Magazine article African Business

The Heavy Cost of Marginalising African Intellectuals: The Marginalisation of African Intellectuals, Especially in the Sciences, Has Not Only Led to Africa's Brain but Also Placed the Continent's Development in Foreign Hands. the Cost to Africa of This Marginalisation Has Been Heavy, Argues Dr Hippolyte Fofack and Urgently Needs to Be Reversed

Magazine article African Business

The Heavy Cost of Marginalising African Intellectuals: The Marginalisation of African Intellectuals, Especially in the Sciences, Has Not Only Led to Africa's Brain but Also Placed the Continent's Development in Foreign Hands. the Cost to Africa of This Marginalisation Has Been Heavy, Argues Dr Hippolyte Fofack and Urgently Needs to Be Reversed

Article excerpt

Over the years and across many countries, national development strategies have been driven by local scientists and intellectuals. In advanced, and more recently in emerging economies, local scientists, who enjoy the comparative advantage of a reasonable understanding of their socio-cultural environment and share people's aspirations, have been playing a key role in strategic decisions. Through their research and discoveries, they continuously steer their society towards excellence, enhancing the self-confidence of their leaders in the globally-competitive economic race and ultimately creating successful and highly respected nations.

Interestingly, the link between the past and the present is always strongest in successful nations. That indicates that development is a cumulative process with no intergenerational gap. Moreover, these nations emphasise local content and culture in their development, and rightly so. Indeed, as the Indian philosopher Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan puts it: "A society which puts a halo of sanctity round its tradition gains an inestimable advantage of power and permanence."

In a blatant disregard for the continuity and permanence of the ownership of the development process, African countries have overwhelmingly chosen to follow a different path that has resulted in the marginalisation of their intellectuals, especially over the last three decades. The costs of this policy choice, which does not withstand any historical and contemporaneous test, have been significant and may well warrant explanation.

Possible explanations

Let us consider the following two hypotheses: qualification gap and self-confidence gap. The qualification gap results from the early years of independence when many African countries relied on foreign experts to fill the gap in areas where African expertise was lacking. In the most extreme cases, where nations became independent without institutions of higher learning or graduates, the qualification gap encompassed most sectors, including industry, academia and public administration.

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The requirements and demands of an effective nation state called for a rapid adoption of short-term remedies, a process that gave birth to the capacity-building partnership, mainly in the form of technical assistance.

Initially, the choice of technical assistance partners to remedy the 'qualification gap' was determined by the language of the colonial ruler, then the only vector of access to global knowledge. Under that game, British experts were primarily stationed in their former colonies, particularly in Asia and Africa; the focus of French experts was naturally within the confines of the French sphere of influence, the French 'pre-carre' (a term often used in reference to francophone countries in Africa); experts from Spain were stationed in Latin America, while the Portuguese were in Africa and Latin America.

However, US technological and economic advances changed the landscape of the post-independence geo-strategic positioning game and further contributed to the technical assistance boom.

Clearly, the technical assistance industry, which has become a global phenomenon, was initially conceived as a short-term remedy, to be phased out with the emergence of national expertise. While this objective has been largely reached in other parts of the world, most notably in Asia where the role of foreign experts has been declining steadily, it has remained overwhelming in Africa and grown rapidly--with tremendous consequences in terms of financial and human resources development.

The resources allocated for technical assistance in Africa have continued to grow and are estimated to have exceeded $5.8bn in 2004. Surprisingly, this continued rise is occurring at a time of narrowing qualification and education gaps between Africa and its former colonial rulers. Statistics show a boom in tertiary education enrolment in most of Africa over the past decades. …

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