HARARE – One African scholar expressed shock and dismay when one western scholar made some casual comments on the relevance of universities in Africa.
The western scholar suggested that universities were not necessary in Africa and what the continent needed to do was just to adopt what would have been developed in the West and they will be fine.
The normal reaction from any African scholar would be very adverse and will border on issues of ethnocentrism, racism and belittling of African institutions and scholars.
Many would launch a tirade against this suggestion and numerous examples of seemingly “successful” African scholars would be brought to the fore.
A list of their achievements would be made available and the relevance of African universities would be vehemently justified.
However, that alone would not suffice to cast that suggestion away neither would it make it totally invalid.
The first port of call would be to examine what is the purpose of establishing a university?
Is it for prestigious reasons that each and every country should have it?
If indeed the role of universities is to promote research and produce bankable projects that will address some of the nagging challenges that a particular society is facing then African universities would not be able to justify their existence.
The other question which should be asked is — What revolutionary changes in the economies and human development have been made by all the researches that were produced in these institutions?
How has that transformed these societies and led them somewhere better?
One may also want to know who has been funding researches in Africa and for what purpose?
The sad reality is that the so-called African intellectuals are not grounded in the challenges facing their societies and most have been socialised in alien societies and have contributed nothing tangible to their own societies.
They are good critics but they cannot chart a way forward or originate a theory that can be practically applied to their own circumstances and one which can have a global appeal.
If we had really grounded scholars, then why did most African countries implement the suicidal programmes such as the Structural Adjustment Programmes (Saps) which was an experiment from the studies by scholars from the West led by Larry Diamond, which have generated a cycle of poverty and decline on the continent.
Why are western ideas dominating the thinking and democratisation processes in Africa and not vice versa?
The situation on the ground seems to suggest that African universities are just an extension of the western world with no distinct purpose at all.
There are many problems on the continent which need solutions from the African intelligentsia. Most intellectuals are just mere agents and defenders of alien-vested interests.
If African universities are to have any relevance, they must introspect seriously.
African institutions should direct their energy in dealing with the lack of basic needs first before anything else.
If all the researches are just for surveillance’s sake, then these institutions are largely misplaced.
The only way to make these institutions relevant is to tailor them to the immediate needs of their respective societies.
This again requires full commitment to the respective governments to go on a deliberate move to fund such researches and to see to it that the education they give has a direct link with specific goals.
If this is not done then these institutions will remain white elephants drawing resources with no tangible results which can transform the lives of the majority of the people.
As long as researches on the continent are sponsored from other continents, then the usefulness of those researches will be null and void. Research is a deliberate undertaking to produce certain results.
Knowledge is only power if you can produce and control it.
So how do we react to the suggestion that universities in Africa have no real purpose?