It is not a university. It has no ambition to become one. And no one is planning to make it one either. It is nevertheless a powerhouse, the power that flows from framing the world and, by implication, the power of singing a particular kind of world into being. It is the MS Training Centre for Development Cooperation, (MS-TCDC), located in its own world in Tanzania’s tourist region of Arusha.
Comparing it to the Nigerian Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, (NIPSS) in Jos, Nigeria would not be out of sync, especially in location, the traditional huts and overall setting. Both Arusha and Jos are the tourist havens of their respective countries too. But there ends the comparison. NIPSS is a much bigger but a more recent thing than MS-TCDC which is 50 years old now. The two institutions are of completely different orientations. NIPSS is informed by statism – nation building and traditional national security stuff. Though born of statism, MS-TCDC is not statist but about capacity building in development cooperation. It is not a question of which of them is better but that they are different. The involving nature of development cooperation is such that MS-TCDC becomes a hub for a diverse set of customers stretching across races, religions, nationalities and sex. It runs all year round in a setting that is green all year round as well, thereby becoming a household of different kinds of beauty.
There is the epistemic beauty of its courses and there is the beauty of the space of green it occupies. It is as if there is a code against anything extravagant around and about the centre, disallowing anything beyond just the functional space and well appointed lawns, switched between the traditional and the modern features such as the huts. The quiet is a deal. It is permanently quiet except when a religious activity nearby penetrates at a certain point towards the evening. It is not confirmed but someone who has taken a sip from its intellectual brew swore that it has the second richest library in Africa. The chat with Mr Ezra Mbogori, the Executive Director of the centre, was so snappy that this did not come up. If that were to be true, it would be another good reason to call the place a powerhouse. So, how did the centre come to be?
The agreement that set it up was signed in 1967. It was between the Danish Government and the Tanzanian Government. The Danish were looking for ways of supporting the government of the late President Julius Nyerere which was still a new government then. The volunteers involved needed to get a good grip of Kiswahili Language as well as a better understanding of the cultural milieu they were to operate within the context of solidaristic ties. That was the initial orientation. The orientation has been changing rather than static. Today, it has crystallised around development cooperation, not volunteers anymore. The ownership has equally been shifting. The Danish Volunteer Service has since merged with ActionAid Denmark to become the new owners. The current drive is a broadening agenda, with greater focus on African Development and such deeper purposes beyond language skills.
In partial fulfilment of that, the centre now runs a degree programme in Governance and Development as well as a Masters programme in Governance and Leadership. These two are in addition to numerous short courses in Kiswahili Language, Leadership, Governance, Advocacy, Accountability and Community Development, Impact Assessment, Change Management, Fundraising and Grants Management, among very many others, all vital skills for governing modernity and the emerging post modern world.
Two most interesting features about the degree programmes must be, one, the notion of the semester at MSTCDC. It is not your regular 17 weeks type. Rather, the centre has calculated the hours involved in the traditional semester and concluded that it can be done within six weeks. Thereafter, the students go away temporarily. Those who came to the programme from a working engagement return to work while those who have not come so either go to seek for internship opportunities or innovate, using the practical ideas they have got in the school so far. In other words, the training has been planned in such a manner that breaks it between a learning and a doing world. It is not one long heck of booking, cut off from the world of work.
That has its attractions as well as distractions, a point the centre accepts. If someone has gone from, say, Nigeria to Arusha to take the degree in Governance and Development, for instance, how does s/he sustain travelling twice to Tanzania every year in the three year programme if s/he doesn’t have someone to stay with in Tanzania or is unable to secure an internship opportunity in Tanzania or nearby Kenya, Africa’s INGO headquarters? That applies to every other African students! Yet, its First Degree in Governance and Development is the sort of degree that is bound to attract students from all over because Governance, Global Governance, International Development, Global Civil Society and related modules are still new areas in the social sciences and very few universities have established traditions in them yet. Above all, it is a course that is highly marketable across the NGO world to broader international development practice to each of the nine main domains of contemporary global governance and even self-employment. It makes MS-TCDC a potential anchor for it in relation to the African Union.
Second innovation here is the pedagogical. The paradigm undergirding knowledge transmission at the centre is summed up as follows: “I hear and I forget”, “I see and I remember” and “I do and I understand”. That is the paradigm, something that must remind radical activists across the world of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and its devastating unpacking of “banking education” in the 1970s. Today, there is so much fuss about teaching and learning without much reckoning that Freire had raised and dealt with what constructivists are quarrelling about today on pedagogy. Even if it is this alone, MS TCDC is absolutely a fascinating learning centre. This is beside the structure of the degree programme, for instance, which responds to not just the key domains in which the world expresses itself today but, more importantly, to the methodological contestation going on between positivists and post-positivists. Seeing a module such as “Power and Voices in Governance Discourses” point to a place that is on top of it. Above all, anyone can benefit from the programme – self sponsored students, partner sponsored or simply sponsored. Unfortunately, the centre has no more than the one First Degree and one Masters Degree programmes at the moment. It is trying to consolidate the two young programmes before thinking of more.
While it takes its time to consolidate, it is already the hub of activities in discursive practices. It seems to be the natural choice for a plethora of regional civil society organising. It seems to go on all the time, either because the overall environment or setting is just too inviting or because the director is one of theirs in the sense that Ezra Mbogori is the one to call upon if the issue is the voluntary sector or the global civil society. In Nigeria, he would be the classical ex-this, ex-that in profile as far as the ‘Third Sector’/global civil society is concerned. With undergraduate education in Nairobi, Kenya and an MPA from Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University as well as Fellow of the Kellogg International Leadership Program and the Kennedy School’s Mason Fellows Program, he has been a rolling stone who has, however, gathered moss as a veritable resource person in these matters. Before becoming the Executive Director of the centre, he had moved across the spectrum.
It can be inferred then that his leadership here means that this is an emerging centre for ‘civilised conversation’ in Africa on international cooperation underpinned by global governance. Global Governance is still an elusive sub-discipline as well as practice. Unlike conventional International Relations which the concept of anarchy substantially summarises, there is no such concept in Global Governance yet. The search for that concept is on. It won’t be long in coming. The point about MS-TCDC is that such an institution already neck deep in studying the sub-discipline has greater chance of stumbling on what could turn out to be the organising concept. That would be a life time achievement by a centre for reflection located in Africa. It is, therefore, worth watching MS-TCDC, universities and other centres of reflection engaging Global Governance across Africa. That is one of the disciplines in the social sciences upon which the future will depend a lot if the emerging image of the world is anything to go by and hence the question of how complexity might be best governed.