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Liberating the University in Africa

08 May 2016 at 10:44hrs | Views
Presently there are emphatic currents of argument all calling for either the transformation, Africanisation or the decolonisation of the university in Africa. Long years of university education in Africa have proven to scholars that there is actually nothing that can be described as an African university.

What is there is a Western university in Africa. A university is not just the buildings that are located in African countries on African soil and built by African hands, instead, the university is the content of the research and the quality of the knowledge that is being produced and circulated. From its beginnings in Italy with the University of Bologna in 1088, what is called the university in the world has always centered European knowledges as the only knowledges and European peoples as the standard of humanity.
In South Africa presently, Zimbabwean historian Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni and Cameroonian philosopher Achille

Mbembe have been the leading theorists on what decolonising the university entails. For some time after 1994, South Africans have been talking about transforming the university. Outside South Africa, Kenyan novelist, Ngugi wa Thiongo has presented vivid arguments for the decolonisation of knowledge and the decolonisation of the African mind alongside the Nigerian literary critic and historian, Chinweizu.

Continuing university student demonstrations, the burning of university buildings and disruption of teaching and learning processes in South African universities have forced even reluctant powers that be to seriously think about what exactly a university in Africa should be. In South Africa, the language of transformation has gained much traction because many young black academics in the universities feel suffocated and elbowed out by the presence of old white professors who still perpetuate apartheid intellectual habits.

Throughout Africa, the grammar of indigenising or Africanising the University has also found relevance in that African governments and scholars have realised that in form and in content, the University in Africa remains Westernised. Decolonisation of the University, which is the latest rallying call, is founded on the correct observation that the colonial archive of knowledge and the Eurocentric canon are still the hegemonic paradigm of research and knowledge production in the university in Africa. However, good and enriching, a close look shows that the struggles for transformation, Africanisation and decolonisation of the University at a certain level suffer their own limitations and exhaustions. I argue in this column that what the university in Africa needs is liberation and humanisation that will allow knowledges and peoples from diverse backgrounds and histories to have enriching dialogues and empowering co-existence.

The trouble with transforming the university In Africa
In South Africa for instance, there is nothing really wrong about retiring and even removing old apartheid time professors and replacing them with young black mavericks. Transformation is justified in that the present form and content of the university in South Africa and the rest of Africa are tilted against the poor and the black people of Africa. Injecting black faces and black thought into the university can only be revolutionary under the present circumstances.

The trouble is when a black young academic, who has not published, who does not respect intellectual labour and thinks his 30% pass at Matric and A-Level, by virtue of being black and previously disadvantaged, entitles him or her to a university professorship. Transformation of the University as exemplified in South Africa has tragically encouraged a dangerous sense of entitlement that has led to an erosion of academic and intellectual standards where other lazy people think that a mere black skin is an academic qualification. For that reason, transformation as so far seen has threatened to take us back to the situation where we run the danger of confirming the white supremacist lie that blacks are lazy and incompetent. Or simply that blacks can't think.

The trouble with Africanising the university in Africa
It is only a sinner against Africanity and Africanness who would oppose such a noble ideal as indigenising or Africanising the university in Africa. Years after decolonisation and the fall of apartheid in Africa, the time is now for the University in Africa to be indigenous and African in form and in content. In the name of this noble cause, again as chiefly exemplified in South Africa, there are many who seek to actually go all the way to villagise the University.

Using the excuse of Africanising the University xenophobes, nativists, tribalists and racists wish to ensure that only their relatives, clansmen and clanswomen are found on campus, turning what was supposed to be a university into what Achille Mbembe calls an "ethno-provincial" institution of higher learning. Standards are thrown out of the window as employment and promotions are done along the bloodline and the mother tongue not competence.

Africanisation as so far seen threatens to remove the universality out of the University and turn it into a local high school populated by a specific village and clan at the expense of rich and deep other people and knowledges that may emerge from other parts of the country and the world at large.

The trouble with decolonising the university in Africa
In African polities and economies, the tragedy with decolonisation has been that the removal of white colonial governors and their replacement with black faces did not totally dethrone colonialism as neocolonialism remained intact. Decolonising the university may entail the removal of colonial textbooks and curricular, the removal of statues of dead white imperialists and colonisers, but it does not dethrone coloniality. To remove Plato from the syllabus and replace him with Che Anta Diop is good, but it is simply revenge and not liberation. It is to remove and replace and not to create a new reality. For that reason, scholars in the Decoloniality movement such as Ramon Grosfoguel and Boaventura De Sousa Santos have argued that one fundamentalism may not be replaced by another.

Further from simple decolonisation, decoloniality demands the coexistence of people and their knowledges, not removals and replacements.

The Liberation and Humanisation of the University in Africa
The trouble with the present condition of the University in Africa is that it is Westernised, imperial and colonial in form and in content. Non-European knowledges and no-European peoples are decentered from the mainstream business of the University. Transformation, Africanisation and decolonisation of the University in Africa are not enough, what is needed is liberation. The liberated University in Africa should be such a space that a multiplicity of knowledges and diverse varieties of human beings can find space. Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educationist and philosopher argued in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed that liberating education is also humanising education. In liberating himself the oppressed also liberates the oppressor and in the process of liberation both the oppressor and the oppressed must die and be born again as fellow citizens of the world.

Liberating the University in Africa should make the University such a site of knowledge production where all the different peoples of the world and their different experiences and knowledges should find fruition. At the University, in Africa and elsewhere, peoples of the world and their different civilisations should find a home for research and fruitful dialogue. Chinua Achebe put it better, not only in asking for "a dialogue between North and South" but in saying that "wherever something stands, something else must stand besides it." A liberated University in Africa should not be a place where one type of knowledge by one type of people whether black or white finds monopoly, but it should be a place where an ecology of knowledges and a diversity of people meet together to push the horizons of knowledge and understanding. Decolonial thinkers are even beginning to suggest that it, after all, should not be a University but a Pluriversity in that in it the plurality and multiplicity of knowledges and peoples find expression.

Cetshwayo Zindabazezwe Mabhena is a Zimbabwean academic based in South Africa:

Source - sundaynewss
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