Leading change

Africa should be a centre of knowledge production

Liberal democracy is under enormous pressure and its hegemony is eroded while the world is facing a general immigration crisis. This was the sentiment of Prof Mahmood Mamdani at the eighth annual Thabo Mbeki Africa Day Lecture at Unisa on 25 May 2017.

At the eighth annual Thabo Mbeki Africa Day Lecture: Sakhi Simelane (Chairperson: Unisa Council), Prof Mahmood Mamdani (Director: Makerere Institute for Social Research, Makerere University, Uganda), Thabo Mbeki (patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and Unisa Chancellor) and Prof Mandla Makhanya (Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Unisa)

Mamdani, Director at the Makerere Institute for Social Research at the Makerere University in Uganda and professor at Columbia University in New York, urged Africans to create their own theories and find their own solutions to their problems instead of importing solutions from Western nations. He said Western thinking is incapable of providing Africa with fresh ideas to turn the continent around.

“We need to rethink our aspirations, not just import theory from outside; aim differently, not just higher,” he said.

Mamdani was critical about the state of politics across the world and the implications this has for Africa. He said Africans must understand the shift in the balance of power in the global space in order to reposition the continent as a formidable player in charge of its own destiny.

He argued that Africa is part of a global village and it must think differently; academics must foreground their approach to an African perspective.

He also took a swipe at South Africa, describing its immigration policy as inappropriate and blaming the government for its poor handling of violent attacks against African migrants living in the country.

Mamdami used the opportunity to express his views on the call for the decolonisation of university curricula as spearheaded by students. He urged students to continue fighting for decolonisation at institutions of higher learning and to start theorising about their own realities.

Think using our heads

“We must not only learn to think on our feet, but also think using our heads,” he said to loud cheers.

Mamdami added that colonialism had come with the assumption that theory came from the West, and colonies had to take this Western theory and apply it. He said universities must construct new theories based on their own worlds, and create solutions and ideas based on their own communities, which will allow Africa to rise based on its own standards.

“Universities must be used as institutions where Africans are trained to theorise based on their communities and using local languages,” he said.

Prof Mahmood Mamdani argued that Africa is part of a global village and it must think differently; academics must foreground their approach to an African perspective.

Thabo Mbeki (patron of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and Unisa Chancellor) added his thoughts to the discussion.

Speaking at the same event, Unisa Chancellor Thabo Mbeki cautioned that people should refuse to keep quiet when things go wrong. His warning appeared to be in reference to the ongoing trouble in the country and concerns about the direction South Africa is taking.

“Beware of assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, for life is not a spectacle,” he said.

Prof Mandla Makhanya, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of Unisa, also bemoaned the state of affairs on the African continent. “I’m sure you will agree that in the short space of five months, 2017 has provided us with an endless supply of global, continental and national drama, intrigue and conflict, from Brexit to Trumpism to reluctant or overly zealous regime change on the continent,” he said.

The Vice-Chancellor said South Africa is not immune to the scandals that hit other African nations.

“We have our own soap operas right here at home, where citizens go to sleep every evening knowing that they are likely to wake up to a new and confounding episode every morning,” he said to loud applause.

*By Percy Mthombeni; Lead image source: http://digitalundivide.org/category/africa/