Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Issa Shivji's Essay in Honour of Professor Yash Ghai

An Intellectual Journey with my Teachers: Essay in Honour of Professor Yash Pal Ghai
Issa G Shivji
2016, Strathmore University Press, Nairobi, Kenya
Excerpt: Professor Yash Pal Ghai was my teacher.  He took some classes, I believe in Constitutional Law and Legal Systems of East Africa, in my first year at the University College, Dar es Salaam, which was then one of the three constituent colleges of the University of East Africa. Writing an essay in honour of your teacher is humbling.  I come from a tradition in which teachers command great respect.  In the hierarchy of status and obeisance, teachers are next to parents who are next to God.  I thus take this opportunity to honour all my teachers, some of whose memory I recall in this essay.
     We were the first post-Arusha generation at the University.  The University College was established in July 1961, only five months before Independence, with a batch of 13 law students.  The first teacher to walk into the lecture room to deliver a lecture was William Twining, son of Tanganyika's last but one Governor.  He never taught me nor was he there when I joined the University  but he is fondly remembered and therefore I came across his name long before I met him...
      The pre-Arusha University and the Faculty were run more or less on Oxbridge lines.  Nonetheless, a University in a country with a fervently nationalist leader with intellectual credentials attracted many young expatriates, mainly British but also Americans, fresh from graduate schools.  Among them were my teachers, some of whom I will have occasion to mention in the course of this essay.  Ghai, a Kenyan, spent some eight years (1963-1971) at the University rising very fast from the position of a lecturer to Professor and Dean. He was the first East African Dean of the Faculty...
      I remember once Ghai asking me rhetorically: Do you always write long papers?  The way he said it, it was meant to be a complement.  That happened as Ghai was coming down the library staircase during lunch hour, carrying volumes of books in both his arms.  His feet were typically clad in kanda-mbili (flip-flops). That image of Ghai is permanently etched in my memory as an example of a prodigious, yet humble scholar wholly committed to research and writing.
      While memories last, I should perhaps record another pleasant encounter with Yash while I was still a student.  I believe I was in my second year when Yash asked me if I could help him to check the footnotes of his co-authored book Public Law and Political Change in Kenya.  He had just received the galleys.  It was a massive book, a magnum opus of his and Patrick McAuslan's.  I readily agreed.  My library research to verify footnotes introduced me to all kinds of literature which I had not come across before as a law student nor did I know existed in our library.  I believe I did the work meticulously, for which Yash apologetically offered me shs.100/=. For me it was a lot of money, one-fourth of my yearly book allowance.  It fetched me five good Penguin books... The full essay can be downloaded here.

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