Saturday, July 20, 2013

American Universities Should Help the Christian Universities of Africa

Since 9/11, nothing has shocked me more than the recent news that militant Islamists attacked a boarding school in Nigeria, killing about 30 children.  Most were burned alive when the attackers doused the children's residence hall with gasoline and set it afire. A few children were shot to death rather than burned--which was a mercy, I suppose.

And why were these children killed? Because they attended a Western school.
 
Let's Get Out of Afghanistan, Where Everybody Hates Us, and Help Christian Africa

When President Bush sent troops into Iraq, I remember thinking that he surely knew best. When President Obama doubled down in Afghanistan and sent 30,000 additional troops to the fight, I had my qualms; but again I figured his military people must know what they are doing.

And if President Obama--a Nobel Peace Prize winner--wanted to widen the war in Afghanistan, well then, that must be the right thing to do.
Aftermath of bombing at Catholic Church in Tanzania (AP photo)
But lately I've decided to do my own thinking, and I urge others to do the same. Surely even a child can see that a dozen years of warfare in Afghanistan--years during which we bribed the Pakistanis to allow us to pack supplies over the Khyber Pass and sent packets of cash to the Karzai regime--has accomplished nothing.  The British and the Russians mucked around Afghanistan to their sorrow, and we too now know we made a mistake.  We just don't have the courage to admit it.

Even a small-town college professor like me can see that the United States has sent men and women to die in the Middle East in support of various regimes that don't like us, don't respect us, and share none of our values. We've squandered our national wealth, our national power, and our role as a world leader by launching these disastrous military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Militant Islam is making great strides in Africa.

Last May, terrorists threw a bomb into a crowd of worshippers at St. Joseph Mfanyakazi Catholic Church in the Tanzanian town of Arusha, killing two people. Tanzania is about evenly split between Christians and Muslims, and the two groups have lived together peacefully for many years. This incident of sectarian violence is deeply worrying.
 
And let's take a look at Mali. Although Mali is about 90 percent Muslim and only about 10 percent Christian, the two religious communities have lived together in relative harmony.

But that was before militant Islamists showed up and established a rump state, which they called Asawad.  They imposed a harsh regime over the areas of Mali they controlled, even executing people  The French did the right thing when they drove Islamic adventurers out of northern Mali earlier this year.

American Universities Could Help Strengthen African Higher Education

I am not a military person. Frankly, I don't know any more than the New York Times does about military strategy.  But I am an educator, and I've spent some time observing African higher education, which has a very weak infrastructure.

The United States has excessive resources in the higher education realm. We've got more colleges and universities than we know what to do with. We should put some of them to work in Africa.

For several years, our elite institutions have been establishing branches in the Middle East. New York University is in Abu Dhabi. Carnegie Mellon University, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Texas A & M are in Qatar. George Mason University was in Ras al Khaymah for a time.

Why are they there? To make money, of course. As Congressman Dana Rohrabacher  observed, “A lot of these educators are trying to present themselves as benevolent and altruistic, when in reality, their programs are aimed at making money.”

I was briefly heartened by recent Reuters news story reporting that America's wealthiest universities have taken an interest in Africa.  Before I read the article, I assumed that interest meant an educational interest. But no, university endowment funds want to invest in Africa because they think they can make money.

William McLean, who manages Northwestern University's huge endowment, put it this way in an interview with Reuters: "Our motivations are making some money."

But why don't American universities establish a philanthropic presence in the underdeveloped regions
Student Union Office
Uganda Martyrs University
of Africa by partnering with African universities to help them develop their infrastructures? After all, the African universities are struggling, and they could use some help from their American counterparts.

Which ones should we help?  I can only comment on East Africa, but in the nations of Kenya, Tanzania and Kenya, the best and most respected universities are the ones begun by Christan denominations--particularly those founded by the Catholic Church.  In general, the Christian universities in East Africa are more disciplined, more civic minded and less corrupt than the public institutions.  Uganda Martyrs University, for example, is highly regarded as the most rigorous university in Uganda; and St. Augustine University in Mwanza, Tanzania is likewise well respected.

Strengthening Christian universities in Africa will strengthen African Christianity, which must be supported and maintained to preserve peace and stability in that part of the world  A radical element is loose in Africa that is willing to burn children alive just for going to school.  If American universities don't care about that, what do they care about?

References

Adamu Adamu, Michelle Faul. 29 boarding school students burned alive, shot dead by Islamists militants in Nigeria.  NBCNews.com. July 6, 2013.

Jon Lee Anderson. Letter from Timbuktu: State of Terror. New Yorker, July 1, 2013, pp. 37-47.

Tamar Lewin. Universities Rush to Set Up Outposts Abroad, New York Times, February 10, 2008. Accessible at: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/10/education/10global.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Tosin Sulaiman. Insight--Africa makes the grade for richest U.S. university investors. Reuters, July 7, 2013. Accessible at: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/08/africa-endowments-idUSL5N0FB2IZ20130708



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