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Daraja Press

Poems for the penniless

Poems for the penniless

These poems by Issa Shivji, lawyer, activist and Tanzanian public intellectual, were written at different times in different circumstances. They give vent to personal anguish and political anger. Mostly originally written in Kiswahili, here accompanied by English translations, and they are intensely personal and political.

Poems are clustered under several headings to provide a context. The first combines personal agony at the loss of comrades and friends with poems about love and affection for living ones. The second is about robberies of freedom, resources, and dignity and the loss of justice under neoliberalism. The third section, entitled Hopes and Fears, comprises short poems tweeted over the last five years expressing despair, fear and hope in the human capacity for freedom.

The last section are poems, concerned with Shivji’s period in South Africa in 2018, reflect on the emergence of neo-apartheid with its wanton and shameless exploitation of the majority.

Wonderfully translated by Ida Hadjivayanis.


Issa Shivji was born in central Tanzania and grew up in Kilosa and Dar es Salaam. He graduated from the University of East Africa in 1970 and immediately joined the Faculty of Law, University of Dar es Salaam where he was professor of law until his retirement in 2006. From 2008 to 2013 he was the first Mwalimu Nyerere Professor of Pan-African Studies at the University. He has published over a dozen books and numerous articles. His first book was Class Struggles in Tanzania (1976) followed by Law State and the Working Class in Tanzania (1986) and The Concept of Human Rights in Africa (1989). Drawing on Amilcar Cabral, Walter Rodney and Antonio Gramsci, his more recent work has focused on developing the concept of working people as the motive force of revolutionary transformation in Africa and building of counter-hegemonies to face times of political crisis.


Ida Hadjivayanis, the translator, earned her PhD in Translation at SOAS University of London where she currently lectures on Swahili and Translation. She is the Swahili translator of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland- Alisi ndani ya nchi ya ajabu (2015) and is currently involved in the production of the first Anthology of Swahili Translations. Her interests lie in Swahili language, literature and Translation, language and identity, and the East African Diaspora. Her recent publications include Integration and Identity of Swahili Speakers in England : Case Study of Swahili Women in Translocal Connections across the Indian Ocean : Swahili Speaking Networks on the Move, Brill, 2018.

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