Intellectual Forum

26 09 2009

September 19, 2009
Counter-penetration strategy in the era of Obama

Prof. Ali A. Mazrui

In my capacity as the Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), I recently had the occasion to make some observations that are easily applicable to all the East African universities.

I noted with gratification that in its revised vision, my university has underscored its orientation towards global excellence. Globalisation is often technology driven, making it imperative for our institutions to realign themselves to the culture of technology. Indeed, globalisation has accelerated competition. It is therefore mandatory to note that it is those who are competitive, and can adjust to change, that will ultimately survive.

I therefore urged JKUAT to be proactive in curriculum development and selection of manpower capable of responding to the stringent demands of a global economy. The envisaged curricula should target the production of graduates sufficiently equipped to serve effectively in any country in the world.

To realise this goal, it is also crucial for our universities to forge strategic partnerships. This will give them a competitive edge as they participate in the international arena. Towards this end, I noted with pleasure that JKUAT is now party to the Inter-university Council of East African initiative, which is working towards the eventual establishment of a single education body to strengthen co-operation in higher education in the region. This will enable students to transfer credit from one East African university to another without a hitch.

East Africans are keenly aware that planning for the future will include tapping the skills of other societies. And, perhaps unwittingly, Kenya has been particularly active in this process. Although the population of Kenya is a quarter to a third of the population of Nigeria, there have been years when Kenya has had more students in American colleges and universities than Nigeria – though this ranking between the two African countries has fluctuated from year to year.

Kenyans are now third among African academics in American institutions, outnumbered only by South African and Nigerian academics. While in the past Kenya has been heavily penetrated by the West, we are now part of Africa’s vanguard of counter-penetration; Kenya is counter-penetrating the United States of America.Today the son of a Kenyan has counter-penetrated the White House.

When the first human being landed on the moon, he uttered what are now famous words: “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” When Obama first entered the Oval Office as President, it could also have been said, “One small step for a Black man, one huge leap for humankind”. As Commander-in-Chief of a superpower, Barack Obama has become the most powerful son of a Kenyan anywhere, at any time.

Obama is de facto the most powerful black person in the history of civilisation. This son of a Kenyan is de facto more powerful than Ramses II of ancient Egypt, more powerful than Menelik II of Ethiopia, more powerful than Shaka Zulu of South Africa, more powerful than Usman dan Fodio of Nigeria. We do not know yet whether Obama will be as great as any of those African heroes. That will depends on what he does with the power currently at his disposal. What we do know is that he is more powerful than all of those African historical figures added together.

Both Obama and his father went to Harvard University rather than to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They did not pursue engineering. But while Obama Junior is not a technological engineer, he is trying to become a historical social engineer as US president. He has grand ambitions to reform American education, health service, and renewable energy. Obama also dreams of helping to create a world which uses nuclear energy but renounces nuclear weapons. Contemporary Kenyans are destined for different forms of engineering as we engage in a culture of anticipation. The young of today have a rendezvous with destiny; some of them may have an appointment with greatness in the years ahead.

Prof. Mazrui teaches political science and African studies at State University, New York




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