AFRICA: Negative views on reforms

African higher education must move towards "supranational management" to prepare for a United States of Africa, said Professor Lansana Konaté during a debate at the University Cheikh Anta Diop of Dakar in Senegal. Participants expressed negative views concerning recent reforms on the continent, such as introduction of qualifications from abroad and exclusion of women.

Konaté, a professor in the faculty of sciences at UCAD, was addressing a conference on higher education reforms in Africa. Le Soleil of Dakar reported that he emphasised that the World Bank's higher education improvement programme had been an "obvious failure" between 1984 and 2002, and that "We must move towards supranational management of present universities as a transition towards the United States of Africa".

Speaking on "Cultural continuities in Africa", Hamady Boucoum of the Institut fondamental d'Afrique noire, IFAN, and Director of Senegal's Cultural Heritage, said that cultural practices in Africa crossed political and administrative frontiers which had divided the peoples that culture and history united.

Chérif Salif Sy, who contributed a paper on costs of higher education in Africa, warned against international diplomas which abounded in African capitals. "You're taught in Dakar and you're given a diploma signed Laval or Quebec. This practice is just commercialisation of higher education which turns its back on the needs of Africa," said Sy.

Professor El Hadj Niang of UCAD's faculty of medicine, who spoke on public health, criticised the brain drain phenomenon. "There are more Beninese doctors in the Paris region than in Benin," he pointed out, adding that Senegalese radiographers and psychiatrists preferred to stay in France than return to their own country.

Dr Fatou Sarr Sow of IFAN, speaking on "The question of gender and the University of the United States of Africa", said that women - who had played a decisive part in producing knowledge in many Muslim countries, such as Morocco in the 9th century, had been progressively excluded from this role by male religious and political codes, through a certain interpretation of the Muslim religion, particularly in Senegal, or by application of the Napoleonic civil code.

Tracing the early history of the continent, Guinean historian Professor Kjibril Tamsir Niane said it concerned geographical areas and not states in their present form. Faced with lack of knowledge of this history on the part of most Africans, Niane called for new history textbooks to make such studies easier and promote "its repossession by Africans" to build the United States of Africa. "We cannot develop on foundations of contributions from outside," Le Soleil reported him saying.