The place of private higher education in regional institutions in Africa: the case of the OAU/AU and the intergovernmental authority on development.

Author:Tsegaye, Kebede Kassa
Position::Organization of African Unity - African University - Report


In the early 1960s, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) had been the principal continental body entrusted with the coordination and harmonization of continental initiatives. Its main areas of focus in those formative years were decolonization, political independence, nation-building, state sovereignty, and the fight against apartheid. However, the 1980s and 1990s witnessed the evolution of a number of sub-regional groupings such as ECOWAS (1975), AMU (1989), SADC (1992), IGAD (1996), ECCAS (1999), EAC (2000), and CEN-SAD (2000). Some of these 'supranational', sub-regional, multilateral and intergovernmental institutions have come to play increasing roles in defining common social development goals by, with, and for their member states.

The present study looks into the place of education, as one of the key social development agenda, in regional and sub-regional organizations with particular focus on the decisions, policies, strategies and programs adopted and implemented by the OAU/AU and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) since their establishment, in 1963/2000 and 1986/1996, respectively. The central argument advanced in this paper is that despite the importance of certain social development issues, such as education, in nation-building and socioeconomic transformation, institutions prioritize social development sectors largely based on their major raison d'etre (reason for existence) and the latter changes through time. The reasons for institutions' existence are those fundamental objectives enshrined in their founding documents (charters, treaties, protocols, constitutive acts, agreements, etc.).

The subsequent sections examine these instruments to see whether or not education in general and private higher education in particular features prominently or marginally and why in the priority areas of the OAU/AU and IGAD.

Objectives of the Study

As the author alluded to above, education is a key component of knowledge/technology generation, preservation and transfer as well as building societal capacity to deal with wealth creation, adaptation, resilience, freedom from wants, and human security. Though education is a life-long process, higher education builds skills or competencies and provides access to enhanced job opportunities and broadens the choices of individuals as well as societies. Levine and Havighurst (1992:39) argue "... that education provides a channel not only to better socioeconomic status, but also to social mobility in the broader sense." Mobility, in contemporary discourse, refers to 'national transformation' suggesting accelerated change which is presumed to lead to accumulation of capital, investment and employment creation. In this regard, policies and strategies, whether they originate at national, regional or international level, provide a positive or constraining environment in the development of education or education for development.

The objectives pursued in this study are three-fold:

* to explore the importance attached to education as a critical engine for socio-economic transformation in the context of the OAU/AU and IGAD since the time of their respective establishment;

* to determine the extent to which private higher education has been treated in the policies, strategies and programs of these institutions; and

* to outline future areas of intervention to mainstream private higher education in continental and regional initiatives.

Methods and Data

The methodology used in this paper is a simple descriptive and historical approach. It is more of qualitative and interpretative than quantitative assessment. Therefore, most of the data are derived from the various documents (declarations, decisions, policies, strategies, special initiatives, and plans of action). The analysis follows a narrative and textual interpretation. In most cases a chronological order of events is used during which major decisions or initiatives have been launched. The time span for the data covers from 1963, the year in which the OAU was launched and 2015. The latter is witnessing an ongoing preparation of a new Continental Education Strategy for Africa for the period 2016 to 2025. Though the draft document does not bear the title, this seems to imply the Third Decade of Education in Africa. The document is consulted for the purpose of this paper to see if there is a shift in emphasis on private higher education in Africa.

Importance Attached to Education within the OAU/AU and IGAD

As noted in the introduction section, the OAU/AU's work on education, though with varying emphasis through the different stages of its development, is rooted in its key founding documents: the Charter of the OAU adopted in 1963 and the Constitutive Act of the AU adopted in 2000. The OAU Charter mandated the then newly established continental Organization to enhance, among others, "Educational and cultural cooperation" (Article II, 2 (c). To this effect, the Charter also envisioned the creation of Specialized Commissions for different sectors, one of which was the "Educational, Scientific, Cultural and Health Commission" (Article XX, 2). Similarly, the Constitutive Act of the African Union mandates the Executive Council (Composed of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Member States) to coordinate, among others, "education, culture, health and human development" as well as "science and technology" (Article 13, 1 (h) and (i)). In a manner similar to the OAU Charter, the Constitutive Act of the AU also provides for the establishment of Specialized Technical Committees one of which is the "Committee on Education, Culture and Human Resources" (Article 14, 1 (g)).

Therefore, various policies, strategies and programs of action of the OUA/AU emanate from such mandates bestowed up on the different policy organs of the Organization, including the Secretariat and Africa's development partners in the field of education, notably the UNESCO. The latter is regularly called upon to provide support for the practical implementation of regional policies and strategies in relevant sectors of its own mandates.

In retrospect, it is important to note that the first Summit Conference of Independent African States, held in May 1963 in Addis Ababa, urged member states to strengthen cooperation in education and culture as a means of breaking linguistic barriers and promoting understanding among peoples in the continent. This shows that quite early on, greater importance was attached to education as catalyst for the final goal of achieving African Unity. Moreover, education was seen as one of the weapons for African independence and decolonization. As part of this overarching objective, the 1963 first Summit Conference of Independent African States decided "... to receive on the territories of independent African States, nationalists from liberation movements in order to give them training in all sectors and afford young people all the assistance they need for their education and vocational training" (OAU, 1963).

In addition to their emphasis on the promotion of education in its broader sense, the founding leaders of the OUA recommended the establishment of an institute of African Studies to be a department of the African University proposed by Ethiopia (OAU, 1963) [emphasis added]. As we shall see later, the actual implementation of this particular recommendation on promoting higher education took nearly half a century, but surely this decision reflects the leaders' realization of the importance of higher education for Africa's development. It was also a precursor to what has now become the Pan-African University (PAU), a conglomeration of higher institutions of learning located in five regional centers of the continent: Algeria (North Africa), Nigeria (West Africa), Cameroon (Central Africa), Kenya (East Africa) and South Africa (Southern Africa).

A decade later, in 1973, the tenth Ordinary Session of the OAU Heads of State and Government, called for the "... adaptation of educational programmes to African realities and ... the promotion of an African system of technical cooperation particularly, in education" (OAU, 1973). The importance of this decision should be seen in the backdrop of challenges related to the inapplicability of colonial education for emerging post-colonial African contexts, particularly in relation to the burgeoning task of nation-building and re-making of African history. Here, too, reference is made to education in its entirety. However, the desire to 'adapt education to African realities' implies the need for building skills and competences that are needed to fill the gap in the new administrations of independent African States thereby amplifying the importance attached to skills-based education within the OAU countries.

Consistent with the relevant provisions of the OAU Charter, Article 25 (1(g)) of the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community provided that a Committee on Education, Culture and Human Resources be established to...

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