The Athens of West Africa: A History of International Education at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone

By Byaruhanga, Frederick K. | African Studies Review, April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Athens of West Africa: A History of International Education at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone


Byaruhanga, Frederick K., African Studies Review


Daniel Paracka Jr. The Athens of West Africa: A History of International Education at Fourah Bay College, Freetown, Sierra Leone. New York: Routledge, 2003. ix + 324 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $135.00. Cloth.

Until recently, higher education as a field of study within African scholarship was scant at best. Prior to that, with their close relationship to never-ending literacy campaigns, primary and secondary systems claimed center stage, leaving higher education in scholarly oblivion. However, given the global economic importance of the current knowledge revolution, the study of higher education has gained prominence the world over, and Africa is no exception. Therefore, a book that traces the roots of higher education in Africa, delineating its role in the colonial project - as well as the postcolonial and neocolonial vicissitudes - is quite timely. And the focus on Fourah Bay College, the only institution of higher learning in West Africa from 1827 to 1948, is commendable. Although Paracka neither defines nor posits his rationale for choosing "International Education" as the book's subtitle, nonetheless he broaches a crucial component of higher education research today. Multinational approaches to higher education have become a major driving force in today's technology-driven and highly competitive global economy.

In this impassioned but densely packed book, Paracka positions Fourah Bay as the archetypical West African university. Located at the intellectual heart of often controversial and shifting political patterns, Fourah Bay has a history that is closely intertwined with the emergence and consolidation of the modern state. Using largely original sources, Paracka manages to historicize the college within the country's sociopolitical problematic, identifying it as "a social-cultural microcosm of the political, racial, religious, and social tensions that characterized the colonial and post-colonial revolutions in West Africa..." (3). In this way Paracka debunks the persistent myth of university autonomy.

Unfortunately, Paracka provides no conceptual framework for his approach to writing about higher education, and his target audience remains difficult to determine. Nevertheless he addresses critical issues of great interest to higher education researchers today: institutional history and mission; politics of education; access, equity, and affordability; faculty and curriculum; and education and nation-building, among other topics.

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