Hon Cabinet Secretary,
Members of Council,
Senate and Members of the Academic Staff,
Other esteemed workers at the University;
Ladies, gentlemen and fellow Africans:
First of all I would like to convey my sincere thanks for the honour the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology has conferred on me by admitting me as an alumnus of this University as an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
I also apologise that due to other pressing challenges, I could not attend the Graduation Ceremony in April last year humbly to accept this Doctorate in person.
However I plead that we, as fellow Africans, accept the traditional advice – better late than never!
I feel particularly honoured that I stand here today at a University which carries the name of a great African leader and hero, the eminent fighter for the liberation of Kenya and Africa, Dedan Kimathi.
I would like to believe that everybody present here today remembers this as a matter of course that when Nelson Mandela visited Kenya in 1990, four months after his release from 27 years of imprisonment in South Africa, he sought to pay tribute to Dedan Kimathi and his fellow fighters of the Land and Freedom Party whose sacrifices had made an enormous contribution to the defeat of colonialism throughout Africa.
The important comment Nelson Mandela made in this regard, during that visit to Kenya, has been widely reported, but also bears repeating.
As you know, he said:
“In my 27 years of imprisonment, I always saw the images of fighters such as Kimathi, China and others as candles in my long and hard war against injustice. It is an honour for any freedom fighters to pay respect to such heroes.”
I and others of my comrades were brought up and nurtured as fighters for liberation by Nelson Mandela and the other eminent South African revolutionary leaders of his generation.
As young activists involved in struggle for the defeat of apartheid and white minority rule we too were inspired by the example which had been set by such heroes as Dedan Kimathi and General China of Kenya, and others elsewhere on our Continent, such as Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria and Patrice Lumumba of the Congo.
We accepted this as our inalienable obligation that we had to do everything possible to help ensure that as South Africans we engage in struggle to realise the objectives which had been set by other African liberation fighters we accepted as our own leaders, such as Dedan Kimathi and General China.
You will therefore understand that I, like others of my generation of South African freedom fighters, were schooled from our youth to understand that as activists for the defeat of white minority apartheid rule in our country, we were also Pan-Africanists committed to engage in a common all-African struggle for the liberation of our Continent and the African Diaspora as a whole.
Today all of us as Africans, throughout our Continent, face an historic challenge to answer the question honestly – are we acting in a manner which demonstrates loyalty to the objectives which such heroes as Dedan Kimathi, General China, Ahmed Ben Bella and Patrice Lumumba set?
Those objectives include:
- ensuring that as Africans we truly enjoy and exercise our right to independence and self-determination;
- that we use this right to determine our destiny, refusing to allow others to transform us into neo-colonial dependencies;
- that we use this right to enable the people as a whole, not merely an African elite which takes the place of the former colonial power, practically to give expression to the demand immanent in all the African anti-colonial liberation struggles – power to the people!;
- that we use the fundamental right I have mentioned to ensure that our independent States focus on the central task to improve the lives of the citizens on a sustainable and sustained basis in the material, intellectual, cultural and social spheres;
- that Africa achieves the objectives spelt out in the African Union Constitutive Act and the related Treaties, Charters, Conventions, Protocols, and other important documents; and,
- that Africa takes her rightful place as an equal player with others in the world as a co-determinant of the global system of political, economic, security and other relations, through the United Nations and other established multilateral organisations.
I am convinced that the African intelligentsia, which is concentrated in the African Universities, such as our Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, has an absolute obligation to contribute to the achievement of these objectives.
I would like to emphasise this challenge in a direct manner.
The African intelligentsia at our Universities has an obligation to understand that it has a solemn responsibility to address three major challenges.
These are to educate young Africans, to expand the frontiers of knowledge through original and relevant research and to make the required intellectual input to help Africa correctly to respond to the challenges I have mentioned.
It is a matter of common cause that Africa faces such major challenges as:
- the eradication of poverty and underdevelopment;
- ending the violent conflicts which continue to afflict some of our countries, thus to achieve our peoples’ yearning and aspiration for the peace and harmony within which context our continent’s renaissance can come into full flower ; and,
- the entrenchment of democracy in a manner which enables the people both to play an active role in determining their destiny, and to resolve any disputes that might arise among them through peaceful means.
The achievement of these objectives requires serious intellectual inputs especially from our Universities, which inputs would be informed by an intimate understanding of the conditions prevailing in each of our countries.
In his paper, “Tertiary Education and Development in Sub-Saharan Africa at the Dawn of the Twenty First Century: A Lost Hope, Or Present Opportunity?”, Professor Raphael Ogom said:
“In its current form, design and content, (sub-Saharan African Higher Education) is of limited relevance in the context of rapid social and economic changes in the region and bears little connections to the local economy and society. Modelled after European higher education, it has evolved from educating only a few highly qualified students into mass systems of lower quality (Bollag, 2004). This expansion, unfortunately, has not been accompanied by a grounded re-development of curricula that reflects, and is better suited to the realities of the Sub-Saharan Africa environment and development needs. A re-think and re-design of the mission of higher education from the current curricula of theoretical sophistication, mismatch, and irrelevance to one that holistically aligns the educational system with the local industry and overall development needs, is long overdue…(Without this) it is likely, and regrettably so, that the socio-economic development promise of tertiary education in Africa might remain a lost hope at the dawn of the 21st century and beyond.”
In his 2004 paper on “African Academics and African Universities in the Twenty-First Century: Needs and Responsibilities”, Emeritus Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones of the University of Sierra Leone added to these observations and said:
“Our aim in teaching should be to produce men and women who are both critical and creative. Our students should be encouraged to be thinkers and doers rather than accumulators of facts and received knowledge. This must be so if they are to be instruments of change, working towards the realisation of a just and consequently, stable society.”
I would like to believe that this eminent University, true to its Mission Statement, which, as you know, commits the University to “producing relevant technical and managerial human resource and leaders to contribute to the attainment of national development goals”, does not fall within the category of institutions of higher learning of which Professor Ogom said that their teaching and research meant that “the socio-economic development promise of tertiary education in Africa might remain a lost hope at the dawn of the 21st century and beyond.”
Rather, I would like to believe that the University is doing what Professor Durosimi Jones suggested, of producing graduates who are “instruments of change, working towards the realisation of a just and consequently, stable society.”
On January 29 this year, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda presented a Report to a Retreat of the African Union Heads of State and Government on proposed reforms of the AU. Among other things he said:
“Looking around Africa, any of us can give examples of situations that hurt deeply because we know they would not exist if we had acted much earlier, as we agreed to do so many times over the years.
“There are lives lost in childbirth, villages filled with uneducated children, people locked in refugee camps for decades because of who they are, and countless families who lack the means to guarantee basic dignity.
“…. tens of thousands of young African bodies have been swallowed by the sea, or abandoned in the desert, in pursuit of a decent life for which they are prepared to risk everything, because they believe there is no hope at home.
“They testify to the urgent need to act.”
That urgent need to act emphasises the imperative on us as this University indeed to succeed in the task to produce the well-prepared graduates who will be “instruments of change, working towards the realisation of a just and consequently, stable society.”
With your permission, I would like to take this opportunity to join in congratulating all those who are graduating today.
I am certain that as they leave the University, they will be fully conscious of the fact that this University, named after the outstanding Kenyan and African combatant for liberation, Dedan Kimathi, is an important fighter in the continuing struggle to develop Kenya as a country of hope for all her people.
Its graduates must therefore be our new Dedan Kimathis, committed to use their knowledge and skills to help Kenya and Africa to achieve their renaissance.