Prof Honest Ngowi, who died on Monday in a road accident, was a public intellectual par excellence. The outpouring of grief from people from all sections of society is proof of this.
Tanzania, like every other country in the world, has its own fair share of intellectuals. Few entered the public stage the way Prof Ngowi did.
He was a natural communicator and he accepted whatever opportunity to share his vast knowledge on economic and financial matters with the public, whether through the mass media or in a much smaller setting in workshops and seminars.
Among those who are mourning his death are journalists. Prof Ngowi was always available to them, helping them understand the complicated economic concepts. If a journalist wanted comments or reactions on business or economic issues the first academician to call was Prof Ngowi.
Other academicians could shut you out once you presented their ideas in a manner that did not please them or if they thought you misquoted them. Not so for Prof Ngowi. Deep down in his heart, I think, he felt that he had the duty to help educate and inform the public on business and economic matters.
He was so committed to educating the public that he accepted an offer to host a TV show on business and economy on a popular TV station, ITV Tanzania. In the end, he launched his own online TV platform, known as Ngowi TV.
It is worthy to note that his teaching responsibilities did not end in class. He went around the country teaching farmers, entrepreneurs and other groups of people how to organize their businesses profitably. All these real-life classes were streamed on Ngowi TV.
Transcending normal journalist-source relations
I first came into contact with him when I started out as a business reporter with The Citizen newspaper in 2006. With no formal background in economics, he was one of the leading experts that helped shape my understanding of economic and business issues.
He was helpful and inspiring in a manner that transcended normal journalist-source relations.
When I became Business Editor of The Citizen I even relied more on his help. His weekly columns were a pillar of the flagship BusinessWeek magazine.
In the seven years or so that I worked with him, he never missed a deadline on his weekly column however much busy he was or even if he was travelling. He maintained the column for more than a decade.
He was also ready to go beyond his weekly column and write additional articles whenever we requested him.
His role as a public intellectual went beyond working with journalists and the media. He was a prolific researcher who travelled around the world sharing his knowledge with his peers. But he was also widely consulted on fiscal and economic issues by various governments in Africa.
In a way, the Tanzanian public stage that he entered with vigour early in his academic career launched him onto the international stage. In one of the forums where he spoke, he explained how he was being contacted left and right by neighbouring governments for consultancy just after having read his columns.
The up and coming intellectuals should study Prof Ngowi’s life and emulate it. Tanzanians benefit more when intellectuals come out of academia and share their knowledge with the general public in a manner that makes the common understand complex issues.
It’s time intellectuals stopped confining themselves to their comfortable but figurative “professorial chairs.” Experience has shown that there is more satisfaction when an academician performs the role of the public intellectual.
May Honest Ngowi’s legacy lives one. Rest In Peace Prof Ngowi.
Damas Kanyabwoya is a veteran journalist and a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam. He’s available at email@example.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and it does not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at firstname.lastname@example.org for further inquiries.