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Bringing down the ivory tower mentality: Academic activism for 21st Century Africa



This paper seeks to challenge the ‘ivory tower’ mentality that seems to typify most of Africa’s academics in the 21st Century. Its main argument is that African academics are not playing their critical role of transforming Africa’s socio-economic and political conditions for the better, through activism. Thus, it contends that they have failed to be change agents. The paper further argues that African academics need to be activists and not conformists, as seems to be the case in present times. Also, it notes that as activists, they must champion social justice in Africa in order to propel democracy and social advancement causes on the continent. It concludes that ‘academic neutrality’ is not an option in the present times, as it makes academics complicit to the tyranny and bad governance that is prevalent in most African countries.
Bringing down the ivory tower: Academic activism for 21st Century Africa
A paper presented at the International Conference on Activism in Africa 12-13 January
2017, Lisbon, Portugal
Ndangwa Noyoo
Associate Professor
Department of Social Work, University of Johannesburg
Auckland Park, Kingsway Campus
South Africa
Tel: +27 11 559 4119
This paper seeks to challenge the ‘ivory tower’ mentality that seems to typify most of Africa’s
academics in the 21st Century. Its main argument is that African academics are not playing their
critical role of transforming Africa’s socio-economic and political conditions for the better,
through activism. Thus, it contends that they have failed to be change agents. The paper further
argues that African academics need to be activists and not conformists, as seems to be the case
in present times. Also, it notes that as activists, they must champion social justice in Africa in
order to propel democracy and social advancement causes on the continent. It concludes that
academic neutrality is not an option in the present times, as it makes academics complicit to
the tyranny and bad governance that is prevalent in most African countries.
Key words: Academic activism, activism, Africa, ivory tower, social justice
Ndangwa Noyoo is a former student activist. He was part of the group of 32 University of Zambia (UNZA)
students who were detained in 1990 by the One Party State Dictatorship of Kenneth Kaunda and the United
National Independence Party (UNIP), for instigating a country-wide uprising against dictatorship, and for calling
for Multi-party Democracy in the country. Due to this, in 1991, Kaunda and UNIP were voted out of power after
ruling Zambia for 27 years.
The writer cannot be a mere storyteller; he cannot be a mere teacher; he cannot merely X-ray
society’s weaknesses, its ills, its perils. He or she must be actively involved shaping its present
and its future - Ken Saro-Wiwa
And if a man happens to be 36-years-old, as I happen to be, some great truth stands before the
door of his life… some great opportunity to stand up for that which is right. A man might be
afraid his home will get bombed, or he’s afraid that he will lose his job, or he’s afraid that he
will get shot, or beat down by state troopers, and he may go on and live until he’s 80. He’s just
as dead at 36 as he would be at 80, and the cessation of breathing in his life is merely the
belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. He died… A man dies when he refuses
to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man
dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true Martin Luther King Jr.
This paper concerns itself with the role of academics in Africa who are mostly based at
universities across the continent. The assumption of this discussion is that African academics
are not playing their requisite roles of change agents in societies that seriously require political
change and social transformation. Rather, it seems as if they are more inclined to entrench the
status quo existing in their various countries. After blazing a trail in the first two decades of
Africa’s independence, the continent’s brain trust, the academics, seem to have gone into a
hiatus. Arguably, in the last two decades, Africa’s academics have not risen to the occasion, to
practically and effectively change the deplorable socio-economic and political conditions on
the continent. Curiously, many have not robustly challenged the oppressive and dictatorial
political systems still existing on the continent. It looks as if they are preoccupied with esoteric
or apolitical activities that do not remove them from their comfort zones on the one hand, or
they are focused on survivalist endeavours in order to make ends meet. This paper advances
the idea of academic activism which will have to fill the socio-political and cultural void that
is arguably currently occupied by reactionary and retrogressive forces in Africa. Nevertheless,
it must be noted that academic activism is not something that is novel to Africa and the paper
will spend some time on this issue in the following sections. Suffice it to say, some African
academics/intellectuals paid the ultimate price of death by being activists. For example, in the
recent past, the late Ken Saro-Wiwa who had stood up against a brutal military dictatorship in
his country Nigeria died for his efforts. The first quotation above, preceding this paper’s
introduction, is derived from him. Saro-Wiwa was hanged by the Sani Abacha regime on 10
November 1995.
Saro-Wiwa was highly critical of the brutal Nigerian regime which was also very corrupt. He
worked tirelessly for the well-being of his Ogoni ethnic minority group in Nigeria, whose
homeland is known as Oginiland and is located in the Niger Delta. Mainly, he fought to protect
the environment of the area which had come under threat through the extraction of crude oil by
the Royal Dutch Shell Company. Poignantly, the oil proceeds had not developed this region
but other parts of Nigeria, since the discovery and exploitation of oil in the 1950s. At his death,
Saro-Wiwa was heading the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) which
employed non-violent campaigns in order to make the Nigeria government and Shell Company
account for their wanton destruction of the Niger Delta’s environment. Aigbogun (1995),
whilst reporting for the Independent Newspaper of the United Kingdom, vividly captures Saro-
Wiwa’s hanging:
It took five attempts to hang Ken Saro-Wiwa before the Nigerian writer spoke his last words and
his body went limp. “Lord take my soul, but the struggle continues,” were the anti-government
activist’s final words before he died on Friday morning, blindfolded and dangling from a rope.
Others did not pay such as a heavy price, but were equally passionate about their struggle and
were committed to their activism work and had also been jailed by oppressive regimes. In
Kenya, the late Wangari Maathai who worked tirelessly in the area of the environment was
incarcerated by the Kenyan government due to her activism. In earlier decades, another
Kenyan, the celebrated academic Ngugi wa Thiong’o had been detained without trial by the
Kenyan regime for speaking out against its corruption and tyranny. Further afield, in an earlier
period, the radical Guyanese academic and political activist, Walter Rodney, had paid the
ultimate price and was assassinated on 13 June 1980. In the same league was Frantz Fanon
who not only preached revolution but executed it. Others that come to mind are Jean-Paul
Sartre, Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis, among many others. In 1990, in Zambia, this author
and his colleagues who were student political activists at the University of Zambia (UNZA),
had done the unthinkable and changed the country’s course of history and catalysed the demise
of the One-Party State Dictatorship of the founding president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda and
his United National Independence Party (UNIP) after being in power for 27 years. This
historical fact has either been deliberately buried or distorted in Zambia’s political narrative
for 26 years. Nevertheless, the student revolution had in fact been consummated in academic
spaces, even though the students were not academics. This was also, after a long time, that
academics and students jointly forged a common struggle that sought to dismantle Zambia’s
One-Party State Dictatorship. As a point of departure, it is important to bear in mind that
academic activism, as advocated in this paper, is about changing the status quo. Also, it hinges
on the notion of social justice. However, most societies discourage and penalise ideas and
writing that threaten the ruling status quo (Alinsky, 1971). Whilst bearing in mind the foregoing
issues, it is imperative to delve into history, first by looking at the global level and then second,
by focusing on Africa, in order to locate academics, scholars or intellectual in the process of
social change.
Intellectuals and social change in human history
From time immemorial intellectuals of various societies have provided the impetus for social
change. From ancient societies such as China, Greece and the Roman Empire to the anti-
colonial struggles in Asia and Africa, intellectuals have been at the forefront of effecting
fundamental social and political transformations in their societies. This may be due to the
positions they occupy in such societies as they are mostly the creators and disseminators of
knowledge. They spend most of their time searching for truths that define human societies and
then write about them. For example, the Greek philosophers wrote extensively about social
change and the Chinese had well developed theories about it. The idea that human beings can
intentionally improve society and even create ideal societies was first advocated by a group of
social thinkers known as Utopians (Midgley, 1995). In Europe, that continent was moved from
the Dark Ages by intellectuals during the Era of Enlightenment and the Renaissance period. In
Asia at the turn of the 20th Century, intellectuals in that region were in the forefront in the fight
against colonial rule. Notably, in countries such as India, Malaysia and Singapore, the
intellectual class was the one that was heading anti-colonial nationalist movements. The same
can be said of the case of Latin America where intellectuals were involved in toppling
dictatorial regimes and spearheading revolutions. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 totally
transformed Cuba after the defeat of the Dictator Fulgencio Batista. The revolutionary Cuban
forces, led by the intellectuals Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che Guevara, had succeeded to
overthrow dictatorship.
In Africa, the role of the intellectuals in freeing Africa from colonial domination cannot be
understated. In fact, the majority of Africa’s intellectuals, who were involved in the anti-
colonial struggle, were educated by missionaries who had come to Africa to spread
Christianity. Arguably, all African countries would not have attained their independence if it
were not for the intellectuals. This group of Africans had formed the nationalist movements
that fought against colonialism and were guided in this struggle by the idea of pan-Africanism.
Therefore, the relationship between African intellectuals and pan-Africanism and nationalism,
should not be overlooked. It is thus impossible to discuss pan-Africanism without bringing in
the intellectuals who conceived it (Mkandawire, 2005). For instance, in South Africa, the
African National Congress (ANC) was formed by intellectuals in 1912 to fight against
colonialism. Its first president, John Langalibalele Dube, was also an intellectual. In the former
Gold Coast, now Ghana, which became the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence in
1957, Nkrumah and his colleagues formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) and demanded
for African self-rule. They pressed Britain to relinquish its hold on Ghana through mass action,
strikes and boycotts until Britain capitulated and granted Ghana independence. Across the
border, Nigerians challenged British colonial rule after the intellectual Herbert Macauley
founded the National Democratic Party (NNDP) in 1922, which was the first nationalist
movement in the country. Later, the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) that was
founded in 1944 by another intellectual, Nnamdi Azikiwe, carried forth the struggle for
independence which saw the country become independent in 1960 (Achebe, 2012).
In former Tanganyika, now Tanzania, Julius Kambarage Nyerere who had received his higher
education at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and the University of Edinburgh, in
Britain, formed the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) to fight against British
colonial rule after the former took over from Germany. Eventually, Tanzania became
independent in 1961. In Senegal, a country which was under French colonial rule, Leopold
Sedar Senghor, an academic and poet, founded the Senegalese Democratic Bloc/ Bloc
Démocratique Sénégalais in 1948 and steered his country to independence in 1960. In the
former Portuguese territories, Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane, an academic, founded the
Mozambican Liberation Front/ Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) with his
colleagues in 1962. He headed FRELIMO from its formation until 1969 when he was
assassinated. Amilcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, an intellectual, poet and theoretician, founded
the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde/Partido Africano da
Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC) in 1959, with his colleagues, to fight against
Portuguese colonial rule in the two countries of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. He headed the
PAIGC until his assassination in 1973. Antonio Agostinho Neto, an intellectual and poet,
founded the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola/ Movimento Popular de
Libertação de Angola (MPLA) with his colleagues in 1959, and spearheaded the liberation
struggle against Portuguese colonial rule. He became Angola’s president in 1975 and passed
away in 1979. The above-mentioned pattern almost replicated itself across Africa.
As for the post-colonial era, it can be said that many African academics were preoccupied with
the task of building their newly independent countries in the early years just after independence.
For a while, there was even some cross-pollination between government and academia in some
African countries. This was in the ‘golden era’ when African countries were truly on the rise
with massive development efforts unfolding across Africa as governments sought to erase the
remaining traces of colonialism’s deleterious effects exemplified by inter alia: chronic poverty
and hunger, ignorance and illiteracy, ill-health, and lack of shelter. However, the situation
began to change dramatically for the worse when some independence movements were toppled
and replaced by military regimes in several African countries. The first actions of the military
regimes were to hunt down, incarcerate and even kill Africa’s academics who were seen as
threats to the military regimes on the continent. In Nigeria, the counter coup d’état of May 1966
that overthrew the military junta which was formed after the coup d’état of January 1966, led
not only to the killing of intellectuals from the Igbo ethnic group, but also resulted in the
slaughter of thousands of Igbos irrespective of their vocation (Achebe, 2012). After the 1971
Ugandan coup d’état by the military strongman, Idi Amin, Ugandan academics and
intellectuals were also killed and arrested in their numbers. In Kenya, Ali Mazrui lays blame
on the rise of authoritarian rule, dwindling academic freedom and the politics of the cold war
era for the death of ‘intellectualism’ (Waliaula, 2007). Such acts of brutality against African
academics and intellectuals resulted in their mass exodus into exile. Brutal African regimes
had precipitated what is now referred to as the African ‘brain drain’ which stripped Africa off
its ‘brain trust’. Africa’s brain drain which had unfolded from the 1960s and onwards, due to
political repression and economic decline on the continent, had essentially become a brain
gain for mainly Europe and North America and then other parts of the world. What is equally
disconcerting is that most of the Diaspora academics have either disengaged themselves from
their countries of birth or have become disillusioned with them. Some have invested their
energies in the new countries where they found refuge, while others seem to have become
comfortable and apathetic. Instead of using the resources they have at their disposal to fight for
social justice in their countries of birth, these academics are less inclined to worry about what
is happening in Africa. For example, a simple search on the Internet will easily yield results
that show that there are not many Zimbabweans who are driving anti-Mugabe campaigns,
despite these individuals having escaped the malevolent rule of this old despot in large
Thereafter, the roles of African academics in society would be attenuated by the economic
austerity measures which were instituted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World
Bank, known as the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). This came to pass after most
governments in sub-Saharan Africa had mismanaged their economies. Since almost all sub-
Saharan African universities were dependent on funding from their governments, which were
equally almost bankrupt and debt-ridden, universities on the continent became mostly
mediocre. With the onset of the economic crisis in Africa it can be argued that academics took
on survivalist roles, where personal ‘bread and butter’ issues became their primary concern and
not societal transformation. Mkandawire (2005, p. 28) describes this dire situation and ensuing
crisis quite graphically. His observations are quoted at length here in order to drive the point
The alienation of African intellectuals deepened in the 1980s. First, the worsening material
conditions of the universities simply eroded the basis of the distant but still-cosy relationship
between the universities and the state. The splendid isolation to which they had been confined was
now reduced to squalor as overcrowding and lack of maintenance became pervasive. In response to
the more vocal criticisms from the academics, the state argued that universities were not doing
relevant research, or were undertaking research that was not immediately usable in policy matters.
Governments often insisted on eschewing basic research to engage in what was called ‘applied
research’. In this they were strongly supported by donors, both governmental and non-
governmental. In any case, African governments resolved the conflict by simply denying
universities excellence and relevance, in which they received the intellectual support of the World
Bank, whose ‘rate of return’ mumbo-jumbo suggested Africa could do without much higher
Theoretical and conceptual positions
Academic activism should be at the forefront of societal causes but the reality is different
especially in Africa. Perhaps this situation obtains because education is often imagined as an
apolitical enterprise. Both education and educators are assumed to maintain a respectful
distance from hot-button issues and significant political and social movements. Venturing too
close, in fact carries risks. The professional risks associated with standing too firmly at any
space along the political continuum can lead educators to avoid political activism (Marshall &
Anderson, 2009, p. 1). This risk averse behaviour is acknowledged by Choudry (2015) in the
area of academic research which is centred on activism. He observes that much of academic
activist research tends to be more concerned with the implications of such work on academic
careers, scholarly credibility, and contributions to academic disciplines than on engaging with
substantial research and intellectual work generated from within activist/community
organisations. Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, activism and research do intersect
and when this happens activist knowledge is produced. In many respects this form of
knowledge is often concerned with exposing the contradictions, cracks, and fault-lines in the
structures and systems that produce and reproduce inequality, injustice, and environmental
devastation. To do so requires, practice and strategies that are grounded in critical (including
self-critical) historical perspectives as well as emerging ideas born of current struggles
(Choudry, 2015, p. 1). Theoretically and conceptually, this paper sees academic activism as
located at two levels:
(a) Macro politics: this is one form of educator activism for social justice in formal groups.
(b) Micro political level: here, educators’ activism may consist of getting personally
involved with an issue or movement; promoting social justice through personal
intervention, programme creation, or by extending curriculum; or simply taking up
cases to get just and equitable treatment for individual students (Marshall & Anderson,
The aforementioned levels should not be seen as an ‘either or’ situation and academics should
be eclectic so as to not be straightjacketed.
Following Marshall and Anderson (2009, p. 18), this discussion defines an activist as an
individual who is known for taking stands and engaging in action aimed at producing social
change, possibly in conflict with institutional opponents. In addition, social justice is regarded
the motivation for engaging in activism. Therefore, this paper regards social justice as
something that is both a process and an outcome of activism, which can be both pursued and
attained by academics. To this end, social justice is activism which is aimed at increasing
inclusivity, fairness, empowerment, and equity and fairness, especially for heretofore
oppressed and silenced peoples, according to the former authors. As a social work academic,
this writer is guided by the values of social work, especially, social justice. Social work does
not shy away from challenging societal inequities and oppressive power structures in societies.
In fact, many social work students are taught methods akin to activism in their training such as
social action, among others. However, it seems as if some academics have a propensity to ‘self-
censure’ themselves and notably gravitate towards those cannons of social work that maintain
the status quo. In the end, social work is deemed a ‘conservative’ discipline and yet it is not.
Indeed, social work is radical in content and orientation. Its methods are steeped in activism
and support for the poor and oppressed. Very often, however, social workers experience
difficulty in translating an activist commitment to practice, and the gulf between theory and
practice has grown wider despite the claim to ‘praxis’ in much of the contemporary social work
literature (Healy, 2000). In a way, this dilemma emerges because the pursuit of practically
engaged knowledge has been constituted in such a way that it persistently but exclusively
serves the powers that be such as the state, industry and professional association (Martin, 2009).
Nevertheless, activist social work practice promotes the leadership of the oppressed in
processes of social change. It is oriented towards the alleviation of the misery suffered by
oppressed people (Healy, 2000). Arguably, there are some academic disciplines that are more
predisposed to maintaining the status quo whilst social work is not. In this regard, social
workers in Africa must be activists and challenge oppressive political systems on the continent.
In the following section, the paper considers how African academics can be activists in order
to change the deplorable conditions on the continent for the better.
An agenda for the 21st Century and way forward
This section pays attention to activism and the post-colonial malaise. It is contended here that
Africa is seriously lagging behind the rest of the world due to chronic leadership failure.
Despite Africa’s numerous natural resources, unfortunately, the former have not been
retranslated into social and economic advancement of the continent, with the majority of
Africans wallowing in extreme poverty. Africa is in this malaise, according to this paper, due
to poor leadership that is visionless and continues to lead Africa into a dark pit of despair. In
order for Africa to accelerate its development prospects, it is argued here that academics in
Africa must discard their ‘ivory tower’ mentality and be activists. To this end, academic spaces
should not be ivory towers but places where the battle of ideas for social change reigns
supreme. Why is this paper focusing on Africa’s academics? Partly, the answer is because
intellectual work is quintessentially the labour of the mind and soul. Not surprisingly,
intellectuals have played a major role in shaping passions, ideologies and societal visions
(Mkandawire, 2005). It is this quality that puts them at an advantage to spur social change in
Africa. It is also important to take cognisance of the fact that Africa’s development pursuits
have in most cases been hijacked by the political and economic elite, who in most cases operate
from the basis of self-interest or those of international capital. Academics on the other hand
have a moral obligation to focus on the empowerment of the whole nation due to their
philosophical orientation and training.
Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume that African countries or even universities would be
receptive to this agenda-setting. It is also important to mention the fact that progressive
struggles are not being stifled only in Africa but in other continents as well. Flood, Martin and
Dreher (2013) remind us that academics who seek to combine activism with work in the
university can be subject to threats, abuse, silencing tactics, and peer pressure and scholarly
expectations to shift away from activism. So there are real threats and obstacles that confront
academics who are activists. For Sudury and Okazawa-Rey (2009) some of these obstacles
relate to the repositioning of higher education in the context of corporate globalisation and free
market fundamentalism. They point out:
The adoption of neo-liberal economic and social policies in the United States and Canada, and
elsewhere has led to the defunding of schools and colleges, as public monies are redirected to
surveillance, prisons, and the military, as well as tax breaks benefitting businesses and the wealthy.
Increasingly, cash-strapped universities and colleges are being forced to conform to a corporate
model of higher education. This model restructures college campuses as businesses, transforming
academics into contract labour and students into customers/consumers, and also taps into the vast
potential of the student market, opening up university services to private firms and even branding
universities with corporate logos (Sudury & Okazawa-Rey, 2009, p. 4).
This scenario has already unfolded in South Africa and arguably it is the one that ignited the
student protests which have been going on for close to two years now. South African students
have been demanding free and high quality education which is also decolonised. Many students
in South Africa, who are part of this new struggle, see some universities as still representing
the past colonial and apartheid order. They also see some academics as part of the problem who
they accuse of still perpetuating the ethos of the previous political dispensation, due to the
curriculum which is still not decolonised. The students’ grievances are genuine and legitimate
but some academics have condemned them. Such stances by some academics have shown how
reactionary they can be even though some think of themselves as progressives. These days in
South Africa, some academics prize themselves as radicals by constantly quoting Frantz Fanon
in their works. It must be borne in mind that Fanon had engaged himself resolutely with his
context and had not sought to amplify himself by unnecessarily relying on the works of past
academic giants. Likewise, African academics of today should not continue standing on the
shoulders of academic giants of past generations who made their mark several decades back.
Some of them have retired, are about to retire or have passed on. The present generation of
African academics, especially the younger ones, must rise to the occasion and apply themselves
and not hide behind the banners of ‘academic neutrality’ and state what their causes are in the
current African political and economic malaise.
In charting a future course of action for academic activism in Africa, this paper suggests some
possible steps that could be taken by academics. It must be said, however, that not all academics
can put themselves in the line of fire, but at least they can use the university:
(1) as a means to produce knowledge to inform progressive social change;
(2) as a means for conducting research which itself involves social change;
(3) as a site for progressive strategies of teaching and learning; and finally,
(4) as an institution whose power relations themselves may be challenged and
reconstructed (Flood et al., 2013).
Despite the invocation of either to “publish or perish” defining academic engagements, it is
important that African academics go beyond the academic corridors and critically engage with
national processes and proffer commentaries that can accessed by various segments of society.
This may lead them to not just publishing in academic journals, but also writing opinion pieces
in newspapers or magazines. As trivial such acts may seem, it is the best way to get to the laity
as none of them bother to read academic journals. The writing of ‘protest’ literature is also one
way academics can unshackle themselves from the confines of conventions. In such works
academics can articulate certain things that some Africans do not want to discuss in public
(Noyoo, 2016). Nevertheless, academics should not be fixated on the idea of writing in
newspapers and magazines as they would definitely lose their credibility and gravitas. The
issue is to know how to strike the right balance. Another issue that is crucial to the whole issue
of activism is courage to speak the truth. This is not an easy feat in Africa and one cannot learn
courage, but it must be intrinsic to a person’s character. However, one can try to muster courage
by being deeply concerned about what is going in one’s country especially when injustices
occur. This paper concurs with the assertions of Zusman (2004, p. 133) which note: “Rather
than conceive of the relationship between activist and academia as a politically grounded form
of academically-led empirical investigation, the relationship should evolve out of a
commitment to question political, social and economic conditions through a recognition that
the production of knowledge, and alternative political practice, is a collective, horizontal
It is important to nurture any new ideas and initiatives which can make a difference in Africa
and which advance Africans. In this regard, African academics must come to grips with and
understand their historical mission on the continent. Hence, academic neutrality’ is a luxury
that cannot be afforded in Africa. There is so much strife and human deprivation in Africa
whilst the political and economic elite continue to rule African countries with impunity without
any empathy and compassion. That is why academics have to speak for the voiceless and the
marginalised and not collude with the power elite. The ‘ivory tower’ mentality makes it easy
for an academic to deflect issues of critical concern or to insulate himself or herself from the
burning issues in society. That is why this paper challenges this mentality and sees it as not
only retrogressive but outright dangerous. To sum up, the activist experience itself should act
as an element that allows the intellectual to increase his/her legitimacy in academic circles, and
an instrument of distinction within the academic sphere. In that context, activism becomes an
element which, rather than serving to spread privileged information in sectors which do not
possess it and contribute to their demands feeds academic production (Zusman, 2004, p. 135).
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The relationship between African intellectuals and Pan-Africanism and nationalism has been both a symbiotic and a fraught one. After independence, the capacity of intellectuals to "speak truth to power " and their penchant for puncturing myths which was prized in the struggle for independence, were now perceived as divisive and thus inimical to the new nation-state. Mkandawire speaks of three different phases in his chapter. The age of euphoria, being the first, was the period up to the late 1970s which was when the first African "professoriate " emerged. During this period the relationship between the state and intellectuals was good. For the first generation of post-colonial intellectuals, this was the era of affirmation of the nationalist project and rejection of imperial intellectual domination and neo-colonial machinations. The second period was that of disenchantment and disillusionment when the intellectuals blamed the leaders for "betraying the nationalist struggle". The third phase , being the decade that Mkandawire describes as one of "extremes: renaissance or resignation?" , is also characterised as a " period of bewildering extremes for Africa" ( Zeleza 2003: 101 ). Not surprisingly, the repertoire of responses by African intellectuals was wide-ranging, including self-criticism, withdrawal, re-engagement in democratic politics, participation in tribalistic politics and joining the guerillas. In conclusion, Mkandawire asserts that an unfettered intellectual class is an emancipatory force that can be put to good use.
Academic. Not leading to a decision; unpractical; theoretical, formal, or conventional. Active. Opposed to contemplative or speculative: Given to outward action rather than inward contemplation or speculation; practical; esp. with “life.” — Oxford English Dictionary Tendentious as these definitions are, they refer to the colliding conceptions from which academic activism issues. The often reductive contrast between theory and practice, thinking and doing, has been used to regulate what is admissible as campus politics as if it were apparent in advance which actions were insufficiently imbued with reflection and which worldly commitments compromised disciplinary or institutional loyalty. Suffice it to say that drawing the boundary between activity appropriately inside and outside the academy has always been anxiously freighted. The pursuit of practically engaged knowledge has been constituted in a taut exchange with the very powers it has been called on to serve—persistently but not exclusively those of the state, of industry, and of professional associations (Newfield, Ivy ; Readings; Chomsky; Starr). In the lineage of the Western university, degrees of critical separation from these authorities were hard-won and were conceived of as autonomy or academic freedom (Kant). The emergent disciplinary formations of the late nineteenth century made activist claims for equality in a self-designated professional cohort under the rubric of peer review. This compact, advanced by the American Association of University Professors, ceded institutional control to administrators in exchange for noninterference with the pursuit of specialized knowledge (even if manifest as political speech), which was apportioned to those elevated to the peerage through conferral of tenure (O'Neil; Thelin).
Introduction: Activist Scholarship and the Neoliberal University after 9/11
  • J Sudury
  • M Okazawa-Rey
Sudury, J., & Okazawa-Rey, M. (2009). Introduction: Activist Scholarship and the Neoliberal University after 9/11. In J. Sudury & M. Okazawa-Rey (Eds.), Activist Scholarship: Activism, Feminism, and Social Change. (pp. 1-16). Abingdon: Paradigm Publishers.