All educational curricula in Africa should have Africa as their focus, and as a result, be indigenous grounded and oriented. By Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa.
We know very well the long and rich history of higher education in Africa from the time of the flowering of the Nubian civilisation, to the great temples of knowledge in Ancient Egypt, to the era of the great centres of learning in Timbuktu in the middle of the second millennium AD. Those who understood the role of a university in the greater human setting, correctly referred to the scholars of Timbuktu as ambassadors of peace. As we know, Timbuktu was not only a great intellectual centre of the West African civilisations of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. It was also one of the most splendid scientific centres and contributors to the period described as the European Medieval and Renaissnace eras. Its incomplete collection of books and manuscripts leaves us in no doubt as to the magnificence of its intellectual contribution. Indeed, because of the importance of the manuscripts at Timbuktu, the governments of Mali and South Africa have established a project of restoring and preserving these priceless documents, so that as we look at the challenges facing our continent, we will be able to draw from this invaluable fountain of knowledge. Undoubtedly, today, as in the past, higher education has an important role to play in the economic, social, cultural and political renaissance of our continent and in the drive for the development of Indigenous knowledge Systems (IKS). Accordingly, an African university cannot but be an important and critical part of the African Renaissance. The challenge for an African university should be viewed as a call that insists that all critical and transformative educators in Africa embrace an indigenous African world view and root their nation's educational paradigms in an indigenous socio -cultural and epistemological framework. Among others, this implies that all educational curricula in Africa should have Africa as their focus, and as a result, be indigenous grounded and orientated. Failure to do so may result in education becoming alien and irrelevant, as is seen to be the case with the legacy of colonial and neo-colonial education systems. In this context, Africa educational thought and practice [should be] characterised not only by their concern with the person, but also by their interweaving of social, economic, political, cultural, and education, then, in the African setting cannot, and indeed, should not be separated from life itself. It is a natural process by which members of the community gradually acquire skills, knowledge, and attitudes appropriate to life in their community, a higher education inspired by a spirit of what we can call in South Africa, ubuntu - which is to say, I become a better person because of the collective contribution of others and I therefore should always be in the service of the community and the nation. As we know, the centuries' old subjugation of Africa to foreign exploitation, ranging from slavery to the colonial system, which was singularly designed to achieve maximum extraction and exploitation of raw materials, wreaked serious damage that continues to impact on contemporary African. This was accomplished through a whole range of arrangements includin educational philosophies, curricula and practices whose context corresponds with that of the respective colonial powers. To address this state of affairs, we need a distinctively African knowledge system, which would have as its objective the goal of recovering the humanistic and ethical principles embedded in African philosophy, such an African knowledge system would also constitute and effort to develop both a vision and a practice of education that lays the basis for the African people to participate in mastering and directing the course of change and fufulling the vision of learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together as equals with others. These are some of the questions facing education in Africa. Yet, we need to note that universities in Africa, Asia and Latin America were often established according to European models. Graduates from these countries were sent to Europe and the United States for advanced degrees in order to staff faculties with indigenes, to replace expatriate teachers. Those who studied abroad and were assigned teaching positions after the completion of their studies quite naturally emulated the practice established at the institutions where they concluded their studies. As a result, curricula at universities in developing countries have usually been patterned on European or Western models. This "Eurocentric" system of university education has hampered universities in these countries in releasing enogenous creativity and seeking their cultural roots. Accordingly, it may, at times, appear as if there are tensions between the orientation toward indigenous values and challenges, on the one hand, and addressing global problems, on the other. The African dream should no longer be a gigantic mirage shimering as false hope on the vastness of the Sahara Desert. And higher education has a huge role to play in this endeavour. (Taken from President Mbeki's address at the recent Association of African Universities Conference held in Cape Town)
New African April 2005