I think African Studies in all (not just Western) universities need revitalization – Big Time!

I have been saying this since my second year of undergrad but the powers that be aren’t listening to me! And I’m not the only one ranting. Some of my friends in undergraduate and graduate studies are saying the same thing. They have approached the Big Bureaus in their universities and have gotten petitions signed (University of Toronto, University of British Columbia) but there is little update, or the procedure is so bogged in bureaucracy that by the time the student advocates are done thier undergraduate career, the newbies are unacquainted or there is little follow-up, etc. so that administration doesn’t have to deal with the issue anymore:

We need more! More studies on Africa, More relevant courses, More professors, More & deeper topics, More language courses (some are now teaching Swahili and apparently by next academic term, Somali will be taught at New College, U of T – if anyone knows where other language courses are being taught, please inform), More Study Groups, More Analysis…More More More.

There’s good reason for the revitalization (and in some cases, introduction) of African Studies in Universities. Mostly my concern is that “African studies” gets put into the category of “Area Studies” and does not get the inter- and multi-disciplinary rigour it deserves. Although some courses may include topics/articles/materials regarding the continent, it’s just not enough.

I once asked my undergraduate professor and thesis supervisor, Dr. Nibaldo Galleguillos, about why they had no African courses at McMaster University and why there is very little content regarding Africa in the courses and why there is only one course (his) on Latin America, and do you know what he said to me, “Priorities, Helen.”

Here’s to a shift in priorities: Africa is the largest refugee producing continent in the world. Millions of aid dollars, much poorly spent, go to the continent. Governance is lacking. Institutional capacity, lacking. Development agenda by corporate investors and private funders is high priority. Unemployment, in too many countries, is high. HIV/AIDS, you all know the statistics. I find that HIV/AIDS is the only area of studies in health that gives the continent a lot of attention here in the West. But that’s only my perception of course.

There was also a time when a Congolese woman had a severe case of malaria, coming back from Congo after a visit, and the media jumped on it thinking that it was the first case of Ebola in North America. They even published her name in the Washington Post. But nobody talked to the closest Congolese doctor who would have informed the media that Ebola wipes out villages and is spread through human contact, as also noted after the story broke on BBC News.

So as you can see there are real ramifications for not studying a whole continent thoroughly when the world is just getting smaller and smaller. We can describe globalization all we want but there are real life situations that prove over and over that we don’t know as much about each other as we think we do.

Here’s a list of keywords describing what I would like to see more of, and what I think needs more multidisciplinary attention. There’s so much going on in our world that people in universities are not thinking about. We need to stop keeping controversy out of the classrooms!

– African refugees, Western citizenship rights (think burning cars in France 2004, think German citizenship changes in 2004 when German born immigrants were finally granted citizenship)

-Civil Society in Africa. Why not talk about this in undergraduate political science classrooms?

-Integrated health. Traditional healing practices that are widespread and effective. How can these affect our understanding of health care in the West? How can Western technologically based health-care affect practices in Africa? Study the effects of professional transfer programs (i.e. Medicins Sans Frontiers, Sisters of St. Joseph’s are involved in Haiti and Uganda med-student transfer programs). I wrote an article interviewing two doctors who developed the program on www.afrorise.moonfruit.com. I forget the issue # but I think it was January 2004. Will double check.

-African bio-diversity, ecological systems affected by pollution, resource misallocation and political problems.

-Higher Education in Africa. Underfunded, understudied. But there is definately a resurgence in funding from the corporates, so why don’t we track this and see what will happen to those entering post-secondary university on the continent?

-We talk a lot about Brain Drain but rarely do we study it in schools. The World Bank released a 300 page study, how about reading some of that in Economics and Social Studies. Why do a Master’s degree before getting in-depth?

I’ll add more to this list as I get more and more frustrated. 🙂