The eighteen newsletters published by the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa between1991 and 2003.
Formed in the early 1990s, the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa (CAFA) was an initiative of North American and African academics, most of whom were forced from teaching positions in African universities due to escalating government repression, declining pay, or some combination of both. From the mid 1980s onward, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank enforced the adoption of structural adjustment programs across the continent. Along with the violent expropriation of common resources through privatization and the increased Euro-American support for repressive regimes came a historic defunding of education. Relatively autonomous and well-funded African educational institutions—a primary achievement of decolonial struggle—were subject to massive budget cuts, increased student fees, and violent repression of student and teacher organizing. Reports like Academic Freedom and Human Rights in Africa in 1991 issued by Human Rights Watch, largely laid blame for this increased violence on local state and military forces. CAFA helped reframe the discourse, bringing attention to the underlying causes in the structural adjustment programs of the IMF and World Bank, viz., the defunding of universities, ending subsidies to students, and in general commodifying education. CAFA argued that the assault on the African educational system was key to a new neoliberal division of labor internationally and to processes of financial and intellectual recolonization.
Coordinated by Ousseina Alidou, Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis, inspired by the political activism of Dennis Brutus, the group was sponsored by many prominent US-based academics including Immanuel Wallerstein and Gayatri Spivak amongst others. CAFA’s goals were threefold: to provide a support structure for rapid international responses to crises on African campuses, to mobilize support amongst teacher unions and other US based academic institutions, and to reframe debates around the education “crisis” in Africa. CAFA published a series of eighteen newsletters from 1991 to 2003. Throughout runs a rigorous analysis IMF and World Bank ideologies of education “reform,” unpacking the implicit racism and financial interests at work in their policy recommendations and reports. Included are essays by familiar and less well known scholars from Africa and the US covering a range of topics relating to both the violent decimation of the African education system as well as the flowering of resistance struggles among students and academics. Many of these are not published elsewhere and represent important contributions to decolonial, feminist, and anti-capitalist political thought. To name just a few of the newsletters contributions: Osseina Alidou writes on the appropriation of Booker T. Washington’s theories of education in colonial and neocolonial policy (CAFA n.13); Magbaily Fyle interrogates bias against African academics within an Anglo-European scholarly journal industry (CAFA n.10); George Caffentzis carefully unpacks the racism, paternalism and double speak of World Bank’s studies on African education policy (CAFA n.2); Alamin Mazrui’s analyses the implicit racism and economic interests at work in the World Bank’s position on the use of indigenous African and European languages in their education policy (CAFA n.11); and, Silvia Federici writes on the recolonization of the African education system and the vibrancy of the emergent student movement resistance in multiple issues of the newsletter.
Included as well are interviews with organizers of teacher and student movements in Nigeria, Kenya, Niger, Senegal and Burkina Faso, amongst others. Perhaps most crucial for an understanding of the historical situation are the accounts compiled by CAFA coordinators of student movement struggles. The majority of the newsletters contain meticulous chronologies of unfolding events from the mid 1980s through the late 90s documenting the militancy and power of the student movement in the face of brutal repression. This history makes clear that these movements should be considered among the most vibrant and unjustly neglected social movement struggles of the 20th century. For anyone concerned with the histories of neoliberal recolonization and education policy, the texts published in CAFA’s newsletters will be a valuable resource. As neoliberal policies of “adjunctification,” privatization, forced debt, test-based “rewards” systems, etc. wreak havoc on the education system in the so-called “developed” world, the history documented in the CAFA newsletters becomes increasingly important to explore—both for how we might understand the operations of neoliberal capital and invest in the struggles against them.
Articles from CAFA’s newsletters as well as new reflections on the group’s work by those involved are collected in Ousseina Alidou, Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis eds., A Thousand Flowers: Social Struggles Against Structural Adjustment in African Universities ( Trenton and Asmara: Africa World Press, 2000).