Intellectual Colonisation: Insidious Debt-for-Equity Swap

Intellectual Colonisation: Insidious Debt-for-Equity Swap

/* Written 8:47 PM Aug 28, 1994 by twn in igc:econ.saps */

IMF/WB link in brain drain conspiracy

The Bretton Woods Institutions are responsible not only for the political and economic colonisation of Africa, but also its intellectual colonisation, argues the writer.


So our public universities are in a financial fix? That's hardly surprising.

The surprise is - if Education Editor Wamahiu Muya's facts are authentic - the revelation that the universities spend only 1% of their budgets on the libraries, the spinal cord of any university anywhere.

While the domestic political considerations in appointing top managers at our higher institutions of learning have contributed no less significantly in lowering the standards at these institutions, the biggest blame goes to external donors and 'friends'.

The economic and political recolonisation of the African continent by the Bretton Woods Institutions - World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) - through currency devaluations, structural adjustment programmes (SAPs) and the transfer of economic and political decision-making authority into the heavy hands of these agencies and countries is a fact now well known by many. Less known, however, are the extent and the means by which the continent of Africa is undergoing intellectual recolonisation.

The process of recolonisation is being done by creating conditions in Africa under which Africans cannot produce on equal footing in the world market of ideas - except of course, at the service and under the control of 'international' agencies.

Through a carefully and specifically packaged and targeted aid regime, these agencies determine the direction of research, the content of what is to be studied, written and voiced on the continent.

This goal of intellectual recolonisation of the continent is carried on through various means depending on the geographical location and socio-cultural realities. The essential features thereof, however, remain the same: The basic mechanism for the recolonisation of the African intellectual to think beyond satisfaction of the very basic needs.

Worst paid

Exemplary of this situation are the material conditions prevailing at the universities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, where the average wage of an academic now provides for at best four days of subsistence, and even the most minimal material conditions of intellectual production (stationery and laboratory and workshop equipment) are beyond reach of the majority of faculty and students.

With the introduction of SAPs in most African countries, academics found themselves among the worst paid in the entire world. Perhaps an advert in 1992 in Nigerian print media summed up the situation on the continent. It read: 'My employer is a comedian, the pay he gives me is a joke.'

That was the reaction by Nigeria's Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) to a devaluation of the naira in the first quarter of 1992. With this devaluation, even the vice-chancellors, who had worked for ASUU's proscription, found themselves earning an annual pay of less than US$1,000 equivalent. So they also joined those who were seeking redress.

The government's reaction was predictable: the SAP measures were necessary; all needed to tighten their belts, after all, all sectors were equally affected. The university dons needed to be told that just because they lived in ivory towers they were not automatically insulated from the hard realities in the country, and so on and so forth. All this will sound quite familiar to anybody who has lived through Kenya's Universities Academic Staff Union (UASU) struggle since November 1993.

Forced to migrate

Resulting from this situation where the dons are forced to live on their bellies, thousands of the best brains from the continent are being forced to migrate to Europe or North America, in search of alternatives to 'academic starvation' or reduce their teaching to a bare minimum in order to 'free' their time for 'extra-curricular' occupations such as running kiosks, raising poultry and any other activity that may help them to 'keep body and soul together'.

The second path to the destruction of the autonomy of intellectual production is the defunding of African academic institutions. This has been instrumental in their take-over by international agencies keen on reorganising and reshaping them to suit the agencies' purposes.

The main methods of defunding African academic institutions is the massive cuts in subsidies to education which the IMF and the World Bank impose on African governments as part of their conditions for new loans or for debt payment rescheduling. These cuts have many effects, some of which are:

* The escalation of the cost of education. The runaway increase in the cost of student accommodation, stationery and such measures. It is quite common today for African students - be they in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania, to pile up four to a room barely sufficing for two.

* The lamentable deterioration of educational infrastructure. When a university allocates only 1% to library services, it doesn't require a lot of guesswork to predict what the academic infrastructure looks like.

In the average African university today even chalk is hard to come by. Students and faculty members have to contend with frequent power blackouts, broken ventilators, overflowing toilets and deteriorating buildings. As Nigerian newspapers have often put it, studying (and teaching) in Africa is now done with tears.

* The forced dependence of African intellectuals on foreign agencies to provide economic assistance 'to keep things running'.

Most of the research in our universities is now being done on commission, for foreign institutions, agencies or individuals, who thus determine and control their content and take credit for it. A lot of time and energy is devoted to cultivating international 'links' since they are the only channel to books, journals and equipment.

New hierarchies and divisions are also emerging in the academic institutions between the 'lucky' departments of faculty members who have access to foreign 'donors' and those who don't. This pervasive academic financial drought has led to the taking over of the infrastructural facilities of African universities by foreign agencies like the Rockefeller Foundation, IDRC and others. These agencies reorganise courses they fund while normal curriculum courses are condemned to slow asphyxiation and marginalisation.

* Finally, the control of the African academic life by foreign agencies is directly established through the loans which the World Bank gives to African governments for the reform of education. While the infrastructural take-over of teachers and buildings mentioned above is the academic equivalent of a 'debt-for-equity' swap, the loans from the World Bank are supposed to extend the principles of SAPs to lecture theatres. What education 'reform' or 'rationalisation' entail may be seen from the case of Ghana - the Bretton Woods twins' darling who was 'bold enough' to bite the bullet and bring 'reason' to its educational system.

In the World Bank vocabulary, 'reason' means massive lay-offs of academic and non-academic staff, allocation of large amounts of money for hiring expatriate dons, and most importantly, a stiff increase in academic fees which has the consequence of decimating student population. The fact that should this recipe for 'academic excellence' prevail once again, as it did during the heyday of colonialism, education in Africa will be a preserve of a tiny affluent clique with the majority of the continent's youth destined for decades to do manual labour at lowest wages imposed on them by national and international capital cannot be gainsaid.

This trend has to be reversed. The question is how.

The above article first appeared in the Sunday Nation, Nairobi, Kenya; 26 June 1994. Oduor Ong'Wen is an economist working with a local non-governmental organisation.

Reproduced from Third World Resurgence; #48 Aug '94

From: "Arthur R. McGee" 
---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 1 Sep 1994 12:52:56 -0700
From: Rick Crawford 
Subject: Intellectual Colonisation: Insidious debt-for-equity swap

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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