African political leaders' recognition of the role of universities in development is inspiring a new spirit of confidence, according to Akilagpa Sawyerr, the secretary-general of the Association of African Universities.
He said he detected a belief in the revival of long-neglected and repressed African universities at the AAU's quadrennial general conference in Cape Town last month. He contrasted this with the 2001 conference, which he described as a "sad affair", attended by disenchanted universities and a declining AAU.
Newly elected AAU president Njabulo Ndebele, vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, said the revival was a "historic, irreversible phenomenon" after the nightmares of military governments, declining status and funding, and silencing of academics. But he warned that governments would have to acknowledge the role they had played in African universities'
decline and said the AAU must grapple with the perception that it had been complicit by not speaking out "in defence of academic freedom".
Developments such as the launch of the European Union-style African Union, the New Partnership for Africa's Development, more proactive regional bodies and Tony Blair's Commission for Africa, which reports on March 11, were behind the resurgence, Professor Sawyerr told The Times Higher .