This article has been published in Enabling Education 14
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A tribute to Dr Joseph Kisanji (1945-2010)

Joseph Kisanji – who played an important role in the development of EENET – sadly passed away in early 2010. Joseph’s name may be familiar to many of our readers, as he wrote the editorial for EENET’s newsletter in 2009. Here, two of EENET’s founders (Susie Miles and Mel Ainscow) share some of their reflections on Joseph’s contributions to education, to EENET, and to their own lives.

Joseph, a natural intellectual, was deeply proud of his Tanzanian heritage. He experienced both colonial and indigenous forms of education, and was inspired by Tanzania’s first President, Julius Nyerere, who invested heavily in education. Joseph became visually impaired as a result of a childhood illness, and so had a personal appreciation of what it meant to be included in his local school.

For many years, Joseph led UNESCO’s Special Education Programme in southern and eastern Africa, following a career as a teacher of deaf children and as a university lecturer in Dar es Salaam. He worked for seven years in the School of Education at the University of Manchester, where he completed his PhD and wrote many of his influential papers. “Historical and Theoretical Basis of Inclusive Education” is still one of the most downloaded documents from EENET’s website. Whilst at Manchester he played a key role in EENET’s early development.

Joseph Kisanji wrote extensively about the relevance of customary education to the Western notion of inclusion. He suggested that customary education in in-tact rural communities of sub-Saharan Africa is characterised by elements of inclusiveness. This includes the provision of a relevant, locally developed ‘curriculum’ and the preparation of young people to become responsible citizens in their interdependent community structures. He pointed out that more recent attempts to formalise the process of inclusion, with the emphasis on special educational needs, have often ended in failure.

“Too often, policy makers and technocrats are more influenced by global frameworks, than indigenous knowledge.” (Kisanji and Saanane, 2009)1

Joseph made a significant contribution to knowledge in the areas of community-based rehabilitation, customary education, understanding African proverbs and oral traditions, and in critiquing Western notions of inclusion and the global frameworks which underpin them. He also made a long-lasting contribution to the philosophy of EENET. His ideas about how to address the imbalance of power between oral and literate cultures continue to influence the way that EENET works. We miss him greatly!

Susie Miles

I have many vivid memories of Joseph Kisanji. We first met in 1989, in Nairobi, where he helped to organise the first pilot workshop for the UNESCO teacher education project ‘Special Needs in the Classroom’. I remember his sense of fun and enthusiasm – and that he knew the best places to eat, drink and dance!

When Joseph and I became colleagues at the University of Manchester, I grew to admire his sharp intellect and reflective style of working. His writings, as outlined by Susie above, were particularly challenging to a Western mind like mine. When EENET was getting started, Joseph constantly challenged us to make sure that the voice of people in the South was a dominant feature of the conversations and debates that EENET facilitated and shared.

After Joseph left Manchester, I had the privilege of working with him on projects in Tanzania and Zambia. In those contexts his enthusiasm for creating educational opportunities for all children was an enormous source of inspiration.

So, like many other EENET supporters, I will remember Joseph as a great friend and colleague.

Mel Ainscow

You can find several of Joseph’s papers on EENET’s website. Use this link: and then click on ‘Kisanji’ in the list of authors’ names.

1 Kisanji, J and Saanane, CB, (2009) ‘Responding to Marginalization and Exclusion in Education in Tanzania’, Chapter prepared for the Research Forum, Institute for Inclusive Education, State University of Arizona.