Decolonizing the African University


This essay seeks to understand how scholars have understood the relevance of scholarly knowledge through an analysis of education policy and curriculum for “underdeveloped,” vulnerable communities. How have perceptions about the knowledge important for African communities been shaped, delimited, critiqued and transfigured over time, especially by leaders and scholars during the shift from colonial rule to postcolonial independence. I draw on critical post-colonial scholarship derived from the experiences of former British colonies, especially focused on work on and emerging out of my fieldsite--Kenya--in order to examine how the history of colonialism, structural adjustment programs, and more recently, the advent of technology entrepreneurship have shaped expectations of and investments into the “African” university, and imaginaries of what science and technology can do for socioeconomic development. How have perceptions of the ethical and moral dimensions of investing in science and technology training and capacity building in the global South shifted across over time from the 1960s onwards?

This essay foregrounds key works and debates within African Studies, Postcolonial Studies, and Development Studies related to higher education in Africa. A secondary essay (found here) foregrounds insights from my ongoing analysis of these works.

In highlighting various moments where certain stakeholders have been particularly powerful in shaping educational objectives in Africa, I do not intend to suggest a teleological narrative nor am I arguing that these are the only organizations that have shaped African educational policy. Rather, by drawing these varying literatures, debates, and historical time periods together into the same frame, I desire to open up productive spaces for further discussion about the “education crisis” in Africa and the varied proposed solutions.

On Form

In line with seeking to open up further, collaborative lines of inquiry, I have utilized the PECE essay form. (Learn more about PECE and its origins as a qualitative research project and infrastructure in this video artifact here.) This is an experiment in a mode of scholarly production. By foregrounding and archiving the works themselves and various found artifacts, I invite readers to draw out their own take on the materials. The development of an analytic stucture (here) establishes a shared set of questions with which readers/contributors will be able to query the works. The aim of these analytics is not to overdetermine how such encounters play out but rather to lightly structure and set the stage for collaborative encounters. In setting up these reading/contributing infrastructures, I hope to enable multiple readings and varying (possibly divergent) insights which I believe enrich the overall knowledge production process. I welcome any feedback and comments at aokune[at]uci[dot]edu.

Framing of topic and reading list_April 2018

Angela Okune: This document submitted to Professor Kavita in April 2018 as part of the HIST 290 course at UC Irvine provides a sense of my original intention behind the framing of the problem space as well as a comprehensive initial reading list, from which a handful have made it into this PECE...Read more

Ethics and responsibility

Giordano, Sara. 2018. “New Democratic Sciences, Ethics, and Proper Publics.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 43 (3): 401–30.

Abstract: " In this article, I examine the rhetoric of democratic science within the field of synthetic biology. The still emerging field of synthetic biology claims to be a new kind of science based on the promises of affordable medicines, environmental bioremediation, and democratic, do-it-...Read more

Aviles, Natalie B. 2018. “Situated Practice and the Emergence of Ethical Research: HPV Vaccine Development and Organizational Cultures of Translation at the National Cancer Institute.” Science, Technology, & Human Values, January.

Abstract: " This article explores the role scientists at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a US federal science agency, played in researching and testing vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV). Drawing upon archival sources and oral history interview data, I challenge narratives that...Read more

Reardon, Jenny. 2013. “On the Emergence of Science and Justice.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 38 (2): 176–200.

Abstract: " In the last few years, justice has emerged as a matter of concern for the contemporary constitution of technoscience. Increasingly, both practicing scientists and engineers and scholars of science and technology cite justice as an organizing theme of their work. In this essay, I...Read more
Vessuri, Hebe. 2015. “Global Social Science Discourse: A Southern Perspective on the World.” Current Sociology 63 (2): 297–313.

Angela Okune: This 2015 article by Hebe Vessuri explores how powerful institutions such as universities, disciplines, states, and social movements work towards defining the principles by which to determine which knowledge holders should be included within social science.Read more

Vessuri, Hebe. 2002. “Ethical Challenges for the Social Sciences on the Threshold of the 21st Century.” Current Sociology 50 (1): 135–50.

Angela Okune: This 2002 article by Hebe Vessuri decries the faith increasingly granted to the instrumental rationality of technoscience even within social sciences. Vessuri notes the greater development of interrogations about what research is for and for whom (relevance).Read more

Colonial policies and practices of education in Africa

Whitehead, Clive. 2005. “The Historiography of British Imperial Education Policy, Part II: Africa and the Rest of the Colonial Empire.” History of Education 34 (4): 441–54.

Angela Okune: This 2005 article by Clive Whitehead situates the British colonial education policy towards Africa in the context of the rest of the British empire, especially India.Read more

Madeira, Ana Isabel. 2005. “Portuguese, French and British Discourses on Colonial Education: Church–State Relations, School Expansion and Missionary Competition in Africa, 1890–1930.” Paedagogica Historica 41 (1–2): 31–60.

Abstract: " This article draws a comparison between the Portuguese in relation to British and French discourses on overseas educational policies at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century until the 1930s. It focuses on three main colonial educational dynamics: school expansion (...Read more

White, Bob W. 1996. “Talk about School: Education and the Colonial Project in French and British Africa (1860-1960).” Comparative Education 32 (1): 9–26.

Abstract: " As a study in comparative colonialism, this research attempts to identify similarities and differences in the French and British models of colonial education in Sub-Saharan Africa. Differences in colonial policy were conditioned to some extent by settlement patterns, the role of...Read more
Mangan, J. A. A. 1993. The Imperial Curriculum (RLE Edu H). Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.

Angela Okune: This 1993 volume is a comparative analysis of racial attitudes in the formal schooling of both Britain and its former dominions and colonies. The contributions include chapters looking at experiences in South Africa, Uganda and Kenya. A central theme throughout the work is that a...Read more

Mwiria, Kilemi. 1991. “Education for Subordination: African Education in Colonial Kenya.” History of Education 20 (3): 261–73.

Abstract: "This paper looks at how the colonial government in Kenya used the education system in an attempt to strengthen their political and economic power over the African majority."Read more

Bude, Udo. 1983. “The Adaptation Concept in British Colonial Education.” Comparative Education 19 (3): 341–55.

Abstract: "The solution to the problems of education in Africa proposed by Jones and his colleagues was the design of an educational concept adapted to the needs of people, completely oriented towards family and community life. Their proposed 'adapted education' for black Africa would, it was...Read more
Ball, Stephen J. 1983. “Imperialism, Social Control and the Colonial Curriculum in Africa.” Journal of Curriculum Studies 15 (3): 237–63.

Angela Okune: This 1983 paper by Stephen Ball raised three important points regarding the role that British colonial education policies played in African development. He highlighted the demand for education by local Africans; that the history of colonial schooling is marked by the...Read more

Bretton Woods and Investments in Education "for Development"

Sorlin, Sverker, and Hebe Vessuri. 2007. Knowledge Society vs. Knowledge Economy Knowledge, Power, and Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Abstract : " A new collection in the IAU Issues in Higher Education Series that deals with the major tensions between education and science. Drawing on experiences from a range of countries and regions, the book demonstrates the need to find new avenues for the management of knowledge production to...Read more
Vavrus, Frances. 2005. “Adjusting Inequality: Education and Structural Adjustment Policies in Tanzania.” Harvard Educational Review 75 (2): 174–201.

Angela Okune: In this 2005 article, Frances Vavrus discusses how access to secondary education declined in Tanzania as school fees were introduced and subsidized prices for food were removed during the advent of the IMF structural adjustment programs (SAPs).Read more

Teferra, Damtew, and Philip G. Altbachl. 2004. “African Higher Education: Challenges for the 21st Century.” Higher Education 47 (1): 21–50.

Angela Okune: This 2004 article by Damtew Teferra and Philip Altbachl focuses on the "problems of African higher education" which they see as including the challenges of funding, management, brain drain and language. The authors propose that recognition of these problems can lead to major...Read more

Heyneman, S. P. 2003. “The History and Problems in the Making of Education Policy at the World Bank 1960–2000.” International Journal of Educational Development 23 (3): 315–37.

Abstract: "The reports seem contradictory. With about three billion dollars per year in new loan commitments, the World Bank has become the single largest source of development capital in the field of international education. These resources help expand educational opportunities for young women in...Read more

Simpson, Christopher, ed. 1998. Universities and Empire: Money and Politics in the Social Sciences during the Cold War. The Cold War and the University Series. New York: New Press.

Abstract: " Universities and Empire is a fascinating exploration of the seamier connections between academic research and official public policy during the most turbulent years of the Cold War. It explores the effects of the U.S. military, intelligence, and propaganda agencies on academic culture...Read more

Proposals for Alternative Approaches to Education

Andah (1995) has complained that while there is the problem of adequate funding, much more important is the establishment of the “right (truly African) cultural perspective as the basis for training all students—Africans and non-Africans who genuinely want to understand Africa as against wanting to impose their own cultural purview on African peoples and materials” (157). This highlights a long-standing question regarding what a “truly African” perspective entails. Debates about decentering Western pedagogy have included proposals for ways to "decolonize the university" including a more "Afro-centric" education (also known by the name: "culturally relevant pedagogy") and land education. This section outlines some of the contributions to the question of what alternatives to a white, colonial settler model of education might look like.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai, Eve Tuck, and K. Wayne Yang, eds. 2018. Indigenous and Decolonizing Studies in Education: Mapping the Long View. New York: Routledge.

Abstract: " Indigenous and decolonizing perspectives on education have long persisted alongside colonial models of education, yet too often have been subsumed within the fields of multiculturalism, critical race theory, and progressive education. Timely and compelling, Indigenous and Decolonizing...Read more

Tuck, Eve, and K. Wayne Yang. 2018. Toward What Justice? Describing Diverse Dreams of Justice in Education. Milton: Taylor and Francis.

Abstract: " Toward What Justice? brings together compelling ideas from a wide range of intellectual traditions in education to discuss corresponding and sometimes competing definitions of justice. Leading scholars articulate new ideas and challenge entrenched views of what justice means when...Read more
Mukoma wa Ngugi. 2018. “What Decolonizing the Mind Means Today.” Literary Hub, March 2018.

Angela Okune: This 2018 blog post by Ngugi wa Thiong'o's son, Mukoma articulates the continued relevance of the book. Borrowing literary critic Adam Beach's notion of an "English metaphysical empire," Mukoma highlights how English continues to be a marker of intelligence and class in Kenya (and...Read more

Nyamnjoh, Francis B. 2012. “‘Potted Plants in Greenhouses’: A Critical Reflection on the Resilience of Colonial Education in Africa.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 47 (2): 129–54.

Angela Okune: This 2012 paper by Francis Nyamnjoh argues that education in Africa is based on a resilient colonial and colonizing epistemology, which takes the form of science as ideology and hegemony. This type of education is justified as necessary to keep Africans internationally...Read more

Wane, Njoki Nathani. 2008. “Mapping the Field of Indigenous Knowledges in Anti‐colonial Discourse: A Transformative Journey in Education.” Race Ethnicity and Education 11 (2): 183–97.

Angela Okune: In this 2008 paper, Njoki Nathani Wane examines anti-colonial discourses as articulated by scholars in the 1960s and (re)taken up in the 21st century.Read more

Dei, George J. Sefa, and Alireza Asgharzadeh. 2001. “The Power of Social Theory: The Anti-Colonial Discursive Framework.” The Journal of Educational Thought (JET) / Revue de La Pensée Éducative 35 (3): 297–323.

Angela Okune: This 2001 article by George Sefa Dei and Alireza Asgharzadeh introduces an "anti-colonial discourse" as a guiding framework for partnerships among anti-oppression activists in the academy and beyond it.Read more

Dei, George J. Sefa. 2000. “Rethinking the Role of Indigenous Knowledges in the Academy.” International Journal of Inclusive Education 4 (2): 111–32.

Angela Okune: This 2000 article by George Sefa Dei invites discussion about the definition and operationalization of "indigenous knowledge" and how it is used/taken up in the Western academy.Read more

Dei, George J. Sefa. 1999. Anti-Racism Education: Theory and Practice. Halifac: Fernwood.

Abstract: " Dei argues that analyzing the intersections of race, class, gender and sexual oppression is essential if we are to fully address educational equity, social justice and change. He examines how we can value our differences while equitably sharing power, and discusses ways to counter the...Read more

Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo. 1986. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London : Portsmouth, N.H: J. Currey ; Heinemann.

Abstract: " Decolonising the Mind is a collection of essays about language and its constructive role in national culture, history, and identity. The book, which advocates for linguistic decolonization, is one of Ngũgĩ’s best-known and most-cited non-fiction publications, helping to cement him as a...Read more

Freire, Paulo. 1968. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Abstract: "First published in Portuguese in 1968, Pedagogy of the Oppressed was translated and published in English in 1970. The methodology of the late Paulo Freire has helped to empower countless impoverished and illiterate people throughout the world. Freire's work has taken on especial urgency...Read more

Politics and Practices of the Neoliberal University

This section elaborates on threads from earlier sections looking at the expansion of the university in terms of market value. As the university increasingly fills a role of supporting corporate competitiveness and training future laborers of a global, knowledge-based economy, scholars such as Slaughter and Rhoades (2004) have argued that the fundamental social roles of public higher education to provide increased upward mobility for underserved populations have been displaced by the economic role of serving corporations’ global competitiveness. This section includes critical university scholars who have taken issue with how modes of power within the university structures are exercised upon the daily lives of minoritized subjects and knowledges, noting new configurations of power marked by acknowledgement and sometimes even valorization of minoritized subjects and knowledges (Ferguson 2012). Many of these works look at higher education in the United States and hold lessons and insights for the university system beyond the US borders. As Simpson (1998) highlights, university-based development studies and projects predicted and required worldwide triumph of modernity and contemporary forms of global capitalism. Much of this work highlights the continued battle over what types of questions may be asked (both from within and from outside the academy) and whose results taken as legitimate and responsible.

la paperson. 2017. A Third University Is Possible. University of Minnesota Press.

Abstract: " A Third University is Possible unravels the intimate relationship between the more than 200 US land grant institutions, American settler colonialism, and contemporary university expansion. Author la paperson cracks open uncanny connections between Indian boarding schools, Black...Read more

Zeleza, Paul Tiyambe. 2016. The Transformation of Global Higher Education, 1945-2015. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Abstract: " This book explores some of the major forces and changes in higher education across the world between 1945 and 2015. This includes the explosions of higher education institutions and enrollments, a development captured by the notion of massification. There were also profound shifts in...Read more

Ferguson, Roderick A. 2012. The Reorder of Things: The University and Its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Difference Incorporated. Minneapolis: University Of Minnesota Press.

Abstract: "In the 1960s and 1970s, minority and women students at colleges and universities across the United States organized protest movements to end racial and gender inequality on campus. African American, Chicano, Asia American, American Indian, women, and queer activists demanded the creation...Read more

Rogers, Ibram H. 2012. The Black Campus Movement Black Students and the Racial Reconstitution of Higher Education, 1965-1972. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Abstract: " This book provides the first national study of this intense and challenging struggle which disrupted and refashioned institutions in almost every state. It also illuminates the context for one of the most transformative educational movements in American history through a history of...Read more

Shore, Cris. 2010. “Beyond the Multiversity: Neoliberalism and the Rise of the Schizophrenic University.” Social Anthropology 18 (1): 15–29.

Abstract: "The restructuring of New Zealand's universities is often considered a paradigmatic case of neo‐liberal reform and governance. While tertiary education is increasingly central to government's ideas about the future global knowledge economy, a new set of discourses has emerged around...Read more

Newfield, Christopher. 2008. Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Abstract: "An essential American dream—equal access to higher education—was becoming a reality with the GI Bill and civil rights movements after World War II. But this vital American promise has been broken. Christopher Newfield argues that the financial and political crises of public universities...Read more
Krücken, Georg, Anna Kosmützky, and Marc Torka. 2007. Towards a Multiversity?: Universities between Global Trends and National Traditions.

Angela Okune: This 2007 book chapter by Georg Krucken, Anna Kosmutzky and Marc Torka expands on the concept of the "multiversity" and look at some theoretical approaches for understanding the contemporary university; emphasize the role state regulation and new forms of governance play in the...Read more

Rooks, Noliwe M. 2006. White Money/Black Power: The Surprising History of African American Studies and the Crisis of Race in Higher Education. Boston: Beacon Press.

Abstract: " The history of African American Studies is often told as a heroic tale, with compelling images of fists raised in a black power salute and white administrators bowing to the demands of passionate African American students. In this watershed book, Noliwe M. Rooks argues for the...Read more

Newfield, Christopher. 2003. Ivy and Industry: Business and the Making of the American University, 1880-1980. Durham: Duke University Press.

Abstract: " Emphasizing how profoundly the American research university has been shaped by business and the humanities alike, Ivy and Industry is a vital contribution to debates about the corporatization of higher education in the United States. Christopher Newfield traces major trends in the...Read more

Slaughter, Sheila. 1993. “Beyond Basic Science: Research University Presidents’ Narratives of Science Policy.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 18 (3): 278–302.

Abstract: "Between 1980 and 1985 representatives of academic science changed their policy positions, moving from veneration of basic or fundamental research to promotion of entrepreneurial science. This change is examined through research university presidents' testimony before the U.S. Congress...Read more

Tech Philanthropy and "Entrepreneur-ing" Education in Africa

2018 Technology Salon SF: "How Can Silicon Valley Improve Online Learning in Emerging Economies?"

Angela Okune: This call for participants (received via email on May 29, 2018) to a half-day discussion in San Francisco as part of a regularly occuring "Technology Salon" centers on the question of how Silicon Valley can improve online learning in "emerging economies." The framing of the event...Read more

Fejerskov, Adam Moe. 2017. “The New Technopolitics of Development and the Global South as a Laboratory of Technological Experimentation.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 42 (5): 947–68.

Abstract: " Science and technology have been integral issues of development cooperation for more than sixty years. Contrary to early efforts’ transfer of established technologies from the West to developing countries, contemporary technology aspirations increasingly articulate and practice the...Read more
Roberts-Mahoney, Heather, Alexander J. Means, and Mark J. Garrison. 2016. “Netflixing Human Capital Development: Personalized Learning Technology and the Corporatization of K-12 Education.” Journal of Education Policy 31 (4): 405–20.

Angela Okune: This 2016 article by Heather Roberts-Mahoney, Alexander Means and Mark Garrison conducts a content analysis of US Department of Education reports, personalized learning advocacy white papers, and published research monographs in order to detail how big data and adaptive...Read more

Williamson, Ben. 2016. “Silicon Startup Schools: Technocracy, Algorithmic Imaginaries and Venture Philanthropy in Corporate Education Reform.” Critical Studies in Education 0 (0): 1–19.

Angela Okune: This 2016 paper by Ben Williamson traces the emergence of four prototypical ‘silicon startup schools’ as exemplars of a technocratic mode of corporatized education reform. Williamson highlights how these "startup schools" originate in the culture, discourse and ideals of...Read more

Lindtner, Silvia. 2015. “Hacking with Chinese Characteristics: The Promises of the Maker Movement against China’s Manufacturing Culture.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 40 (5): 854–79.

Abstract: " From the rising number of hackerspaces to an increase in hardware start-ups, maker culture is envisioned as an enabler of the next industrial revolution—a source of unhindered technological innovation, a revamp of broken economies and educational systems. Drawing from long-term...Read more

Irani, Lilly. 2015. “Hackathons and the Making of Entrepreneurial Citizenship.” Science, Technology & Human Values 40 (5): 799–824.

Abstract: "Today the halls of Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) and Davos reverberate with optimism that hacking, brainstorming, and crowdsourcing can transform citizenship, development, and education alike. This article examines these claims ethnographically and historically with an eye...Read more

Cherlet, Jan. 2014. “Epistemic and Technological Determinism in Development Aid.” Science, Technology, & Human Values 39 (6): 773–94.

Abstract: " Since the turn of the millennium, the major development agencies have been promoting “knowledge for development,” “ICT for development,” or the “knowledge economy” as new paradigms to prompt development in less-developed countries. These paradigms display an unconditional trust in the...Read more

"Openness" and Academic Infrastructures

Over fifteen years ago, the authors of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) agreed upon a text outlining the importance of Open Access to scholarly materials. They asserted: “By “Open Access" to this literature, we mean its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.” Since the text was published in 2002, the idea of Open Access has taken root and spread widely around the world.

In this final section of the essay, I include work looking at the notion of "openness" as it relates to scholarly knowledge and infrastructures. The concept of openness has been increasingly taken up by development agencies and funders including the same tech philanthropists mentioned earlier in the essay (e.g. Gates Foundation). The concept of openness and how it is leveraged by different agents working in technology, development and research in Africa is of relevant for my dissertation project.

Over the last few years, a body of literature has been growing that notes that while increasing access is an important start, it may not be enough. For example, mobile for development (M4D) researcher and practitioner, Jonathan Donner published a book entitled “After Access” (2015) highlighting that while the boom in mobile phone coverage around the world has improved access to the Internet, it has brought about new forms of digital stratification. In other words, power inequalities continue, even in an “after access” world where more people have access to the Internet (and other online resources). Donner debunks the proposition that the “digital divide” has been closed because more people have mobile devices. Rather, as Donner highlights, mobile access has brought about both new spatial-temporal potentialities as well as new forms of digital stratifications.

Another strand of growing critical work raises concerns that Open Access is increasingly being co-opted by multinational publishing companies like Elsevier and Sage for private profit. Posada and Chen (2017) argue that as big publishers move towards openness they have also been redirecting their business strategies towards the acquisition of scholarly infrastructure as part of processes of profit maximization. They provocatively ask if our attention on the access paywall has distracted scholar activists from paying attention to the strategic takeover of infrastructure by the publishers. This work is important to consider as we think about what the implications might be for the African university (and the university systems more broadly).

Posada, Alejandro, and George Chen. 2017. “Publishers Increasingly in Control of Scholarly Infrastructure and This Is Why We Should Care.” The Knowledge G.A.P. (blog). September 20, 2017.

Angela Okune: This 2017 blog post by Alejandro Posada and George Chen was received with great surprise and shock by many activist scholars who did not realize how academic publishing companies' business strategies have leveraged the increasing widespread uptake and investment into Open Access...Read more

2017: Gates Foundation's "Open Research" Launched

Angela Okune: In November 2017, Gates Foundation launched its open research publishing platform. This email announcement highlights how Gates Foundation seeks to "enable researchers to take control of the publishing process without barriers" by making work funded by the foundation...Read more

Duffy, Brooke Erin, and Jefferson D. Pooley. 2017. “‘Facebook for Academics’: The Convergence of Self-Branding and Social Media Logic on Academia.Edu.” Social Media + Society 3 (1): 205630511769652.

Angela Okune: This 2017 paper by Brooke Erin Duffy and Jefferson Pooley looks at branding of academics and why has had astonishing uptake. The author argues that reflects and amplifies the self-branding imperatives that many academics experience. The paper highlights...Read more

Larivière, Vincent, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon. 2015. “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era.” PLOS ONE 10 (6): e0127502.

Angela Okune: This 2015 paper by Lariviere et al. analyzes the consolidation of the scientific publishing industry to assess the share of scientific output published in the journals of these major publishers as well as its evolution over time and across various disciplines. The authors...Read more