The university in Africa versus the African university
Last week’s instalment critically located its assertive projections on the “ought to be” function of African tertiary intellectualism. The article challenged the current epistemic crisis of reproducing Western ideas in Africa’s higher centres of learning.
This culminates from a history of the Global-South’s peripherialisation and the perpetuity of Eurocenticity in negating aspirations of Afrocentricity and pan-Africanism in exhuming institutionalised evils of coloniality.
All African re-awakening epistemologies have remained suppressed and trivialised. African nativism and its other defeated ethnicities, for instance nationalism has failed to deliver the mandate of decapitating coloniality in all its other forms.
The place decoloniality of the university in Africa
While “decoloniality” emerges as a contemporary trajectory in the bigger epistemic family of African nativism; it is imperative to note that the conversation of liberating Africa and the Global-South is old as the cradle of coloniality. As explained in last week’s article, coloniality breastfeeds the attitudes, prejudices and normalised Westernisation of the “post-colonial” institutions.
Coloniality is the manufacturer of the anecdotal fallacy which inelegantly parades westernisation as modernisation which the Global-South must embrace. In this context to be modern means following the standards set by the West to define how Africa must think.
Tragically, Africa’s centre of intellectualism — the university has been constructed by coloniality to conserve “world” standards of knowledge production. In this case ideas of the empire and its hegemonic cushioning constitutes the meaning of the idea of the “world”.
As such, decoloniality represents an antithesis to this myth as it advocates for the recognition of other “world (s)” beyond the idea of the “world’ which Westernisation imposes to other “humanities continents and epistemologies.
Professor Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni challenges the notion of having a single centre of knowledge while “humanity” is defined by plurality — humanities.
A University or Pluraversity?
As a consequence the African university must be a producer of knowledge(s) and not knowledge. This is because the idea of producing knowledge instead of knowledge(s) assumes that “ontological densities” are not plural and should be uniformly defined by the West’s arrogation of thinking — as if it is the ultimate master of all reason. It is as if “thinking” does not go beyond the West’s self-made centre. Against this background, Ndlovu-Gatsheni (2016) advocates for a transition from having universities which are not African in Africa. These universities are only geographically located in Africa, but their relevance to Africa is null. This is why decoloniality of knowledge seeks to “shift the geography of knowledge” (Ndlovu-Gatsheni 2015). We need not to have a “university in Africa” — one which epitomises the bigotry of Europe.
Therefore, decoloniality comes in as a de-westernising panacea to Africa and the rest of the Global-South’s imprisonment of reason.
Freeing reason and bringing the “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” (Freire 1970) to the center remains critical if Africa’s path to freedom is to be found.
This way a new humanity will be born and as such plurality of “being” will be the new foundation global citizenship. Only then shall the “university in African” be a pluraversity and the dream of the “African university” materialising. In Sabelo Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s long-sighted perspective, this transition will produce an ecology of knowledge(s) in the world — where all humanities are equal. In the foreseen “world (s)” of “being”, all members of humanity shall borrow knowledge(s) from one another with no prejudice.
However, as it stands Africa and the rest of the Global-South is a captive of uniformed modernity whose parameters are Western. This is why the “university in Africa” is not producing knowledge that sustains the welfare of reason which can fully develop Africa.
The research methodology, theoretical framework and the classroom culture of the “university in Africa” is not African, it is western in every sense. Any thinking which evokes re-centering the center and is unwanted — it is dissident. In the standards of the “world-order” all dissident thinking must be jailed, hence the role of the university as panopticon — a prison — surveillance centre if not an epistemic concentration camp.
Panopticism: A crime of the university in Africa
I am compelled by the liberty of knowledge decoloniality to borrow “relevant” explanation of Africa’s knowledge crisis. The measure of knowledge relevance is explained in terms of its theoretical compatibility rationale with the lived realities of a particular people.
As such, I will borrow the grounding for this particular analysis of knowledge coloniality from Michel Foucault, a French philosopher (1977) in his analysis of social punishment and surveillance systems.
In panopticism, the watcher ceases to be external to the watched — the prisoner. Rather than exterior actions, the gaze of the watcher is internalised to such an extent that each prisoner becomes his/her own watcher. In our case, in the developing world where we claim freedom from coloniality we find ourselves going back to colonial standards to measure our development.
In this case, the university in Africa is a panopticon — a building with a fortification at the center from which it is possible to see each cell in which a prisoner is confined. Through the panopticon all prisoners are visible, but they cannot communicate with the jailors. The panopticon induces a sense of permanent visibility that ensures the functioning of confinement. Foucault vividly describes the panopticon:
“At the periphery, an annular building; at the centre, a tower; this tower is pierced with wide windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other.”(Foucault 1977: 200).
Therefore, in our case, the “university in Africa” is a panopticon as its source of function incarcerates all thinking that is purely African. Our methodologies of thought are dissident and now what then is the function of the university as panopticon: “All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery.
They are like so many cages, so many small theaters, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible” (ibid).
This is why Eurocentricity is at the centre of the function of the envisaged university of Africa. All knowledge we are producing makes us economic prisoners and workers of the Western system. This is the major reason for the resistance of decoloniality in the Global-South. This is the reason why decoloniality has been tribalised and is beginning to be classified like other ethnicities of African nativism.
Transcending the coloniality of decoloniality
The current theming of African nativism within the juxtaposed paradigm of coloniality and decoloniality might have Latin American origin, but the marginal experience of economic, political, cultural and spiritual subjugation belongs to the entire Global South.
Decoloniality sets the pace for re-membering African dismemberment which dates back to the birth of Western expansionism. As a result, coloniality continuously resurfaces as the durability of the epistemologies and agents of the empire from slavery, colonialism up to post-colonial times in the Global South.
Therefore, coloniality will always surface to reduce all redemptive trajectories. As such proponents of decoloniality values must remain loyal to the values of pan-Africanism and making sure that their cause is not diluted by fake liberal benevolence to the plight of the Global-South.
Just like the pitfalls of national consciousness, decoloniality of knowledge must be safe infiltration and becoming a revolution vehicle which will lose its way.
The academic has the mandate to make sure that we decolonise. It’s not an option, our mandate is to shift the epistemic lens from “workers of the world unite” to the Bandung Decolonial Spirit “colonised people of the world unite”.
You have nothing to lose but invisible and visible chains of coloniality. (Ndlovu-Gatsheni’s response to last week’s article)
Richard Runyararo Mahomva is an independent academic researcher, Founder of Leaders for Africa Network — LAN. Convener of the Back to Pan-Africanism Conference and the Reading Pan-Africa Symposium (REPS) and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org