Pax Academica
Bulletin on Academic Freedom in Africa


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24 August 2012

Editorial N 1

[fr] La restriction des libertés académiques est l’une des dimensions de la crise qui frappe les universités africaines depuis les années 80. Les nouvelles qui nous sont parvenues de deux pays pendant l’année 2011 reflètent bien la dimension des atteintes aux libertés académiques sur le continent. Au Malawi, au mois d’avril de l’année qui vient de s’écouler, on a assisté à des menaces, intimidations et de licenciements de membres du personnel académique de l’Université du Malawi. Et il va sans dire que les (...)

Restrictions on academic freedom are symptomatic of the crisis which African universities have been going through since the 1980s. Two events which occurred in 2011 illustrate quite well the magnitude of violations against academic freedom in the continent. In Malawi, cases of threats, intimidation and dismissal of members of the academia were registered in April 2011. It goes without saying that these threats against the University of Malawi (UNIMA) academic personnel are blatant violations against academic freedom, as they defy many dispositions of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi which make provisions for academic freedom. With the intention to protest against these violations and to show solidarity with the academia in Malawi, CODESRIA issued a declaration condemning these acts and consequently canceled an event that was meant for paying tribute to Thandika Mkandawiri. In Togo, policemen broke into the house of a teacher, took away his computer and portable phones and kidnapped him. These situations, if left unchecked, are likely to jeopardize the necessary conditions for the advancement of social sciences in Africa, especially in the area of critical research.

In conformity with its mandate to promote and protect academic freedom and the human rights of the academia and researchers, CODERIA launched a special programme on academic freedom in 1994 with the objective of confronting constraints and other problems in this domain. It is against this backdrop that several activities have been initiated, namely conferences, national and regional meetings and publications. In this regard, several publications and reports on the status of academic freedom in the continent were issued in the 1990s. These include, among others, a reference book edited by Mamadou Diouf and Mahmood Mamdani (1993) with major contributions from Claude Ake, Joseph Ki-Zerbo, Archie Marfeje, Ali Mazrui. Unfortunately, the editorial momentum has somehow been slowed down in recent years. Except for a few books such as “Women in Academia” (2000), “Universités et libertés académiques en République Démocratique du Congo” (2005) and “Academic Freedom and the Social Responsibilities of Academics in Tanzania” (2008), the Council’s editorial activity on the issue of academic freedom has slowed down despite increments on the number of meetings and conferences on the subject under question. The lack of written press coverage on issues pertaining to academic freedom in Africa makes it hard to track and support activities geared toward its promotion. The importance and necessity of an Academic Freedom Programme within CODESRIA in all its dimensions remains evident and indispensable. We hope this bulletin will contribute to fill the gap noted in the publication domain. It has the potential to become a journal specialized on issues of academic freedom in Africa. The title chosen for the bulletin makes an explicit reference to the context in which the African research community should evolve.

The main goal of the bulletin is to provide an effective instrument for the dissemination of fundamental principles and rules. It can be used as a basic reference to the African research community and beyond in the pursuit for the promotion and the protection of academic freedom in Africa. First and foremost, the bulletin would like to project the liberating message for academic freedom throughout Africa. By so doing, it sensitizes the academia on social obligations and responsibilities based on existing international legal instruments (the Universal Charter for Human Rights, the African Charter for Human and Peoples Rights echoed by the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom in Africa). Secondly, the bulletin would like to broaden the scope of the culture of peace, democracy, human rights and academic freedom among researchers and academics in Africa. Its aim is also to contribute to the promotion and the exchange of ideas and information on university life in general and on issues of academic freedom in particular. By the same token, CODESRIA is projecting to set up and or to reactivate research networks dealing specifically with the issue of academic freedom and to also set in place a network of correspondents to increase participation in the life of the bulletin, hence allowing the bulletin to be ‘fed in’ by members of the research community.

The Pax Academica Bulletin, like many projects of this type, has had a fairly long gestation period, during which fruitful discussions have taken place. The goal is improving and enriching the bulletin to make it sustainable. This explains the gap between the date of submission of certain articles from the date of their first appearance. Despite this delay, the editorial board has decided to publish the articles as they are, regarding the opportunity of the topics, their relevance for future research on issues of academic freedom in Africa.

But also the need for encouraging the authors to continue to contribute to the programme and especially to the enrichment of the Bulletin. We hope that the publication of this first issue will enable readers to be familiar with the content and the aspirations of the bulletin, as well as make their critiques and encouragements for the Pax Academica Project. In doing so, they will contribute to sustain the project without any doubt.

But for practical reasons and lack of funds, the initial issues of the bulletin will not appear in Arabic. Contributors will have the leisure of choosing the language in which the ‘original’ article will be delivered. CODESRIA will take care of the translation of the abstracts into other languages. The bulletin’s rubrics will attempt to highlight all major issues which are deemed necessary for a holistic understanding of academic freedom in African universities.

In the up-coming editorials, we will be dealing with the definition of this volume’s main orientations. The analytical part of the bulletin will present concrete case studies meant to shed light on the violations of academic rights and freedoms in universities. The role of the different stakeholders such as student associations, unions and university authorities contesting in the promotion of the culture of academic feedom will be analyzed. The geographical scope of the experiences of academic freedom violations outside the African continent will be included in the bulletin. The main themes around the defense and promotion of academic freedom will be covered in the Dossier rubric. These will involve themes related to good governance, democracy, the rule of law, the university and its mission, African researchers and their social responsibilities. This rubric will also feature studies on the main political and legal questions related to academic freedom.

Dealing with these themes requires regularly involving renowned specialists who will intervene on specific issues. The Point of View rubric will explore and reflect upon the modalities and strategies to be developed within the community of African researchers in order to help materialize the triumph and respect of academic freedom. The News brief rubric will strive to provide information on university life, especially events organized by teachers and student associations related to academic freedom. The Bibliography rubric will provide a critical analysis as well as information dissemination to the Community of African researchers on all major publications dealing with academic freedom in Africa and elsewhere in the world. To sum up, the bulletin will provide the platform for original points of views on academic freedom and discussions on the nature and relevance of the concept. Where has it come from? From which social strata has it emanated? What are its limits and what is at stake? How can we coin and interrogate academic freedom? These questions will allow for an engaged discussion on the definition of academic freedom and the fundamental values it is expected to contain.

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