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Mandela’s unsung legacy

As Nelson Mandela’s legacy receives media attention amid recent health scares, his contribution to academic development in Africa is often overlooked, writes Burton Mwamila.

In news coverage of Nelson Mandela’s illness this year much has been said about the icon’s contribution to Africa’s development. Many, however, overlook his contribution to higher education.

Mandela saw education as a tool for developing Africa and empowering individuals to lift themselves out of poverty.

One of his famous quotes is that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This attests to his belief in education as a formidable tool in improving people’s lives.

He not only spoke about the importance of education, but was a man of action as well. In 2001 he suggested to African Union heads of state that a network of African institutions of science and technology be established as a way of addressing the knowledge deficit on the continent.

His idea, born of a desire to harness science to develop Africa, has seen the establishment of three such institutions.

One of them is the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania, where I am vice-chancellor. The other two are in Nigeria and Burkina Faso. A fourth is being planned for the Zimbabwean capital, Harare.

Mandela saw such institutions as a vehicle for training Africa’s next generation of scientists.

During his tenure as president, South Africa created a department dedicated to science, setting an example that has been followed by other African countries.

His name and political clout has also helped garner resources from governments, the African Development Bank and other financial institutions to set up and develop institutions such as ours.

Though Mandela has retired from active politics, his legacy in educating Africa’s youth will live on for generations. Africa needs more leaders capable of thinking beyond their own expertise and working for the good of their countries.

Burton Mwamila is vice-chancellor of the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania.