By Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi (Kigali)
The Prime Minister of Rwanda, Mr. Anastase Murekezi yesterday in Kigali called on Professors to help the continent solve the problem of youth unemployment, which he also likened to a “time bomb,” waiting to explode.
In a meeting with the intellectuals, who took time off from their Conference of Rectors, Vice Chancellors and Presidents of African Universities (COREViP), which began on Monday in Kigali to pay him a courtesy call, Murekezi also told his visitors that instability was another major factor drawing the continent back from the path of real development.
He warned that the implosion waiting to happen must be avoided at all costs. “If we do not plan for our youths, on how they can become meaningfully engaged, if we don’t address this issue before time, we cannot survive it” (the consequences).
Sounding almost emotional, he said the biggest question also facing Africa “is how do we develop ourselves?” His words: “We have the biggest challenge in Africa. How do we transform ourselves? How do we live and be proud of who we are. How do we get the necessary skills to survive?”
Murekezi said the intelligence needed to transform the continent resided with the Professors. But he wondered why all African universities were not working together to bring about the necessary change. He also regretted the brain drain phenomenon bedeviling various African countries, lamenting that the best brains “continue to go out of Africa.”
He harped on the need for African universities to collaborate with one another and embrace internationalization, which, according to him, would give Africa the critical skills needed to accelerate development.
He agreed that many African governments habitually do not listen to or have regard for universities, describing the norm as unfortunate. “But Universities must lead the way,” he proclaimed. “Without your research, without your input, we (Africa) cannot develop. We need to change the mindset of African governments, for them to realize that higher education is very important. We need to develop Africa and you are the ones to lead the way.”
He also urged the eggheads not to neglect technical and vocational education, describing it as “very important.” He said the realisation of technical education’s importance, informed the decision by the Rwandan government to establish more Technical and Vocational institutions.
President of the Association of African Universities and Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Prof. Olusola Oyewole, thanked the Prime Minister and the Rwandan government for hosting the AAU conference.
He said: “every two years, we come together to challenge ourselves on important issues and chart the way forward.”
Reiterating Murekezi’s concerns, he said that graduate employability was the theme of the organisation’s last conference held in Gabon in 2013. He said the theme of this year’s conference was borne out of concerns about how African Universities can create an internationalized environment “on our campuses.”
However, a former Vice Chancellor of the University of Ilorin, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede said that African governments must be seen to give priority to education rather than just engaging in empty rhetoric.
He said: “I believe that if our African countries can give priority to education, not by just talking, but by the quality of the resources that they dedicate and not just putting somebody to be Minister of Education because of political considerations.”
Although, Oloyede, who was also a former President of the AAU commended the Prime Minister over his remarks, he however said: “But I have a problem and that problem is, what happens (after the Prime Minister’s remarks)?
He continued: “When our heads of state meet, they appear not to give the appropriate recognition to the role of higher education in development. And I’ll give just one example. It was the African Union (AU) that conceived the AAU, leading to its establishment in 1967. But what has happened (since then)?
“I believe that with the type of Education Minister that you have, and the dedication that you have expressed in your speech, there is the need for you to re-energise your colleagues in Africa. With what the other continents are doing for the development of higher education, I think we need to go beyond just talking. I believe one of the things we need to do is to put the right persons at the right places.”