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Photo source: Youth Village

I am a young African man with four university qualifications under his belt, yet, as is the case with many of my peers, adequate employment has been a challenge to obtain on offer.

Having traversed both Angola, my native land and Namibia where I have lived for 17years, the hardships in suitable job placement were and are so remarkable that I too was left flabbergasted at the current dismal employment situation of our Southern African Development Community nations and how the much sought after qualification papers, do not serve for guaranteeing employment as our parents advised during our study days; not so as to blame them.

Our parental generation is one that endured the stark reality and duress of oppression, which limited the African man and woman’s every desire for self-autonomy, determination, adult suffrage, and personal-desired-future-building. As such, their generation placed heightened emphasis on education—for which we salute—as a means of emancipating oneself from past constraints and plotting one’s future as willed.  

The continent’s status quo, however, is one that leaves millennials [1985 onwards], with an economic reality that leaves much to be desired. But then again, in such hard times – as in any situation—individual perspective, creativity and activity are strong “guarantors” of income in today’s setting. With that being said, the more pressing issues are those related to social structures and how they currently operate. Universities are pumping out more graduates every year, yet the way in which this is done, is not only questionable, but also dubious. 

The purpose of a university 

In my opinion, the purpose of a university is to capacitate the many [young people who pass through it] with progressive knowledge and instruction so as to compel enough self-autonomy that subscribes to building and benefiting the local and greater society, consequently pushing mass consciousness forward thus empowering and emancipating the said masses. In simple terms, universities should capacitate and mould individuals with a keen and critical analytical viewpoint thus making them less susceptible to exploitation or control and more able to compose their desired reality. 

A university that grows progressively and sustainably can very much drive and make contributions to national growth, thus exemplifying such a symbolic tripartite: university – society – government development framing and accurate policy drafting. Tertiary institutions should thus be agents that trigger span social advancement. 

This may be done by African universities robustly envisioning to teach, nurture, research and bolster community engagement so as to increase individual standing and not necessarily that of the market; doing this by symbiotically engaging academia and span human projects – one cyclically flowing into the other. The former dealing with knowledge creation and sharing as well as decolonising standing Eurocentric knowledge constructs. 

The African curriculum remains one that magnifies European standing whilst ignoring the local in order to “please the market”. It is full of content that believes that Africans should aspire for the European and North American idea of development, thus forcing African feet into Western shoes. The status quo, as it stands, African universities are storehouses of knowledge to capacitate and train individuals for market servitude. 

Universities, in liaison with government and other interested sponsoring bodies (banks, non governmental organisations etc.) aim to ensure the individual is taught and accredited with skills that ensure the markets’ continuance, compensating him “accordingly”, so as to keep him docile enough to continue working, yet rarely to emancipate him from his duty, freeing him towards his own higher endeavours.

Market bodies (not just African), in their donations to African governments and educational institutions, convey the scope of the market arena, highlighting its gaps and how individuals should be skilfully trained to best cater to the said gaps. The individual outcome is thus to primarily empower and enrich actors that the individual either doesn’t know or actors whose driving goals are far from any that can directly return and remunerate the individual or his visionary standing in a way that progressively leads to his emancipation or that of the many.  

Other than favouring colonial knowledge, tertiary institutions in highly multilingual societies, such as Namibia and Angola stick to primarily offering curriculum in the foreign oppressors’ languages, which remain a minority, yet the primary teaching media (English and Portuguese). As such, epistemic colonial hegemony, patriarchy and intellectual arrogance (we learn about the “world” wars yet nothing about our true African History and African systems) not only goes unpunished, but is driven by the status quo, which is dire. 

It is wrong that the importance of knowledge comes to be gauged inasmuch as it contributes to market and national needs. This then dilutes critical thinking, which is fundamental in its own solitary right.  It eventually dawns upon most newly employed youth that their pawn-like stance en face the market organisation is to incessantly funnel their essence into the latter thus guaranteeing its continuance, like a cog in a machine. The individual’s existence primarily [rather than solely] interests the organisation merely for his input to their output, often having his true skills and potential for contribution minimised or altogether ignored – even if beneficial to the institution. 

Why, because rarely will the capitalist institution grant you leeway or capacitate you enough to have you branch off freely [now empowered with more market knowledge and skill] capable to do the same as them thus competing or at least creating divergence, perhaps doing this better than them, for you don’t abide by the same laws of oppression you were subscribed to in their tutelage. 

The majority of the renowned “fortunate” few, position themselves accordingly within the organisation and after happily bartering a few decades of life as a cog, they have accumulated knowledge, connections and experience, to branch off and create their life’s calling which drove them to the tertiary institution in the first place.

As is evident from our generational predecessors and their way of doing things [one must have ten years of experience for a position you have been highly educated for] and based on the reality of the few fortunate young, that due to their radical nature were vibrant and fortunate enough to craft and attain their desired reality after peeping the orchestrated capitalist market plot, the aim of capitalism is to blindside and subjugate the individual with useless shiny perks [loans, insurance, dental plan, many days off etc.]  to keep him docile and working.  

The global market thus lives to convey an “alluringly enticing” false reality. Europeans and North Americans are basically saying “be exactly like us or you aren’t worthy in our books”. This is evident in how African universities aspire to and thrive to be known in international bench-marking lists based on Africans and their standing in the ranking of global universities. 

This is a problem! Bench-marking lists stem from European and North American institutions, which aim to control the subjectivity of knowledge and subvert the epistemic and socio-economic autonomy of universities elsewhere – thus ensuring no radical dissent from the status quo, which guarantees their [Europe and North America] exorbitant market wealth at the world’s expense.  

Divergence from the status quo is imperative if we are to achieve any system [academic or corporate] that is better than the current status quo, where the drivers, leaders of markets, always ultimately benefit whilst the cogs are pacified with the minimal because of current economic hardships, exorbitant taxes or whatever else we are told as justification for the down spiralling market. 

My advice would be to shift focus back home [I know, it sounds fairly cliché, but it is not!], tapping into our diversity as a means of creating solid globally aware, yet locally emphasised curricula that exalt equality and equity in the name of offering robust Afrocentric education [which has never been done before], as all other advancing nations or continents do. 

Politicians should adopt a language of inclusivity in plan-setting so as to foster encompassing and representative epistemic scope that highlights and brings to the fore even Africa’s most ignored evident data. 

In my personal opinion, a need for radical dissent from the status quo, which keeps pumping out students in the same manner, is direly imperative so as to not only counteract the norm, but most importantly create an empowered African body of knowledge.


*Samuel D. Pascoal writes from Namibia.