I would like to critique university education so as to determine whether it is suitable to us in its present form or whether we should have an overhaul of higher institutions of learning to make them more relevant to our needs.
Since early 20th century, when Egypt, representing Arab Africa, and in 1957 when Ghana, representing black Africa, became independent states, it has remained topical to talk of the need to reform institutions of higher learning in Africa.
It is pertinent to prescribe different approaches for North Africa, South Africa and the rest of Africa, for they are at different levels of development and experienced colonial domination differently. We focus on black Africa, bearing in mind that the Arab world has had its own share of distorted ideas in its historical development.
Before discussing the curriculum for African universities so as to make it pivotal in the continent’s quest for development, it is crucial to analyze what European universities and intellectuals in general did to African epistemology (knowledge systems), after the advent of slave trade and colonization. Of course Africa had its own knowledge systems; nay, it civilized the rest of the world till it declined due to violence meted out upon it by European and Asian invaders.
One of the most famous observations ever made on Africa’s achievements was by Sir Isaac Newton, the father of mechanical science in modern-times Europe. Of the ancient Egyptians, he observed in Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica that they were acquainted with atomic theory, gravitation and heliocentricity (the idea that it is the earth which revolves round the sun, and not the other way round).
According to Newton, it is from the Egyptians that the Greeks derived their notions of philosophy. Incidentally, at the time of Newton, physics was known as natural philosophy.
It is worthy of note, that as far back as 750BC, Pharaoh Shabaka of Egypt observed that Egyptian philosophy emanated from the interior of Africa (black).
Evidently, it is not acceptable for university intellectuals to continue teaching distorted perceptions hatched to justify enslavement of Africans, colonization and racism after the advent of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade which some scholars refer to as the African holocaust on account of the carnage that slave trade entailed for over 400 years, before it was replaced with colonization.
The Egyptians Newton refers to have the same DNA as blacks south of the Sahara in the Great Lakes region and the level of melanin in their skins to which Africans owe their blackness, is the same as that in Negroes, as Dr Cheikh Anta Diop and Dr Theophile Obenga, demonstrated at the 1974 Cairo Unesco conference.
Many of the heroes and philosophers taught in schools and universities currently, developed their theories during the period after 1650 with the rise of racism, actuated by enslavement of Africans and virtual extermination of the natives of the Americas, Australia and neighboring territories.
French intellectuals led by Nicolas de Condorcet and Anne-Robert Turgot classified races with whites on top and black people at the bottom, to rationalize slavery. German scholars and intellectuals, with the University of Gottingen leading the crusade of distorted knowledge, declared that Egyptians knew no philosophy.
Nazi intellectuals in the 1930s and 1940s fused biology with sociology to better deal with racial theories of development, resulting in the genocide of Jews, Blacks, Gypsies and other minorities in Europe.
English intellectuals and philosophers who set the tone in universities in Uganda, appear to be taken for granted as objective, dispassionate disseminators of knowledge, I suppose, because from nursery schools to colleges and universities we are trained to accept Anglophone views as gospel truth. But, the reality is different.
John Locke (1632-1704), an English philosopher and physician, is regarded as one of the most influential political theorists in the Western world. It is upon his ideas that the famous USA constitution was based.
Tragically, the fellow defended slavery and slave trade as forms of just wars in which the captives were spared and shipped abroad as prisoners of war instead of being killed.
In view of the devastating effects of slavery on Africa, some white powers and institutions have made apologies for the same. In 1985, Pope John Paul II, while in Yaounde in Cameroon, apologized to black Africans for involvement of white Christians in the slave trade as did President Bill Clinton in 1998.
Tony Blair made an apology in 2006 for Britain’s role in slave trade. So have Germans and white South Africans. Ghana, Nigeria, and Dahomey have all offered apologies for some of their chiefs’ involvement in the trade.
Apart from the obvious task of training personnel in science and technology, for restoration of the environment and food security, it is incumbent upon African intellectuals to correctly portray Africans who originated civilization but declined in the last 500 years. And as a corollary, they should spearhead the African renaissance – that is rebirth of broken social relations, restoration of the African family and rebuilding of sustainable civic institutions of governance.
All this entails revisiting the university curriculum entirely. This requires honest talk of Africa’s great past, if only we can shed off shackles of the mind that have been perpetuated in the past because Africans until recently never generated ideas for their own benefit.
This presupposes a firm grasp of ideas by university intellectuals and capacity to critique various distorted and bogus knowledge systems.
The author is a Ugandan retired judge.