Africa: The Role of Higher Education; All Educational Curricula in Africa Should Have Africa as Their Focus, and as a Result, Be Indigenous Grounded and Orientated. by Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa

Article excerpt

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 Renaissance 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 African 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, African 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 educational threads together into a common tapestry. 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. …