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Archive for the ‘postcolonial condition’ Category


Location? Perhaps a remote corner of the usually crowded market place, perhaps a lonely village road. But youth must and will always find a way. And now that they have and are there, they size each other, they let their eyes roam and wander and speak for them. Like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in the thriller in Manila they circle each other. That’s Acholi love. At least that is the way it used to be. Before Kony and the Uganda People’s Defense Force, the UPDF, entered Acholi land and turned the world upside down.

Against the background distant drums and the song play of mating birds the youth pull and push; they pull and push. And the moment comes and it is time for a showdown.  They draw close, nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball, they wrestle each other. It may happen now and again that one or the other may miss a step and may fall or stagger. But he or she will rise again and the game will go on, till at last there is a winner. It may be that the boy will win; he usually does. It may be that the girl will win; she sometimes does and wins outright.

Acholi love is vigorous and prolonged. There is no quickie. It is not for the faint of heart. Not for the Acholi are the tender lyrics of Dona Summer’s sweet surrender or the melancholy of Kenny Roger’s We got tonight who needs tomorrow!

"Acholi Royal Dance
Acholi Royal Dance

But with the Acholi the idea of a love tryst is  that like that of a sporting event. The soul of the game is the maximization of touch; the purpose the prolongation of pleasure. Now you get it now you don’t; teasing is a big part of the game plan. Strength and valor is at the core of Acholi love and art of romance. Look at their dance. It is all there.

In love and romance there is talk, there is poetry. There is nothing like a silent tryst, an Indian girl once said. So here now in between the pushing and wrestling, the hiding and the seeking, there is talk and poetry.

An per amiti do laco ni. Awachi ne adegi do laco ni. Cit cen! wot cen! dok cen! (I don’t need you this man. I don’t want you this man. I told you I hate you. Go away, get back!)

In the place of sweet surrender are tough words. And it is now that the tough gets going. And from now it is sweet all the way. But after Kony, after the atrocities, after the UPDF, after the concentration camps, there is not that much flavor left in Acholi love or in Acholi land. But they say that time heals a broken heart. (I can’t stop loving you)

John Otim
copyright 2012

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In the early days of the coup that brought
General Haroun Al Mahmud to power
the press of the world
camped on state house lawns
day and night day after day
dozens of them

Their gear hung from every tree
their goings on created a festive air
it was a carnival such as the city
and the country
had not seen

The new Strongman reveled
in the media blitz
he paused for photo ops and granted interviews
he gave press conferences
in his eyes these confirmed without a doubt
his own greatness and invincibility

One night he ordered a barbecue
and invited the press of the world
to eat, drink, dance
and be merry

The wily journalists
encouraged and fanned
the General’s every idiosyncrasy
and busily made footage
a media hungry world waited

In Lagos Nigeria
a mother returning home
after a punishing day at the market
hearing BBC and CNN voices
doubles up

“What ting Al Haroun
dun do again?
he dun kill another Archbishop?”
folks like her were insatiable
and they were legion
there was blood and there was fun

At the court of
General Haroun Al Mahmud
at the grand old colonial mansion
the British built to display power
there was never a dull moment

A marriage bid today
for the hands of the daughter
of one of Europe’s ruling family

Tomorrow battle plans in all earnest
against neighboring states to teach them
in the General’s own words
lessons they will never forget

Now and then a mocking cable
dispatched to Washington
to the most powerful man on Earth
timed to cause the President
the greatest discomfiture

One morning fresh morning
a gift of a young virgin
kidnapped the other day on her way to school
now handed to his friend and companion
the young Scottish doctor
who saved his life from the syphilis bug

Now in the cool of the African evening
the barbecue sizzles
oriental and African aroma
mingle and add color to the night
oh such a night

Wine and conversation flows
the press of the world is in hot pursuit
they reach for their little packs
trinkets, perfumes, handguns, electronics
gifts for the General from the labs
and workshops of Europe

Now the General was a true natural
protocol abandoned
he does what only he can
sprawls on the grass
his monstrous legs akimbo
bantering and hollering

Soon wine and whisky take their dues
the moment arrives and the past returns
and the General is back again
where he once belonged
there now he hears a voice

“You and I must make a pack
we must bring salvation back
where there is love I will be there
“I’ll reach out my hand to you
I’ll have faith in all you do
Just call my name and I will be there

It was the King of Pop
but in Michael’s amplified voice
the General hears the voice of his own mother
it brought him back to the warmth
and comfort of the old colonial barracks
at the river’s mouth

Away from power and pomp and intrigues
away from the slaughter of innocent men and women
that his men carried on a daily basis on his behalf
away from the haunting cries
of the dying and the dead
back to the simple life he once knew
and loved

Years ago his own dear mother
writhed in agony on the dirt floor
of their simple hut
and bestowed upon him
on that silent night
the ultimate gift

Now here he was where it all began
here where as a young man
he and his buddies marched happily to the drill
of the Scotsman’s horse voice
none but Commander Neil Graham

And now the Union Jack flutters again
triumphant again in the cool African breeze
as he and the others march proudly
in tune with the crazed hollering of the Scotsman
Eyes right!
Presenter armes!

Rifles click!
the men come to a dead stop
and for a moment nothing moves
the band strikes God Save the Queen

With a jerk the General returns to the World
back to the Country whose President
he had just shot
and found himself surrounded
by the Press of the World
fighting for a shot of his silly moon face

someone save my life tonight

John Otim


From the early to the mid-1980s, under the auspices of the International Monetary Fund (IFM), African governments, including that of Nigeria, adopted the policy known as the Structural Adjustment Program. The policy required governments to tighten their belts, cut spending, lay off workers. In return the IFM gave them loans at high interest rates. By the end of the decade most African countries had become chronically indebted to the IMF. African economies were in tatters.

Inspired by years of teaching and learning at Ahmadu Bello, John Otim’s latest work is an informative examination of the challenges and possibilities that exist on an African campus. Crippled by its country’s perilous financial state, Ahmadu Bello University, and other Nigerian universities, suffered from lack of funds and supplies, loss of qualified professors, and sub-standard student housing that resulted in strikes and riots on campuses across the nation. This led to prolonged closures. By 2004, when Vice Chancellor Professor Shehu Usman Abdullahi took over the affairs of the Ahmadu Bello, he faced the challenge of restoring a semblance of normalcy and culture of study and work to the beleaguered campus. Through seven sections, Otim recalls the creation of the university in 1962, its rise to fame and glory; discuses academic matters, administrative issues, rehabilitation of physical structures, and the development of a comprehensive, campus-wide network of ICT.

In an easy to read, informative and provocative treatise, Otim portrays the challenges that almost brought to an end one of the most fabled campuses on the African continent with precision and candor. The breadth of his understanding provides insights into not only the university but the nature of higher education itself. Always challenging and never pandering, The Ups and Downs of an African Campus: Five Years of Steady Progress at Ahmadu Bello University 2004-2009 teaches that anything is possible when you believe in a dream.

About the Author
John Otim, literature major Makerere University, graduate school at Indiana University Bloomington and Loughborough University in England. Taught literature and creative writing at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria. Poet and writer, author of the novel Dream Campus. Both books available at http://amazon.com


the rise of one african college
by john otim

There it all is! plain in the gaze of the freshman student reporting to campus for the first time at the beginning of the new school year. The look of consternation, for here in northern Nigeria, it is the period when the land is grey and drab. Now however, once through the gates of the Ahmadu Bello University, the new student will find himself  in a new world. For outside the gate it is dry and dusty. But there within the gates, are well watered lawns, shrubs and parklands, neatly laid out.

rush hour

About a decade ago the youth of Nigeria converged on the Ahmadu Bello University campus from across the vast distances of the Federal Republic for the biannual Varsity Games students love to call the Olympics of Nigeria. The visitors, including those from the far south east and south west, arguably the more developed parts of the country, were dazzled by the sight of the woodland campus far in the reaches of northern Nigeria. Where they expected desert and scrubland they found a serene and cosmopolitan campus. The morning after they arrived, the youth gathered at the grand new open air stadium at the edge of the campus. Julius Berger built it. Yes the same company that built the State House in Abuja, the Federal Capital. The facilities included artificial track lane and a modern indoor gym. Needless to say the home side swept the trophy cart as they had in the past always done.  On this campus sports is a religion.

Yet half a century ago the Ahmadu Bello University did not exist at all. The land where now stands this grand edifice consisted of scattered farmlands worked by peasant farmers. On the western edge of the campus, was the medieval mining and iron smelting factory. To the eastern side was and still is the ancient walled city of Zaria. Keeping watch over the city is the mighty rock face. A minor mountain range really, the Kufena is the most striking landmark in the whole of Zaria.  The Kufena once formed a part of the complex of the ancient walled City. Here on its top Queen Amina of Zazzau once built a fortress and held court. Given the breath taking view from that location, it had to have been one of most magnificent of royal courts. It is said that from this vantage point the Queen’s scouts used to spot enemy troops from afar and would dispatch a battalion to meet them. That way the Queen reigned long over her domains.

Fifty years ago or so, the Ahmadu Bello University was but a dream in the mind of one man and a handful of close associates. There was of course already in existence, the Nigerian College of Arts Science and Technology. But this was no university. The man who by shear force of character, willed the Ahmadu Bello University into existence, was Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, Premier of Northern Nigeria at the time of independence. Today the Ahmadu Bello University stands as one of the most prized institutions of modern Nigeria, and one of the largest and finest universities of Africa.

"central campus"

central campus

In the year 1952 when
nationalist leaders of Nigeria including Sir Ahmadu Bello began to take control of the affairs of the country, there were but two secondary schools in northern Nigeria. Keep in mind that this was an area half the size of Western Europe, with a population that ran into tens of millions.  Ten years down the line the new leaders began to turn things around. And the number of secondary schools in the region rose from the miserable figure of 2 to 59. But this was still far from adequate. Throughout the country at the time over ninety percent of school age kids were out of school. Less than two percent of the population attended higher institutions of learning. Of which there were only two, Yaba College at Lagos, and the University College at Ibadan. A few years 2 new colleges were added. One of them was the Zaria College of Arts Science and Technology, the institution the Ahmadu Bello University would eventually subsume and supersede.

Back then, amidst the disheartening educational and social backwardness, particularly in northern Nigeria, Sir Ahmadu Bello planned to open a university. Evidently there were at this time far from enough feeder secondary schools that would provide intake for a university in the north. Nevertheless from Kaduna, the seat of the north, word went out. There shall be a university in northern Nigeria; it will be located in Zaria. It will be called the Ahmadu Bello University. Sokoto, the northern most city and home town of Sir Ahmadu Bello was the seat of the Caliphate, but the new university was not going there. Kano was the commercial hub of the north and its most important city. But the new institution was not going there. The university was going to Zaria, the distinguished little town with a long tradition of learning and scholarship.

Zaria stood at the head of the rail line connecting the north and the south of the new Federal Republic of Nigeria. It was already in many ways a cosmopolitan place, a microcosm of the emergent new nation. There is in the autobiography of the late Attorney General of the Federation, Justice Bola Ige, and a lovely portrait of Zaira of the nineteen thirties. Bola Ige called his book, Kaduna Boy. The Zaria of Bola Ige’s boyhood was a vibrant multi ethnic, multi racial cosmos, with huge government departments, big trading and commercial concerns. In those still early days Zaria was already emerging as an educational hub, comprising of a handful of research institutions and soon to come, a secondary school. More importantly Zaria was an old center of Hausa and Arabic scholarship and civilization centered in the famed walled city. In short Zaria, like Oxford was possessed of old traditions of learning and culture. In his sojourn to Britain Sir Ahmadu Bello had been to Oxford, and he came away with great admirations for the distinguished British Institution.

In his choice of Zaria, Sir Ahmadu Bello was sending a message. The new university would be steeped in traditions of scholarship and learning. It would be open to all, regardless of race, religion, gender or culture. Sir Ahmadu Bello had been a teacher by profession. Although coming from a royal background he moved swiftly into public life and eventually politics. Never the less, he remained always interested and focused on education, which he fully saw as a means of social development and individual enlightenment. He had been part of a movement that attempted to fashion out of colonial education a unique model that would blend with the culture of his people, meet its unique needs and be fully modern and universal in outlook. Now that he was the Premier of the North, Sir Ahmadu Bello saw the establishment of a university in the north as part of a drive for rapid development and social transformation. The Ahmadu Bello University arose out of a dire need for rapid progress against a background of general backwardness.

Today it is exactly forty nine years since the University first opened its doors in October of 1962

John Otim
Suncolor Consultants
Kampala

copyright john otim 2011 kampla uganda


adventures of a young man
by john otim

Thoughts of Africa
stayed with him
throughout the long flight
to the heart
of the old empire

Up at those altitudes
between those clouds
so dense and white
he marveled at the length
and breadth
of the mighty continent

In a dreamland far away
he heard the pilot
announce
Mount Kenya to the left
and he remembered reading
Jomo Kenyatta’s
Facing Mount Kenya


He thought
with a book like that
the old man deserved
the presidency
of his country

Soon the mountains
of Addis
and the Red Sea
were behind
how faithful
to the maps

Presently they entered
the desert
heat rose from the sands
and hit them
in the plane
how massive
the desert
that first sight
took his breath away

Old Davis poor fellow
struggled in class
sans internet
sans power point
to convey as well
he might
the sense of the octopus

Darkness was approaching
when they approached
the ancient land
of Akhenaton
and Queen Nefertiti

Now serene under
the cover of night
void of the turmoil
sweat and blood
it knew all these
long years

Presently they crossed
the Mediterranean
dark and sullen
in the night
filled with secrets
from time without end

On the other side
lay Europe
a glittering sea of light
a tapestry of gold
and silver
a crown of jewels

Was that the reason
they called Africa
the heart of darkness
Africa
so dazzling
in every way
thoughts of Africa

A voice on the intercom
the pilot announced
the approach
to the heart of Europe
the old
capital of the world

The airport was massive
a sea of white faces
and dark uniforms
silent as the night
hurrying
work to be done

They traversed long passages
floors
that move under you
stairways
that run with you

Finally out on streets
where once carouse
great statesmen of empire
where now youth
dallied

He drove through
the old capital
he saw buildings
old and moldy
the old palace
where still lived
the Monarch
was only a big house

The Monarch
living in this ordinary town
where beggars beg
and garbage
litter streets

The Monarch
who travels abroad
covered in pageantry
and splendor
Who dined and wined
with heroes of uhuru
and assorted
usurpers of power
looters
of sate coffers
marauders of the land
rapists

On and on they drove
through streets crowded
with shoppers
pleasure seekers
till at last
they approached
the dream campus

The dream campus
lay miles away
tacked in groves
a wonderland
where past and present
come together
in a celebration
of harmony

Picture book edges of greens
lined the avenues
of learning
manicured loans
elegant structures
modern and classical
sprung like fairies
out of woodlands

Parklands and playfields
shrubs and flowers
water fountains
spirited youths
hurried professors
sightseers
with camcorders

They drove slowly
through the fairyland
on and on he goes
the seconds tick the time out
and the thought
occurred to him

Here on this
dream campus
should abide the monarch
in the company
of these happy youth

“Young ones shouldn’t be afraid
young ones should be together
I love you and you love me
Oh my darling can’t you see
Young world shouldn’t be afraid”
Cliff Richard

Finally the car turned
and glided
onto the grounds
of a magnificent structure
glass and steel
laid in a garden

The superintendent
a dapper man in suit and tie
looked like he drank all
from the fountains
of knowledge
he took him
to his new quarters

Specious rooms
well-appointed
a striking view
of the famous river
he encountered
geography lessons
long ago

His spirits rose
in his eyes
a light shone
he was at peace
with the world
on his lips
a melody

“Sail on Silver Girl,
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind”
Aretha Franklin

copyright john otim 2011

author note – john otim taught crative writint at ahmadu bello university, zaria, nigeria


day by day in a war shattered village
by john otim

For hours they trekked for kilometers in a situation that brought them close to danger.  Given what it was at the time in Northern Uganda, anyone could have shot them dead and that would be that.

Now cautiously the men were making their way to what used to be their village. In the solitude of the dawn hour the men had slipped away out of the refugee camp that was their home, that had been their home for years now. A great gustily clamoring of mud huts straight out of medievalism.

"two million lived in this condition"

two million lived in this condition

The men were on a mission to reclaim their lives, to take it back. In the eighties when the war first came to Northern Uganda in a barrage of gunfire their lives had been shattered, entire communities uprooted, sent packing to camps far and near. Overnight otherwise thriving communities were reduced to destitution. In the years at camp they lost everything, crucially they lost the ability to make a living. By their loss the country lost something. In the squalor of camp life the good old mores of the village disintegrated and gave way to criminal ways. Now the ghosts of crime and the insanity of camp life were returning to plague the nation.

Years had gone and the war in Northern Uganda was abetting, peace was coming back but nothing was certain. So now the men had sneaked back to the village they used to call home to see what they could do. They were young men. They were the advance guard. If all went well on this mission others would follow. The advance guard would mobilize the people to return. The old vibrant life of the community would rise again. Perhaps in time the village would thrive again. It was better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven. Those thoughts again. For sure none of these men had heard of John Milton much less read Paradise Lost.

vandalized property

vandalized property

But now that they were here, back to the village after that long absence, now that they were back walking the same grounds they used to play on, the men felt their old energies return. They were connected. They heard the old drums beat again. But it was all a momentary thing. Now that their eyes were wide open and they could see fully, what they saw took the life out of them.

"wrecked homestead"

returning to wrecked homestead

 The village was a total ruin. Farmlands once filled with rice and millet stalks were wilderness. Monkeys were returning in droves. But the teaming livestock once the hallmark of the village was gone. Cattle was the wealth of the subregion. The once neat homesteads where women lovingly bossed their men, the trimmed schoolyard where school children held mini Olympics, the roads on which roared old fashion trucks and buses, and the other village infrastructures, were wrecks of their former selves. The old railway, the lifeline to the North was no more.

"idle rail station"

Despondent and despairing the men retreated to the veranda of the only store in the village, the spirit gone from them. “The time is out of joint! Oh cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right!” Hamlet. To be or not to be was the question. But it did not take long for an answer.

By their own efforts, with help from Ochan Self-help Alliance, the people of Opac were setting the times right. I saw it my self when I made the journey back to Opac this last Christmas season. Christmas is the harvest season in Opac. There is nothing to raise the spirit like the promise of better days ahead. Men are creatures of hope.  And in Opac as I found out, hope made all the difference.

It was Ochan Self-help Alliance that brought hope. The Maryland registered non-profit body connected the people of Opac to the world beyond their boarders and showed them what could be done even by people in their situation. At the time the people of Opac had nothing with which to begin the mammoth task they knew they had to do. the Agency mobilized resources, brought in equipment, and erected enabling structures, all for free.

help me if you can i ‘m feeling down
help me get my feet back on the ground
won’t you please please help me
(help lyrics)

 The people of Opac who had come face to face with death and raw brutality, saw now that good still existed in the world. Their spirits lifted and they drove themselves harder than they ever did. Men and women in the fields, kids in classrooms, had the fire burning in their eyes.

fire in their eyes

fire in their eyes

Although these were the localities in which my own father first began his teaching career, places of which I heard him speak very fondly, I myself  was visiting Opac only for second time.  Since I first visited last May during the planting season when the land was lush, green and fresh. It was as if the evils you heard in the stories people told did not happen here, did not to these people!

If the progress I saw in Opac depended on one thing, it was the crop, sunflower. To see in the fields as I saw in Opac, the graceful yellow flower dance in the sun in field after field. To realize that for the village this meant good income was a wonderful thing. For me it was straberry fields for ever. 

sunflower fields

sunflower fields

Sunflower was the essence of the hope that Ochan Self-help Alliance had inspired in Opac. Where the village could find no crop seed to put in their fertile soil, no matter where they went and how hard they tried, the Agency like magic supplied them with free seeds. It secured on top a competitive market and free transport for their produce over forbidding road conditions.

It was the run up to Christmas. The big day was only days away. I stood in the fields in Opac and observed the women as they set upon the ready yields to bring home the harvest. The time was approaching noon. The women had been at it by dawn.  Where did their energies come from? Later that evening I saw by the common store, sacks upon sacks of neatly processed sunflower seeds and I knew the answer. There is nothing like hope even though Ssaka Ssali of the Voice of America by his over use has devalued the word: Keep Hope Alive …

John Otim
Suncolor Media Consultants
Kampala Uganda

copyright 2011 john otim


hope and despair on the postcolonial campus
by john otim

Although Africans were among the the early makers of human civilization the modern African university owes nothing to African genius. It is distinctly the creation of the colonial state.           

          In the contemporary world Africa lags way behind in development regardless of indices we may choose to use. The writer and broadcaster Ali Mazrui has likened Africa to the Garden of Eden in Decay, a place that once had it all but that now has lost all, a king only yesterday but a pauper today.

            Yet in numbers alone, African universities have grown tenfold, churning out thousands of graduates. But numbers though important are not the game here. African universities as they are today betray little of the vibrant traditions that once animated the continent. Despite the poverty and the backwardness these traditions still animates rural Africa today. Take the case of the Acholi of Northern Uganda.

            The emergence of the African novel at Ibadan and the rise of the modern African art in Zaria, both events occurring in the middle of the last century, occurred because the colonial students that shaped the moments found a way to reconnect to their African past and from there drew strength.

            The African university today, whether Senegalese or Malian, has routes not in the rich traditions of Africa, but in Africa’s immediate colonial past. This is the problem.  Because the colonial past is the past of despair. It represented a period when Africa had lost the initiative was clueless.

            Unlike ancient Timbuktu or medieval European universities, the colonial university was not an organic institution. It did not rise out of the land. It could not offer a basis for the flowering of culture and learning.  It was limited in scope and scale. It admitted few students, offered few carefully selected courses, taught by colonial professors. The colonial students were cultural refugees, cut off from the treasure house of their heritage.

            There was little to distinguish between the colonial professor and the colonial administrator. Both were steeped in colonial culture. In colonial times you could not as a white person, live in Africa except as a colonizer. Colonialism as the life of Karen Blixen in colonial Kenya demonstrated, was a collective thing. It was a lived experience that sucked in all persons from the metropolitan countries that lived in the colonies.

            The colonial university however was a complex thing. There was little doubt about its mission, namely the reproduction of the colonial state and the promotion of colonial culture. In Africa there is a tendency to equate colonial culture with European culture. But colonial culture was not and is not European at all. Europe excepting only a few spots already had democracy.  In Africa the European colonies were heavy handed dictatorships, the type you encounter in many African countries today. 

           The colonial university sprang out of the milieu of the debilitating condition produced by colonialism. The colonial university could never have been a marketplace of ideas in sense Oxford, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne were and still are. But within its framework, the colonial university functioned admirably. Immaculate facade bestowed the grace of a metropolitan campus, radiated serenity, civility, and wholeness. Within its four walls the contradictions that were imperialism seemed far away.

            On the eve of independence the postcolonial state inherited the colonial university, little understanding its complexity. The inheritance was its most prized possession. So acute had been the hunger for knowledge and learning and so limited the opportunities. Chinua Achebe has remarked that the colonial university was the only good thing colonialism did in Nigeria.

            In the immediate post colony, the new President became the new Chancellor of what had become overnight the national university, but it was national in name only. Nothing pleased the President more than when he appeared in full academic regalia and presided over convocation ceremonies. Viewed as a symbol of prestige, the colonial university in its post colony stage was sliding towards outward appearance and further away from substance. During colonialism proper the institution knew exactly its purpose understood its mission and acted accordingly. Now the new managers of the place did not comprehend the dynamics at work but acted as though everything was alright.

           By the powers conferred upon me I confer upon all those whose names have been read the degree of Bachelor of Science. By the powers conferred upon me I confer upon all those whose names have been read the degree of Bachelor of Arts. Those became the litany of the postcolonial institution. Everything in the end became hinged on that. And so was entrenched the regime of marks.

            The ceremonies were conducted in a postcolonial culture saturated with the music and the culture of modern pop. Modern pop was suddenly the new power in the land.

            In time the neo colonial state proceeded to multiply its most prized possession. So acute was the hunger for knowledge. There was a need for men and women of learning in all manner of fields. There was a need for all manner of technical skills. In the postcolonial state everything was in short supply.

            The state genuinely longed for progress and desired development and prosperity for the people. But at the old colonial university, it was business as usual. The old colonial professors continued to do the same things they did before.

          Even as it routinely graduated students the post colony university faced the crisis of identity. What did it mean to be a university? What does it mean to be African? On the post colonial campus the crisis was deep but these questions were not asked. For a society emerging out of colonialism and in search of its own routes and place in the modern world, the program of learning and research at the postcolonial university were laughable. In the late sixties at the postcolonial university in Nairobi it took a fight by determined young lecturers led by the then young Ngugi wa Thiongo, to get African and non European literature on the curricula.

            Five decades on since independence the old question acquires now an urgent tone. How have African universities faired since independence? What goes on there? Is it true what Olugesun Obasanjo  once said according to a Nigerian daily? That all that the professors were interested in were drinks and beautiful girls?

            In the mid nineteen seventies a famous African Statesman famously declared at Addis, during the Summit of the Organization for African Unity, that Africa had come of age. But throughout Africa even as he spoke, it was the age of the coup de tat. He himself had earned his way to Summit by means of the gun.

            How could Africa come of age without its universities? Was that the example of Japan? Is it the example of the new China we saw at the Beijing Olympics? Without its universities where would Europe be? In Russia and Poland the intellectual tradition were well entrenched.

            About the state of the postcolonial university there is a little known novel called Marks on the Run.  It was published at the Ahmadu Bello University (where I taught) in 2002. Written by an Ahmadu Bello university lecturer, the book provides a rare insight as to what does go on in African universities. It is of course a Nigerian book but one can assume that it represents generally the African reality.

            Although its author is far from being a great man of letters and in many ways lacks the gift of a writer, Marks on the Run does manage to let one into the world of the postcolonial university in a way that gives the experience akin to that of an on the site observer.

            The old colonial campus is no more. No tears. In its place stands a huge edifice, hurriedly put together. Hundreds and thousands of students attend but many have no idea why they are there. The old colonial professor is gone; nobody there talks any more about spears, bows and arrows!

"ahmadu bello university" ahmadu bello university

            But there are lecturers and professors on campus who know next to nothing about their disciplines, who represent no body of knowledge, that are void of any trappings of culture. to be sure there are exceptions. Living conditions for students are appalling. Rented accommodation in town is worse. Really how anyone could study and learn under those conditions beats imagination.

            The old colonial mission of “for the glory of empire” that in the past guided learning and the curricula, is gone. But nothing has been put in its place. In the vacuum, the regime of marks and grades, and the final certificate at the end takes center stage. It is wielded through the combined dictatorship of lecturers and professors who invoke out of context, the African thing about deference to elders. “Where are your manners?” is a constant refrain on campus.

"ahmadu bello university students" ahmadu bello university students

            The university has become big business. Fake businessmen haunt the corridors of learning hunting fake contracts to deliver fake equipments and disused reagents. A growing number of lecturers find here a place for marking time and making quick dough. For the majority of students the university has become a place for picking easy grades and unearned diplomas, a far cry from the rigor and discipline of the colonial university. “Where has the good time gone?”

            Not long ago, a professor of the Ahmadu Bello University said to me. Here, no one earns their degrees. We dash them. He pointed to a group of his own graduate students lolling under shades in the heat of noon. They included some of his younger colleagues who were pursuing the PhD. Now, to dash in Nigerian terminology is to give away for free.

             In the novel, learning and things intellectual take a back seat; money and sex get to replace ideas as the real mode of academic exchange. In real life you see this imprinted on the face of the postcolonial campus through the attention paid to material possessions and the general lack of reference to academic work.

            But don’t go away, not all is lost on the postcolonial campus. There is present there a band of gifted professors and scores of talented and determined students – young people in love with the idea of a modern and prosperous Africa. There is a battle raging there between the good and the bad. Marks on the Run by Audee T. Giwa is a report from the frontlines.