WHEN Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal received a scholarship to study physics at Howard University in Washington, graduating in physics and mathematics in 1967, patriotism feelings kept disturbing him to return home and serve his country.
With all the enticing fantasies at the university including American lifestyle and money to spend, because the scholarship was fully sponsored at the institution, several students from many countries opted to remain behind and work in the country, except Dr Bilal and his few comrades.
A case study, he got an offer and worked at the University of California as lecturer, but still sensed something missing holistically unless he returned to Tanzania to serve his people.
That was the period many African countries were still in infant stage in their independence and sending their nationals abroad to acquire knowledge that was rare in their midst.
As nuclear scientist, Dr. Bilal’s only wish was to see Tanzania becoming a scientific nation to accelerate its economic growth in the equals of South Asia nations—China, South Korea, Taiwan and India, which have developed rapidly after embracing science and technology.
Jogging his memory of how he longed the Tanzanian young generation studied physics and related subjects, he said that in 1976, he was coincidentally approached to lecture physics at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDM) soon after his master studies in the USA.
He added: “There was a snag that since I come from Zanzibar, it was not automatic to acquire a job in Mainland Tanzania unless with a special permit. This prompted the then Vice Chancellor Pius Msekwa to intervene by personally going to Zanzibar to talk to Aboud Jumbe to release me at once to take the post.
“If I can recall, this is one area (no Zanzibari to work in Mainland Tanzania without a permit) that has been fixed in the previous vexing obstacles in the Union.”
In 1983, Dr Bilal participated in establishing a national organization of radiation and also contributed professionally in the preparation of draft of legislation which led to the law of use and control of the nuclear radiation in Tanzania.
In 1988 he was appointed head of the Faculty of Science at the University of Dar es Salaam and continued in office until 1990 when he was appointed Permanent Secretary in the new Ministry of Science Technology and Higher Education in 1990–1995.
Still fresh in his mind was the patriotism affection he remembered as a powerful force that was gaining momentum and pushing many Africa countries to yearn for independence.
In the race he flashed back of how Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the founding father of the nation was helping the southern countries to gain independence.
He added: “A case study, Mwalimu wanted a learned youth to be brave and fight for the country. I remember Nyerere said education is not a way to escape poverty (in this context run away from country), it is a way of fighting for it and that remains a key reference work on progressive and transformative education for self-reliance that we want the youth to adopt.”
Despite the notable transformations politically and scientifically made by Dr Bilal for almost 40 years as a civil servant, his journey was not easy as he faced various up and downs including two accidents at a lab and on football ground.
Besides, even after being appointed as a Permanent Secretary of the newly formed Ministry of Science Technology and Higher Education (1990–1995) after lecturing for 13 years at the University of Dar es Salaam. The challenges were still part and parcel of his life since his PS car was stoned by the university students who opposed the introduction of sharing cost and loans.
“This was not healthy for a country with a population of 40 million plus people (by then) …the first question between my minister and me was where to start,” he said.
Luckly, Mr Wilfred Mwabulambo the PS for the Ministry of Education invited them to his office to discuss the way forward for the new ministry. The higher education ministry was created from education.
“We discussed a number of issues including cost-sharing for university students and raising the enrollment numbers,” Dr Bilal said.
“We later agreed to introduce student loans, accreditation institute and Open University of Tanzania.
“It was a little bit challenging for students to accept the introduction of the loans and the amount was only 43,000/- per year. In return, they demonstrated opposing the whole idea of a cost-sharing policy,” Dr Bilal said.
To normalise the situation, he went to face the demonstrators at the university but they refused to listen to him and stoned his vehicle. They marched all the way to the city centre to air their grievances.
“I remember my car was stoned by protesters and put a dent in a windscreen which I used until I left the office,” Dr Bilal said while laughing.
Dr Bilal noted that the great argument for them was why the government introduced the credit to them while those in power (administration) at that time were acquired free education?”
Couple with that, the appointment in position of Chief Minister of the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar in 1995 was a bit challenge for a nuclear scientist Dr Bilal.
“The Chief Minister’s position took me away from my career completely, so it was not easy to turn into politics …I felt much scientist than politician,” Dr Bilal underlined.
According Dr Bilal, it was not easy for him to contradict with his mindset what he grew up with and joining in leadership position that was mixed with politics in it.
Expounding the factors behind adopting political life despite the challenges engulfed Bilal said “anyone can be successful by balancing and sacrificing some of things even though you get losses.”
“You have to keep a balance in things since you have either choose to lose or the nation loses
“…It was better for me to lose as an individual than for the nation … better for me to lose than for the party to lose, you weigh them like that,” he said.