The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is one of the world’s most international and highly regarded universities. It attracts some of the world’s most influential academics and speakers (Paul Kagame was welcomed in 2007).
The university is at the forefront of political and economic developments and its alumni take extremely influential positions, including Ghana’s Nkrumah and presently Atta-Mills as well as eminent British politician, Ed Milliband.
However, the LSE doesn’t provide a single course in African history. This article attempts to assess the implications of these institutions disregarding the one subject that explains Africa, both good and bad, today.
African countries since independence have often been influenced by the international community. Whether support for leadership has prevented the success of rebellion movements, like the French and Mobuto or invasions have destabilised fragile nations, the Americans in Somalia in 2006.
The ramifications of these external decisions are often felt less by leadership and more by the common people.
Wealth and power unfortunately breed arrogance, when this is combined with ignorance the results are not good. Sarkozy declared in 2007 at a Senegalese University ‘Africa has never entered history’, this sinister remark is the fruits of l’education francais.
Meanwhile Blair declared in 2005, ‘Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world’, his remark, despite less spite, showed a similarly generic perception and ill-conceived judgement.
The saddest thing about this lack of knowledge is that it contrasts with the educated in Africa.
It was not uncommon during my time in Rwanda to engage in lengthy debate with students about Britain’s political divide. However in Britain there are students (though not normally at the LSE) who couldn’t say if Africa is a country or a continent.
This points therefore to the failure of ‘Western’ education systems in their role to inform, as well as allowing people to question the often simplistic and inaccurate view of the media on the continent.
This is therefore the issue at stake, and it is for this reason that the LSE - and the next generation of policy makers that it harbours - is doing itself and Africa disfavour by not providing an opportunity to study African history.
After all, how could anyone come to any judgement on post-genocide Rwanda without understanding its history.
Perhaps most importantly, how can international decision makers decide on whether to become involved or not in Africa, without having understood its modern history.
When the UN dithered around Rwanda in 1994, nobody understood the country and feared to become involved and when the UN denounces the Somali piracy, few understand the circumstances. Ignorance is not only a nuisance, it is dangerous.
Even if education at the LSE and other institutions do not shape the next policy makers, by providing knowledge of the recent history of Africa it would help to create a new group within societies, who are informed beyond the stereotypes and rhetoric to come to their own decisions about issues in Africa.
So I ask LSE “where is Africa?”
The author is living in England