes. Authentic voices and agency were clearly lacking, without any attempt at revisiting some of the known oral, archival and secondary sources on the Abaluyia.

How can a scholar write two history texts on the history of the Abaluyia and not refer to previous texts in the area by Gideon Were, John Osogo, Daniel Wako, among others? It did not take me long to discover that we were looking at a poor amateurish attempt at re-enacting the history of the Abaluyia. In short the books do not break any new ground in understanding the history of the Abaluyia. If these were essays submitted to my PhD class for grading, they would get D, mainly for effort. The problems in these booklets begin with the meaning given to the word Abaluyia. You immediately realize that you are dealing with fiction, a storybook and not a serious work of history.

The etymology of the word Abaluyia is well documented. It is derived from Oluyia or Olwibulo which means family or clan. Those who belong to the family or clan are known as AbaOluyia (meaning, of the clan or family). It also refers to Oluyia, which is an open ground or field or plain. Those who converge on the open fields or plains are known as Abaluyia or those belonging to the open field or plains. Khuluyia refers to the open field or plain. The Abaluyia were the only centralized ethnic group in pre-colonial Kenya, governed under a kingdom for 600 years before Europeans arrived. The Wanga kingdom under Nabongos (kings) of Wanga ruled the entire Western Kenya and parts of Uganda and Tanzania under various Obwamiships (smaller kingdoms, single – Omwami). Bulimo should have looked this up in any textbook on the history of Kenya.

The Abaluyia clans which have spilled into neighbouring countries such as the Bagishu, Basamia and Banyuli of Uganda, and the Basingila, Balinga, Bakolwe and Bachita of Tanzania speak Luhya that is understood by the rest of the Luhya such as Babukusu or Balagoli or Banyole. There are also Luhya clans in far away countries such as Burundi, Congo, Rwanda and Zambia. The over 20 Abaluyia clans in Kenya such as Abanyole, Abetakho, Abesukha, Abatsotso, Abanyala, Abakabras, Abatachoni, Abamarama, Abashisa, Abatirichi, Abakhayo, Abamarachi, Abasamia, were governed by vassal kings answerable to the Nabongo. It was largely due to the unitary strength and dominance of the Abaluyia and Nabongos position that missionaries and colonial officials schemed to invent divisions, arguing that the Abaluyia were not a single ethnic group. It is therefore surprising for Bulimo to accept this colonial aberration and lie, hook, line and sinker.

The most authoritative works on the history of the Abaluyia are the two books by Prof. Gideon S. Were entitled A history of the Abaluyia of western Kenya: c. 1500-1930 and Western Kenya Historical Texts: Abaluyia, Teso, and Elgon Kalenjin. Outside Prof. Were’s two books, the book that comes close in terms of facts and accuracy is that of John. N. B Osogo entitled A History of the Baluyia. All these books suggest that the history of the Abaluyia is not a recent phenomenon as some amateur historians have tried to suggest. On the contrary the Abaluyia have been conscious of their collective, cultural and linguistic past reflected in their settling pattern from the 12th Century when they moved in their present habitation in Western Kenya, to the present.

There are over 20 clans that make the Luhya and there is nothing unusual about the distinctions in various dialects of the Luhya language, because all ethnic groups such as Luo, Kikuyu, Kisii, Kamba, etc have such variations. The Luo of South Nyanza and those from Siaya have some minor differences in the way they speak and intone, the same to the Kikuyu of Kirinyaga compared to those from Kiambu. The Kirinyaga Kikuyu speak a different variant of Gikuyu, with almost 40% of words that differ from the rest of the Agikuyu but this does not make them less Kikuyu. Kiswahili speakers from Zanzibar, Pemba or Mombasa have no problems understanding what Makokha, Onyango or Kamu are saying, for they understand differences in lahaja (accent) and lafudhi. In the USA, the Southern drawl is so different from the Chicago or Boston intonation, but they are both variations of American English.

To suggest that the political union of the Abaluyia has been pitiful is to misrepresent the true history of these versatile Omulembe-loving people. Scottish explorer, Joseph Thompson documented his great impressions of the Abaluyia in 1883 and compared them with the kingdoms of Uganda such as Buganda and Bunyoro. Thompson met, with Nabongo Mumia, the Wanga king, at Elureko and uses great superlatives in describing the unity and strength of the Abaluyia. Even after the split of the kingdom between Nabongo Osundwa at Elureko and Nabongo Wamukoya Netya at Matungu, the unity of the Abaluyia was stronger than any ethnic group in Kenya.

History cannot be produced by our imagination, however fertile, but rather rendered by clear articulation of facts on what really happened. The two pamphlets are authored by a non professional historian and suffer from factual and interpretative inadequacy, no wonder they have only attracted the attention of non historians. As a professional historian, I would not recommend any serious scholar of history to read and believe statements made by Shadrack Amakove Bulimo because the books are thin on historical facts and lack authenticity in actualities and true events that took place from 1200 to the present. They rely on anecdotal items, polemics and statements made by ignorant non-Luhya politicians who have tried to undermine the historicity of Luhya unity in order to gain for the supposed disunity. It is not surprising that Bulimo is a journalist and not a professional historian. Gideon Were’s book, A history of the Abaluyia of Western Kenya is still the most authoritative book on the history of the Abaluyia.
Prof. Amutabi is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic Affairs), Kisii University

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