By Mercy Machange, CMU

The College of Social Sciences (CoSS) at the University of Dar es Salaam in collaboration with the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), organised a colloquium on academic freedom in early November 2023. The colloquium brought into conversation a diversity of stakeholders invested in and supportive of the praxis of academic freedom and the social responsibility of the intellectuals in the contemporary time in Africa.

Gracing the occasion, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Dar es Salaam, Prof. William. A. L. Anangisye took the opportunity to remind UDSM scholars and others that attaining academic freedom remains a critical responsibility for the academic and the broader African society.  He said this in a speech delivered on his behalf by the UDSM Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor-Research, Prof. Nelson Boniface.

“The focus on academic freedom is important in order to draw attention on the central role of the University to popular struggles in society. As the key actors in the knowledge sectors, the University of Dar es Salaam just like others in Africa ought to produce knowledge that enriches governance, democracy and efforts towards attaining sustainable development in the region”, said Prof Anangisye.

Prof. Anangisye said such expectations placed an enormous responsibility on academics and universities. “But for them to exercise this responsibility, they need spaces that entrench all the tenets of academic freedom and the autonomy from political interference”.

He further said that academics were expected to build capacities for independent analysis and critical thinking by engaging in careful reflections on the state and prospect of struggles for academic freedom and the responsibilities of the intellectuals.

Prof. Anangisye recalled that UDSM pioneered thinking that led to the development of instruments on academic freedom and social responsibility for Africa. “Indeed, the Dar es Salaam Declaration on the Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility (1990) triggered and informed the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility (in the same year).

He said that the declaration which placed the responsibility on the intellectual community to secure and participate in the struggle for academic freedom and emancipation. “The immediate but critical question, however, is what it means and takes the University in Africa to imagine and strive to achieve academic freedom in the contemporary times within the continent and beyond”.

Reviving the spirit of Dar School of Thought

Meanwhile, the Principal of CoSS, Prof. Christine Noe, said that the current state of affairs had affected the relevance of academia to the society and that CoSS had taken responsibility to reposition itself to reclaim the lost space of academic engagements.

“We have revived the spirit of Dar School of Thought. The current collaboration with CODESRIA falls within this framework and we are very happy for this first step. We hope it will be an impetus to many other significant events”, said Prof. Noe.

Prof. Noe further said that they also had seminar series that were ongoing which had attracted a lot of interest within and beyond the University. Also, since 2014, they had initiated an international platform of Voice of Social Sciences (VSS) as a vehicle for re-claiming our relevance.

“The scope of VSS has shifted over time and the ambition is to build an international network of social scientists to work together in the production of science but engage in making societal impacts”, sha said.

This historic three-day colloquium was officiated by the Guest of Honour, Dr. Willy Mutunga  (Prof. Emeritus at Kabarak University), former Chief Justice of Kenya and prominent UDSM alumnus, and attended by other notable scholars and delegates namely CODESRIA President – Professor Isabel Casmiro, CODESRIA Executive Secretary, Dr. Godwin Murunga  and other CODESRIA delegates.

Also present at the colloquium were the keynote speakers namely Prof. Adebayo Olukushi from the University of Witwatersrand, Prof. Joe Oloka-Onyango from Makerere University, professors from different universities in African, representatives of staff and student unions and representatives of civil society, among others. Earlier in the colloquium a second edition of Prof. Issa Shivji’s book The Concept of Human Rights in Africa was launched.