Tanzanian contribution acclaimed

03 November 2011

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Professor David Williams joined a select group at a recent commemoration at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

He was a special guest at the golden jubilee of the Law Faculty where he twice served as a member of staff and is currently an external examiner.

David and other former Dar es Salaam law teachers were invited to contribute to a programme of colloquia and symposia, and to attend celebration ceremonies. “We were honoured as the ‘pioneer teachers’.”

He was one of five scholars who addressed a colloquium on “Fifty years of pioneering scholarship and legal education in East Africa". About 130 staff, students and former students attended and his presentation will be written up as a paper for a book of proceedings of the golden jubilee.

The University of Dar es Salaam is ranked towards the top of African universities. The Law Faculty in particular has a premier position in Africa, being recently chosen by the German Academic Exchange Programme (DAAD) to establish the Tanzanian-German Postgraduate Centre in Law as a centre of excellence for all the nations of eastern Africa.

David’s links with Tanzania go back to the early 1970s. “A sense of idealism, born of student activism in the 1960s, plus a recognition that I had benefited from being a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, led me to seek my first academic job in a newly independent African country,” he says.

“Tanzania was then a ‘front-line state’ in the struggle against racism and apartheid in southern Africa and many leaders of international stature were based in Dar es Salaam at that time. The University was then a place where intellectuals from many parts of the world robustly debated issues of law and society and the Faculty of Law had an explicit policy ‘to produce society-conscious lawyers using the historical and socio-economic method’.”

David had two teaching stints at Dar es Salaam, as a lecturer from 1972 to 1974, and as a senior lecturer from 1978 to 1980. taking courses in Criminology and Penology, Legal Method and Jurisprudence.

He completed a PhD there on “The use of law in the process of colonisation: An historical and comparative study with particular reference to Tanzania (Mainland) and New Zealand.” His degree was conferred by the University Chancellor, Julius K. Nyerere, in 1985.

In November 2010 he taught a graduate course on Colonial Legal History where the standard of debate and was “one of the best, perhaps the best teaching and learning experience in my career”. It comprised 18 students — nine men and nine women — from five East African nations (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania) doing LLM or PhD degrees.

Intellectual debate and free speech remain alive and well in the University of Dar es Salaam and in the nation's media outlets, says David. His latest visit saw a student protest against the Presidents of Uganda and Tanzania on the day they received honorary degrees “to the effect that both of them had had a free education in Dar es Salaam in the 1960s and 1970s whereas students now were burdened with loans and even so could barely pay for their food and accommodation”.