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Africa higher ed forum offers new innovative ideas

Victor Kakulu
Africa higher ed forum offers new innovative ideas
SOMPATT 2010 Founder E. Dovi Abbey (second from left) is surrounded by panelists at SOMPATT 2010: Highlighting Educational and Cultural Trends in the African Diaspora. The forum, held at Boston University’s College of Communication, discussed the challenges and advances Africa is facing in higher education. (Photo: Victor Kakulu)

At the onset of the recent Golden Jubilee of Nigerian Independence celebrations, Professor NT Izuchi, celebration committee chairman of Boston’s Nigerian American Multi-Service Association, stressed the significance of wording the celebration just right.

“Every nation has an inalienable right to independence. African nations were not founded by colonialism,” Izuchi said. “Thus, it’s important we recognize Nigeria’s independence day as an anniversary of regained sovereingty as opposed to a day of materialized freedom.”

The significance of this statement was on full display at the SOMPATT 2010: Highlighting Educational and Cultural Trends in the African Diaspora forum, which convened last Saturday at Boston University’s College of Communication.

The event, named for fish species found along the Senegambia Coast which buries itself in mud to survive the dry season, carried the aim of discussing the advances and challenges of higher education in Africa.

Forum Founder E. Dovi Abbey noted the potential of the event to provide a healthy exchange of thought provoking dialogue necessary for genuine advancement.

“The purpose is to foster a dialogue among Africanist scholars, Africans, the African Diasopora and those genuinely interested in Africa in order to reflect on the challenges, progress, and hopes in the 21st century in a manner that transcends stereotypical representations of the continent,” Abbey said.

Attendees heard spirited presentations from an impressive list of distinguished scholars.

Former Senegalese Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Cheikh Tidiane Gadio delivered a rousing keynote address stressing among other things the importance of recognizing the commonality among Africa’s nations.

In explaining the underlying set of native customs, values and traditions that bond the continent as one great fabric, Dr. Gadio added, “We must understand that we are unique parts of a common whole. The challenges to the Yoruba are not Nigeria’s alone but that of the Wolof in Senegal, Gambia and so on. We must recognize this and unite on a centralized platform.”

Questions and comments were presented neither in search nor in suggestion of an ultimate answer, but as an exchange of strategies and ideas.

Panelist Dr. Zoliswa Mali, coordinator of Southern African Languages at Boston University, said he believed the rich dialogue was very significant.

“This is an eye opener for everyone here. It truly gives a broader and deeper understanding of not just African Studies, but the history, the advances and challenges at the center of the issue,” Mali said. “I love the fact that people are speaking. It richens the possiblity of what can be done moving forward.”

Yet, many African nations are marred by political corruption, economic instability, widespread disease epidemics and infighting across cultures and geographic boundaries, viable solutions are indeed essential.

Enter Aboubacar Sedikhe Sy, founder and president of Sup de Co Dakar, the first private business school in French-speaking West Africa.

In his call for a “localization of knowledge,” Sy stressed the importance of young graduates having a vision that encompasses the issues.

Since creating the Groupe Sup de Co, Ecole Supérieure de Commerce de Dakar (Superior School for Commerce of Dakar) in 1993, Sy has strived to achieve just that.

Though it is no secret that the expansion of telecommunications and finance sectors have yielded an influx of opportunites for local staff recruitment among African companies, the same cannot be said at the executive and managerial levels where the chief technicians and top managers are all too often non-Africans.

At the root of this dilemma is the difficulty in training executives to operate in these capacities. For this reason many companies from a variety of sectors are collaborating in institutions of higher education in Africa.  

In 2008, specializing in information management, the Sage Group extended to Senegal an educational program they’d started in Burkina Faso designed to train 12 teachers and 1,300 students to operate the company’s business management software.

The adapted program enabled more than 1,000 Senegalese students and 18 teachers from three schools in Dakar to obtain valuable software training. Sy’s Sup de Co was one of the schools.

“Our goal is to raise the level of African development to the world standard,” he said.

It would be impossible to determine any one ultimate issue at the center of Africa’s problems. Yet, it would be equally difficult to deny the argument of Dr. Jemadari Kamara, associate professor of Africana Studies  and  founder/director of the Center for African, Caribbean and Community Development at the University of Massachusetts/Boston.

Saying the nature of leadership was “exceedingly important,” Kamara asked everyone to consider the instilled values and sustainability of the innovations installed.

“Go to the people and live with them,” Kamara said.  “Work with what they have, build on what they know. And in the end they will say, ‘We have done it ourselves.’ ”