AFRICAN STUDIES QUARTERLY

Western Education and Political Domination in Africa: A Study in Critical and Dialogical Pedagogy. Magnus O. Bassey. Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1999. 123pp. Cloth $59.95.


Three premises, though not new to most Africanists and Africans, are the basis for Magnus O. Bassey's most recent work: 1) Current African educational systems have colonial and missionary roots; 2) education in Africa leads to elite status; 3) elites tend to protect the current system. The author presents this book as "a critical analysis of the behavior of African educated elites and argues that educated elites in Africa have used their education and the schools to perpetuate their dominance over their less fortunate countrymen and women" (p. 11). In addition, Bassey proposes the adoption of a critical dialogical pedagogy to address these current imbalances.

With these goals set out in Chapter One, most readers, especially those with an interest in African education, would expect a detailed study of primary historical and current documents. However, a careful reading of this work reveals no such analysis. While there are glimpses of specific events and regions, "Africa" and "Africans" tend to be the underlying analytic categories of this nine-chapter work. With such a wide scope, perhaps it is no surprise to find a lack of depth and very little continuity across chapters. Most chapters appear to stand alone. Chapter Two begins with a focus upon general principles of "Traditional African Education." Bassey utilizes secondary philosophy and general education sources to posit that African systems of education were egalitarian, complete and "relevant to the needs of the individual and his or her society" (p. 24).

The next three chapters document the general influence of Christian Missions and colonial education policies. But there is little discussion of how missionary systems interacted with the previously discussed forms of African education, except to say that they undermined traditional authority. The author outlines French, British, Portuguese, Belgian, and German colonial educational policies in seven pages. All colonial policies are then referred to as having certain features, including domination, elite status, and inequity. Throughout these chapters, Bassey makes reference to the "African neobourgeoisie [that have] prolonged the life of colonialism inadvertently by talking so much of educational changes and achieving very little in this direction and by sustaining imperialism through neocolonialism" (p. 49). This section makes very clear the central weakness in this work: Lack of scope and contextualization lead to problematic overgeneralizations. There are marked contextual differences between Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, and Zimbabwe that must be recognized. When such differences are not taken into account, generalizations across regions become much less tenable.

Chapters Six and Seven explore the concept of power, inequality and their general manifestations in African educational systems. Chapter Six discusses the general atmosphere of African dictatorships that employ coercive violence. Chapter Seven returns to the school setting to discuss the issues of disempowerment, sexism, domination, and hegemony. A majority of this chapter discusses the gender gaps in contemporary African education and the attitudes contributing to their continuation. Throughout the chapter, disempowered teachers and students are portrayed as helplessly reproducing the structures of hegemony. In addition to a review of the Frierian concept of "banking education," and Bernstein's "codes of control," the author includes an overview of Bourdieu to show how cultural capital leads towards maintenance of the status quo. Further development of these frameworks with specific African examples would greatly assist reader in this chapter. An in-depth treatment of Bourdieu's conceptual framework might lead to a discussion of how powerful market forces influence all members of a society, not only elites.

Chapter Eight is a brief (five-page) general summary of the apartheid educational system in South Africa. This chapter appears to be disconnected from the rest of the work. No attempt is made to integrate the South African example into previously discussed chapters. The concluding Chapter Nine is a call for critical dialogical pedagogy to address current inequities in African educational systems. Drawing upon Giroux, Friere, and Dewey, Bassey concludes, "My answer is that we must use our schools for psychic conversion of Africans in favor of economic investment, wealth creation, entrepreneurial spirit, self-help and for creating wealth for the nation" (p. 111). In order to do this, he states, formal education must be reconceptualized to overcome its colonial heritage. How this would be done in a specific context is not mentioned. To recognize these important differences would probably contradict an underlying central premise of this work: that one can actually speak of an "African elite" and "African educational experience." Much more detailed scholarship recognizing the complexity of African experience will be necessary in order to achieve his laudable goal.

This work appears to be largely inductive and aimed at a non-specialist audience. What Bassey generally reiterates in this work is already painfully clear to African specialists and citizens of African countries. Perhaps most novel in Bassey's work is his stated intention to isolate and assign blame to African elites for the current state of affairs. But this alone is insufficient. A more thorough analysis would examine local needs and levels of participation in one region's educational systems. Connections could then be made to both historical roots and current political trends. Only then could specific solutions be formulated. Indeed, the goal of "harnessing the language of critique with the language of economic empowerment" (p.113) is something to which most educational policy planners worldwide would aspire. If Bassey's ultimate goal is to reorient the elite focus of African educational systems, it remains unachieved.

Adam Meyer
Department of English
Ball State University