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Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis, "CAFA and the 'Edu-Factory'"

CAFA and the “Edu-Factory”

Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis

For about twenty years our relation to the edu-factory has been shaped primarily by the experience we made first as teachers in African universities (George at the University of Calabar from 1983 through 1987, Silvia at the University of Port Harcourt from 1984 through 1986) and later as members of CAFA (Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa), an organization we helped to found after returning to the U.S.

Teaching in Nigeria was a life-changing experience at many levels. These were years in which the country’s social and political life was undergoing a historic change, under the impact of the “debt crisis,” of prolonged negotiations with the IMF and, along with them, the introduction of the first austerity plans. The universities were at the center of this process and the resistance to it, both because of the intense debate and anti-IMF mobilization they generated and because, from an early start, they were one of the main targets of the cuts in public funds that were introduced in the name of paying the debt.

Already by 1984, on many campuses, student protests --against the cuts of student allowances and the repression of student activism--were the order of the day. By 1986, when the government implemented the first structural adjustment program (publicized however as a “homegrown” measure), the confrontation between students and government had become open and the student movement was more and more repressed by force. At least 30 students were massacred on May 5, 1986 in response to a peaceful demonstration on the campus of Ahmadu Bello University (Zaria). By the time we left Nigeria, the universities, when not shut down, were battlefields, as the students, soon in collaboration with teachers’ unions, became one of the main opposition forces to structural adjustment and the dismantling of public education demanded by the World Bank.

Having seen our students beaten, tear-gassed, expelled, it was inevitable that on returning to the US we would organize around education in Africa. We founded CAFA, in 1991, together with other colleagues, who, like us, had left the country because they found it difficult to continue to work there under the new SAP regime. Our objective was both to mobilize students and teachers in North America in support of the student/teachers struggles on the African campuses, and to denounce the World Bank’s program for education in Africa. It was clear, in fact, that the attack on the schooling system carried out through World Bank-designed SAPs, was part of a broader attack on African workers, and what many in Africa defined as a re-colonization project.More than a decade later, we see that our analysis was correct. The dismantling of the African educational systems has had a strategic importance in the expropriation by foreign investors and international agencies of Africa’s “natural” resources (from precious minerals to genetic and pharmacological knowledge) and in the redefinition of the role of Africans in the international division of labor as that of producers of raw material and “cheap” labor power for the international market.

We chose the concept of “academic freedom” to name our organization, despite its traditional elitist connotations, because
of the new meaning that was being given to it in the debates taking place on the African campuses. While by the early 1990s, human rights organizations, like Human Rights Watch, and the UN, were using the appeal to “academic freedom” to blast governmental interference in African education, a gathering of African educators and students, meeting in the capital of Uganda, issued the Kampala Declaration, in which academic freedom was identified with “the right to study,” i.e. the right to have access to the means of knowledge production and circulation. We adopted the same idea because it allowed us to turn the table and argue that the true violators of academic freedom were the World Bank and the international “donors,” that soon joined the Bank in its efforts to restructure the African schooling system (through the introduction of user fees, the gutting of public investment in education, the promotion of international NGO programs aimed at training a body of technocrats sensitive to the requirement of economic liberalization-- the whole project paraded under the ludicrous and racist title of “Africa Capacity Building.”)

CAFA never succeeded in spurring on the North American campuses the type of mobilization we had envisaged. With few exceptions, the response to the anti-SAP students’ and teachers’ struggles in Africa has been tepid at best. Several US universities have even capitalized on the de-funding of Africa’s tertiary educational system, through the boom of study abroad programs that have often brought North American students to campuses that had been shut down by strikes or by government cuts. However, despite its failure to mobilize the North American campuses, we think that CAFA has made important contributions to the struggle over education in Africa:

*For more than a decade, the CAFA newsletters have documented the experiences of student and teachers’ struggles and organizations on various African campuses, collecting and circulating information about strikes, demonstrations and other forms of protest, in addition to publishing and circulating some of the materials they produced. Through this activity, CAFA has been a vehicle through which people in and out of Africa have first become aware of the existence of an African-wide student/teachers movement and of the role of education in the restructuring of African political economies.

**CAFA was used by teachers’ and students’ unions and associations in Africa to get their political demands and materials “out” to student and educators abroad, and later to the “anti-neoliberal globalization” movement that began in the mid-1990s. In this process, the experience of CAFA was instrumental to generating a type of North/South cooperation that we now see as indispensable in all our political work. (CAFA’s last collaboration effort was the co-production of a book edited by Richard Pithouse, Asinamali: University Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa (Pithouse 2006), that brings the story of South African university struggles to the larger “movement of movements”).

***Because of its cooperation with edu-activists in Africa, for more than a decade CAFA has provided an ongoing analysis of (a) the policies of international financial institutions (especially the World Bank) and the African states with regard to education in the context of the restructuring of the global economy, and (b) the implications of these policies for Africa’s economic, political and social life. Our analysis has particularly focused on:

-the World Bank’s “adjustment” of education in Africa; its impact on Africa’s schooling system from primary to tertiary; its function within the restructuring of Africa’s political economy, class relations, and place in the “global economy” and international division of labor;

-the connection between the demise of the African university system and the difficulty African countries face in protecting their “intellectual property rights” from gene-hunters and pharmaceutical prospectors;

-students’ and teachers’ organizations and struggles and the state attacks against them;

-the adjustment of educational system in Africa in the context of the increasing “globalization” and commercialization of education and culture (with the formation of “global universities, on-line education, for profit education).

-the structural adjustment of African educational system and the migration of African labor, starting with the migration of African youth to Europe and North America.

Organizations should not perpetuate themselves once the objectives for which they were formed have been achieved or the conditions that made them possible no longer exist. This is why since 2004, we have suspended the publication of the CAFA newsletter and we are presently rethinking the project that has sustained CAFA’s work. It is clear to us that the struggles to stop the structural adjustment process have been defeated; the restructuring of African universities along more divisive class lines has passed. Many student and teachers organizations (especially those which were crucial reference points for CAFA’s work) have been criminalized and, in many cases, destroyed. African universities today operate on a two or three-tier basis, each with different sponsors, funding (or lack of) and goals. Some units that are financed directly by foreign “donors” for their own commercial purposes are well equipped while other literally next door are left to disintegrate. Thousands of former students and activists have been expelled, many have migrated abroad, some now employed in foreign universities, most working on assembly-lines or in garages or in distribution networks in Europe or the US. At the same time, “la luta continua.” Campus enrollment in Africa has not decreased, though campus education often has little to offer, and new forms of struggles are emerging. Most important, the kind of adjustment of education that we first observed in Africa, in different ways, has now become a reality across the world, including Europe and North America. This means that new possibilities open up, encouraging new organizational projects.

Indeed, we are more than ever convinced that the universities are a crucial site of resistance and struggle and are interested in connecting with the experiences you have made as edu-activists, especially in the fight against the commodification of education and its restructuring along elitist lines. We are also interested in
exploring how to expand/, create, support alternative forms of education within and outside the present institutions, and connecting with edu networks/projects/ organizations working on education and gender.

Meanwhile, we are reconstructing our website where we will soon post a complete set of CAFA Newsletters and other relevant articles and documents. We are also organizing an archive with the materials produced by African teachers/students organizations (journals, bulletins, petitions etc.) that we will make available to anyone who wishes to consult it.

Last, we include a Code of Ethics we formulated in collaboration with a number of African edu-activists, motivated by
the irresponsible way in which North American educators often behaved when going to African campuses. We had no illusion that it would halt this kind of behavior, but we found it a useful consciousness-raising tool.


Globalization and Academic Ethics

The Coordinators of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa
[Published in (Federici, Caffentzis and Alidou 2000: 239-241]

One of the consequences of economic globalization has been the internationalization of US higher education institutions and universities. International studies, study abroad programs, international cultural exchanges have become a "must" on most American campuses. In the last decade, a number of major U.S. educational organizations have asked that "provisions should be made to ensure that at least 10 percent of all students who receive baccalaureate degrees in this country will have had a 'significant educational experience abroad during their undergraduate years.'"(See Michael R. Laubscher, Encounters with Difference: Student Perceptions of the Role of Out-of-Class Experiences in Education Abroad (Westport, Ct.: Greenwood Press, 1994)). Equally momentous have been the efforts by U.S. administrators and funding agencies to turn American academic institutions into "global universities," i.e. global educational centers, recruiting from and catering to an international student body.

We have also witnessed the growing engagement of US academicians and colleges in the restructuring of academic institutions in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former socialist countries, and the management in these same regions of private, generally English speaking universities, unaffordable for the majority of aspiring students.

All these developments constitute the most substantial innovation in US academic life over the last decade. They have been promoted and hailed as a great contribution to the spread of "quality education" and global citizenship. The reality, however, may be quite different. We call on our colleagues to ponder on the implications of these changes, especially for African universities, and to oppose the mercenary goals that often inspire them. Consider the following :

1. The internationalization of the curriculum and academic activities is often conceived within a framework of global economic competition that turns multicultural awareness into a means of neo-colonial exploitation rather than a means of understanding and valorizing other people's histories and struggles.

2. As the National Security Education Program (NSEP) has demonstrated, the Pentagon and the CIA are the most prominent government agencies promoting and financing the internationalization of U.S. academic education. This prominence is inevitable since they, more than ever, need a cosmopolitan personnel at a time when the U. S. government is openly striving for economic and military hegemony in every region of the world.

3. The globalization of U.S. universities has been facilitated by the underdevelopment of public education throughout the Third World, upon recommendations of the World Bank and IMF in the name of "rationalization" and "structural adjustment."

4. In some African countries where universities have been shut down, the idle facilities are often used by American study abroad programs. These programs benefit from the cheap cost of study, and the program directors can even hire at very low wages laid off teachers and former students as helpers/facilitators.

5. U.S. teachers and college administrators are being financed by USAID to intervene in several third world and former socialist countries to (a) set up private universities; (b) restructure entire departments, schools, programs, curricula. In other words, U.S. academics are being presently employed by the U.S. government to carry on cultural/educational work abroad that suits its economic, political, ideological objectives.

Considering the above developments, we believe that the time has come for U.S. academics to show our colleagues in Africa and other third world regions the same solidarity that would be expected of us by colleagues on our own campuses.

It is in this context that we are proposing the following "University Teachers Code of Ethics for Global Education in Africa." We urge you to circulate it among colleagues in the institutions where you work, at conferences, and other academic events and ask people to comment upon it. Please send your comments to one of the coordinators of CAFA as soon as possible. They will help us in the coming months to construct a final code of ethics that can be subscribed to by a substantial number of people involved in "global education in Africa." We intend to present the code to the organizations involved in financing or overseeing global education initiatives as well. Even more important, we want to use this declaration--amended as it might be--to promote solidarity with our African colleagues and campaign to reverse the recolonization of African universities.

University Teachers' Draft Code of Ethics for Global Education in Africa

We are university teachers and we publicly declare our adherence to the following principles of academic ethics in our work in Africa:

--we will never, under any circumstance, work (as researchers, with a study abroad program, or in any other capacity) in an African university where students or the faculty are on strike or which has been shut down by students' or teachers' strikes and protests against police repression and structural adjustment cut backs.

--we will never take a position at or cooperate with the World Bank, the IMF, USAID, or any other organization whose policy is to expropriate Africans from the means of the production and distribution of knowledge and to devalue African people's contribution to world culture.

--we will never take advantage of the immiseration in which African colleagues and students have been reduced, and appropriate the educational facilities and resources from which African colleagues and students have been de facto excluded because of lack of means. Knowledge acquired under such conditions would be antagonistic to the spirit of multiculturalism and scholarly solidarity.

--we will consult with colleagues and activists in the countries where we carry on research, so as to ensure that our research answers the needs of the people it studies, and is shaped with the cooperation of people whose lives will be affected by it, rather being dictated by funding agencies' agendas.

CAFA’s Materials

While we are restructuring our website we will be glad to send you by slow email or slow mail copies of our bulletins and other articles we and other CAFA people have written, as well as copies of documents from students/teachers organizations in Africa.

Cafa materials have also been collected in:

Federici, Silvia, George Caffentzis and Ousseina Alidou (eds.) 2000. A Thousand Flowers: Social Struggles Against Structural Adjustment in African Universities. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

CAFA has also helped produce the following account of recent university struggles against structural adjustment in South Africa:

Pithouse, Richard (ed.) 2006. Asinamali: University Struggles in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.