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.