Thursday, July 28

Book Chapter Review :Youth and Higher Education in Africa: The Cases of Cameroon, South Africa, Eritrea and Zimbabwe.

Youth and Higher Education in Africa: The Cases of Cameroon, South Africa, Eritrea and Zimbabwe. Edited by Donald P. Chimanikire, 2009, pp9-34, ISBN: 978-2-86978-239-6

Student Activism, Violence and Politics of Higher Education in Cameroon: The Case of University of Buea (1993 -2003), by Jude Fokwang, is a chapter in the book entitled ‘Youth and Higher Education in Africa: The Cases of Cameroon, South Africa, Eritrea and Zimbabwe’, edited by Donald P. Chimanikire. Fokwang’s analysis on higher education in Cameroon is thought provoking and a benchmark to investigate student politics in higher education as opposed to youth politics in Cameroon.

The University of Buea (UB) is well acclaimed for its academic excellence and research quality. But this acclamation seemingly does not tally with the internal politics in the institution; as well as to the fundamental principles for quality academic institution, which include – transformation; innovation, outstanding student leaders and educational excellence.

In this light, the author begins his debate by asking whether student activism in Cameroon and more precisely UB can be depoliticized. Fokwang in his analysis identifies student activism in the University to be a liberation struggle from academic autocracy. In this context Fokwang believes that the student politics in UB were endeavors to represent student interest centered on student priorities. Apparently, the university administration understood these endeavors to be a political technique to oppose the incumbent political regime of Biya.

Further, the writer states that though student activism in itself is political. A close understanding of student politics is already a trajectory to enhance the socio-political development in a nation. Having said that Fokwang’s demonstrated some great concern to why the University of Buea Student Activism draws more attention compared to the other state universities, although it is the youngest. In brevity, he outlines the issue of ethnicity and language diversity.

The author’s description of all the UB strikes till 2003 is excellent. Sadly, the research did not take into account the 2004 – 2007 paradigms shift that struck the campus. In addition, some other areas where Fokwang excels is his ability to clearly articulates the indiscriminate practices of the UB administration and state officials in using violence to suppress students protests; the relationship between student and school administration and student politics (activism).

Another illustration of Fokwang good analysis is his attempt to interpret this research, taking into consideration the sociological and political attributes. Though, to an extent unsatisfactory to seeing that the author neglects some of the most crucial social norms; such as; seniority, hierarchy and social class. In most African settings – the notion of seniority counts a lot and Cameroon is no exemption.

For instance; one of the cases he cites affirms the notions of seniority and traditional values. In this, the writer quotes the Herald reporter, Ngewsse Nkwelle, who in reporting student strikes in 1993, wrote an article describing the students leaders actions as being as a result of their young age; they were classified as being too young to know anything better. Perhaps, it is based on these assumptions that; the university administration would always undermine requests from the student unions, and in most situations would impose their administrative demands on the student unions. Consequently, the used of protest by student becomes the best option to reclaim their full recognition in the society.

The above notwithstanding, there were a couple of aspects in Fokwang’s article that were a little disappointing. These include;
1. The fact that the writer did selective naming of officials. In no sentence did he mention the names of the Registrar and the Director of Student Affairs who had played major roles in suppressing the student from speaking up. This calls for questioning around the writer’s strength as an independent researcher aimed at impacting positive change in the academia.

2. In addition, the neglect to mention names of these top officials, who can be said to have committed acts of academic-indecency; interrogates the authenticity to the author’s statement in this article where he mentions that the Director of Student Affairs issued a speech to the student representative to be read during the Chancellor’s New year wishes. Thus, mentioning these names would have been a step forward towards eliminating such academic malpractices. Most importantly, to let the university administrations know that people are not afraid to expose their acts.

3. The fact that the writer presents leadership to be the post of the president and chairman and not necessary taking into consideration the other positions in the student union. This narrow presentation of leadership would definitely not represent women who are usually underrepresented in most academic institutions in the country and the continent as a whole. Conversely, Fokwang in a later statement pointed out the fact that the interviewee complained about the discouraging membership of student union. For instance, In the Faculty of Social and Management Sciences (SMS) with a population of 4000 students, the average attendance in the student union were 25. However, with this example, the author did not deeply state the proportion represented by the female and male students in this number.

Overall, this article is a good piece that exposes the politics in university institution in Cameroon; UB in particular. I would strongly recommend that this is read by government official, as well as officials of higher learning institutions. I definitely recommend this article a must read to all UB student, tutors and the university community in Cameroon, as this will further provoke interesting debates around the issues of student activism in Cameroon.

Click here to read Jude's Fokwang Article in pdf