Address of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the
Conference of the Association of African Universities: Cape Town, 22 February
President of the AAU, Professor Lamine Ndiaye,
Vice President of
the AAU, Dr. Dorothy Njeuma,
Secretary-General of the AAU, Professor Akilagpa
The South African Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor,
of the University of Cape Town, Professor Njabulo Ndebele,
Deputy Vice Chancellor
of the UCT, Professor Martin West,
I thank you for the privilege you have given me to address
this important gathering of the leaders of Africa's continental academy, representing
the African intelligentsia. On behalf of the government and people of South Africa,
I extend a very warm and sincere welcome to all the delegates and participants
at this important Conference.
You meet in our country at the beginning of
the First Century of the Second Millennium. The way the human mind works dictates
that we impose on you the obligation to consider yourselves as architects of a
new African world that will be different from the African world of the last Century
and the greater part of the last Millennium.
On the very eve of the last
Century of the first Millennium, the outstanding African American scholar and
combatant for African liberation, W.E.B. du Bois, said that the problem of the
20th Century would be the problem of the colour line. History has proved him correct.
he were still alive, perhaps W.E.B. du Bois would make bold to say that 21st Century
would be distinguished by the elimination of the colour line as a defining feature
in the ordering of human relations.
The realisation of this objective is
the central and historic task that confronts you as the African intelligentsia,
acting together with the intelligentsia in the African Diaspora - we whom an earlier
and extended historical period, dominated by others than ourselves, had defined
us as belonging to the other and despised side of the colour line.
that in your deliberations in the course of this week, you will find ways in which
together as institutions of higher education, government and the rest of society,
we will improve our collaboration as we implement practical programmes both to
define the 21st Century in our interest, and to revive the vibrancy of many of
our African universities, which in the past made these institutions some of the
best in the world.
I also hope that you will reflect on the challenges
facing African universities in the context of the unfolding renaissance on our
continent and find ways of strengthening the links between your own programmes
and those of the African Union and its development programme, the New Partnership
for Africa's Development (NEPAD).
This morning I would like to start by reflecting
on an important phenomenon that characterises the African continent. We are each
one of us consumed by the daily challenges we face. Because of this, we have perhaps
not given sufficient attention to and taken the necessary advantage of this phenomenon.
This is the phenomenon of change.
I hope that either at this conference
or on other occasions, the leadership present here may want to look further at
some of these changes that I will briefly talk about. In this context I would
seek to answer the question how African universities could help to consolidate
these positive changes, give them more impetus, and help our continent to address
everything that has a negative impact on our peoples.
The first of these
changes concerns African politics. I am sure that students of history will have
already recorded the fact that African politics has undergone fundamental change
in the last decade and half, with the majority of African countries abandoning
the failed systems of one-party rule and military dictatorship, in favour of more
open and inclusive democratic systems of government. As we know, in many of our
countries, multi-party elections have become a regular feature of our national
Clearly, we still face many challenges with regard to the task
of deepening popular democracy and empowering state and civil society institutions
so that they can serve our citizens better, to ensure that all our countries become,
in a real sense, more democratic.
This challenge is directly relevant to
our universities because we know that over the years, a good number of these universities
have not performed well with regard to their vibrancy, efficiency and effectiveness,
in part due to autocratic systems of government that characterised many of our
countries in the 1970's and 1980's.
Our universities had in the past played
an important role in our democratic processes because these are institutions among
whose defining features are free debate, as well as open and critical search for
solutions. Accordingly, the political changes on the continent could never be
complete without the full involvement of African universities.
Two of the
key activities of higher education, namely research and teaching, in all their
forms and functions, are perhaps the most powerful vehicles that we can and should
use to deepen democracy. Research, in particular, engenders the values of inquiry,
critical thinking, creativity and open-mindedness, which are fundamental to building
a strong democratic ethos in society.
We need research and a curriculum
that can contribute to the advancement of all forms of knowledge and scholarship.
In particular these must address the diverse challenges and demands of the local,
national, regional and African contexts, while simultaneously upholding rigorous
standards of academic quality.
The second change affecting Africa concerns
the issue of peace and stability. We will remember that in the past, the OAU had
a policy of non-interference in the affairs of member-states. Today, the AU firmly
asserts our common duty to intervene to prevent such horrors as the 1994 Rwanda
genocide, as well as respond to the need to restore political order and maintain
peace in our countries, in the interest of the African masses.
As we know,
SADC intervened in Lesotho to defend democracy in that country. ECOWAS intervened
in Sierra Leone and Liberia to advance the cause of peace and democracy. Furthermore,
through the AU or regional bodies, Africa has intervened in the DRC, Burundi,
Sudan, Côte d'Ivoire, Somalia, Madagascar, Comoros, Ethiopia and Eritrea,
and now Togo, to contribute to the achievement of just and durable peace in all
African universities must play an important role in ensuring
that we achieve and consolidate peace and stability on the continent. The creation
of strong conflict resolution and conflict management institutions on our continent
would contribute to this.
The starting point could be the development and
strengthening of a curriculum around the subjects of peace, stability and conflict
resolution and management. We could also explore the possibility of partnerships
as we develop institutions dedicated to these important matters.
important change is around the socio-economic development of the African continent.
Through NEPAD, the continent has adopted an integrated, comprehensive and holistic
approach to the challenges of development. It now speaks with one voice about
the pressing needs of our countries, individually and collectively.
the first time we have seen the developed world commit itself to an Africa support
programme informed by the commitment to lend support to a vision elaborated by
Africans. I refer here specifically to the G8 African Action Plan, which is a
detailed programmatic response of the developed countries to the NEPAD programme
In addition, NEPAD continues to engage different sectors on the
continent to mobilise internal resources so as to contribute to this programme
for the regeneration of our continent.
We will recall that NEPAD was developed
and adopted by the AU because among other things, we had to respond to the unacceptable
situation whereby the continent continued for decades to sink deeper into poverty
and underdevelopment, despite its rich natural resources.
We have continued
to export both human and capital resources to the rich countries of the developed
north. We have seen a pervasive world phenomenon of globalisation further marginalize
Africa, and confine our continent to the periphery of an increasingly integrated
and interdependent world.
This process of globalisation is the fourth of
the changes that have had a profound impact on our continent, an impact that unfortunately
has not, as yet, been entirely positive for the greater part of Africa.
of the driving factors of this phenomenon of globalisation is the role played
by modern information and communication technologies in transforming the global
economy and the very lives of the peoples of the world. That we do not fully benefit
from these ICT advantages serves both as a cause and an effect of Africa's underdevelopment.
therefore propose that one of the things we may want to look at is the role of
the African universities in a continent whose politics have changed and continue
to change for the better; a continent that is becoming more assertive in dealing
with those who undermine the peace and stability of our countries; a continent
that is implementing a comprehensive development programme in the face of a changed
world that continues to marginalize Africa and her people; and a continent which
has not accessed modern technology and therefore remains ever poorer and underdeveloped.
addition to what may be done within universities to help accelerate and consolidate
the processes of change on the continent, I think we have two other challenges
that face African academics and institutions of higher learning. These are so
central to our renaissance that I ask for your indulgence to restate them.
first is that as our countries are going through a critically important transition
phase. South Africa is moving from its racist past to a non-racial, non-sexist
and democratic society. The DRC is trying to break away from various forms of
autocracy, towards democracy.
Burundi is breaking loose from tribal conflicts
to consolidate a unified nation that uses its diversity to strengthen itself.
Somalia is emerging from its conditions as a failed state, to reunite all Somalis
into a new democratic state. Sudan is working to overcome long-standing racial,
tribal, regional and religious conflicts, build a new nation, united in its diversity.
then is the role of the African intellectuals and universities in all this, not
merely in analysing the problems and challenges facing us, but in offering practical
solutions and engaging processes that seek to address these various important
The second challenge is that, as we know, the AU through NEPAD
has established the Peer-Review Mechanism. Apart from this African initiative,
we have very few authentic African institutions that act as barometers for our
countries to measure our progress with regard to such important matters as democracy,
peace and stability, peoples and human rights, development issues, and the creation
of people-centred societies.
I am happy that this conference
will focus on the valuable insights that can be and will be gained from a serious
examination of non-Western educational traditions, such as those prevalent in
Africa and the African Diaspora.
We know very well the long and rich history
of higher education on this continent from the time of the flowering of 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
A.D. Those who understood the role of a university in the greater human setting,
correctly referred to the scholars of Timbuktu as ambassadors of peace.
we know, Timbuktu was not only a great intellectual centre of the West African
civilizations 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 Renaissance eras. Its incomplete collection of books and manuscripts leaves
us in no doubt as to the magnificence of its intellectual contribution.
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.
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).
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.
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.
of our renaissance, we may want to view the African university through a number
of features, which could include the following:
- An African identity
and vision that provides an overarching education philosophy that is consonant
with the cultures of the people;
- An African identity and vision in higher
education that represents a critical point of departure from the current colonial-Western
identity which is neither suitable nor compatible with this identity;
African identity and vision that creates a new paradigm that locates the African
condition, knowledge, experiences, values, world-view and mindset at the centre
of our scholarship and knowledge-seeking approach.
- A vision that places
education at the centre of our development programmes that would ensure that we
create a continent that is developed and prosperous.
In this context,
African educational thought and practice are characterised not only by their concern
with the person, but also by their interweaving of social, economic, political,
cultural, and educational threads together into a common tapestry. In this way,
education in Africa is distinguished by the importance it attaches to its individual,
collective and social nature, and the need to defeat poverty and underdevelopment.
Higher 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 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
With regard to the agenda of this conference, we must mention that
this was accomplished through a whole range of arrangements including 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 an effort to develop
both a vision and a practice of education that lays the basis for African people
to participate in mastering and directing the course of change and fulfilling
the vision of learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to
live together as equals with others.
An educational discourse of this kind
in higher education would view knowledge and minds not as commodities, not just
human resources to be developed and exploited, and then cast aside, but as treasures
to be cultivated to improve the quality of life of both individuals and societies.
In this context, some of the important challenges facing education in Africa
- The African heritage - what to retain, modify or replace;
colonial heritage; the language problem in schools as well as the cultural and
philosophical questions in our education systems;
- The dichotomy between
education for self-reliance versus education for technological and industrial
- Education for national unity.
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 continents were sent to Europe and the United States
for advanced degrees in order to staff faculties with indigenes, to replace expatriate
Those who studied abroad and were assigned teaching positions
after the completion of their studies quite naturally emulated the practices established
at the institutions where they concluded their studies.
As a result, curricula
at universities in the 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 endogenous 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. I personally do
not believe that such a tension should exist. I am indeed happy that this conference
will reflect on this matter.
The exit of our graduates to other parts of
the world, described as the 'brain drain', remains a cause for concern. It is
difficult to calculate the net loss incurred by the original community as a result
of emigration. The net loss certainly amounts to a considerable cost, not counting
the general loss of economic and cultural capacities.
Obviously, we cannot
ignore the phenomenon of the brain drain. In part this is caused by the fact that
our universities have become less competitive as regards the financial rewards
they offer our teaching and management staff, and less capable to offer possibilities
for original research.
As a result, our universities and the continent struggle
to retain the critical mass and necessary interdisciplinary skills that we now
find in Western institutions. Clearly, among other things, funding of higher education
across the continent, as a means to counter the brain drain, requires our attention.
conclusion Chairperson, let us not forget that the African continent is immense,
not only in terms of its size but, more importantly, with respect to the cultural,
linguistic, and ethnic diversity that characterises the people who live in its
various parts. Its biggest challenge is poverty and underdevelopment.
this regard, higher education in Africa is faced with considerable challenges
related to the eradication of poverty. These include the development of our human
resources and the promotion of indigenous knowledge systems.
the consolidation of democracy, and the consolidation of peace and stability.
They relate to the radical improvement of our health infrastructure, so as to
deal effectively with such illnesses as Malaria, TB, Aids, and diseases of poverty.
They address the task to create the conditions for our countries to create
modern economies, enabling the integrating of Africa into the modern global economy.
It remains the task of intellectuals and organisations such as the Association
of African Universities to offer solutions to Africa's problems, as well as make
a contribution to the renaissance of an African continent that is united, peaceful,
democratic, fully developed, prosperous, and a respected member of the world community
For all these reasons, I am privileged to wish this Conference
of the Association of African Universities success in its important work. What
you will decide during this week must contribute to the realisation of the ambitious
but achievable objective to transform the 21st into an African Century.
am certain that you understand the weight of the responsibility that falls on
your shoulders in this regard. At the same time, I must also make the solemn statement
that as the elected representatives of the people of our Continent, we too understand
our responsibility seriously to study the conclusions of your deliberations.
the end, as Africa's current political leaders, we have to ensure that we act
in a manner that truly respects the views of the African intelligentsia with regard
to the African Renaissance and the birth of the African Century. The African dream
should no longer be a gigantic mirage that shimmers as a false hope on the vast
expanses of the Sahara Desert.