Proposed laws blow to student activism

Wednesday October 25 2017

This undated file photo shows students at the

This undated file photo shows students at the University of Dar es Salaam demonstrating against the late disbursement of their pay-outs. Proposed changes to the Political Parties Act seek to tighten the screws on student movements. PHOTO|FILE 

By Khalifa Said @RealKhalifax

Dar es Salaam. The proposed new laws that further tightens the screws on political activity on campus could inevitably put the final nail on the coffin of student activism in the country, analysts have said.

Political pundits who shared their views in separate interviews with Political Platform have expressed concern over the future role of youths in national politics, saying without active student activism the country is headed for a future with ‘passive’ young politicians, both within the ruling party and opposition.

Experts also noted that the prohibition of political activity on campus and an education system that seemingly promotes docility, are responsible for the current state of affairs, on-and off-campus, where the current crop of scholars have proven to be suffering from low self-confidence.

They accused academics of failing to stand up or step forward to make their voices heard – as expected of them – by questioning issues that deserve scrutiny.

It’s this circumstance that prompted Prof Penina Mlama of the University of Dar es Salaam to step forward and call for reviewing of the country’s education system and make appropriate changes that would revolutionise the current state of affairs.

Prof Mlama, who chairs the Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Professorial Chair in Pan-African Studies, says in a video, which went viral on social media recently that “we have youth scholars who cannot question and scrutinise any government decision. The government’s position on a particular issue becomes whole and final.”

Ban on politics

According to Tanzania’s laws, both students and members of staff at institutions of higher learning are not allowed to practice ‘on-campus’ politics.

This has extended to almost anything that has something to do with fighting for students’ rights and the cries for improvement of students’ welfare, such as better treatment and timely disbursement of stipends, issues the government seemingly perceives as political.

Section 51(1) of the Universities Act-2005 states that “[no]…students’ organisation in an [academic] institution shall engage in any political party’s activities on campus…”

In a similar vein, section 32(1) of the newly-proposed Political Parties Act-2017 points out that “no person shall do a party activity, form, establish or allow to be established or formed…any organ of political party in…any…school or other place of learning…”

This, however, contradicts the ‘University in Africa and democratic citizenship: Hothouse or Training Ground?’ findings across the University of Nairobi, the University of Cape Town and the University of Dar es Salaam.

Published by the Centre for Higher Education Transformation (CHET) in 2011, the findings reveal that encouraging and facilitating student leadership in various forms ‘off and on campus’ political activities, and in a range of student organisations, is one of the most promising ways in which African universities can act as training grounds for democratic citizenship.

Divided opinion

However, according to Mr Issa Mangunga (Mbagala MP-CCM), there’s nothing wrong with banning politics in universities – and that has nothing to do with the current lack of activism and the uncritical state of mind of former and current students.

“The laws didn’t bar a student from participating in politics – but, rather, stop politics to take place on campuses,” Mr Mangunga points out.

“I deeply believe in, and acknowledge the importance of, integrating higher learning students in national politics, for it is the only way to prepare them for the leadership positions awaiting them – and it enables them to start learning how things work,” said Mr Mangunga. “But it shouldn’t be mixed with studies on-campus.”

On the other hand, the Civic United Front (CUF) deputy secretary-general (Mainland), Mr Julius Mtatiro, says the ban on politics is interpretatively a ban aimed at muffling activism among youths.

“Universally, the issue of student activism is acceptable. Universities are places where students start experiencing a free and independent life,” he says.

“Once you lack activism and vibrant youth movements you are killing the future brain, the youths who are supposed to question issues and demand answers on various policies and decisions that affect their individual lives as well as their surrounding communities,” noted Mr Mtatiro who was once a leader of students’ movements at the University of Dar es Salaam.

Mr Alphonce Lusako is secretary-general of the Tanzania Students Networking Programme (TSNP) and author of a recently-published book titled ‘Voices of Rights Defenders in Universities.’ He says not only are the laws unconstitutional; they also contradict the very concept of university.

“These laws contravene the ‘Dar es Salaam Declaration on Academic Freedom and Social Responsibility of Academics’ which outlines the rights and freedoms of scholars in universities,” says Mr Lusako.

Among the rights and freedoms stipulated in the Declaration are the freedoms of expression, association and assembly.

Mr Lusako associates the current trend in universities where students are silent, supporting none of the social or national causes with what he describes as the tripartite alliance comprising state security apparatuses, some mainstream government institutions and university managements.

‘Unholy trinity’

He points out that ‘the unholy trinity’ is aimed at suppressing the voices of students in ’varsities, and bar them from activism.

“I’m a victim of these collusions and, hence, I speak from personal experience. I was made a specimen of how the government can strongly come after you when you are critical, and a threat to its interests!”

Mr Lusako was expelled from the University of Dar es Salaam in January this year as he was preparing for his first semester exams on what the university’s administration claimed to be ‘wrong admission.’

This was the second time he was expelled from the university where, in 2011, the 27-year old Lusako – who was in his third year at the university, pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting Degree – was expelled from the university together with 50 other students, following the strike he took part in organising against the government’s decision to send back home first-year students in public universities on budget deficit grounds.

As student leader, Mr Lusako says he has witnessed repressive rules and regulations at university, all aimed at depriving people of their freedom of opinion, association and assembly.

“If institutions of higher learning remain silent and do nothing about the injustice and other unacceptable things happening in our country we have reason to worry about what will happen two to three decades from now.”

Mr Rashid Moh’d was chairman of the CCM branch at the University of Dar es Salaam in 2016-2017. He says the idea of banning political activities in universities is ‘illogical’.

“Serving in the position not only built me up in terms of leadership strategy and management; it also did so for my colleagues and subordinates in the party branch.”