The university in Africa, the African university – Linking research to economic growth

Richard Mahomva
President Mnangagwa’s intermission with vanguards of higher and tertiary knowledge production last week confirmed the serious need for synergies between Government, academia, industry and commerce.

All development stems from knowledge dedicated to ameliorating political burdens and eradicating socio-economic problems.

Intellectual transformation that complements public governance structures, therefore, becomes imperative as Zimbabwe navigates a new path to asserting sovereign interests. We need academia to participate in restoring our legacy after the monumental November 2017 revolution.

This State-academia interface indicates urgency in bridging the knowledge-sharing gap.

Centres of higher learning should be conduits of development-oriented learning; learning that is responsive to Zimbabwe’s socio-economic renovation requirements.

The university is an epistemic nucleus of the much-anticipated development since Independence. President Mnangagwa’s meeting with university vice-chancellors and principals of tertiary institutions is also critical in setting the agenda and tone for the march towards his 100-day of policy thrust.

Success in this direction depends on recasting and reframing the mandate of our universities around serving national interests.

The new establishment’s success depends on mutual integration of the skills production sector and industry.

The optimism and euphoria surrounding the new dispensation strongly depends on new ways of thinking, and the university forms the pivot for that thought-renewal towards strategic efforts aimed at national development. Further, Government’s exchange with higher learning and tertiary institutions must serve as a defining moment for these hubs of knowledge to withdraw colonial hangovers.

Through its institutional and intellectual architecture, the university in Africa was established to produce ideas aimed at sustaining remotely immediate and long-term colonial interests.

On an abstract plane, the university institutionalised Western extracts of power, being and knowledge which were to be used in systematically deconstructing the identity of the colonised. The intellectual was to be a better model of the European man and his ideas; inspired by the West as a benchmark of civilisation. To date, the conventional function of the university has been the West’s depository tutelage of its ideas to the continent.

Less efforts have been made to empirically define that chasm of experiences and definitions of the ontological densities of the coloniser and the colony.

Conflicting contrasts of these two worlds apart have been immensely polarised by the smokescreen of Western supremacy in framing the study of politics, sociology, science and economics.

This paradigm of epistemic contestation justifies the logic of Global-South Social Science intellectuals’ perennial probe on the universality of knowledge.

On this count, the discourse of decolonising the university continues to gain traction. Consequently, Government’s lobby is crucial as it informs the need for production of knowledge that is appropriate in promoting the growth of key sectors of our country’s progress.

This proposition to liberate knowledge also resonates with the post-colonial trajectory to liberate the economy.

In the same vein, the proposition by Government should be extended to engaging the university in restructuring teaching of human rights and democracy within the benchmarks of African experience instead of Western terms of defining African politics.  In the area of humanities, teaching of identity essentialism must end.

We need knowledge that transcends glorifying tribalism and retrogressive gender stigmas. On the other hand, our political economy and public policy discourse must go beyond preservation of the colonial legacy, particularly the subtle exaltation of oligarchy capital structures.

Over the years, it has become intellectually fashionable for academics to deconstruct the importance of economic indigenisation. Knowledge generated on land reform in the last decade has prominently misrepresented Zimbabwe’s fast-track land reform experience as an odd aberration.

The popular submission by our academia is a superficial reality of agrarian reform as a lever for narrow political or electoral hegemonic interests of the ruling.

Through this perspective, this economic liberation exercise has been presented as an epitome of Zimbabwe’s inept capacity to consolidate principles of “good governance”.

This position has been sponsored by the global order infused in our concepts of understanding politics outside our indigenous experience and self-definition within the “world order”.

The historical logic of the land reform is erased in such debates, resulting in popularised condemnation of this process alleged to be undermining the rights of white settlers.

Downright dismissal of economic liberation terms in independent Zimbabwe substantiates how the university has been producing vanguards of colonial capital rather than de-colonial technocrats and economists with the capacity to acclimate academic concepts to their immediate environment. It then boggles the mind why academia has been broadly preoccupied with lobbying for colonial economic control at the expense of the majority’s vulnerability to poverty. In the process, this substantiates the gap between the university and the rest of the country’s populace, including peasant agrarian and alluvial mining societies.

Post-2000 academic, media and NGOs reporting on Zimbabwe has alienated the experiences of these communities.

Benefits such communities derive from economic empowerment programmes have been sidelined in mainstream policy debates anchored by the NGO and the university.

This shows that the current state of knowledge-production is less centred on African terms in defining the Zimbabwean experience.

Therefore, the university has the mandate to align its function to the call for Government to be responsive to the direction of development that Zimbabwe needs.

The gap between the university and informal economic communities has only led to dismal failure in conceptualising the value of incomes which can be acquired from wider benefits that could be generated from smallholder access to land.

Liberated and decolonial emphasis on economics must have profound focus on how post-colonial economic policies could be instrumental in poverty-reduction.

Bridging that gap through research would incentivise subsistence and commercial farming and provide scientific direction on Government’s review of land tenure concerns.

The university must shift its focus from conservative terms of knowledge-production to pragmatic repositioning of productivity by generating knowledge which helps harness sustainable food security models.

Factoring in the state of our broad-based dependency on land, our academia must dedicate research innovation to environment conservation concerns, simultaneously producing knowledge on gross land ownership beneficiation terms such as access to water, mineral and wildlife resources. It is in this context that one can safely argue that the university must serve as a nucleus for producing knowledge which is responsive to national interests.

However, the tragedy of our politics is “knowing” has been densely defined in terms sustaining the colonial benchmarks of knowledge-making.

Our post-Independence dispensation has also produced variant contestations as to the direction that a university should take in defining political economy questions of the day.

Against this background, our universities will be inspired to transform the ecology of knowledge and curtail their neo-liberal conservatism in promoting an understanding of our development concerns. It is hoped Government will develop this culture of engagement so that all sectors assigned to national growth may diligently execute their tasks.

Iwe neni tine basa.

Richard Mahomva is an independent researcher and a literature aficionado interested in the architecture of governance in Africa and political theory. He wrote this article for The Sunday Mail


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