THE Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) has praised Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa as “a force for good” and castigated the University of Zambia management for harassing its employee and attempting to suppress his academic freedom.
Two weeks ago, Zambia’s Ambassador to Ethiopia Emmanuel Mwamba asked Inspector General of Police Kakoma Kanganja to charge Dr Sishuwa with sedition as a result of an opinion piece he published in the Mail & Guardian on March 22 2021, entitled ‘Zambia may burn after the August elections. Here’s how to prevent this’.
A few days later, UNZA acting head of communication and marketing, Brenda Bukowa distanced management from Dr Sishuwa and alleged that his article amounted to “abuse of academic freedom to advance personal agenda”.
The charge of sedition and the press statement by UNZA management have received wide condemnation from over 100 prominent international academics, the UNZA Lecturers and Researchers’ Union, civil society organisations and ordinary Zambians.
The latest criticism has come from CODESRIA, an independent, Pan-African organisation headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, and established in 1973 to promote social science research on the continent.
In a letter dated April 29, 2021, addressed to UNZA vice-chancellor Professor Luke Mumba and copied to President Edgar Lungu, CODESRIA executive secretary Godwin Murunga described Dr Sishuwa as a force for good who was merely carrying out his social responsibility as an intellectual.
“The article in the Mail & Guardian is indeed a piece of scholarship, one whose contribution, broadly understood, fits within the overall meaning of the social responsibility of the intellectual,” wrote Dr Murunga in part. “If anything, if the university should choose to pronounce itself on this matter, as a space for ideas, it should laud this as evidence that a member of its community is undertaking important intellectual work in the public interest – just as it did when Dr Sishuwa received an award for stellar research.”
Below is a reproduction of the full letter:
Dear Prof. Mumba,
RE: VIOLATION OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM – DR. SISHUWA SISHUWA
Greetings from CODESRIA, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, headquartered in Dakar, Senegal.
The attention of CODESRIA has been drawn to an issue of academic freedom involving Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa. Our interest revolves around a letter from the University of Zambia, dated 27th March 2020 and signed by Dr Brenda Bukowa, Acting Head, Communication and Marketing. The letter is allegedly written on behalf of the management of The University of Zambia to “disassociate itself from the opinions and views expressed by Dr Sishuwa Sishuwa in an article entitled, “Zambia may burn after the August elections. Here’ s how to prevent this”, published in the Mail & Guardian of South Africa on 22nd March 2021.”
In response, Dr Sishuwa, a member of staff of the University of Zambia in the Department of History but currently on leave at the University of Cape Town has expressed fear citing enormous pressure amidst threats of charges of sedition being brought against him. On behalf of CODESRIA, I write to express our concern that the threats against Dr Sishuwa and the pressure being mounted on him as an academic, are grave indeed.
CODESRIA, a premier social science research Council in Africa founded in 1973, has a pan African membership that includes African universities and research centres. The Council mobilises research and knowledge production in the Humanities and Social Sciences on the continent and beyond and is a major publisher of African intellectual work disseminated in four major languages. The mandate of the Council includes nurturing, sustaining and defending the African voice in global discourses, and advocating for an enabling environment for African academics to undertake their work, including a broad commitment to socially responsive scholarship. To this end, the Council adopted the “Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility” in 1990 at a meeting convened in Kampala, Uganda. This declaration is now the standard bearer for the African intellectual community in asserting its autonomy as it also carries out its responsibilities to African people around the world. As such, since 1995, the Council has run a programme on academic freedom that, from time to time, assists academics in distress. Our work is complemented by that of other institutions with a similar investment and commitment to defending academic freedom in Africa.
CODESRIA’ s engagement in its support of academic freedom and the social responsibility of the scholar in Africa is distinctive. This lies in the twin emphases on supporting academic freedom with the reciprocal expectation that academics exercise a greater degree of social responsibility. The Council understands that academic freedom does not exist to merely enable scholars to carelessly pursue individual passions; rather its purpose is to enable them to engage in intellectual work in the interest of the greatest public good, and thus that to do so in socially responsible ways. In expressing support for Dr Sishuwa through this letter, the Council is satisfied that he acted responsibly and within the limit s of this mandate.
In sending this letter to express CODESRIA’s concern, the Council is clear that Dr Sishuwa’s rights are threatened in a context where he has not abrogated any known aspect of his responsibility as an intellectual. The article in the Mail & Guardian is indeed a piece of scholarship, one whose contribution, broadly understood, fits within the overall meaning of the social responsibility of the intellectual. If anything, if the university should choose to pronounce itself on this matter, as a space for ideas, it should laud this as evidence that a member of its community is undertaking important intellectual work in the public interest – just as it did when Dr Sishuwa received an award for stellar research.
The Council understands that there can be no unanimity of views on political developments in any country, given the fractious nature of politics and the contending positions different people, especially intellectuals, hold and canvass. But the Council also appreciates that historically, the function of the university has never been to disassociate itself from its staff when they articulate views, opinions or arguments that management does not hold or share. It is indeed the responsibility of the intellectual to think through and critically analyse political trends in a country, and the responsibility of university leadership is to encourage and protect diversity of thought on any topic.
CODESRIA aligns with the freedom of any academic to articulate their thoughts and canvass opinions that shape thinking in society. Our request, and indeed expectation, is that the university will stand by Dr Sishuwa, accord him protection and secure his position as staff in the Department of History. We urge you, sir, to be at the vanguard of protecting the right of any and all academics in your community to do the intellectual work society depends on them to do. After all, we of all people in society, know and understand that the calling of an intellectual is that of fascination with ideas, and this must include some bordering on heresy. A university has a responsibility to safeguard conditions for diverse ideas to flourish and enable their elaboration.
In this historic moment for Zambia, more of Dr Sishuwa’s ilk will only be a force for good, and we look upon you, as the intellectual leader of the University of Zambia, to ensure the university is the bastion for harnessing such voices.
Dr Godwin R. MURUNGA
Cc. Mr Isaac Chipampe,
Special Assistant to the President of Zambia