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Social Text 22.2 (2004) 81-99

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Globalization and Professionalization in Africa

Although it is often claimed that Africa has "fallen off the globalization map" in the 1990s, the globalization process has had more dramatic consequences for the African continent than for any other region on the planet. African nations have been among the first targets of the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have imposed on indebted countries across the South. African nations have also been subjected to systematic "disinvestment," which has reduced them to their former colonial role as producers of raw materials and labor power for the international economy.

These developments have torn African societies apart. The dismantling of local industries, the privatization of economic assets, and the defunding of the public sector have stripped Africans across the continent of their most basic means of subsistence, leading to an unprecedented increase in unemployment, poverty, migration, and social conflict. The situation has also profoundly altered the schooling process. In the aftermath of adjustment and economic disinvestment, there has been an attempt to replace the educational and professionalization systems that had been constructed in postindependence Africa with a technocratic system of professional formation aimed at producing political and economic elites aligned with the interests of international capital and the goals of structural adjustment. This program so far has not succeeded, given the tremendous resistance to it from students and faculty across Africa. Nevertheless, it has already irreversibly transformed the "social contract" that had prevailed between the new generations of Africans and the state, in which education and professionalization played a crucial role. It has also made African societies more vulnerable to the "recolonization" drive at the core of globalization and the neoliberal agenda. Not least, it has undermined the production and distribution of knowledge in Africa, making it increasingly difficult for African intellectuals and professionals to carry on their work and participate in the global exchange of ideas.

Thus much is at stake in a discussion of the present state of professionalization in Africa, and not for Africans alone. In recognition of this fact, our article concludes with a code of ethics that expresses our solidarity with our African colleagues and also pertains to our own struggle [End Page 81] against the "enclosure of knowledge" and the construction of professionalization as a means of social exclusion and elite formation.

African Professionalization in the 1960s and 1970s

The application of structural adjustment to education and professional training is a pervasive feature in contemporary Africa and can best be described as a reversal of the educational policies that the African states had adopted in the postindependence period. Creating a large cadre of "organic" intellectuals in charge of making Africa politically and economically independent had been one of the first priorities of the new African governments, which had to cope with the lack of educational systems, the flight of colonial "experts" (e.g., medical doctors, engineers, bankers, teachers), and the demands of a new generation of young people whose expectations had been shaped by the anticolonial struggle. In this context, education and professionalization were unambiguously seen as tools of "nation building," and the launching of new educational programs and institutions was justified in the name of the nationalistic slogans of the day.

Exemplary of this rhetoric are the imperatives agreed upon by the participants in a conference sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1962 on the development of higher education in Africa. In defining the postcolonial mandate concerning education, the conference made "development" the drumbeat to which the university should dance and insisted that African universities should "maintain adherence and loyalty to world academic standards." The conference's concluding document, based on the consensus of the leading figures in African higher education, also recommended that national labor needs should determine the courses offered and the students' distribution among them, and that African governments should give priority to scientific and technological training (UNESCO 1963, 49). But it stressed above all that the role of higher education...


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pp. 81-99
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Archived 2005
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