13 DECEMBER 1963, Page 11

No Ivory Tower in East Africa?

HE university leaders of East Africa have I just been to Lake COmo to meet their makers. It is out of the question for Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika to finance out of their modest budgets very much of their university's triennial development programmes. Yet the de- mand spirals for home-grown African graduates —so much so that some most worthy professions, above all university and secondary school teach- ing, are priced out of the African graduate market. The World Bank usually advises African governments that higher education is almost the best bet for steady overseas support—the mission to Kenya, for instance, 'assumes that the capital requirements of higher education will be met from abroad and from local private donations.' This assumption is well on the way to proving right. Lake Como has largely belied the tone of mounting desperation with which the outside Committee on Needs and Priorities of the Uni- versity of East Africa passed in review the university colleges' cool plans for spending millions in the next three years without any visible means of finance.

The assembled philanthropists at Lake. Como consisted of the British and West German Governments, the US Agency for International Development and the American foundations. Sir Andrew Cohen arrived with a cheque for just over a million pounds hanging out of his pocket, which put him at a distinct psychological advan- tage during the review of 'the Plan' which the East African three had brought with them. Others had to contemplate their own constitu- tional processes for a while before coming up with the hard cash. But by the time the East Africans hacj left the lakeside villa (courtesy of Rockefeller Foundation) for home they knew they had the whole of the recurrent costs and half of the capital costs of the Plan guaranteed; they could give the go-ahead to the builders.

The story behind the Plan is an academic cliff- hanger which casts an oblique gleam on the current state of East African politics. The essen- tial background is that until very recently the one and only centre of higher learning in East Africa was situated in Uganda. This was Makerere College, which was founded as long ago as 1923 with the expressed aim of growing into a university.

Functionally, East Africa is for many pur- poses, and has for many years been treated as, one; this is the ' practical foundation of the current attempts to build a political Federation. There is a Common Market, a Currency Board, a whole range of common services administered by a central organisation—and a university. Uganda, the one member of the partnership without a coastline, is highly sensitive to any appearance of the two coastal States 'ganging up' against her or deciding things between them on the implied assumption that she would make an acquiescent and hence junior 'third.' Common activities and institutions had, even before inde- pendence, seemed to Ugandans to be excessively centred on Nairobi. The one East African insti- tution clearly identified with Uganda was Makerere.

Uganda's reaction was therefore explosive when the politically innocent Committee on Needs and Priorities suggested that first priority over the next three years should be given to letting the two fledgling colleges—Royal College, Nairobi, and University College, Dar---which have been federated with Makerere to make the University of East Africa, catch up on Makerere's lead. Judged by this criterion, Makerere's 'needs' were assessed at very close to nil. It was even suggested that the builders should down tools on Makerere's existing build- ing programme, the buildings be left unfinished and the money transferred to the weaker brethren.

The bargaining between Uganda and the other two over the Development Plan to be presented at Lake Como began to assume the same pattern as that over other aspects of federation in the region. Uganda has shown a fierce determination not to be 'had' by what seems to her, brooding in the interior, to be the co-conspirators of the coast; this in turn has produced a standing order for all Uganda delegates in any sphere to refer frequently to Dr. Obote in person; and the delays thus imposed drive Tanganyika and Kenya to the point of threatening to refuse to waste time on what might turn out to be phoney nego- tiations. The university leaders, wishing to keep out of politics, had the delicate task of glueing together an agreed Plan, accompanying the Ministers to Lake Como so that they could jointly make the case for it and hoping against hope that the pieces would not conic apart under the raised eyebrows of the indispensable benefactors.

By a rather narrow margin, all this was accomplished. Uganda is rumoured to have made a test case of girls' dormitories for Makerere at the last minute and the price of East African good behaviour before wealthy hosts was, it appears, duly paid by Kenya and Tanganyika.

The obtaining and sticking to an agreed plan was not the only test that the East African spokesmen were called on to pass at their viva voce before they could be sure of their money. The benefactors, who are by no means unin- structed about the state of opinion in East Africa, must have wanted evidence that the crisis of confidence between academics and African politicians that had preceded, accompanied and persisted beyond the inauguration of the new degree-giving university, with Julius Nyerere as Chancellor, in July of this year was moving to- wards resolution. The high proportion of old Makerere graduates (not to mention 'old Make- rere ungrads') in East African politics acted as something of a shock-absorber between the wilder political attacks and the 'Oxbridge' academics who grew out of a tradition of insula- tion from anything so crass. But men like Mwai Kibaki, the Kenyan politician-economist and Makerere's first First, were prepared to shield the university only on terms: that it came down from the ivory tower.

There are four sepafate but related issues under the catch-all heading of 'Africanisation': entry level of students; syllabus; staff; and atti- tude to the community. One could almost para- phrase all except the stall question by saying: to what extent should Makerere (and the uni- versity) become more like an American State university and less' like Oxford? It is never easy to explain exactly why an institution gets stuck. Any acquaintance with Sir Bernard de Bunsen, whose leadership brought the college to its present high standing in the academic world and who has just become the full-time Vice- Chancellor of the university, disproves the most

obvious answer: this is not a case of a rigid Principal. Sir Bernard is manifestly on the side of flexibility and adaptation. Part of the answer is that until this year, when the college joined an East African university which could award its own degrees, it was tied to the University of London syllabus; part of it is that what now appears to the outsider to be last-minute changes under pressure were in many instances being planned some time ago. But there is a residue of truth, whatever the explanation, in the out- sider's impression that the academic community very nearly got caught by the political changes in East Africa with its ivory portcullis down.

To take the staff problems first, Makerere has been employing African dons since 1946; yet few have stayed long enough to become senior members of the staff. One of the few, Dr. Wassawo, a Kenyan scientist highly respected by the academic community, has recently be- come Vice-Principal, a job that goes in rotation (and which, as somebody pointed. out might, with a little more imagination, have been given to him two years before). Until the new academic year there were only ten Africans out of a teach- ing staff of 140; the same politicians who would demand Africanisation of higher education out of office would, when they .became Ministers, bid for bright graduates to be their civil servants at double academic salary. Now, a positive effort to get Africans on the staff by raising funds for supernumerary posts so that qualified Africans can be made 'dons extraordinary' with- out waiting for vacancies to occur (by which time the African candidates would have gone elsewhere) has boosted the numbers from ten to twenty-eight. As time goes on, staff problems will become more acute. Many expatriate dons have half an eye constantly directed to the British academic market now so as to know at precisely what juncture they should reappear on it; they take a dim view of any adaptation to political necessity which might involve them in 'sub-university' work and so devalue the cur- rency of their academic record. On the other hand, if expatriates are encouraged to see their careers in East Africa there is a problem of morale if white staff are bypassed by a less academically eminent black candidate for a chair.

The syllabus at Makerere has been radically revised as a result of the severing of the umbilical cord tying it to London. There is a far greater African, East African and 'underdeveloped economies' bias to the Arts courses. A new Faculty of Social Sciences groups many of the BA subjects that are specially relevant to Africa's problems and links them with an MA degree course in African Studies and the work of the hitherto rather separate East African Institute of Social Research. The question of the entry level of (mainly African) students remains controversial; it is logically separate from the problem of exit level, which is the dons' most legitimate worry. The quality of a firSt degree does not have to he lower if the student spends four years at a university immediately after pass- ing School Certificate, as critics propose, than if, as at present, he goes there for three years after Higher Certificate. But the European civil servants who still dominate the Education Ministries have for .a long time been advocating the supreme merits of sixth forms at secondary schools--hence the need for Higher Certificate work there to qualify for University.

In my opinion, the Committee on Needs and Priorities used against the 'sixth-form' thesis two near-fatal arguments. There are next to no ,graduate teachers locally available for sixth forms---African graduates are not

interested, existing British teachers are going home or are not graduates, and the whole scheme, which is presently propping up the edifice of higher education in East Africa, would come to an abrupt end if the two-year tours of British and American graduates under the 'Teachers for Africa' scheme were seriously treated as the 'once-or-twice-for-all' stopgap they were origin- ally supposed to be. Secondly, the sixth-form 'boys' are mostly twenty-two or twenty-three years of age. They are not school prefect material but men who need an adult environment.

There is a third choice, advocated by Tom Mboya and by a British educational expert em- ployed before the last election by the Kanu Party in Kenya : the creation of junior colleges, on a pattern favoured in some American States. They would have two functions : to round off the education of those who will never make a uni- versity but who, because of manpower shortage, will inevitably fill middle-level jobs of responsi- bility; and to prepare ex-schoolboys for the university.

One of the cardinal difficulties in educational planning is that no one knows how much high- level manpower East Africa will need and when. The one survey made did not really meet the case. There is no danger of the local colleges being submerged with students if a decision is made that the exit level must be lowered and the entry level brought down proportionately. The important valve which regulates the educa- tional system is at the end of intermediate schools when only a small percentage of pupils go on to a full secondary course. (Uganda is planning to have in ten years the same proportion of an age group in secondary schools as Britain at present has' in universities.) It is far more likely that the plant now being built in three separate territories will be for a long time under-used. Obviously everyone would like to hold the quality-line of the first degree at the present (or British) level if possible; but if East African demand for 'graduates' is so high that expensive plant in East Africa is under-used while American-type first degrees are being obtained in large numbers overseas in order to keep up supply, the question is bound to be asked whether the American habit of giving real academic status to advanced degrees is not more appropriate to East African conditions.

Finally the African criticism which is perhaps most preoccupying the dons at the moment is the question of how the university colleges are to be integrated into East African society. They simply cost too much—and spend too much— to be inconspicuous in poor countries. The British dons are accused of being too timid in coming near the water of contemporary (and thus potentially controversial) issues. The Africans feel that they are entitled to advice and help from any resident 'wise men' in their country. Colin Leys's plans for his new Political Science Department at Makerere should be a test of the water and of the sincerity of politicians. How will African politicians react to the circulation of background briefs on their problems, written, as they inevit- ably must be for some time to come, mainly by independent-minded white men? Well, at least they have asked for them.