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University of Dar es Salaam Is Stuck. It’s Time To Save It

UDSM is stuck between its past glory and its inability to grow and adapt positively.

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The University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) is receiving much attention on social media thanks to an electric vehicle the University designed. The product was showcased at the UDSM Research and innovation week, setting forth many unpleasant comments from netizens.

But that is not the only reason that put The Hill, as the University is fondly known, in the spotlight. For example, there is this government negotiation team on extractive industry contracts led by former UDSM lecturers, something that did not sit well with critics who were shocked that the team did not have even a single person from the industry itself.

At the outset, I’d like to salute Aston Nyenyembe, the engineer who designed the electric vehicle. We need to celebrate people like him for their attempts, as Nyenyembe put it himself, “to move from papers to actual implementation.” But UDSM needs to hear me out.

Former glory

As the first University in Tanzania, UDSM played a crucial role in shaping the country in its early stages of formation. It was where issues were discussed no matter how hard they seemed, be it the case of stringent laws that allow the detention of people indefinitely or a shift from socialism to a market economy or criticism to one-party rule.

Difficult questions about our country were asked, and solutions were developed there. Critical thinking was the currency of the day, ingrained among university students. The debates on social emancipation, development and pan-Africanism attracted progressive scholars around the world.

With time, Tanzania changed, and so are its needs. Now issues that need a closer look are no longer those involved with leadership only; you have a growing population that needs jobs, an economy that is deeply integrated with the global economy where technology development is everything and the digital environment continues to change our lives at a pace that we can hardly comprehend.

While the position of UDSM was apparent in the past, it is now stuck between its past glory and its inability to grow and adapt positively. Its deficit of solutions and absence in critical moments of our nation question its current relevancy.

Of course, the government is clinging to the old notion that UDSM is still a think tank of the nation, except that it is not, evidenced by its dons who fumbled on the job after receiving presidential appointments. Many of them failed to connect theories with the practicality of the world.

READ MORE: How Low Can the University of Dar es Salaam Go?

The number of research projects and journals published has also declined, and the frequency of appearance in internationally recognised journals is also stint.

Take, for example, the report from the University of Dar es Salaam annual report, which shows that for five years – 2012 to 2017 – there were only 615 research projects and a consistent decline of peer-reviewed journal articles from more than 600 to less than 300.

I won’t elaborate here on how the University is also known as a notorious burial ground for many students’ projects.

Discouraging thinking

The University of Dar es Salaam must interrogate its culture as an institution. In time, it has evolved into an institution that discourages thinking and imagination.

It is significantly limiting when your main product is knowledge. Yet, somehow, in the quest to seek knowledge, you must say, question, and publish only issues pleasant to the government of the day, thinking ‘patriotically.’

And the obsession with academic titles without any backing merit is just astonishing. Doctors and professors, without any meaningful contribution to the body of knowledge and society. This may be a phenomenon in our community, but UDSM has significantly contributed to elevating this.

It would be unfair to say the University lacks talent, but I imagine that the politics of that institution has crowded talent completely.

READ MORE: ‘They’re Bought With Money Like Candies’: Speaker Tulia Breaks Silence On Honorary Degrees

Talking to some personnel there, you can sense fear of doing or thinking something that will put them at loggerheads with the administration. But, on the other hand, some who are bold enough would do most of what they believe is right outside the university space.

Consider this: Tanzania and many other countries have passed through a phase of turbulence due to COVID-19 and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. It is not a secret that ideas are needed to get the nation out of this crisis. But, unfortunately, there are no of those ideas as I write this, not from UDSM!

Strangely, experts from the University would also hardly respond to a journalist’s question regarding a story on critical national issues. When they accept the interview, most answer journalists’ questions as if they were in an interview for a government appointment!

As a UDSM alumnus, it still bothers me that many of us spent a lot of time pondering and learning about, say, the economy of Texas in 1960 and other countries. Still, we did so little to consider the real-life scenario we were living in.

How do we contribute to the body of knowledge if we always have to wait for somebody from the West or East to come up with new knowledge and then run with it to become experts about new knowledge, idea, or form of doing things?

READ MORE: CSOs Raise ‘Serious Reservations’ About Proposed COSTECH Act

The confidence of our academicians is also very shaky; you can sense it when they debate issues, especially before peers from other countries. Most have been exposed to mediocrity for so long that they have forgotten when they had the passion for seeking and finding knowledge.

Saving UDSM

As the University of Dar es Salaam invests in modern buildings and facilities, the same investment should be made in revamping its passion for knowledge.

The University should allow its talent to thrive, promote talented people, encourage and invest in research, promote the culture of dialogue, and be able to tolerate dissent.

And most of all, it should return to promoting excellence and discard mediocrity.

Opportunities and resources are already available in projects like Higher Education for Economic Transformation Project (HEET), availed through a World Bank loan. But the question is, will the money go to revamping the University, or will all of it be spent on one seminar after the next, per diem and allowances?

READ MORE: Disoriented Education: Why University Degree Is Now More Questionable Than Ever?

There should be a realisation that the brand that the University of Dar es Salaam is living on, the respect and admiration, is something of the 1980s. There is even great potential for building a much greater brand by returning to its purpose of establishment.

The government should allow the University to thrive unless the goal is to make it something for the museums. Also, it should help it by diversifying where it sources its talent.

Continuing to import most talent from the University leaves the institution helpless and in need of human resources. But, more importantly, it’s not the best way of attaining progress in the government, as it’s the same people from the same culture pool and attitude.

Tony Alfred K is a political analyst based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He can be reached at and on Twitter at @tonyalfredk. These are the writer’s own opinions, and they do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editor at

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20 Responses

  1. Prof. Issa Shivji gave an interesting historical context on Deintelkectualization at the Hill during a symposium held recently. What Tony Alfred has explained at length, the bottom line is politicization of the Hill and its knowkedge creation and dissemination structures. “The Hill” needs to speak truth to power! David Tenga (PhD Candidate- PSPA

  2. The best of my reading! How would you expect to have good leadership, and critical thinking from a University where the VC’s legitimacy is based on his/her friendship with the President? You see a person boot-liking and then nominated to be an ambassador!

    1. Our education system has been turned to be a political ground for so long we need to change that

  3. In my view, in addition to what the piece have argued to be done, to make the university regain its status, I am proposing three things. First, there is a need to put more emphasis on lower levels education (primary and secondary). This is because, universities need students, and since they are instrument to the lives of universities, their quality will have far implication on the academic culture in the universities. Second, to improve research culture, there is a need to begin paying attention to basic research to. Most countries make significant impact by financing basic research, which become the springs of knowledge production beyond addressing immediate problems. Equally, this will reinstate the university as a site of knowledge. In this, I urge the government that it is right time to implement the decision to have a more reliable budget for research. According to one study, Tanzania still spend less than one percent of its GDP on research and development. For instance, in 2022, the gross domestic expenditure on research & development (GERD) as a share of Tanzania’s GDP amounted to 0.52 percent. This is less to the lowest level of research and development GDP ratio agreed by the members of African Union (AU), which have pegged it not to less than one percent of the country’s GDP budget ration. Third and last, is re-empowering university decision making organs. This is critical and important measure since among the challenges faced by the university is that unlike those days of 1960s and 1970s, today much of the powers have been centralized and hence affecting the unique nature of universities operation. In short, one can argue that in Tanzania to some extent the concept university do not apply to universities because of the much interferences in the name of government regulation. These three plus the many issues pointed in the piece can move us from where we are.

    1. Spending more will make loss. We need a new university with new people who never been brainwashed by socialism crap. Tanzania as a country will never go forward in controlling it’s destiny with these kind people who keep on infesting the new generation with stupid old glories. It’s a cowardise worrying about going forward and reside to backward thinking . The kind of shivji and cos should be honest and admit they are not needed . Thier monopoly is over and we can’t afford analogue to shape digital.

  4. The old good culture at the Hill has been lost systematically especially from 1990’s, in the same way systematic efforts are needed to repurpose and restore the original vision and mission of the University. Though the UDSM has to inspire and mould our politics, the university staff must not see political appointments as the climax of their career.

  5. What an excellent article to read this morning. In recent years we have seen how the politicians banned politics in University. How on earth can somebody do such a thing. Politics is our lives, everything is affected by politics. People are studying political science but they are notallowed to practise while they are at University, are we serious? Universities have to be autonomous.

  6. Such great thoughts and eye opening article Tony…I wish they could hear you my brother! The education system in this country nowadays is saddening and embarrassing to the world
    Back in the days when you hear someone graduated from ‘mlimani’ you surely get jealousy but nowadays it’s just like any other institutes..shame! Students are lazy while lectures are after their own personal gains…SMH!

  7. It would seem that UDSM has been receiving a great deal of attention as of late. First, they developed a concept for an electric car; now, they are coming under fire for the government negotiating team they are leading for extractive sector contracts. They should probably just stick to developing automobiles and let others who are more experienced in negotiating handle the discussions. On the other hand, at least they’re making an effort to transition from papers to real execution, right? In response to that, let us offer them a hearty round of applause. As for its former splendor, too, the UDSM has to modernize their operations in order to compete in today’s market. Perhaps they need to launch a brand-new course titled “How to Remain Relevant in the 21st Century.”

    1. evolution of internet has created a universal center for knowledge sharing making the universities around the world irrelevant

  8. I think the University of Dar es salaam needs to grow out of the mentality that they are elite.Nothing disgust me like the hubris and academic arrogance of UDSM alumni. While infact other people who went to other colleges are better than them.UDSM rank poorly every year and contributes nothing compared to Makerere or UoN. The glory days of the 90s and 80s are far gone. I even meet student proudly hanging their IDS on their necks,”UDSM student” but majority are empty headed with no clue why they are at University.

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