Acceptance Speech by President Dr Jacob Zuma on the occasion of being awarded an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Philosophy for his contribution to education and human development at the American University of Nigeria
10 December 2011
Excellency the Vice President of the Republic of Nigeria,
Excellency the former Vice President of the Republic of Nigeria, Atiku Abubakar,
The Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American University of Nigeria, Mr Ahmed Joda,
The President of the American University of Nigeria, Dr Ensign,
Faculty Members and Students,
Fellow South Africans;
It is with a great sense of honour that I accept this humbling but yet prestigious award from one of the reputable tertiary institutions in Nigeria.
As I brace myself to receive and accept this honour, I do so on behalf of my country and its people, as I regard this honour as recognition of South Africa and its role in the continent and the world.
I am particularly pleased to be receiving this honour from an African country which has become the epicenter of renewed hope and optimism on our continent.
I am aware that the honour I am receiving today is the highest that a University can bestow on an individual, and I heartily thank you for that.
Even more humbling is the list of very deserving and eminent personalities who have received it before. This is an honour I am proud to be associated with.
This honour is without doubt reflective of the cordial relations we continue to share with the government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
What brought us here in Nigeria is to ensure that we are able to add more value to the work we have done together, and indeed the journey we have travelled together thus far.
This journey is of two nations who have for years shared a common vision of a better Africa and a better world.
Higher education institutions and the broader education sector are a partner in this journey.
Institutions of higher learning are not just producers of knowledge; they are also our light to guide us in this journey.
The knowledge they produce for society should serve as our roadmap in this journey which is full of challenges facing this continent.
I have no doubt in my mind that the American University of Nigeria is one amongst our higher education institutions that we can count on in this regard.
The state of education in Africa is a concern, yet this is one sector that is critical to generating the human resource capital required for our development.
It also makes social mobility possible for the poor and the disadvantaged.
For me, ladies and gentlemen, education should be made a priority for the people of Africa, and indeed the world.
Not a single nation shall prosper without education. We should ensure that education is used as a tool for development.
However, of the top 100 universities in the world, it is hard to find a single one from Africa. The list is dominated by United States and European universities, with a few from Asia and Latin America.
Of course, we may not agree with the criteria being used to determine the top 100 universities.
It may be that the criteria is one-sided and ideologically loaded.
This notwithstanding, one of the factors behind the lack of global competitiveness of our higher education institutions in the area of knowledge production is the lack of resources and institutional capacity.
We know the history behind this.
First is the colonial legacy, as colonialists saw this continent as nothing but a source of cheap labour and raw materials.
The natives were thought to possess no intellectual capacity but only muscles to toil and sweat.
While independence led to the establishment of many universities across the continent, these were later destroyed by the twin combination of the onslaught of political repression and the Structural Adjustment Programmes which saw education as one area for budget cuts.
When the free-minded academics were locked up in prison, student demonstrators were chased down the streets, and libraries and laboratories being shut down, the days of our universities became numbered.
The African academic community met in November 1990 to adopt the historic “Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility” and declared that the “intellectual freedom in Africa is currently threatened to an unprecedented degree’’.
They added that “No African intellectual shall in any way be persecuted, harassed or intimidated for reasons only of his or her intellectual work, opinions, gender, nationality, ethnicity”.
Since then, the situation has significantly improved, with the democratization movement gaining ground and democracy consolidated in parts of our continent.
But we must add that it is also important for African academics to advance the development of the African continent and that this becomes visible in the perspective. Their perspective cannot be the same as intellectuals from outside Africa who only see negativity only in Africa.
Our intellectuals are in a better position to offer a more accurate and balanced view of the continent which helps the African leadership to correct mistakes and build a better Africa, while not pushing a view of total chaos and mayhem.
Another challenge, however, is the brain drain that aggravates skills shortage that Africa needs in order to navigate the super-highway of its renewal.
We should do our best to attract back to Africa our intelligentsia in the Diaspora to contribute to the rebirth of our continent.
For us in South Africa, the education system we received was meant to keep the South African people apart from one another.
It was meant to breed suspicion, hatred and violence, and to keep us “blacks” backward. The Apartheid education’s system was formulated in order to reproduce racism and exploitation.
Moving from the premise that education is the most vital instrument for the promotion of justice, democracy and development, post-apartheid South Africa uses education as a vehicle for change, empowerment and total emancipation.
We see education as a vehicle for the realization of the right to development, which is a human right. It is a central tool to nation building.
The highly respected Professor Ali Mazrui defines an intellectual as “a person who has the capacity to be fascinated by ideas and has acquired the skill to handle most of them effectively”.
Africa needs these ideas, but let me reiterate that these ideas must be truly African. Professor Molefi Kete Asante has for some years been calling for an Afrocentric epistemology and knowledge system.
I am reminded here by one of your very own writers of all times, Chinua Achebe, who said:
“Decolonising the mind was not only relevant for our struggle for political liberation but also for economic freedom. Hence, I see education as that weapon we should use for economic emancipation of Africa which is imperative for the renewal of the African Continent.”
This issue of the decolonisation of the mind was also important in Ngugi wa Thiongo’s concept of African intelligentsia. To him, African intellectuals are alienated from their people as they rely on European languages which, like all languages, are a repository of memory, history and culture. Therefore part of the decolonization of the African mind must entail using our indigenous languages.
Our higher education department in South Africa is promoting this back to basics, back to our languages approach.
The journey towards the renewal of Africa has been a long one, and this university is part of it. You can best play your role as a higher education body when you give us ideas to guide us in every step we take.
But these ideas must be truly African, Afrocentric, and geared towards the full emancipation of our continent.
You will have done a great service to Africa, if you continue to promote and develop African thought, and African excellence in everything you do as the African intelligentsia.
Once again, thank you for the honour, and thank you for making me one of your own.
I thank you.