By Samuel Bekalo (University of Leeds)
Africa in the New Millennium: Challenges and Prospects. eds. Eddy Maloka and Elizabeth la Roux. Africa Century Publications Series No. 3 (2001). ISBN 0 70983 01457. £16.95/$27.95.
This book consists of two main parts: Part I subtitled Economic Challenges Amidst Globalisation and Part II, which is the subject of this review, subtitled Information and Education Challenges.
K.A. Ng’etich’s contribution – Harnessing Computer-Mediated Communication Technologies in the Unification of Africa: Constraints and Potentials – makes clear from the outset the author’s strong conviction that Computer Mediated Communication Technology is the key instrument for African political and economic empowerment and unity. He rightly points out that as the world is now in the Information Age (at least in the West), there is a sense that access to this technology is essential in order for every nation to bridge the economic as well as the digital divide. I share the author’s concern in that, in the present Information Age, access or lack of access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) will have an inevitable educational, political and economic impact on Africa.
However, the strong proposition that ICTs will provide the means for African unification (however that is interpreted) and advancement seems to me far-fetched. Firstly, it is important to note that there has been a historical tendency in Africa since the 1960s to be attracted by Western development ideas and technologies and to be on the bandwagon of adapting or adopting it based on unexamined assumptions, only to realise later that in many cases it has been counter-productive. One notable example is the (science) education movement of the 1960s and 1970s, premised on a stereotypical view of the nature of science and its activities which demanded expensive imported equipment, beyond the ability of individual schools – or even many nations as a whole – to supply. The result has often been a mismatch between the rhetoric of what has been prescribed and what actually happened. Secondly, the use of ICTs may further widen inequalities, due to disparities of access; a pitfall that has often beset development education in the past. Thirdly and more importantly, if the unification and advancement of Africa needs to be people-driven as asserted by the author, it is hard to imagine ICTs as a way forward in a continent where the vast majority of the population has little or no access even to basic education.
C.H.Uroh, in Globalisation and the Commodification of Knowledge in Africa, suggests that Globalisation is a conceptual cover-up to keep Africa economically and intellectually subservient to the North. He goes as far as saying that globalisation is ‘nothing short of a conceptual replacement for imperialism’; a device to maintain the North’s domination over the South in all areas of human endeavour. Specifically, the author reflects on how the perpetual status quo makes Africans subservient to their Northern counterparts, pointing out that the major bulk of African scholarly work is documented and made available for use in and for the West. To counteract this, he proposes a continent based policy that would ensure that African discourse is conducted by Africans and in Africa in a way that is accessible within the continent.
This seems to me a simplistic and narrow view. Whilst the author raises important issues with regard to unequal North-South partnerships in almost all development sectors, and the shared global concern about the implications of globalisation for poor nations, it seems to me that the whole argument is one-sided in the sense that it appears to dispute globalisation outright whatever its potential benefits. Yet, within the existing constraints, there have been examples of work done through international collaboration that could be reflected upon; work that resulted in publications accessible both internationally and locally. I would have liked to see both the pros and cons of globalisation and international scholarly partnership, in order to debate a way forward. As in the past, so in the present, Africa’s future is not decided by Africans in Africa alone. Indeed, in the present global economic order described by the author, it is hard to imagine that what the author proposed could be achieved.
S. Adebowale’s contribution – The Scholarly Journal in the Production of and Dissemination of Knowledge on Africa: Exploring Some Issues for the Future –is, like Uroh’s, concerned with the problems and prospects of knowledge formation and dissemination on Africa. Specifically, Adebowale raises the various issues affecting the relevance and quality of scholarly journals in Africa since independence to the present time. The author rightly points out that the cumulative effects of the repression of academic community by their own successive dictatorial governments and the subsequent brain-drain, combined with the socio-economic forces both within and outside Africa, contributed to the marginality of African scholars and the relevance of their work. The author also talks about the influential role of NGOs in scholarly work and the present North-South dichotomy in publishing, particularly in determining the content and type of scholarly publications. He correctly points out the wider local and global socio-economic factors that shape the nature and production of scholarly journals in Africa, and suggests possible future options such as commercial publication and exploration of the potential of electronic publication to sustain and promote African scholarly work.
S. Indabawa’s piece is entitled Education for Civil Society in Africa: An Agenda for the 21st Century. Indabawa’s discussion is premised on the long-standing consensus that the attainment of literacy or a basic level of education is a foundation for further learning, and critical for the realisation of individual potential within the wider socio-economic and political development of a nation. The author highlights the nature and the limitations of educational provision from the colonial era through independence to the present day. Specifically and rightly he points out that neither the colonial education (designed to satisfy the low-level technical and administrative needs of the imperial power) nor the post-independence education (dominated by rote learning of factual information) has been suited to meet the nations’ educational and developmental needs. As Indabawa notes, although educational progress has been made recently, the vast majority of the population in Africa is still denied even the basics. In my view, the lack of the predominately urban-based formal education is one factor, but is too simple an answer to account for all educational problems in the predominantly agrarian society of Africa.
The author raises important issues regarding the potential of non-formal education to meet the challenges of achieving universal basic education in Africa. For this reviewer, non-formal alternative forms of education have great potential for promoting basic education. This is partly because the increasing educational demand of the growing population is unlikely to be met by the limited formal education provision in the foreseeable future. Indeed, as pointed out by the author, concurrently exploiting the potential of both the formal and non-formal education approaches (which neither interrelate nor complement each other at the present moment) could pave the way to achieving meaningful basic education-for-all.
On the whole this is a useful and stimulating contribution towards the eradication of illiteracy and the attainment of meaningful basic education for all in the new millennium in Africa
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 66 (2004), pp. 67-69]