Firing up the local production of knowledge is crucial to escaping the ‘industry of development’, writes Luca Bussotti.
Mozambique has been hailed as a model in the application of economic principles proposed by the financial system and international donors. Macroeconomic data are positive: in 2009 the growth was between four and five per cent. Seeing that data, many observers said that Mozambique would escape the international crisis, but unluckily this has been totally wrong, as demonstrated by the recent violent uprising against the government and the government’s incapacity to manage the rapid rise in the price of basic foods and utility costs. This is a consequence of the associated effects of the international crisis with the politics of structural adjustment, which tended to emphasise the quantitative instead of the qualitative factors of development, such as education, public services and so on.
This logic - imposed by the international donors but accepted by Mozambican governors - caused a greater interest in ‘helping’ Africa rather than making it autonomous. In such a way, this gave secondary importance to knowledge and the local dimension. From this emerges the paradox that, ‘African studies in the US specifically, dominates the production of knowledge on Africa’.
The very crucial point is the following: what is the relationship between the strategies of development delineated for and in Mozambique and knowledge production?
Let me begin with a paradoxical observation: in the period of the hardest Marxist regime, the academic and intellectual debate in Mozambique was quite rich. The Centre of African Studies, that, even if rather tiredly, is still functioning today inside the ‘Eduardo Mondlane’ University, represented the point of an iceberg that had its own roots in a discussion that involved local communities, cooperatives and associations.
Today, with a multiparty system, freedom of the press, expression and religion, the production of knowledge is very weak and it seems that this issue has been completely situated inside the formal structures of teaching, excluding - with rare exceptions - the local and community levels. The intellectual fervour of the ‘golden years’ embodied by the Centre of African Studies has disappeared. The result is that Mozambican society is, still today, very little known, considering that very few social scientists are prepared to try to understand Mozambican people in their daily lives.
During the ‘second phase’ of the liberalist Mozambican era that symbolically begins with the first free elections (1994), the country has seen large investments. Even if many people, including members of the party in power (Frelimo), express perplexity because of the scarce advantage these investments bring, this tendency doesn’t seem to stop. Just some quantitative data invites a deeper reflection on the sustainability of that pattern of development.
In 2005, the illiteracy rate in the north of the country was above 50 per cent, with the province of Cabo Delgado at 70,1 per cent. In the south (Maputo) it was at 12,4 per cent. At the same time, in 1991, the number of students in universities was just 7,000. In 2007 this reached 22,256, of which 15,000 were at Eduardo Mondlane University. In 2005, 218 books were published, in 2006, 226, in 2007, 278, and in 2008 only 175 - demonstrating the existence of a semi-monopolised market where the public entities do not intervene.
From this point of view it appears rather obvious that few people have an interest in promoting local knowledge and knowledge in general as a key to exiting structural dependence. Rather, as Mozambican sociologist Elísio Macamo wrote, the ‘industry of development’ continues to work, and it doesn't seem to be in the interest of the leading classes to get rid of it.
Analysing how the debate on the research problem has unfolded since 1998 at Mozambique’s main university - the University of Eduardo Mondlane (UEM) - it’s possible to note that the debate has been interesting but absurd at the same time. The academic social actors have detected all the main problems, but they admit to not having solved them.
On the occasion of the second research seminary, held in Maputo from 28-30 April 1998 and organised by UEM, an important effort was made to understand and find solutions to the principal obstacles in order to improve investigation at UEM.
It emerged that research occupies a marginal position because of the lack of controls and the lack of a body that evaluates finished works. Planning within scientific research was non-existent and there was no reason that stimulated (or obligated) a lecturer to conduct research. The students themselves usually made out their academic presence more as a passport to privilege than as a way of improving their culture, and this prevented them from wondering about the scientific ability of the teacher. In parallel, lecturers were very frequently heralding a closed minded and possessive attitude to knowledge.
Considering that senior staff at UEM were aware of the problems, it would be logical to think that a good part of the trouble had been identified and, for this reason, solved. In reality, the same obstacles have remained until today, as other researchers underline. For instance, in a text published in 2003, with the support of the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, it is said: ‘Our opinion is that we are observing in Mozambique what in Brazil has been called the cultures of repetition’. Change is possible only if one presupposes a change in the academic culture as a whole that defines the attitudes of teachers and their students toward the educational process.
In the years that immediately followed the 1998 seminar, the UEM had to face competition from other universities, mainly private, like UCM (the Catholic University, in Beira), ISCTEM (the Institute of Science and Technology of Mozambique, in Maputo), and ISPU (the University Polytechnic Superior Institute, in Maputo). The comparison, in some decisive parameters, is constantly to the disfavour of the UEM, from the satisfaction with the availability of books and the learning environment to the quantity and quality of teachers, the intellectual satisfaction, and the use of new technologies.
This brief survey in the comparative analysis of sectors is not exactly tied up with research (is it possible, today, however to conduct research with poor Internet access?) but offers further witness of how the UEM, during the years, has been unable to solve the underlined problematic aspects in a rational way.
In truth, the situation has not changed and from ‘a structural’ point of view it has even worsened. I will try to explain why:
1. The fact that there are 38 universities can be interpreted in various ways. The positive aspect is by now represented by the great didactic offer present in many parts of the country, and not only in Maputo. To this it is necessary to add that some of the main universities, both public and private, have launched a definite politics of ‘expansion’ to provincial level. For this reason, the number of ‘places’ in which ‘they do’ academics is greater than 38.
Nevertheless, some situations certainly do not favour research, but contribute rather to excluding it: the ‘formed’ teachers are still few, and only a part of them develop their activity in universities. In 2005, those in possession of a Ph.D made up only 14,8 per cent of the teaching staff. The consequence is that the quality of teaching is, at the best, mediocre, so it is almost impossible to think about developing the activity of research. This is much more evident in the case of private universities, which, besides the vocation ‘for profit’, don't have a stable teaching staff and borrow teachers from the other institutions.
2. The ‘function’ of academics in Mozambique is, at present, very clear: it’s a way of distributing titles that improve working positions in the public administration either for those already in the public service who attend evening classes or as a starting point for a professional career. Very few students are concerned with quality, even less with the progress of scientific research.
3. In contrast to the rest of the academic world, in Mozambique it is the Mozambican president that appoints the rectors of the UEM, UP and ISRI. And this is not conceived as a simple ‘ratification’ of inner decisions coming from the various universities, but a clear signal of the strong centralisation of that decision. The fact is that the rector has to answer - in a direct way - to the president and not to his internal academic peers. Subsequently, he appoints the two deputy-rectors, the directors and vice-directors of all the faculties, besides a large part of the technical apparatus. In short, till today, inside the UEM, there is no electoral mechanism related to the most important positions, with the partial exception of the academic council, which has predominantly advisory functions.
4. This favours the affirmation of the ‘principle of authority’ in comparison to that ‘of competence’. Inside UEM all the mechanisms related to career progression do not follow scientific criteria of competence, but almost exclusively seniority. Career progression is not a consequence of a teacher producing knowledge, but of whether he or she stays for a certain number of years inside the institution, which warrants almost automatic passage.
5. The bureaucratic structure of the UEM often constitutes an almost insurmountable obstacle to the speediness of procedures, included those related to research. The following data testifies how the Mozambican government conceives the public university as a part of the state, with the aim to make uniform all what is managed by the state in term of salary, carrier progression, ways of evaluation, bureaucratic structure and so on. In 2005, there were, at UEM, 1,160 teachers, against 2,367 administrative workers, a fact that favours the heaviness and lack of functionality of the whole apparatus. This creates a scarce sensibility for matters inherent to research, but also - as it happens in almost all of the Mozambican public administration - low rhythms of productivity, so provoking the paralysis of any rationalised procedure.
This is even more valid if we consider the pyramidal structure of UEM, in which the bureaucratic processes very often ‘belong’ to a specific person and the absence of the said person paralyses everything.
6. Another worrying aspect is the lack of an academic magazine from the UEM. This represents a limit to research and an easy justification for teachers not to worry about research, considering that if they do they will have great difficulty in getting published.
7. Finally - and this topic characterises almost all local academic realities and not only UEM - there is a tendency to emphasise formal aspects, a fact that imprisons any thesis or methodology of a certain originality. The result is a constant repetition of practices and themes that hardly succeed in bringing noteworthy results from a scientific point of view, especially in the area of the social and humanistic sciences. The same structure with which every dissertation must have introduced - conceived according to a positivistic and purely hypothetic-deductive logic - doesn't leave any space for possible ‘alternatives’ which, on the contrary, are usually bitterly criticised, with the author considered as scientifically undisciplined and immature.
I believe that it is very hard to imagine that a similar structure can tend towards a process of self-reform. As a great American sociologist, Parsons, has sustained, the systems and the social sub-systems act generally for inactivity, and I believe that, in the case of Mozambican academics (and also of other countries, not only African countries), this is particularly true. There will therefore have to be external factors that threaten such a sterile (at least for the production of knowledge) equilibrium. My affirmation seems well supported enough by the fact that at least since 1998 UEM had full conscience of its limits and, above all, of the possible solutions. And nevertheless nothing has happened.
Recently, the new rector, Filipe Couto, has tried to break this stasis in an abrupt and unpredictable way, imposing that all the faculties adjust the respective curricula to the Bologna Model, with a different subdivision of the courses of graduation and post-graduation (3+2+3) and the introduction of the credit system. Beyond the enormous difficulties (who will teach in the post-graduation courses, considering that to do so it's necessary to have a Ph.D degree, something that only a few lecturers at UEM have), he has laid the basis for a possible radical change. The local academic world will be forced to try to get closer, in terms of quality standards and the production of knowledge, to other international universities. This fact could, from a systemic point of view, be able to overturn the inner logics that I have tried to describe here, even if UEM is not an isolated entity, but is very deeply immersed in the political and state context of the country. Some transformations could be obtained.
For example, to reward (and to force) the teachers that want to publish, but at the same time give them a real possibility to do it by creating magazines, in paper or on-line and opening new spaces of discussion. And, consequently, to change the criteria for the progression of careers, so that it is coherent with what is happening in almost all of the rest of the world. This would mean passing from the logic of ‘seniority’ typical of public employment to one based on competition through scientific production - giving research and publication a reward also from an economic point of view.
Certainly, no measure in itself can have a decisive character. If, in fact, the Mozambican state won't understand the necessity ‘to unhook’ the academic world from political logic concerning the system of nominating academic staff and the notion of ‘public employment’, the Bologna model will be able to provoke tensions inside the weak equilibrium of the UEM structure. We are speaking of great challenges that deal with the same philosophy of what should be, today, a public university in Mozambique and, maybe, in Africa, able to produce a ‘profit’ knowledge, both from the theoretical and from the practical point of view.
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* Luca Bussotti is a lecturer of general and communication sociology and methods of research in social sciences at ‘Eduardo Mondlane’ University (Mozambique), and a member of the Ph.D Council in geopolitics at Pisa University (Italy). He is scientific director of the ‘Lusitanica’, series devoted to Lusophonic African countries, published by l'Harmattan Italia, Torino (Italy) and a collaborator in the Lusophonic program of Codesria in social sciences.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.
 A. Mama, Is It Ethical to Study Africa? Preliminary Thoughts on Scolarship and Freedom, ‘African Studies Review’, vol. 50, n. 1 (April 2007), p. 4.
 J. Forjaz, Investigação e Ensino, in Ibidem, p. 102.
 M. Mário/P. Fry/L. Levey/A. Chilundo, Higher Education in Mozambique, Imprensa e Livraria Universitária, Maputo, 2003.