We Have Something to Say

The imperatives ahead as African business schools look to the future.
We Have Something to Say
Africa is a large continent with widely different traditions and a huge variety in levels of business education. Therefore, it is almost impossible to predict what factors will have the most significant impact on the future of management education in this region. However, while cognizant of the dangers of oversimplification, I can still see a number of imperatives ahead as African business schools look to the future:

Management education in Africa must rapidly expand via technology. The need for management education in Africa is immense. We have a billion people, but only a handful of credible learning institutions. Fortunately, in critical areas, Africa’s communication development has leapfrogged traditional trajectories. For instance, fixed telephone lines were quickly surpassed by mobile phone technology, which is already in use for marketing, banking, medical care, and basic education. Africa is leading the world in mobile finance.

In the absence of other learning infrastructure—such as buildings and well-trained staff—management education can be rapidly expanded via mixed-mode delivery that utilizes existing and future communication networks. But to make that work, it is imperative that public and private sectors partner in investing in broadband technology.

Management education in Africa will have to include a strong focus on public management, not just the traditional focus on the private sector. State-owned enterprises control large parts of African economies in the areas of electricity, commodities, transport, infrastructure development, health, and education. A professionalized public service workforce is a precondition for ensuring that, in fact, each available tax dollar works for the public good. To this end, it is essential that management education offers training in crucial skills such as logistics, project management, and financial management.

Management education in Africa will have to unlock the entrepreneurial potential of the continent’s people. If we want to decrease unemployment in a sustainable manner, we cannot only rely on state-driven initiatives. We have seen that such initiatives are mostly short term—and when they are longer-term, they normally add to the wage bill without bringing about concomitant growth in productivity. But Africa can escape the trap of being a mere subsistence economy if governments and businesses—especially small and micro businesses—work together. They must reduce red tape and provide adequate funding, from both traditional and nontraditional sources, to educate anyone who wants to learn business skills. Business educators in Africa will have to understand that they must offer this basic business training alongside more prestigious degrees like the MBA.

Management education in Africa must focus on building social and ecological capital. African democracies— where they are established—are young and often unstable. There are regions where peace is difficult to attain. Business leaders must understand that they have a co-responsibility for increasing the social capital of the continent. No one except arms dealers will profit from war in the long term.

Business leaders also must be aware of their responsibility toward the environment. A large part of Africa is still heavily dependent on agriculture. Climate change and environmental destruction are having devastating effects on Africa’s people. Therefore, scarce and life-giving resources like forests, water, and clean air must be preserved as far as possible. The temptation is to blame industrialized nations for the current state of affairs. But we as Africans have to demonstrate that economic development can happen without a destructive effect on the planet. We can capitalize on our rivers, wind patterns, and levels of sunlight to become world leaders in alternative energy generation.

Management education in Africa must build the courage to develop distinctive approaches that are steeped in African traditions and philosophies. Most of Africa suffered under colonization from 1885 to 1950. Colonial education systems prevail to this day and have suppressed Africa’s development of its “own voice.” Concepts like Ubuntu (the sense that we all are connected), holism, and vitality are rich resources for reinterpreting dominant paradigms about the individual, the community, trust, and patterns of exchange.

This is not a plea for a sectarian “Africanism,” but simply an acknowledgement that Africans need to take their place in the global world of management education to challenge and enrich what has been developed thus far.

We have something to say.
Piet Naude is Director of the University of Stellenbosch’s Business School in Stellenbosch, South Africa.