Professor Mammo Muchie is one of the leading pan-African voices championing African innovation for development. He spoke to Pusch Commey and argues that educational and innovation systems in Africa are still too colonial and need to be revamped if Africa is to undergo a technological and digital leap that benefits its people.
New African: Current global trends in education point to a shift towards creativity and innovation. Why is this of such great importance?
Prof. Muchie: Inevitably it is through creating innovative products to sell to the whole world that we will be able to generate more wealth and develop our economies.
So where does Africa start?
Africa should start with its children. The whole educational system on the continent needs to be revamped and developed into an African-centred one. We need to do away with the “David-Livingstone-discovered-the-Victoria-falls” type of education.
The content of education is therefore extremely important. It requires support for African publishing houses, to produce and innovate African-centred books and the curriculum, which put African children in touch with African success stories, other than Snow White. Our children need to be taught that Africa is the cradle of civilisation and was behind the creative wonders of antiquity, until that creativity and innovation was interrupted. We need to teach our children of these great achievements, such as the construction of the great pyramid of Giza – which to this day, still confounds scientists.
The evidence of Africa’s greatness is everywhere for our children to see. They only see [images of] the architecture of the Nubian civilisation and the great pyramids. They also know very little about the artistic creativity of the ancient Nok in Nigeria – a civilisation that predated Jesus by centuries. Timbuktu is another, and there are the bronze works of Benin. People often forget or simply do not know that the first university in the world was African – the Al Karaouine University – founded by an African woman in Fez, Morocco in 859 AD. I am not the one saying so. The Guinness Book of World Records says so. And the second university in the world was also African – Al Azhar in Egypt, built in 969 AD, which still exists today. Europe saw the lecture halls of a university a full 229 years after Africa; the University of Bologna in 1088 AD.
How can this be implemented in today’s world?
The emphasis must be on critical thinking and problem-solving. Apart from giving the current and future generation a strong historical foundation, the next step should be to introduce an emphasis on creating stuff, making stuff, selling stuff, and solving problems. And that must begin at the stage of early childhood learning.
African education should position itself in that space as early and as quickly as possible. Knowledge is now available on the internet at a touch of the button. We should invest in the latest tools.
The rest involves applying that knowledge, in order to create, make, innovate, and sell. But innovation requires the seamless cooperation of governments, schools, universities, the private sector, research laboratories and financial institutions.
But is there anything wrong with the current educational and innovation systems in Africa?
It’s colonial. They are steeped in the image and knowledge systems of the colonialists and need to be revamped. They reinforce supremacist thinking which still makes Africans feel or grow up thinking other races are better and can innovate better than them. There is a need to re-introduce African knowledge systems, as well as the use of African languages into education systems.
There are serious deep-rooted challenges around that. What can Africa do?
Africa needs to unthink the unthinkable. We need cultural liberation and that calls for thinking deeply outside the box, and one way to achieve that is for our education curriculums to be rooted in unearthing and promoting the great scientific and other contributions Africans have made in the past. And for these to be accepted as modes of learning and training for new generations.
Africa must radically redesign and re-engineer its education to promote the true origin of all the sciences and arts from Africa. There must be a deep emphasis on creativity and innovation. The historical perspective, including a real African spirituality, should be the foundation stone.
People often ask, what happened to Africa, given all its past greatness?
What happened to us is 500 years of destruction, concealment of African achievement and the generation of false narratives about Africa, to support and justify the destruction. This has not stopped. Then there is the promotion of a white saviour narrative. These are all tools of domination and oppression. But the game is changing.
How are we going to achieve all these education and innovations objectives if universities and even the African Union are still going around seeking funds from the West?
That has to change. We all know that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Indeed some European institutions do indeed have good intentions and come in the spirit of mutual cooperation. Others do not. This is why it is imperative for us Africans to build our own resource capacities to fund our core projects and innovations.
What is the way forward?
African economies are growing. More millionaires and billionaires are being created. They must invest in education, research, creativity and innovation. It will surprise you that in America and various places, it is government and private funding of creative research institutions and military research that has produced most of the technological marvels of today.
Many entrepreneurs have invested in funding research at universities, which has then been applied to practical problems in society. African entrepreneurs should actively pursue that pathway. The ones that are best suited to developing products that solve the problems of Africa are homegrown creative and research institutions. They must be incubated locally. A one-size-fits-all approach, designed elsewhere, does not work well in Africa.
Like the structural adjustment programmes of the IMF?
Correct for 10 points. You have made my point.
*Professor Mammo Muchie is an author of several books on innovation and education. He is currently a Research Professor of Innovation Studies at the Institute of Economic Research on innovation at Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, South Africa. He is also a research professor and fellow of many other institutions and academies.