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Hesphina Rukato on the responsibility of academia in contributing towards African-centred solutions

The participation of academic institutions in the peace and security agenda of the continent should also be seen in the context of the AU vision, whereby Africa is driven by “its own citizens”.


08 November 2017

One of the most pressing questions in Africa today relates to the role of its universities and education institutions in resolving the continent’s current developmental challenges. Linked to this is the question of the content of the curricula being taught at these institutions. To what extent are the universities and other academic institutions ready and capable to be an integral part of the resolution of Africa’s challenges, in this case specifically, the peace and security challenges?


Generically, the role of universities and academic institutions in any society include the following:

  • Knowledge generation
  • A breeding ground for cutting edge ideas and innovation
  • Repository, creators, testers, and sites of the evaluation and application of new knowledge
  • Provision of “ rational and timely criticism” in areas of public policy


As a sector of society, they are expected to exert knowledge-based influence in the public sphere. In Paragraph 19 of the Tripoli Declaration, African Heads of State and Government acknowledge that: “Making and sustaining peace and security is also an intellectual challenge. We therefore undertake to build the capacity of our universities and research institutes to explore the nature of African conflicts, to investigate what succeeds and what fails in conflict resolution efforts, and to arrive at African-centreed solutions, drawing from our own distinctive and unique experience.”


This means that the African Union (AU) acknowledges that academic institutions have an indispensable role to play in ensuring a peaceful Africa. The participation of academic institutions in the peace and security agenda of the continent should also be seen in the context of the AU vision, whereby Africa is driven by “its own citizens”. Academic institutions are a subset of the African citizens, and they have a duty and responsibility to contribute towards African-centred solutions for the continent’s peace and security challenges.


Showing up: Since establishing peace on the continent is both a duty and responsibility, it is important that academic institutions do not wait for an invitation to participate. They need to show up and make themselves an integral part of the research capacity that is at the disposal of the AU.


Capacity: In the Tripoli Declaration, Heads of State and Government commit themselves to building the capacity of universities and research institutions. Capacity should mean that governments provide universities with financial resources as well as space to think and analyze relevant issues in peace and security. Universities broaden and deepen their curricula to ensure that their research is practical to resolving peace and security challenges on the continent, at all levels. Space is particularly important in enabling academic institutions to constructively critique policies and processes in peace and security without being fearful of government. There is therefore a need for a change in mind set amongst universities and other academic institutes for them to become an integral part of the continent’s solutions in peace and security. This way, they can become the engines of the transformative agenda in resolving peace and security challenges on the continent.


Partnerships: Universities have to build partnerships with institutions that are tasked with coordinating peace and security challenges of the continent, such as the AU Commission (AUC), Regional Economic Communities (RECs), and relevant national institutions. In addition, they need to partner with non-governmental organizations and civil society formations that work in peace and security-related sectors at all levels.


Relevance: In addressing Africa’s peace and security challenges, universities need to ensure that the research they undertake is relevant and grounded in African realities. Secondly, their research has to be relevant to policy making. Thirdly, it has to be practical. This means that their research methodologies also have to be specifically tailored in ways that will elicit relevant information to form the basis for practical policy making.


Inculcation of a culture of peace: In addition to the role of building the academic prowess of students, universities and academic institutions should prioritize the inculcation of the culture of peace to students as an integral part of their responsibility. The continent cannot have a crop of future leaders who are intellectually and emotionally blind to the imperatives of peace and security. In practice, this would mean that each and every university/academic institution has a cross-cutting course on peace and security irrespective of the sectoral discipline of study.


Nature of research: If the work of academic and research institutions has to be relevant to the peace and security dynamics of the continent, it has to be ground breaking and be able to assist practitioners in addressing real problems. This requires academic institutions to look at peace and security innovatively, thereby going beyond a definition of peace as the absence of war. They need to research how global political and economic dynamics have a bearing on peace and security on the continent. Universities need to critically analyze some of the policy documents of the AU with a view to providing advice on the practicality of some of their policies for the short, medium, and long term. For example, when looking at the AU’s target of Silencing the Guns by 2020, what academic questions should arise for which academic institutions are well placed to address?


  • What are the root causes of conflict in Africa?
  • What is the contribution of the international community’s jostling for access to Africa’s natural resources, in fuelling conflict on the continent?
  • How come countries that cannot even feed their citizens have unfettered access to the latest weaponry?
  • Who supplies the weaponry, and to what end?
  • What are the triggers of conflict?
  • What are the implications of climate change for peace and security on the continent?
  • What is the state of human development and its implications for peace and security on the continent?


In undertaking research, academic institutions should take into account the need for long-term planning, capacity building, and resource mobilization, in order to mitigate and prevent potential future conflict.


Hesphina Rukato

Development consultant, Zimbabwe


About this series

IPSS is celebrating its 10th year anniversary in 2017. As part of our celebrations, we invited select individuals who have contributed to the success of IPSS and who have also made an impact in the area of peace and security in Africa to contribute an article on the anniversary's theme: "The role of academic institutions in tackling the intellectual challenge potsed by Africa's peace and security dynamics".