What About Our Young Scholars? [analysis]

A study conducted by A.T. Kearney’s came out this week saying Addis Ababa is ranked third among cities en route to becoming a global leader from middle-and low-income countries in the next two decades.

This has created a lot of excitement among many of us. This pretty much means that our city is going to be one of the top global cities in the “low income countries” category. I take this excitement with a grain of salt, perhaps even a larger share of the commodity. I’ve been traveling to New York City and Washington DC these past week, cities that are considered to be part of the most global ones in the world. One thing that I couldn’t help but notice is that very few of all the people I met in New York or DC were in fact from New York or DC. As exciting as it is to be a global city, it makes me wonder where the people who were born and raised in these global cities end up? Do they move away? Why? Can they no longer afford to live in those cities? Are gentrification and “global-ness” going to come hand in hand? If the implication of becoming a global city is that people from Addis Ababa aren’t going to live in Addis Ababa, should we be excited by this news?

That being said, there’s another commonality between these two global cities it is very common for people to ask you what you do before they even ask you your name. This is more so in DC than in New York. Networking is such an important thing that people carry their business cards anywhere and everywhere. The question, “What do you do?” has always been a confusing question for me. I can’t quite come up with one answer there’s so much I do, can’t quite find that ONE term that brings it all together. However, as discussions about where I’m from come up, the conversation directly goes to how entrepreneurship is becoming such a big thing in the African continent, especially among young people. Young people developing technologies, programs and establishing companies that are impacting different aspects of the continent is truly an inspiring thing to experience. But all this talk of entrepreneurship makes me wonder what place young African scholars have in the development.

This really got me thinking, different African cities have incubations for businesses and start-ups. There are numerous competitions by different companies looking for the next big idea from the African youth. So why aren’t there similar projects supporting young scholars from and in Africa? I’m not arguing that the focus on business and entrepreneurship is wrong. In fact I think that it’s a great way of making sure that the next large companies or start-ups that end up being the next big thing in the world can and will come from Africa, M-PESA being the most recent example. However, the same way we are shaping and molding the future business moguls that meet needs and solve problems in Africa, we have to make sure we shape the next generation of policymakers who are capable of making policies and laws capable of meeting the needs of their people. And for that we need to have funding, centers and everything in between to provide space for our scholars to study, research and present their findings. In order to find homegrown solutions to our problems, we have to have homegrown researchers, it is that simple.

The lack of focus on building a generation of homegrown scholars means that we will have to constantly depend on research conducted by researchers abroad or by universities abroad. The audience that these researches are written for is not an African one, which means that the content of the research may not cater to the pressing needs of the people in the different African countries or it may not even be accessible to them. One might say that the different universities in Africa are the hubs for research on Africa by Africans. But I would highly disagree with that, the reason being that there are very little scholarships offered to African nationals to study in universities located in an African country other than their own. In addition, the value we place on research published in foreign universities versus African ones is not the same. There are many reasons for that, and as long as we keep ignoring and not solving them they will not cease to exist. There is a larger focus on natural sciences, especially in Ethiopia where the 7030 policy requires that 70 percent of college students be enrolled in natural sciences and 30 percent in the humanities. This policy has had numerous consequences, one of which happens to be the closing of the History Department at Addis Ababa University due to lack of students. I find this to be cause for alarm for the simple reason that there is so much that we are still to discover about our past, and most of the books written about Ethiopian history is by foreign historians. By placing less emphasis on humanities, we are discouraging the youth from building careers in such fields.

The full extent of the impact of this policy is yet to be seen, but from the initial impact it’s definite that certain changes need to be made. Not all policies are perfect from the beginning but through experience policymakers would learn the art of crafting a functional and forward-looking policy. Part of the lesson to be taken from this is that perhaps we should not neglect the need for more researchers, research facilities, funding and education in the humanities as they will be the policymakers of tomorrow.

Source : The Reporter

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