Africa Network
Africa Network

our mission

The mission of the Africa Network is to develop and enhance a lasting presence for Africa in the academic programs and campus life of the nation’s liberal arts institutions.

Why an Africa Network?

The Africa Network is a nonprofit consortium of liberal arts colleges committed to literacy about and concern for Africa in American higher education. Through a variety of creative programs, the African Network seeks to ensure a place for Africa on the agenda of a new generation of college students. Although it welcomes the counsel and partnership of African studies scholars and departments in the large research institutions, the Africa Network is focused on the nation’s relatively small but influential liberal arts colleges, where the need for African expertise and curriculum is especially acute.

Over the past three decades, American liberal arts colleges have significantly increased their commitments to international education and to the development of non-Western curriculum. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, this welcome expression of interest and support has, with a few important exceptions, failed to include Africa. The history, culture, politics, economic trends, and contemporary realities of African societies are dramatically underrepresented in all but a few of the nation’s independent colleges. This includes many of the most prestigious institutions. The reasons for the neglect are complex and troubling: lack of external funds, minimal demand, want of available faculty expertise, institutional politics and related turf wars, lack of visionary leadership, and self-perpetuating historical ignorance. Deeper and more disturbing explanations have also been suggested: racism and the perceived irrelevance of African studies to the economic and political fortunes of the West. In contrast, Asian studies has flourished, in part because an understanding of Asia is thought to be vital to the interests of America and her Western allies.

The consequences of this pattern of neglect should be of great concern to both educational and governmental leadership. It is simply mistaken to assume that far-reaching and unrelieved ignorance of the history, culture, and circumstances of the societies and land that comprise the world’s second largest continent is consistent with our national interest. The “life boat ethic,” the view that at-risk societies are best left to the Malthusian sharks, is both foolish foreign policy and morally insupportable. Beyond such concerns, based in large part on matters of national interest, there are considerations of diversity, balance, and richness in the liberal arts curriculum. It has been argued, quite compellingly, that neglect of, say, Chinese history and culture deprives the college student of enriching perspectives and a broader understanding of the human story. Just as much can be said of African studies. Indeed, given the often tragically entwined histories of Africa and the West, one can argue that support for significant development of African studies in the nation’s liberal arts colleges is especially important and long overdue.

The Africa Network has been organized to address the problem of pervasive and chronic neglect of Africa in independent higher education. What happens in the private liberal arts colleges has often been seen as a light on the hill for both the large independent research institutions and the sprawling range of public colleges and universities. The liberal arts colleges have led the way in many areas of curriculum reform. General education and international studies are just two of the more noteworthy examples of this diffusion dynamic. The success of the Africa Network in stimulating a more substantial presence for Africa in the nation’s liberal arts colleges can be expected to generate new levels of interest and activity concerning Africa throughout all sectors of higher education.

 

Africa Network