The University in Africa and Democratic Citizenship: Hothouse or Training Ground?

The University in Africa and Democratic Citizenship: Hothouse or Training Ground?
Report on Student Surveys conducted at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Thierry M Luescher-Mamashela with Sam Kiiru, Robert Mattes, Angolwisye Mwollo-ntallima, Njuguna Ng’ethe and Michelle Romo

Whether and how higher education in Africa contributes to democratisation beyond producing the professionals that are necessary for developing and sustaining a modern political system, remains an unresolved question. This report, then, represents an attempt to address the question of whether there are university-specific mechanisms or pathways by which higher education contributes to the development of democratic attitudes and behaviours among students, and how these mechanisms operate and relate to politics both on and off campus.

The research contained in this report shows that the potential of a university to act as training ground for democratic citizenship is best realised by supporting students’ exercise of democratic leadership on campus. This, in turn, develops and fosters democratic leadership in civil society. Thus, the university’s response to student political activity, student representation in university governance and other aspects of extra-curricular student life needs to be examined for ways in which African universities can instil and support democratic values and practices. Encouraging and facilitating student leadership in various forms of on-campus political activity and in a range of student organisations emerges as one of the most promising ways in which African universities can act as training grounds for democratic citizenship.

The following implications for African universities can be derived from the findings and conclusions in this report:

  1. It is necessary to stimulate a series of dialogues between key stakeholders on student development as a pathway to democratic citizenship development in Africa.
  2. In-depth investigations into democratic best practice of student development and student leadership development should be conducted and the findings published in a series of handbooks for use by student development professionals in African universities.
  3. Further surveys should be conducted at other African universities to corroborate the findings and conclusions of this study.
  4. A study of the role of students and faculty in the current political transitions in West and North Africa (e.g. Egypt, Ivory Coast, South Sudan, Tunisia) should be conducted.