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Tanzanian universities: postcolonialism

Part 1/6 in a series on the history of Tanzanian universities

As part of our intercultural training we presented a history of Tanzanian universities. It was a scary thing to do for a few reasons:

  1. There is very little written on the topic.
  2. Our personal experience of Tanzania is limited.
  3. We’re sure there are many others out there who are far more knowledgeable on these issues than us!

The point of the presentation is not to be definitive but to increase our own understanding of some of the issues we might encounter in our future work in Tanzania. We’ll be blogging through what we learnt over the next little while. We’d love you to join the conversation and help us learn more!

We begin with a brief look at postcolonialism, which is a helpful way of understanding the political backdrop to Tanzania’s history.

Our working definition: postcolonialism refers to the multiple and sometimes competing efforts to come to terms with the irreversible cultural aftermath of colonial presence.

The idea is that colonialism leaves nothing uncontaminated — you can’t go back in time! Even the desire to undo the past is a reaction against colonialism to some extent. So how do you deal with that? Below, with inevitable oversimplification, are three general responses. Each of these has existed in Tanzania since its independence in 1962 and continue today. These competing philosophies have influenced what has happened in universities and how student identity has been constructed and understood.


Pros: ‘Things were better before the colonists destroyed our culture.’ There’s a desire to reconstruct an authentic and ethnically pure local culture.

Cons: The old ways may be unrecoverable because they are fading from memory or because the social fabric has changed too significantly. Those whom these changes have benefited — or who can’t remember anything else — may not want to go back.


Pros: ‘Get rid of the colonists — we can do this on our own!’ There’s a desire for independent identity and self-sustainability.

Cons: After years of colonisation, the infrastructure and resources may not be available to local people, or may have collapsed with the withdrawal of colonists.


Pros: There’s a desire to strike a balance between the responsibility of the former coloniser and the dignity of the formerly colonised; there’s a call for genuine partnership, moving towards self-sustainability

Cons: This is a slow process with dangers of codependence and pseudo-colonisation.

Categories: Tanzania Uncategorized Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at

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