Our complex problem

During meetings with university vice chancellors in Abuja last week, it became clear to me that despite important contextual differences, there are many areas where we can learn from our colleagues in Nigeria, and equally offer important collaboration opportunities to them

There are areas in disease management, particularly in polio control, where Nigeria has a lot to offer to us

Despite issues of poverty and complex security challenges, Nigeria eradicated polio in 2016, and there have not been any cases of wild polio in the country since

Pakistan has gotten close at times, but is not quite there yet

Engagement with local communities, the role of tribal and religious leaders and creating trust among communities has been a hallmark of the Nigerian effort to tackle polio

Pakistani academics, policymakers and public health professionals can surely learn a lot from the successful example of Nigeria

Nigeria, like Pakistan, has struggled recently with issues of floods and climate change and its impact on health and livelihood are relevant for both countries

There are common issues in myriad areas that include local governance, manufacturing, institutional autonomy, increased access to healthcare and a vibrant art scene that can create new opportunities to create new knowledge

The impact of the evil of colonialism on both societies still casts a long shadow

Beyond that, just the opportunity to learn about other societies, engage in intellectual exchange, benefit from a rich tradition of literature, or reflect on local history is immense

On my return, I spoke to a few people about why we do not engage with African universities more, and their response was: what do we have to learn from them? Clearly, we have a complete monopoly on knowledge and that is exactly why we are doing so well

It is terrifyingly sad that our inflated sense of self is stopping us from learning and contributing

One does not have to defend the evil actions of a particular government — be it the US or India or Pakistan or anywhere in Africa or elsewhere — and still be able to call out our own arrogance

We have a lot to offer to the world, but a lot more to learn as well

Assuming that we can only learn from universities in particular countries, and institutions in other countries have nothing to offer is not only arrogant, it is also foolish

It is also neither the right attitude towards knowledge nor a smart policy

It is also not what other countries in the region or beyond are doing

I have been working with colleagues in sub-Saharan Africa for the last thirteen years and in my interactions with universities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Ghana, South Africa and now Nigeria, strong university links and student exchanges with India are quite common

So are partnerships between South American and African universities

While there are some rare examples of interactions between our institutions and those in Africa, many Pakistani academics I have spoken to find any such interaction a waste of their time

Not only do we miss out on the opportunity to learn, reflect and contribute, we also shut ourselves out of future trade partnerships

Our embassies in Africa reflect this broader issue and rarely have sections that foster academic ties between institutions in Africa and those in Pakistan

Development requires intellectual exchange

Intellectual exchange is more than a mere technology transfer from rich to the less rich

It should be rooted in inquiry, curiosity and a real appreciation for knowledge

This appetite requires both humility and a genuine desire for learning

Currently we lack both

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2023

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Date:22-Feb-2023 Reference:View Original Link