HomeAnalysisThe African developmental university and African future

The African developmental university and African future

THIS is the second and final part of the Annual Joshua Nkomo Memorial Lecture delivered by Professor Sabelo J Ndlovu-Gatsheni, organised by Joshua Nkomo Legacy Foundation at the Midlands State University on June 7, under the theme “In memory of Umdala Wethu: African Intellectuals, African Developmental University and African Futures”.

Changing idea of the university

Alexandria & Timbuktu Model: University of Qarawlyine/Karawiyyin in Fes in Morocco (859 CE), University of Al Azhar in Cairo in Egypt (972 CE) & Sankore University/University of Timbuktu (982 CE).

The Western (Kantian Model/Humboltian-Newmanian Model): Bologna (1088), Oxford (1096), Sorbonne (1150), Salamanca (1218), Coimbra (1290), Paris Napoleonic University (1808), Humboldt University (1811)

The Colonial Model: University of London and its versus overseas campuses: westernisation, colonisation of the mind and cultural imperialism.

African Developmental University/Yusuf Model: Africanisation, African-self-definition, liberation from pitfalls of consciousness, reinvention of African identity, supportive of the national project, and catching-up & development (rise of universities of technology).

Popular model of university: popular education, non-elitist people’s university underpinned by interests workers/proletariat.

The Neo-Liberal-Bureaucratic-Corporate-Managerial Model: commodification, innovation, technology and entrepreneurship (a boost to universities of technology).

De-colonised model of the university: indigenous, activist institution, accessible, multilingual, relevant, responsive and historically anchored in society (grappling with problematic pasts and uncertain futures).


The struggle for universities: Edward Wilmot Blyden, Casley Hayford and others agitated for an “African university” from as early as the 1860s: indigenous university promoting African personality and African nationality rather than destroying it.

Challenges of creating an African university (Julius Nyerere (1963)): “There are two possible dangers facing a university in a developing nation: the danger of blindly adoring mythical ‘international standards’ which may cast a shadow on national development objectives, and the danger of forcing our university to look inwards and isolate itself from the world.”

Positionality of the African university (Ali A Mazrui (2003)): “A university has to be politically distant from the state; secondly, a university has also to be culturally close to society; and thirdly, a university has to be intellectually linked to wider scholarly and scientific values of the world of learning.”

Definition of African University: Association of African Universities (AAU- formed 1967): “The truly African university must be one that draws its inspiration from its environment, not a transplanted tree, but growing from a seed that is planted and natured in the African soil.” It has to shed-off being an ivory tower and be active in eradicating poverty on top of producing practical knowledge and producing skilled people and promoting pan-African unity.


 The Nairobi Memo (1968-1969): abolition of English Department: “Why can’t Africa be at the centre so that we can view other cultures in relationship to it?”
 Ibadan School of History: countering imperial/ colonial historiography and centering Africa in human history/ oral methodology/ Africanisation of curriculum.
 Dar es salaam School of History: class analysis (political economy), writing history from below, inter-disciplinarity and counter-hegemonic histories.
 Dakar School of History: Cheikh Anta Diop and Egypt as an African civilisation/ countering colonial racist historiography/ calling for African Renaissance
 The Council for the Development of Social Science in Africa (CODESRIA) (1973): independent intellectual space to pursue research, political economy approaches and Africa-focussed research.

Crisis of African higher education

 Rising political authoritarianism: one-party-state and military dictatorships;
 Declining academic freedom: state versus academics;
 Cold War coloniality: Either left-leaning or right-leaning;
 The decline of African economies meant lack of funding for higher education by the end of the 1970s;
 Brain drain: migrations of academics to Europe and North America;
 Washington Consensus & Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs): marginalisation of Africa in global affairs, renewal of dependency, and closure of policy space;
 Academic work was abandoned as the remaining academics concentrated on survival (consultancy and sycophancy); and
 World Bank came up with the idea of importance of secondary education over higher education.


 Fall of public universities;
 Rise of private self-funding universities — entrepreneurial universities;
 Invasion of universities by “business models” and turning of universities into “capitalist enterprises”;
 University was turned into a “marketplace” as education became commodified; and
 Rise of “academic managerial class” using corporate practices to govern universities.


 Humanities and social sciences challenged to justify existence;
 “Proleterianisation” of professors;
 Escalat
ing costs of education and turning students into customers;
 Rise of antipathy to love of ideas and critical thinking;
 Evaluation of scholarship assumed the quantification model and endless reports;
 Education underwent instrumentalisation as more and more people sought certificates, diplomas and degrees without any concern for knowledge itself (pass examinations, then throw away the books and seek remunerative occupations);
 Obsession with internationalisation at the expense of indigenisation;
 Role of academics and their stature diminished in society; and
 Academia lost its attraction as a profession.

Nature of present crisis

1) Crisis of hegemony:
 Functions of the university (high culture, elitism, universal knowledge, excellence versus relevance, social justice, empowerment) (academic vs. intellectual);
 Failure to handle contradictory functions; and
 Not the only site of production of knowledge (internet & digital world).
2) Crisis of legitimacy:
 Complicity of the university: racism, patriarchy, sexism, colonialism, capitalism, genocides, epistemicides, linguicides, culturecides, and alienation;
 Recognition of diverse knowledge systems; and
 Accessibility & relevance (values, knowledge and skills).
3) Institutional crisis:
 Autonomy/ivory tower: social embeddedness and social responsibility;
 Academic freedom (rights) versus epistemic freedom (justice); and
 Academic democracy: right to participate in university governance.
African future: Epistemic freedom and requirements of ‘Education 5.0’
From mis-education to re-education
Carter Godwin Wilson’s book titled The Mis-Education of the Negro (1933) implores us to critically examine the impact and implications of colonial education on our minds and invites us to think about re-educating ourselves.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o in De-colonising the Mind (1986: 88): “How we view ourselves, our environment even, is very much dependent on where we stand in relationship to imperialism in its colonial and neo-colonial stages; that if we are to do anything about our individual and collective being today, then we have to coldly and consciously look at what imperialism has been doing to us and to our view of ourselves in the universe.”
Ashis Nandy in The Intimate Enemy (1983:3): “Perhaps that which begins in the minds of men must also end in the minds of men.”
1. Cultivating black consciousness: a process of learning to unlearn in order to relearn (mis-education to re-education)
2. Delinking: not about autarchy, but privileging logics of internal initiatives in the process neutralising logics of external effects of global capitalist system
3. Rethinking thinking itself: It entails recovery of subaltern/other knowledges as part of a drive to break out of epistemic and systemic crisis.
Epistemic freedom
In July 2018, I published with Routledge a book titled Epistemic Freedom in Africa: Provincialisation and De-colonisation, where I introduced the concept of “epistemic freedom”.
1. Nkomo fought for the “political kingdom” and delivered it, our generation have to deliver “epistemic freedom”.
2. “Epistemic freedom” is not a substitute for “academic freedom”, but a deepening of it.
3. Epistemic freedom is targeting “cognitive injustices”: refusal to recognise the diverse ways through which different people make sense of the world and their lives (diverse ways of knowing)
4. Epistemic freedom (intellectual sovereignty in production and reproduction of knowledge): Right to think, write, theorise, communicate and interpret the world from where we are located and this set afoot new humanism and ecologies of knowledges.
Search for relevance and repositioning of ourselves in the domain of politics of knowledge and knowledge production;
Sovereign subjectivity: restoration of ontology, self-definition, and self-ownership;
Re-humanisation: creation of new forms of life—full humanity;
Giving birth to inventive human beings: turning the colonised into craftsmen and craftswomen;
Rejection of mimicry and subversion of the law of repetition: being in charge of one’s destiny and creator of one’s future;
Negation of colonial time: against theft of history and claiming history — relocating one’s self in human history;
Setting afoot new humanity: “For Europe, for ourselves, and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts, and try to set afoot a new man.”; and

Re-membering: picking up the fragments from dismembering and reconstituting ourselves as doers/producers not mere consumers.

Requirements for Education 5.0

 Zimbabwe’s shift from “Education 3.0” to “Education 5.0” predicated on a heritage-based philosophy of education — is a sign that we are taking de-colonisation to the epistemic level (epistemological de-colonisation).
 Provincialising Europe (over-representation) and De-provincialising Africa (under-representation): moving the centre, shifting geo-and bio-of knowledge, expanding the shoulders of giants.
 Reviewing our disciplines: constitutive formation, fitness for purpose, relevance, value for money: avoid “disciplinary decadence”.
 De-colonial critique of dominant knowledge: unmasking what is concealed, avoiding fundamentalism (Eurocentrism to Afrocentrism).
 De-colonising normative foundations of theory (Cartesian and Enlightenment Reason): progress, social evolution, emancipation and development: “philosophy” and “idea” of (a history, pre-history and history).
 Rethinking thinking itself: recovery of subaltern/other knowledges as part of a drive to break out of epistemic and systemic crisis.
 Learning to unlearn in order to re-learn: paradigmatic shift from what was meant for colonisation to what is meant for liberation and freedom
 Ecologies of knowledges: university/subversity/pluriversity.


The knowledge which took us to the current state determined by the will to power and paradigm of war — producing superpowers that use their weapons of mass destruction to impose their will on others — cannot be the one that takes us to a better world of peaceful coexistence underpinned by social justice.
This is why it is urgent for us to seriously consider a de-colonial turn, which privileges what has come to be known as “theory from the South” and “epistemologies from the South” — which underscore the necessity of cognitive justice.

Immanuel Wallerstein in The Uncertainties of Knowledge (2004: 58): “I believe that we live in a very exciting era in the world of knowledge, precisely because we are living in a systemic crisis that is forcing us to reopen the basic epistemological questions and look to structural re-organisations of the world of knowledge.

It is uncertain whether we shall rise adequately to the intellectual challenge, but it is there for us to address. We engage our responsibility as scientists/scholars in the way in which we address the multiple issues before us at this turning point in our structures of knowledge.”

Professor Ndlovu-Gatsheni is the acting executive director of Change Management Unit (CMU), vice-chancellor’s office at the University of South Africa. He has published extensively in African history, African politics, and development. His major publications include The Ndebele Nation: Reflections on Hegemony, Memory and Historiography (2009); Do ‘Zimbabweans’ Exist? Trajectories of Nationalism, National Identity Formation and Crisis in a Post-colonial State (2009); and Redemptive or Grotesque Nationalism? Rethinking Contemporary Politics in Zimbabwe (2011), among others.

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