Knowledge for a sustainable world A southern African–Nordic contribution

Knowledge for a sustainable world A southern African–Nordic contribution
Knowledge for a sustainable wor ld
A southern African–Nordic contribution
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Knowledge for a sustainable wor ld
A southern African–Nordic contribution
Edited by Tor Halvorsen, Hilde Ibsen
and Vyvienne RP M’kumbuzi
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Published in 2015 by
African Minds
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The Southern African-Nordic Centre
University of the Western Cape, Private Bag X17, Bellville, 7535
Tel: +27 21 959 3802
All contents of this document, unless specified otherwise, are licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors.
When quoting from any of the chapters, readers are requested to
acknowledge the relevant author.
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Acronyms and abbreviations
Introduction: The Southern African Nordic Centre and the Sustainable
Development Goals: Opportunities for critical interventions
Tor Halvorsen
1 Disability in southern Africa: Insights into its magnitude and nature 31
Vyvienne RP M’kumbuzi, Hellen Myezwa, Tonderai Shumba
and Alice Namanja
2 Facilitating access to higher education for students with disabilities:
Strategies and support services at the University of Botswana
Pedzani Perci Monyatsi and OS Phibion
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Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University
of Malawi: The case of Chancellor College
Elizabeth Tikondwe Kamchedzera
Pr omoting research in resource-challenged environments:
The case of Malawi’s Mzuzu University
Victor Mgomezulu
‘The path of the mother is trodden by the daughter’:
Stepping stones for entry into the middle class in South Africa
Dan Darkey and Hilde Ibsen
Using solar energy to enhance access to ICTs in Malawi
Luke Mwale
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
Miroslaw Staron
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe:
Opportunities lost?
Henri-Count Evans
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9 Culture meets culture at a distance
Berith Nyqvist Cech and Lars Bergström
10 The Consortium of New Southern African Medical Schools:
A new South–South–North network
Quentin Eichbaum, Marius Hedimbi, Kasonde Bowa, Celso Belo,
Keikantse Matlhagela, Ludo Badlangana, Peter Nyarango and
Olli Vainio
11 International collaboration for pedagogical innovation:
Understanding multiracial interaction through a
time-geographic appraisal
P Assmo and R Fox
12 Rethinking access to higher education in Malawi:
Lessons from the Malawi Institute of Management’s
collaborations with universities in the United Kingdom
Rebecca Ward and Ida Mbendera
About the contributors
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At end of September 2015, after a long process of consultation and
debate, the United Nations general assembly replaced the eight Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) with 17 Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs). According to the High-Level Panel appointed by UN to initiate
debate about a new set of goals, the MDGs had neither focused sufficiently on
the most marginalised people, nor addressed important aspects of development
with regard to democracy and inclusive growth. But most importantly, the
MDGs had fallen short in relation to sustainable development, the most
fundamental challenge facing us all.
The High-Level Panel proposed that the world’s post-2015 agenda be
driven by the following five key transformative shifts:
1 Leave no one behind. This is crucial for ending extreme poverty and ensuring
that no one is denied universal human rights, including the right of every
individual to education.
2 Put sustainable development at the core. This points to the importance of
social inclusion and of meeting the aspirations of all people by 2030.
3 Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth. Part of this shift also
includes access to quality education and skills.
4 Build peace and effective open and accountable institutions for all. This
implies that all of humanity should live in freedom from fear and enjoy
fundamental human rights.
5 Forge a new global partnership. This is directed towards good governance
and civic participation.
By suggesting these shifts, the High-Level Panel hoped to refocus the world’s
attention on ending the rampant inequality of opportunities while inspiring
the next generation to believe, and act on the belief, that a better world is
within reach. From 2013 to 2015, these proposed shifts were intensely
debated by many different kinds of actors, including academics, and eventually
agreement was reached on 17 SDGs.
The new SDGs not only added more goals, but also fresh global
perspectives. The new goals concern the entire world, rather than focusing
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only on the so-called ‘developing world’ as the MDGs did. How to act
sustainably, what technologies and systems can and must be developed to
ensure sustainability, and how rich and poor alike must co-operate to make this
happen is our common challenge. The role of higher education in this effort
is acknowledged as being of vital importance.
At the Southern African-Nordic Centre (SANORD) conference in
Malawi in December 2013, the theme of which was ‘Contributions of
universities towards attaining the millennium development goals’, grave
concerns were raised that the universities would not be sufficiently involved in
the discussions about the new SDGs, and that universities would not be seen
as important sites for developing goals and solutions to the challenges facing
the world. It seemed that the High-Level Panel were calling on ‘experts’, but
bypassing the institutions that consistently inform and renew the knowledge
of those experts through research, and research-based education. Discussions
about the role of network in relation to the emerging SDGs continued at
the subsequent SANORD conference held in Sweden in June 2014, the
theme of which was ‘A sustainable future through information technology
and welfare development’. An awareness that SANORD, as a university
network, had particular duties and opportunities grew among participants at
both conferences, and the importance of communicating the content of their
discussions more widely was recognised.
What is contained in this book are some of the best papers from the
two conferences. The chapters emphasise important areas for present and
future collaboration within the network, and by doing this, also point to areas
in which SANORD members are engaging with the SDGs. The chapters
highlight topics that we think need attention as we join efforts to implement
the mandate given to us by the UN General Assembly, namely: how to
improve the world’s knowledge base and knowledge-based engagements to
achieve the 17 new goals.
SANORD has a particular regional profile, and thus attempts to share
knowledge about the value of specific regional experiences – how the
Northern welfare states work, for example, or the interregional tolerance
and solidarity between citizens of the South. These variations help us to
learn from one another, and by bringing such different cultures together,
SANORD stands out as an organisation with much to contribute to global
debates about the SDGs. In particular, our North–South/South–North
linkages put SANORD in a position to make sure that the SDGs, and the
global challenges associated with them, are placed squarely on the agendas
of higher education institutions in our regions. Our regional network,
perhaps more than any other, represents the global interconnectedness that
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is seen as a precondition for the successful implementation of the SDGs.
The burden of challenge is no longer focused on the low-income
countries; and solutions will be found only if we all share the load, carrying
costs according to our relative wealth. To make the world aware of this, and
galvanise responses capable of bringing about this change is the challenge
facing our university network and, similarly, other organised initiatives.
Because SANORD is owned by the universities, and run by university
leaders, it is also a network that can rapidly activate its members to address
what is urgently required, namely: research and knowledge dissemination that
improves our chances of achieving the SDGs. The SDGs invite this kind
of engagement, not only because they challenge us academically, but also
because they open up a new role for university-based knowledge. The SDGs,
as organised within the UN, are to be driven by constant interaction between
science and politics (the so-called SPI forums.)
This book is but a small contribution to an ongoing process within
SANORD, but hopefully one that inspires great creativity in relation to
the SDGs. That SANORD’s 2015 conference in Windhoek is dedicated to
debating the 17 SDGs, is another indication of our willingness to prioritise
this matter.
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Peer reviewing a book with authors from so many different disciplines
is not easy. Therefore strong praise is due to the anonymous reviewer who
accepted this difficult task, and whose comments contributed immeasurably
to improving the rigour and focus of many of the chapters. We would like
to thank the many authors who contributed to the book, and worked hard
to meet tight deadlines amid all their other responsibilities. And, of course,
many thanks are due to the SANORD board and to the staff at the SANORD
office at the University of the Western Cape in South Africa for support and
funding. The assistance of Mary Ralphs, freelance editorial manager, as well
as Peter Bosman our designer and typesetter, and Francois van Schalkwyk our
publisher at African Minds, helped to make this book a reality.
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Frequently used acronyms and abbreviations
acquired immune deficiency syndrome
black economic empowerment
Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa
Chancellor College, Malawi
Consortium of New Southern African Medical Schools
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Disability Support Services Unit
human immunodeficiency virus
International Classification of Functioning, Disability
and Health
International Classification of Functioning, Disability and
Health – Child and Youth version
information and communication technologies
International Monetary Fund
Millennium Development Goals
Medical Education Partnership Initiative
Malawi Institute of Management
nongovernmental organisation
Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
Person/people with disabilities
research and development
Southern African-Nordic Centre
Sustainable Development Goals
Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights
United Kingdom
UNAMSOM University of Namibia School of Medicine
University of Malawi
World Health Organization
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The Southern African Nordic Centre and the Sustainable
Development Goals: Opportunities for critical interventions
Tor Halvorsen
The notion of knowledge for sustainable democratic development
raises the question of how knowledge can contribute to the emergence of
an alternative political economy, capable of replacing that which currently
regulates, subjugates and exploits so much of the world and its resources in
the short-term interests of a small minority. To develop this alternative, the
democratic forces who are seeking to transform the present economic system
need information, knowledge and support from researchers and educators.
All those who joined the debates about the Sustainable Development
Goals (SDGs) that emerged from United Nations’ Post-2015 Development
Agenda (UN 2013), accept that the world’s economic system has to change
(ICS/ISSC 2015; UN 2015). Carbon emissions must be reduced and the
burning of fossil fuels must be stopped. In addition, poverty must be brought
to an end through the provision of meaningful work for all the economically
active citizens of our planet.
Yet, and this is the contradiction, economic growth or, to use the words
of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons who were invited to formulate
some initial ideas about the Post-2015 Development Agenda, ‘sustainable and
inclusive growth’ remains a primary goal for many (UN 2013: 2).1 In other
words, the very economic systems that are responsible for the overheating of our
planet are now expected to somehow reverse this process, and to save humanity
and the environment as we know it from immanent extinction. The problem
with this is that the most important means of reorientating the global economic
system towards so-called green growth are inseparably tied into furthering the
interests of the world’s multinational corporations, which exist to accumulate
capital and provide high returns to shareholders for their investments.
As Evans and Sewell (2013) and Mikler (2013) have argued, the role played
by multinational corporations is growing but remains poorly understood.
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Increasingly, these massive companies shape what has been called neo-feudal
globalism, based on a kind of moral economy that is currently expressed in
slogans related to ‘corporate social and environmental responsibility’. This
moral economy was praised by the High-Level Panel (UN 2013), but the
fact is that these organisations operate within a system that lies largely
beyond the control of national states (Münch 2011), and they are increasingly
dictating the formulation of national policies on trade, investment, mobility
and various other economic issues. As noted by Andrew Gamble (2013: 65),
modern corporations have become
a key and much-neglected third party in the relationship between states
and…operating within the market catallaxy, and within national states,
seeking to shape both to their advantage. If they want to build up their
capacity and increase their competitive advantage, states must support
their leading companies and enable their expansion, while at the same
time seeking to attract foreign companies to set up production facilities
and distribution networks within their jurisdictions. Tax, regulatory,
and financial regimes all must be adjusted to ensure that a country is
‘open for business’. In this way jealousy of trade has also become jealousy
of investment.
As a result, not democratic but competitive states have become the global moral
economy’s ideal. This moral (and neo-feudal) ideal is inappropriate in relation
to enabling humanity to meet the challenges of sustainable development in
the context of global warming and the massive environmental degradation it
is causing.
In our competitive world, the politics of knowledge aims to stimulate and
support economic growth. In this context, knowledge is valued for its role in
propelling technological innovation, and innovation is defined as a means of
increasing both productivity and product development so as to continuously
improve the innovators’ position in the competitive market. Two of the world’s
major economic blocs – the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation
and Development) and the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China
and South Africa) – both seem eager to support knowledge generation in so
far as this supports the growth and expansion of the current global political
economy. However, if this knowledge is derived from, produced by, and
captured within, an economy of competition and accumulation, how likely
is it that it will ever contribute to sustainable development or deliver jobs
for all? Will current innovations ever lead us into a different kind of political
economy, in which the demand for products that emit CO2 will reduce in
time, or are they more likely to continue to support the policy of infinite
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growth, driven by competition and in which success is measured according to
ever-increasing levels of accumulation and energy consumption?
The pessimistic view is that science and science-based education is being
increasingly drawn into this economic paradigm, and is being turned into a
tool for competitive states and multilateral companies alike. At the same time,
spaces for the development of alternative paradigms and forms of knowledge
are decreasing. My question is whether collaborations and partnerships across
the North–South divide, such those supported by the Southern AfricanNordic Centre (SANORD), can provide the kinds of networks in which
alternative knowledge about a future sustainable human and environmental
world can emerge in our anthropocene age? If so, then SANORD, and similar
kinds of networks, will be a vitally important voice in how the new SDGs are
The political economy envisaged by the new SDGs
If we look again at the report of the High-Level Panel (UN 2013), which
initiated debate about the fact that the deadline for the implementation
of the millennium development goals (MDGs) would soon pass, there is
clearly a new focus on the political economy. This focus was largely missing
from the MDGs. In addition, the new SDGs emphasise the need for
sustainability to be the overarching criterion against which all actions are
measured. Development that prioritises poverty alleviation and enhances
sustainability has become the yardstick for measuring progress, and all the
SDGs are now envisaged within a global context that aims to bridge the
divide between high- and low-income countries. Thus on the first page of the
High-Level Panel’s report, they note: ‘Most seriously, the MDGs fell short by
not integrating the economic, social and environmental aspect of sustainable
development as envisaged in the Millennium Declaration’. Nevertheless, the
High-Level Panel’s 2013 report offered few surprises. Rhetorical statements
about our common challenges masked a semantic avoidance of the glaring
contradictions between the dominant model of economic growth and the
ideals of sustainable development. Accordingly, the Panel seemed to assume
that poverty will be alleviated only by stimulating economic growth via capital
It is often argued that the world needs a fundamentally transformative
shift in the way the global economy works to secure jobs and inclusive
growth, to end extreme poverty, and to improve livelihoods for all. However,
programmes of action designed to deliver this rapid shift seldom include
anything more than continuing to harness innovation to enhance the
capacity of private businesses to create value, as if this is ever going to drive
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sustainable or inclusive growth. In fact, such programmes offer little more
than the continuation of existing inequalities and the relentless growth of
greenhouse gas emissions, while providing very little space for truly innovative
contributions from the academic community.
The voices of economists, engineers, scientists, social scientists and
experts in the humanities, who could be developing alternative paradigms
for an economy based on a total transformation of energy consumption and
the sharing of work opportunities, are absent from the High-Level Panel’s
report. Instead, as noted in their report (UN 2013: 2), the High-Level Panel
met with business representatives who indicated their willingness to share
accountability for the future development agenda. Indeed, the ‘business
community’ appear to have wholeheartedly accepted the role of change agent,
listing what they need from governments if they are to do more: ‘Sound
macroeconomic policies, good infrastructure, skilled workers, open markets,
a level playing field, and efficient and accountable public administration’. In
other words, the business community are continuing to advocate the kinds
of ‘good’ governance strategies that the World Bank, the OECD and others
have long advocated, and that essentially drive competition on their ‘playing
fields’ and according to their rules, rather than collaboration between states
(Halvorsen 2013).
The need for an alternative political economy
An alternative economic policy, which the new SDGs (at least theoretically)
invite us to debate, is being proposed by academics who are sceptical about
the ability of businesses (or economic blocs, such as the OECD or BRICS)
to drive inclusive growth or a rapid enough shift away from carbon energy
consumption to save our planet.2 This alternative paradigm takes, as its point
of departure, goals that seem to be in line with the rhetoric used by the HighLevel Panel, but its programme of action stands in stark contradiction to theirs.
On 10 May 2013, when researchers at the Mauna Loa observatory in
Hawaii announced that CO2 concentrations in the air had passed the critical
400 parts per million mark (Smith 2015), many simply became more fearful
and confused. However, this crucial information also initiated a new global
debate about how to formulate an alternative political economy in which
economics is no longer seen as being beyond politics or as ruled by its own
laws that only neo-liberal economists profess to understand.
The economic crises that affected many of the higher-income countries
in 2008 and 2009, and were initiated by corrupt financial institutions, also
contributed to this shift, and added credibility to the arguments of those who
are critical of the notion that the free market is the ‘best way to organise
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society’. Many acknowledged that it was time for social and political
innovation, and that economic imperatives cannot continue to have free rein.
First of all, politics has to be disengaged from its reliance on market forces.
Despite the imperatives of corporate social and environmental responsibility, it has been widely acknowledged that neither market incentives (as
some economists believe) nor wealthy economic actors, can be relied upon
to be socially responsible. Proponents of neo-liberalism often advocate the
notion of ‘planning not to plan’. But how can we avoid further global warming,
the acidification of the oceans, and the massive water and food insecurity that
this will bring about, without a plan? Environmental crises and human crises
now seem to be inextricably linked; their challenges have become one and,
contrary to what neo-liberal economists from Hayek onwards have argued, a
response to this requires planning.
In part, these developments have challenged the academic community to
move beyond its main role into new territory. The absolute limits on growth,
and the consensus that all human beings have a right to life and to be valued
by society, has forced scholars to think about an alternative global political
economy. The question is: to what degree is the academic community grasping
this opportunity, and to what degree has it already been co-opted into
supporting neo-liberalism? If the SDGs are to be taken seriously, a planned,
concerted and co-ordinated alternative has to be advocated in contrast to that
being promoted by organisations like the OECD and BRICS.
The capturing of the academy
Shortly after its establishment, the OECD put the politics of science and
education (essentially science and science-based education) on its agenda.
The organisation now boasts of having influenced and shaped highschool curricula globally through its Programme for International Student
Assessment (PISA).3 The use of the PISA programme to subtly blame and
shame participating countries is forcing many states to conform to how the
OECD chooses to measure learning and knowledge. The OECD’s influence
on the politics of universities, and in particular on those that focus on
research, is of similar magnitude. Thus, while the OECD has not yet created
a PISA test for higher education, evaluation and ranking standards, ratings
and rewards systems (all linked to funding formulas) are harnessing the
universities and their research programmes into the service of neo-liberalism’s
economic agenda. As the authors of one OECD report argue:
The accelerating importance of the global knowledge economy has had
qualitative implications for the way in which countries pursue economic
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development planning. One of the most significant consequences has
been attempts to integrate higher education and research systems into
macroeconomic policies for stimulating technological renewal (research
and innovation policy). Research and innovation policy differ radically
from previous generations of science and technology (S&T) policy in
three key respects that resonate well with the needs of low-and middleincome countries. It: a) emphasises the need for universities and other
public research providers to pursue research agendas that are anchored in
the needs of the society which they inhabit; b) promotes public–private
partnership as key mechanisms for achieving linkages between the
economy and higher education and research; and c) embraces a system
perspective. (Olsson and Meek 2013: 8)
As the OECD seeks to become a more global player, it expects to ‘extend
the existing body of knowledge, and the experiences and the policy networks
of the OECD, to developing countries in the context of the current and
future priorities of the Organization in the field’.4 Given their ‘successes’ in
transforming the EU and other OECD member countries, they seem to think
that the time has come to spread the OECD gospel to Africa. Accordingly, in
September 2013, the OECD hosted a conference in Addis Ababa as a followup to a conference held in Marseille in July of the same year. The theme of
the Marseille conference was ‘Increasing evidence-based approaches in the
design and implementation of innovation and research policy in developing
countries’. The theme of the Addis conference was: ‘Implementing research and
innovation policy at policy and institutional levels in Africa’. Policy-makers
and research managers (from higher education institutions to development
agencies) and leading academics in the fields of innovation, higher education
and development were invited.
Based on presentations at the Addis conference, the OECD’s diagnosis
of the situation in Africa seems to be that the universities (and other research
institutions) should pursue research agendas that are anchored in the needs of
the societies they live in; promote public–private partnerships that link their
economies to science and science-based education. At the centre of all this,
the OECD was pushing for the adoption of their almost mystical ‘system
perspective’. Consequently, debates about implementation followed the same
lines of reasoning that have so far guided educational reform in the OECD
member states. Essentially discussion was about how to:
Transform collegial institutions into organisations that compete for ‘market
share’ and research funding, with managers who promote and prioritise
these forms of competitiveness above the competition for knowledge.
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Make universities more responsive to the needs of corporate ‘users of
knowledge’ via public–private partnerships.
Develop ‘centres of excellence’ that extract the best resources from the
universities and link these to externally governed multilateral funding
organisations that are accountable to neither the universities nor the
countries concerned.
Make universities adjust to the so-called system perspective, which
enforces a division of labour between different science and science-based
education institutions, and, in particular, between different universities.
Within this paradigm, ‘overlap’ is seen as a waste of resources, rather than
as a means of deepening and extending knowledge.
By way of contrast, the German universities, which inspired the establishment
of elite universities in the United States in the last two centuries, were so
excellent precisely because there was so much overlap in their research, and
this gave rise to a kind of academic competition. The contemporary ideal is
to rationalise resources, and create single-purpose ‘outlets’ of knowledge for
users. What comes with this ‘system thinking’ (besides undermining academic
competition) is institutional specialisation. This supposedly enhances the
ability of institutions to compete in the global knowledge market, and seems
to be based on the notion that not everyone can be good at everything, but
many can be good at something, as long as they are willing to compete.
In line with this trend, universities and research institutions worldwide are
now subjected to being valued by ratings bureaus. In theory, all institutions
are equally eligible to win prizes for ‘producing knowledge’. However, the
criteria for success were developed in the North, and, so far, the majority of
the prizewinners have been from institutions in the North – how surprising;
something must be done to infuse a more competitive spirit!5
It can be argued that the High-Level Panel’s report has far too much
in common with OECD policies and strategies on education. That is, the
Panel seem to advocate the use of education as a tool of human capital
development, and for focusing on innovation, arguing that good governance
equates to the kind of ‘economic’ governance that secures investment in
production and stability for business and trade (UN 2013: 8–9). In this, the
(unstated) assumption seems to be that growth in trade will be secured by
the World Trade Organisation, whose role in promoting knowledge as a kind
of trade in services and in the ownership of intellectual products (via the
TRIPS Agreement for example, which is discussed in more detail later in the
chapter) coincides neatly with the OECD’s strategies. The role of knowledge
institutions within this framework is to be rated highly, and to be rewarded
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with research funding from external sources for ‘quality’ teaching. Individuals
within this framework are seen primarily as ‘human capital’, and as a crucial
input and output of universities.
Seen in these terms, nothing is more important for universities and nations
than the competition for prime ‘human capital’. Perhaps it is not surprising
then that a report in which the OECD presented its ideas about creating
a global labour market for human resources in science and technology is
called, The Global Competition for Talent: Mobility of the Highly Skilled (OECD
2008). Accordingly, many countries have come to see universities as little
more than talent-catching machines to entice high-quality ‘human capital’
into improving their industries and stimulating market growth. However, for
universities to become such machines, the egalitarianism of the public higher
education system as we have known it (particularly in the Nordic countries)
will vanish.
The OECD has made the promotion of science and science-based
education into policy for its members. In the OECD’s terms, this policy aims
to improve both quality within universities and the quality of the human
capital delivered to the working world. However, its focus on ‘best practices’
is also gradually transforming egalitarianism into elitism (Münch 2007). The
kinds of ‘best practices’ rewarded by the OECD (and the ratings agencies) are
becoming a precondition for gaining the competitive edge. The theory is that
all countries that participate in this chain of development will benefit from
the global market for human resources that is being created, but this is the
kind of supply and demand linkage that harnesses entrepreneurial universities
to the knowledge economy.
As a result, many universities have been captured by the ideology of
relevance as defined by the world’s dominant economies, and by actors within
their state and public administrations that such economies are seen to need.
Within this regime, numerous experiments are taking place about how to use
the market to reduce CO2 emissions, engaged engineers are talking about
the ‘greening of technology’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ are apparently coming up
with an abundance of energy-saving technologies. The framework for all
this, however, as secured by the OECD’s plan for what they call the global
economy, is still market-led growth under the slogan ‘the plan not to plan’.
The core actors in this process, as reflected in the High-Level Panel’s report,
are large corporations, which not only shape the OECD’s policies, but also
define the knowledge needs of member countries.
Of course, the kind of competition that rankings and ratings systems
promote leads to the standardisation of knowledge, and to the kind of
rationalisation within knowledge institutions that undermines their creativity
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and independence (Fourcade 2009). Thus, despite the obvious economic
crises afflicting the capitalist system, the distance that is necessary for research
institutions to produce knowledge for an alternative paradigm is steadily
being diminished (Streeck 2013). The creativity required for the kinds
of ‘innovations’ that will be capable of transforming ‘the way we consume
and produce’ as the new SDGs hope to do, is being sacrificed by research
institutions as they attempt to conform to externally driven evaluation systems
that focus on promoting the orthodoxy of ‘growth at all costs’.
Of course, increasing the competition between institutions for research
funding tethers the universities to certain economic interests (and not to
society as donors and corporations allege). This risks transforming the drive
for knowledge into a quest for technological innovation, while increasing
specialisation undermines traditional forms of academic competition, and
fosters an understanding of knowledge as a utility rather than a cultural
product. But perhaps only cultures dominated by utilitarianism would try
to transform science and science-based education into a ‘system’ in the ways
advocated by the OECD (Halvorsen and Vale 2012).
As Mahmood Mamdani has shown (2011, 2012), there are alternatives,
supported by other donor organisations, that understand that knowledge is
more often grown than produced. Such organisations also know that the
growth of knowledge has the potential to transform society in job-creating
directions far more than the growth of ‘knowledge products’ does for ‘users’
in the growth-obsessed economies that are driven by ever-increasing energy
consumption and non-inclusive growth.
Multinational corporations and their role as global social actors
As indicated, the High-Level Panel placed great emphasis on its dialogue
with ‘businesses’, and seems to trust the promises made by large corporations
to contribute to achieving the new SDGs. And the trust seems to be mutual.
The impression created is that the transformation that has to happen will be
realised through the efforts of established economic actors (despite the kind of
capital ownership and human exploitation they represent) if only their leaders
will be more socially and environmentally responsible; that is, be willing to
extend their so-called corporate social responsibility programmes in ways
that are more environmentally responsible. No interventions are envisaged to
control the free market or the concentrations of wealth and ownership that
cements the influence of the multinationals.
While many academic activists (including within SANORD) see the
present environmental and economic crises as an opportunity to develop
alternatives to the concentration of economic power and resources in the
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multinational corporations, these same multinationals are using the debate
about the SDGs as an opportunity to proclaim that they are offering political
solutions. Within a globalised world, mostly shaped by the liberalisation of
trade, the movement of capital, and freedom of investment, perhaps it should
not be surprising that the same companies that have benefitted from these
changes, are now seeking to legitimise them politically and ideologically.
However, globalisation is not driven by any political centre. There is no
‘global state’, and most importantly, there is no concerted democratic influence
that can speak with authority to global processes. In this ‘vacuum’, leaders of
big business have emerged as political players, funding political parties and
academic think tanks as means of furthering their interests, and influencing
policy development and change. Apparently they are now also being given
a mandate to achieve the SDGs. Nina Kolleck (2013) has described how
big corporations seek to extend their social and political mandate just
like the early feudal patriarchs did. In a study of global corporations (that
excluded companies involved in global finance) she found that multinational
corporations are driving institutional reshuffling, or what can be called an
instructional conflation, that involves fusing both politics and knowledge in
‘company policies’.
Business representatives have begun to create networks that help
shape public understanding of political concepts by influencing the
establishment of norms, institutions, and discourses…The analysis of
story lines has illustrated that global companies see themselves as the
most competent and indispensable players in defining societal goals. At
the same time, global companies benefit from the dominance of neoliberal
norms, financial benefits, free-market systems, and structural connections
between mass media and politics…It is unlikely that the economic crises
will cause significant changes in the business discourse on sustainable
development. (Kolleck 2013: 135–148)
Kolleck’s insights have been built on extensive research into the power held
by global companies. Nevertheless, such research is still in its infancy because
economists tend to view large corporations within an unexplained abstraction
(the ‘market’), which they claim is driven by a transcendental force (‘competition’).
The power of the ‘free market’ now undoes any national powers that try to
regulate it, but in the ‘interests’ of the mass-producing, mass-consuming public.
Even democracy seems to be defined by this producer/consumer dynamic, and
the new SDGs seem to be more focused on potential changes in consumption
and production than on the democratic empowerment of people or on how
democracy might encourage anti-consumerist behaviours.
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Within the nation state, the global power of multinational corporations
seems to be leading to the economisation (as opposed to democratisation) of
state functions. In other words, the number of legally embedded regulations,
and the bureaucratic offices needed to implement these regulations in
ways that align with the interests of these companies, is growing. Only the
wealthiest and most powerful states can challenge this process. Even the
Nordic countries are moving away from the democratic welfare state towards
the competitive state model, and ushering in the kinds of changes in priority
of knowledge that this brings with it. Building on data from the IMF and the
UN Conference on Trade and Development, Kolleck (2013: 4) showed that:
All the world’s major industrialized sectors are now controlled by five
multinational corporations at most, while 28% have one corporation that
accounts for more than 40% of global sales…in 2008, the top 20 nonfinancial corporations’ sales were worth US$4.3 trillion, equivalent to the
combined national expenditure of the bottom 163 states, and greater than
the gross domestic product (GDP) of the bottom 137 states…[the assets
of ] many of the top 20 corporations are as large as middle-income or
emerging states such as Chile, Algeria, and the Philippines. On the basis
of national expenditure, they are as large as many of the top 30 highincome states. Only the world’s largest and most influential economic
powerhouses, such as the United States, Germany, Japan and (relatively
recently) China may be said to rival them.
Essentially, global companies are shaping a highly concentrated and
oligopolistic global ‘economy’ that is also highly political in its workings.
To quote from Schmidt and Thatcher (2013: 415) who have analysed the
development of neo-liberalism in Europe:
It is important to note that firms generally do not act on their own but
rather form broad coalitions to promote their interests. They have needed
vital ‘accomplices’ – not only elected politicians and political parties but
also unelected officials. Coalitional influence is visible in EU debates
about regulation of financial markets, mergers, and corporate governance,
in which large firms and their managers have coalesced with EU and
national governments officials to form advocacy coalitions behind neoliberal ideas of expanding and protecting competition.
The earnings of the global companies dwarf the budgets of the global
organisations created to regulate them, such as the World Trade Organisation
and the OECD. However, the regulatory organisations have played a major
role in streamlining the new global regime, and created space for company
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involvement in politics. The role of what (Gill and Cutler 2014) called ‘the new
global constitution’ in promoting the power of the multinational corporations
cannot be underestimated, and it seems to have strongly influenced those
behind the SDGs into seeing the multinational corporations as the most
important source of change.
The growth of the multinational corporations has, however, coincided
with growing global inequalities in personal wealth and power. With their
headquarters in rich and highly developed states – that account for ‘80 per
cent of world output, 70 per cent of international trade, and 90 per cent
of foreign direct investment’ (Mikler 2013: 5) – representatives of these
companies experience the world as increasingly free of trade regulations,
but only because they are so well supported by the competition between
states, and by the multilateral trade organisations, that they have captured
and transformed for their own ends. In other words, these corporations
now set the agenda for the world’s multilateral system, and increasingly
also for the perceived knowledge needs and regulations of the global
knowledge community.
One often-cited example of how big companies have used the authority of
the law, their own economic interests, and those of the knowledge sector, relates
to the writing of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights’ (TRIPS)
Agreement, which is administrated by the World Trade Organisation. This
agreement had the explicit (and articulated) purpose of privatising knowledge
for the sake of trading it more efficiently. In describing how TRIPS overtook
the World Intellectual Property Organization, Montes and Popov show how
much pressure the middle- and lower-income countries are under to adjust to
and adopt Western technology and knowledge, and how much they lose out
under the TRIPS Agreement:
Total losses of Western companies from piracy were estimated by the
IIPA (International Intellectual Property Alliance) at US$ 16,4 billion in
2007…However, losses of developing countries from the implementation
of TRIPS are several times higher…US$60 billion a year. (Montes and
Popov 2011: 124)
Given where the big companies have their headquarters, the following is
A World Bank report estimates that the net annual increase in patent
rents resulting from TRIPS for the top six developed countries in this
field will be US$40 billion (with the top beneficiaries being the USA with
$19 billion, Germany with $6.8 billion, Japan with $5.7 billion, France
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with $3.3 billion, United Kingdom with $3 billion, and Switzerland with
$2 billion). (Montes and Popov 2011: 130)
In their interactions with states and the multilateral system, the big
corporations thus shape the legal basis for enacting public authority; that is,
they are creating a legal framework for a global constitutionalism that secures
their economic interests. The formation of tax policies is another example. As
Mikler (2013: 8) put it, the overall result is
a democratic deficit wrought by the demise of states whose sovereignty
is universally attacked, leading to the undermining of citizenship and
a splintering of collective communities into individuals, with these
individuals increasingly little more than consumers.
A legitimate state is now seen as one that exercises its (softer) laws, rather
than hard power towards the global companies, to complement (not regulate)
the activities that these companies enact ‘on behalf of the global public’.
This is also what constitutes the contemporary hegemonic moral economy,
creating relations between employers and employees that are reminiscent
of feudalism. What seems to be guiding the High-Level Panel’s appeal to
business (and providing the basis for their mutual trust), is that ‘corporate
social and environmental responsibility’ is gradually being enshrined in public
law and constituting the core values of the contemporary moral economy.6
In her discussion of the World Business Council for Sustainable
Development, Kolleck unpacks the notoriously unclear concepts of
‘sustainable development’ and ‘corporate social responsibility’, showing how
these are used to promote the hegemony of the big companies in the area
of the ‘environment’. With reference to formulations that litter corporate
mission statements such as how companies ‘participate in policy development
to create the right framework conditions for business to make an effective
contribution to sustainable human progress’ (2013: 136), Kolleck argues that
such business networks
could be regarded as promoting change in corporate behaviour in favour
of sustainable development… Yet they could also be seen as organisations
that engage in greenwashing efforts and allow businesses to artificially
bolster their image as promoters of sustainability. However, these business
networks attempt to position themselves as leading pro-sustainable
development organisations. They promote global companies as providing
solutions in the debate on long-term policy and regulations and have
sought to showcase their members as stewards of environmental and
societal objectives. (2013: 139)
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Global companies thus embody the rhetorical, symbolic, semantic and
programmatic shift from government to governance, by merging public and
private powers and creating a new kind of ‘global public’ and moral economy
based on the values and powers that come with private ownership. And in
academia (particularly in highly rated business schools), the multinationals
establish ‘centres of excellence’ that study corporate development and social
responsibility – now with a sustainable twist, where ‘sustainability’ refers
primarily to corporate survival (and, at best indirectly, to that of the rest of
International business law is a growing industry, mirroring the transformation of the accounting profession. Accordingly, accounting knowledge is
being regulated to fall within the systems preferred by the world’s four largest
accounting firms, along with the global adoption of accounting standards
formulated primarily by British and American companies. (For an overview
of the growth of the large firms, and the role of the accounting profession and
its regulations, see Botzem 2012). And while British and American company
law is being adopted globally (ostensibly to harmonise corporate governance),
what is known about economies and how they work is being changed at the
behest of the big companies, because of the political influence they wield.
The engineering profession, too, is caught up in this power structure.
While the ‘greening of technology’ is seen as the highest hope for sustainable
growth, and might lead to more efficient uses of energy, it is also undoubtedly
promoting an overall expansion in the use of energy, and thus a continued
reliance on carbon resources. And underpinning all this is a pervasive silence
about the radical lifestyle changes we urgently need to make to preserve much
of the life that exists on earth.
BRICS and knowledge
China is now emerging as a new base for companies with global reach. So far,
the other BRICS countries are less important in terms of their support for the
biggest or most influential multinational corporations. With BRICS, comes
the question of whether there will be alternative sources of development?
In addition to the New Development Bank being established by the
BRICS countries as an alternative to the IMF and the World Bank, BRICS
established its own knowledge policy in 2015. According to MacGregor
(2015b), some 160 scholars at the BRICS Academic Forum held in Moscow
in May 2015, ‘approved a 190-page report titled Towards a Long-Term
Strategy for BRICS Countries, developed by the BRICS Think Tanks Council’.
My question is to what degree this will offer an alternative to Westerndominated ideas about the science and science-based-education sectors’ roles
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in innovation, and to the idea that universities as global players need to be
detached from nation states so as to better serve the global economy.
Will BRICS support demands for alternative science and science-based
education that a new political economy requires? Common to protests in
the West against the hegemonic knowledge=innovation paradigm (like the
student occupations in the Netherlands in early 2015; see Rooieravotr 2015)
is the view that science and science-based education should be culturally
embedded and play a clear role within the nation state. Under the auspices
of this kind of science, research is done on a whole range of issues that are
seemingly ‘useless’ as far as innovation is concerned, but which make room
for academic freedom. Academics in the social sciences and the humanities,
in particular, are mobilising all over Europe and in southern Africa to defend
the need for this kind of research and to protest against dwindling research
funding (see Higgins 2013).
It is possible that the BRICS alliance came about by default – put a
name to something and it becomes reality, as in Kantian philosophy?
However, their gathering in Durban in March 2012 indicates that a level
of progress is being made by this combination of countries interested in
promoting mutual interaction and formulating a common response to
global governance. Their identity as emerging economies, and their potential
for promoting mutual economic growth, are positive factors uniting the
BRICS nations. What they are united against, however, is their underrepresentation in the global multilateral system and in the structures of
its governance. The BRICS countries have suggested a number of reforms,
and the establishment of their own development bank must be seen in this
context. But they are also working to counter their sense of inferiority and
marginalisation in terms of science and science-based education, and the
feeling of being dominated by so-called Western knowledge, which is too
often portrayed as seemingly neutral global knowledge, and through which
Western interests are invariably advanced.
To give just one example: BRICS’s policy research centre, located
at the Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro, has published an analysis of
the registering of intellectual property and investments in research and
development by the BRICS countries (Fernandes et al. 2012). In their
analysis, they state that knowledge ownership has helped create the vast
cleavages that exist in the world, and note how the current system of patents
and intellectual property rights is reproducing these cleavages. They also note
how important it is that Brazil, India and South Africa (after much struggle
and a legal battle) managed to defeat the global pharmaceutical giants in
relation to the manufacture and sale of generic antiretrovirals. Nevertheless,
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the tremendously important success achieved in the health sector is seen as a
‘deviant case’, a historically necessary exception, and not as setting a general
precedent for a new knowledge policy.
However, to support this paradigm means propping up a system that is
entirely dominated by the West. The United States Patent and Trademark
Office and the TRIPS Agreement, linked to the World Trade Organisation’s
overall free-trade strategy are just part of the story. At the BRICS Think
Tanks Forum in 2011, the Brazilian representative stated that Brazil needs
to overcome its linear innovation model (the implication being that this is
old-fashioned)(ORF 2013). However, the linear model also presupposes
the independence of the academic community and a certain distance from
the innovation process. The proposed model involves creating incentives for
patents that lead to the creation of new products following R&D done by
academics in the context of co-operative relations between universities and
businesses. One might as well be listening to the OECD’s Higher Education
and Research for Development Programme advising countries in Africa on
how to be better actors in the innovation process.
Some BRICS members seem to be expressing their dual identity by
joining the ‘global’ (that is Western) system, and attempting to reform
the system from within. Brazil, India and South Africa, in particular, have
condemned the global inequalities related to knowledge and access to
knowledge, and have criticised the ways in which current knowledge systems
work to reproduce Western ownership of the ‘knowledge industry’. However,
while strategies exist to bypass this Western system in emergency situations
(as in the antiretrovirals case), there seems to be a strong urge to be part of
the system, and to use it to pursue the same kinds of innovation strategies
that the OECD promotes; this urge is perhaps most clearly evident in China
(see Mikler 2013).
To elaborate more on this duality, the academic forum held in Durban
in March 2013, prior to the so-called leadership summit was instructive. The
purpose of the meeting was to promote the advisory role that academics and
think tanks can play in politics. Those (mostly academics and professors) at
the meeting seem to have agreed on the need to create a particular knowledge
tradition that BRICS can support. This was reported as follows:
BRICS should intensify its support for collaboration amongst academics
and scholars through a variety of institutions, networks and programmes
that advance education, research and skills development. This includes
valuing local languages and cultural practices and establishing the
required support mechanisms to make this possible. BRICS should
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consider the establishment of an independent BRICS rating agency
for educational institutions as well as a BRICS university. The Forum
proposes the establishment of a data bank with primary data on the
five countries, as well as a digital platform with detailed information on
researchers and institutions dealing with BRICS issues. The delegations
note Brazil’s offer to host the digital platform and the data bank.
(Pambazuka News, 2013)
This creates the impression that BRICS’s Academic Forum aims to build
its own knowledge base as an alternative to the Western model. Such a base
would, for example, include a variety of languages and not depend on English;
member countries would develop their own (e)valuation systems and criteria,
as well as new exchange networks and new academic standards (based on
their own university traditions). In addition, they would build data from
below and within member countries’ own contexts. The driving force behind
all this, the BRICS Think Tanks Council, was born at the Durban meeting
in March 2013.7 In his keynote address Jeffrey Mabelebele, CEO of Higher
Education South Africa, argued that
without active participation of these institutions [public universities,
science councils, research institutes, and so on] in the shaping of a BRICS
agenda, this noble concept will face a determined intellectual combat
strategy from the West to undermine its prospects. (Mabelebele 2013)
However, when we look at how BRICS is developing, we have to question
whether BRICS is, in fact, doing anything more than copying the Western
neo-liberal agenda when it comes to addressing the crucial issues of energy
and poverty. China, for example, has joined the World Trade Organisation,
and seems to be busy annexing Western systems of standardisation, etc.
Effectively, this means that China is supporting and working within the
very organisations and frameworks created by the OECD. Thus, the same
utilitarian orientations that dominate the European Union’s knowledge
politics (that is, the human capital, knowledge and innovation paradigms)
are present in the BRICS notion of the ‘developmental state’. Indeed, the
developmental state and the neo-liberal political economy seem virtually
identical when it comes to the production and consumption of energy from
fossil fuels; both show an equal disregard and refusal to take responsibility for
how these economic activities wreak environmental havoc and create human
degradation. Mabelebele and others who support the BRICS Academic
Forum seem to be proposing exactly the same knowledge policies as those
propagated by OECD.
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With the exploitation of carbon resources (coal and oil), the energy
accessible for economic development and public infrastructure burgeoned.
Carbon energy made it possible for particular nation-states that owned these
resources to occupy entire countries (as compared to previous periods that
saw trade occurring primarily between cities). This was the prelude to the
contemporary market penetration by multinational corporations. Since then,
academic competition has made universities into global entities or knowledge
‘nodes’, whose funding relies on their capacity to serve the carbon privileged.
Reactions to this ‘academic capitalism’ are growing, but so far, relatively
few alternative networks have been created. SANORD is one. As an academic
network of co-operation among equals, that is run by the leaders of member
institutions, SANORD has a great opportunity to contribute positively to the
inevitable changes that we face.
SANORD’s contribution to developing an alternative
US academic historian and environmentalist Richard Smith (2011, 2015) has
suggested alternative academic priorities that could grow out of networks of
academic co-operation like SANORD, which exist beyond the competition
inherent in academic capitalism that so much of our world has fallen captive
to. His suggestions are not surprising but also not easy to implement. He has
argued that we need to:
Contribute knowledge that helps us quickly and brutally reduce energy
consumption in the North, rendering extreme consumerism and the
production of short-lived products unnecessary.
Promote alternatives to the industrialisation of agriculture, fisheries,
forestry and mining (and many more sectors, but these are the ones where
knowledge is most rapidly undermining nature).
Transform all sectors that drive consumerism (particularly the banking
Get rid of the extremely resource-consuming military–industrial complex.
Develop renewable energy sources.
Transform trade so that we produce what we can and import what we
have to.8
All of these are urgent; the last one can feasibly be achieved very quickly, and
involves developing alternatives to the kinds of economic knowledge now
supporting and promoting the World Trade Organisation.
Numerous major industrial accidents globally have made it clear that
we are living in a new historical époque that was described, just before the
Chernobyl disaster, as a global risk society by Ulrich Beck (1986). But more
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importantly, inclusive growth, as envisaged by the OECD, for example,
will never be inclusive enough, and will forever depend on growing energy
consumption. Jobs will never be created as they should, and the biggest risks
to our destruction remain the human and the individual despair, evident in the
drowning of refugees in the Mediterranean, of being born into a meaningless
If we live in a new historical period, it is one that calls for a return to the
old history of the earth when solar energy was the only source of energy. This
certainly put limits on growth as we know it, but it also creates the potential
for planning and for ensuring that there is creative work for the many for the
common good and for the good of society.
This is the kind of vision that drives SANORD, and many of the individuals
and institutions within its network. At each of its biennial meetings, this
vision grows, and its publications (like this one) provide a means of sharing
how SANORD members are determining their research priorities. Like the
work documented in this book, the research is often conducted at a small
scale, using minimal resources, but the vision is steadily gaining momentum,
forging dynamic collaborations and pathways to new knowledge.
Contributions to this book
In line with the priorities of the SDGs, and reflecting several focal points of
the SDGs debate, this book is divided into two parts. The chapters in Part
One focus on several of the major social challenges facing humanity. Part Two
focuses on some of the kinds of collaborations and critical interventions that
SANORD members are involved in and encourage.
The first three chapters in Part One highlight an issue that, even in the
new SDGs, remain weakly elaborated: the place of people with disabilities
in different cultures. As shown by Vyvienne M’kumbuzi, Hellen Myezwa,
Tonderai Shumba and Alice Namanja in Chapter 1, disability prevalence
and the magnitude of the problems that people with disabilities in southern
Africa face on a daily basis, calls for urgent attention. Of the 17 SDGs,
several are relevant to the issue of inclusion and respect for all, but history
has repeatedly shown how easy it is to neglect this group unless they are
supported by organisations, programmes and professionals that make sure
that their voices are heard and facilitate attitudinal change in society. The
SDGs are an important means of highlighting this issue.
In Chapter 2 Pedzani Monyatsi and OS Phibion highlight the need
for universities to lead the way, and provide a model for others by creating
enabling environments for people with disabilities. If universities do not
stand out in their practice and show the world we can make sure no one is left
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behind, whatever their circumstances, our authority in debates about how to
tackle the SDGs will be weaker. Monyatsi and Phibion show how, even with
minimal resources, universities can be sites of progress, implementing policies
supportive of the disabled, thus for once uniting theory and practice.
In Chapter 3, Elizabeth Kamchedzera discusses the issue of disability in
relation to students, using the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College as
a case in point. This chapter explores the need to not only formulate policies,
but also to implement them effectively if we really want to ensure that no one
is left behind.
In Chapter 4, Victor Mgomezulu shifts our focus to the need for universities
to be independent organisations, with a strong commitment to developing
reliable and critical knowledge, and to speaking truth to power while being
inventive and creative. In this context working conditions for academics in
the Southern institutions urgently need attention. If wages, research funding
and the space for academic reflection is so minimal that researchers are
forced into becoming consultants (for example), the value of universities and
researchers in promoting dialogue between the scientific and political arenas
will be compromised. In other words, if knowledge is to contribute to the
SDGs as is argued, academics must be secure in their independence and work
in universities that have academic autonomy. Accepting that the chances of
these institutions growing their income streams massively in the near future
are slim, Mgomezulu makes some innovative proposals about affordable
incentive schemes that have the potential to reward academics and encourage
independent research.
Of the 17 SDGs, a number are relevant to the issue of ‘a new global
political economy’, and goal 8, (to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and
sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent
work for all’) is often cited as being particularly relevant in this regard. In
Chapter 5, Dan Darkey and Hilde Ibsen remind us of the complexities
involved in achieving these goals (and particularly goal 8) by delving into
the social roles and family traditions behind the South African economy.
They focus particularly on social mobility of rural African women and their
journeys into the urban middle class. As we seek to formulate policies that are
capable of propelling local economies in the direction of economic justice and
the redistribution of wealth, while supporting sustainable development, the
social mechanisms pointed to in this article need to be very well understood.
In the next three chapters, Luke Mwale (Chapter 6) Miroslaw Staron
(Chapter 7) and Henri-Count Evans draw our attention to ICT and
technology, raising issues that the SDGs talk to in very general terms.
Technology and innovation are seen as important for green growth. But how
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technology is to be shaped in ways that secure more influence for the poor
and vulnerable, and those who are likely to suffer most from climate change,
has hardly been discussed. Technology, in itself, is no solution, and history
shows that technology tends to simply reproduce and reinforce the power
structures within which it emerges. Despite the fluidity of ICT as a tool,
special efforts are necessary to make it relevant to users that need it most,
and to make it part of strategies that ensure that the burdens of economic
transformation are fairly shared. Indeed, humanity has never before had such
wide access to technologies with which to focus on and tackle our common
challenges. In Chapter 8, however, Henri-Count Evans, highlights the fact
that all too often both individuals and organisations are failing miserably,
missing out completely on the opportunities that ICTs offer. His chapter
serves as an important wake-up call.
The chapters in Part Two focus on providing concrete and workable
examples of what is involved in achieving goal 17: to ‘strengthen the
means of implementation and revitalize global partnerships for sustainable
development’. Often little more than wishful thinking in the past, goal 17
has now been reframed as one of the most important SDGs. Inter-university
collaborations, North–South and South–South, provide real examples of how
higher education institutions can act within global partnerships. These chapters
not only remind us of the importance of knowledge for SDGs, but also that
how knowledge is acquired and shared within institutional networks has the
potential to promote or destroy the basic preconditions for meeting the SDGs.
In Chapter 9 Berith Nyqvist Cech and Lars Bergström describe a fascinating
pedagogical approach that completely undermines the stereotype of Northern
experts imparting wisdom and knowledge to passive Southern students.
Similarly, in Chapter 10, Quentin Eichbaum, Marius Hedimbi, Kasonde Bowa,
Celso Belo, Keikantse Matlhagela, Ludo Badlangana,Peter Nyarango and Olli
Vainio outline the development of an exciting and innovative institutional
network of new medical schools that are working in mutually collaborative
ways with medical schools in the United States and Sweden.
In Chapter 11, P Assmo and R Fox describe how an international
collaboration and innovative use of technology as a pedagogical tool can
help communities develop a keener awareness of how deeply racism can be
embedded in people’s daily lives and routines. So far, debates about the SDGs
show a high level of awareness that racism and other forms of prejudice
have the potential to undermine any solutions to the global environmental
challenges facing humanity, as well as the need to guarantee every person the
basic right to a dignified life. Assmo and Fox’s chapter is a reminder of how
long-lasting the structural effects of racist policies can be on all levels of social
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life if they are allowed to develop. On a global scale, we expect the SDGs to
help us fight all kinds of racism and prejudice, especially those that lie hidden
in economic, social and political global interactions. Those debating the SDGs
could learn from the case study described in Chapter 11, to understand what
we think is under-communicated in the 17 goals, that is: racist practices, as
they hide in the structures of society, need a common global policy if they are
to be uprooted. Universities need to make it a priority to show how structural
racism fuels racist attitudes, and that this might represent a much greater
threat to our common future than is often understood.
In the final chapter, Rebecca Ward and Ida Mbendera return to the theme
that universities can and must be important actors in promoting the SDGs;
they are important for knowledge and they are important as global networks.
Ward and Mbendera introduce a number of issues that are of growing
importance in the field of knowledge and higher education, particularly
when it comes to framing curricula that are relevant to the SDGs. These
include: the use of new technologies to link distant campuses and persons;
the development of private initiatives that do not use any public money; and
the issue of how to develop equal partnerships across continents and from
very unequal points of departure. In their chapter, they provide one possible
answer to the question of how to address the aspirations of many young
persons eagerly searching for study opportunities, but who seldom have the
means, nor the points of access needed to make their dreams come true.
The SDGs seem to presuppose a strengthening of the public space, and
access to public knowledge. The chapters in Part Two of the book highlight
that co-operation between universities is the best way to keep public space open
and to ensure equal access to all of students regardless of their economic, social
or racial backgrounds. The immense growth of higher education as a ‘market’,
and the relegation of universities to part of the service economy is a threat to
the kind of solutions the SDGs propose. There is good reason to believe that
further privatisation of the higher education and research arenas will escalate
the cleavages of inequality on our planet, and thus reduce space for critical
knowledge and collective solidarity. The SANORD network, and the examples
of collaboration documented in this book, clearly demonstrate the value of
cross-regional institutional co-operation within the public academic space.
Global democracy, sustainability and work for all
As Smith (2011) argued, the world urgently needs new energy sources and an
entirely different approach to energy use. The beginning of this century can
thus also be seen as the beginning of the end of the carbon economy, and as
the start of a political transition away from our economies being so heavily
Sanord.Sustain.indb 22
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reliant on resources such as coal and oil. In the coming years, humanity
will have to develop alternatives to the OECD’s (and the WTO’s) push to
ensure that the carbon economy conquers the last frontier: the oceans and the
exploitation of the planet’s most vulnerable areas, the North and South Poles
(see Altvater 2015).
Given our various locations, SANORD members are in a position to
watch over both poles, together and separately. We thus have a ‘bi-polar
responsibility’: to push ahead with the development of alternatives to the
hegemony of global capitalism. Included in this, is to contribute to creating an
alternative discourse within debates about the implementation of the SDGs.
As ‘new political economy’ globalists argue, we live in a new age because there
is no turning back: if more CO2 is absorbed by our oceans, no technological fix
will be able to reverse global warming. How this becomes part of discourses
within national politics depends on our ability to break away from the present
moral economy and neo-feudal social relations.
The end of the carbon period is also likely to be characterised by a move
away from dis-embedded to embedded economies. For now, we are used to the
neo-liberal approach in which economic relations of production are cleansed
of social commitments with the help of state regulation and legislation. The
kinds of democracy that have evolved so far can be characterised according
to how much they have influenced this dis-embedding process. Essentially,
democracy has become shallow and sidelined by the relations between states
and the global economy. That is, globalisation is the result of these relations
being conducted almost entirely beyond the reach of popular democratic
influences. The end of the carbon economy will demand a new kind of
economic re-embeddedness from both local communities and national states.
Nevertheless, the contemporary global economy also dictates that
democracy is the only internationally valid and acceptable form of governance.
The question therefore is whether democracy itself can be globalised in such
a way that it puts social demands at the top of national agendas which in turn
formulate environmental restrictions that make democratic politics within
nation states guide national economies once more. The new agenda has to
prioritise ‘environmental politics’ as well as a ‘new economic (non-growth)
model’ that secures the sustainable use of resources, the redistribution and
reconfiguration of technology, just and more equal consumption, and most
importantly, work for all, as discussed in the 2015 SDGs.
The tipping point seems likely to occur when democratic demand
creates a global regime that is capable of governing the economy, as opposed
to being governed by the economy as is now the case. The crucial questions
for SANORD are, what does such a change demand of science and scienceIntroduction
Sanord.Sustain.indb 23
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based education, and how will SANORD’s knowledge network contribute to
this? SANORD is part of a collaborative network of universities that has no
ambition to be part of the OECD/BRICS-type of knowledge culture, which
is driven by competition between universities or states, or a combination of
these. For this reason, SANORD is one of very few academic networks that
can really focus on developing alternatives to the dominant paradigm.
In this we have already had some help: the University of Bergen, on behalf
of the Norwegian public, each year awards the Holberg prize in the disciplines
of humanities, social science and law. A large number of those who have so
far received this prize have engaged in the debate about how to develop an
alternative political economy, and how to support nascent social movements
that are behind this project. Manuel Castells, who won the Holberg prize in
2012, has travelled the world looking for spaces where a new embeddedness
is emerging, that is, where a local democracy and economy reinforce each
other while encouraging inclusive employment practices and reduced energy
consumption. He has documented many such cases. Based on these, he has
created a list of the important elements in what he calls a use-value economy.
Included in this list are consumer co-operatives, producer co-operatives, urban
farmers, barter networks and time banks, communal living, the transformation
of urban transportation systems, community banking, volunteer-based social
services, counselling networks and other voluntary associations, P2P digital
sharing and open-source innovations in the computer world (Castells 2011).
If SANORD is to contribute to the debate about the SDGs and add impetus
to the moves towards a transformative shift in the global political economy,
then adding to the body of research about these kinds of developments, as it
has already begun to do, will be a novel and lasting contribution.
To quote the High-Level Panel in a bit more detail: ‘We call for a quantum leap
forward in economic opportunities and a profound economic transformation
to end extreme poverty and improve livelihoods. This means a rapid shift to
sustainable patterns of consumption and production – harnessing innovation,
technology, and the potential of private business to create more value and drive
sustainable and inclusive growth’ (UN 2013: 2, emphasis added).
Joseph Stiglitz (2002: 73), for example, talking to an African audience, called
for ‘an agenda for the new development economics’, and has contributed to
economic networks working for alternatives to the hegemonic neo-liberal
paradigm. Although Stiglitz still locates himself within a ‘growth paradigm’, he
is at least critical of the ‘competitive state’, and has provided a good analysis of
how to start developing an alternative to neo-liberal hegemony. He also noted
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that this ‘task is not easy: the competitive paradigm is taught in virtually every
graduate programme in the world’ (Stiglitz 2002:73; see also Fourcade 2009).
In other words, the task is to open the minds of young people to alternatives,
including alternative forms of knowledge through curriculum reform. This
demands that those who propose alternatives obtain tenure in the academy –
however many alternative thinkers have been squeezed out of universities all over
the world. It is easy to see that if curriculum reform does not happen – and in an
even more radical way than Stiglitz suggests – the SDGs as they are now will be
of no value in bringing about real change.
As of September 2015, the OECD website contained over 300 documents
and press releases related to the PISA project; see
searchresults/?q=press releases on PISA&cx=012432601748511391518:xzea
This extract was on the OECD website, on a page titled ‘About IHERD:
Objectives’, accessed in November 2013.
African universities are now working on developing alternative ways of valuing
knowledge production, using criteria that reflect their own ideas about what
constitutes useful or valuable knowledge. So for example, Ihron Rensburg, vicechancellor of the University of Johannesburg, has said: ‘If the conversation about
university rankings is important, then the starting point would be to design a
ranking system for Africa that encourages positive conduct – precisely because
we know that rankings are influential, for example in resource allocation’ (quoted
in MacGregor 2015a; see also the African Association of Universities on Quality
Assurance at
This development is, I think, best described by Münch (2011: 95) who argues
that the neo-feudal nature of the ‘social partnership’ between employed
and employer means that corporate social responsibility programmes are
replacing state- and labour union-supported welfare schemes, and that this is a
consequence of the hegemony of, in particular, the kind of neo-liberal economics
promoted by the United States. To use his own words: ‘Die soziale Grundlage
dafür ist die Durchsetzung der Chicago–Schule der Ökonomie in der Welt der
Wissenschaft aufgrund der Hegemonie der amerikanischen Universitäten, ihre
Konsekration durch Nobelpreise und ihre politische Durchsetzung.’
A declaration was issued that reads as follows: ‘We, the BRICS Think Tanks
Council (BTTC) wish to celebrate the bonds between BRICS countries by
declaring our mutual intention to enhance cooperation in research, knowledge
sharing, capacity building and policy advice.’ Key nodes in the different countries
were listed as: the Institute for Applied Economic Research in Brazil, the
National Committee for BRICS Research in Russia, the Observer Research
Foundation in India, the China Center for Contemporary World Studies, and
the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa. The full text of the
declaration is available at
This is a condensed version of Smith’s much longer list.
Sanord.Sustain.indb 25
2015/11/23 11:26 AM
Altvater E (2015) ‘Økonomis vekst, globalisering, Antropocene’, Vardøger 35v (15):
Amin S (2003) Obsolescent Capitalism. London: Zed.
Beck U (1986) Risikogesellschaft. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp.
Botzem S (2012) The Politics of Accounting Regulations: Organizing Transnational
Standard Setting in Financial Reporting. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.
Castells M (2011) ‘The crises of global capitalism. Towards a new economic culture?’
in C Calhoun and G Derluguian (eds) Business as Usual. The Roots of the Global
Financial Meltdown. New York: New York University Press.
Evans PB and WH Sewell Jr. (2013) ‘Neoliberalism: Policy regimes, international
regimes, and social effects’, in PA Hall and M Lamont (eds) Social Resilience in
the Neoliberal Era. Cambridge and Cape Town: Cambridge University Press.
Fernandes L, A Saggioro, G França and M Caresia (2012) Unequal Development in
the Knowledge Era: The Evolution of BRICS’ Participation in Intellectual Property
Registry and R&D investments. BRICS Policy Center, Rio de Janiero, May.
Available online.
Fourcade M (2009) Economists and Societies: Disciplines and Professions in the United
States, Britain and France 1890s to 1990s. New Jersey and Oxford: Princeton
University Press.
Gamble A (2013) ‘Neo-liberalism and fiscal conservatism’, in V Schmidt and
M Thatcher Resilient Liberalism in Europe’s Political Economy. Cambridge and
New York: Cambridge University Press.
Gill S and AC Cutler (eds) (2014) New Constitutionalism and World Order.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Halvorsen T (2012) ‘University transformation: A crisis for the social sciences and the
humanities’ in T Halvorsen and P Vale (eds) One World, Many Knowledges: Regional
Experiences and Cross-Regional Links in Higher Education. Cape Town: SANORD.
Halvorsen T (2013) ‘Good governance and the global economic crises: A new
opportunity for the UNDP? Comparing World Bank and UNDP good
governance rhetoric’. In I Jamil, S Askvik and T Dhakal (eds) In Search of Better
Governance in South Asia and Beyond. Berlin: Springer.
Halvorsen T and P Vale (2012) ‘Introduction’, in T Halvorsen and P Vale (eds)
One World, Many Knowledges: Regional Experiences and Cross-regional Links in
Higher Education. Cape Town: SANORD.
Higgins J (2013) Academic Freedom in a New South Africa: Essays and Interviews on
Higher Education and the Humanities. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.
ICS/ISSC (International Council for Science and International Social Science
Council) (2015) Review of Targets for the Sustainable Development Goals: The
Scientific Perspective. Paris.
Kolleck N (2013) ‘How global companies wield their power: The discursive shaping
of sustainable development’, in J Mikler (ed.) The Handbook of Global Companies.
Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Sanord.Sustain.indb 26
2015/11/23 11:26 AM
Mabelebele J (2013) ‘BRICS Academic Forum: Towards a refocused debate’.
Keynote address delivered at the Fifth BRICS Academic Forum, Durban,
10–13 March. Available online.
MacGregor K (2015a) ‘Get rankings right for Africa, university leaders urge’,
University World News, Issue 337, 15 August.
MacGregor K (2015b) ‘BRICS academic collaboration moves forward slowly’,
University World News, Issue 380, 5 September.
Mamdani M (2011) The Importance of Research in a University. Working Paper 3,
Makerere Institute of Social Research. March.
Mamdani M (2012) Advancing the Research Agenda at Makerere University. Working
Paper 9, Makerere Institute of Social Research, August.
Mikler J (ed) (2013) ‘Introduction’, in A Handbook of Global Companies. Chichester:
Montes M and V Popov (2011) ‘Bridging the gap: A new world order for
development?’ in C Calhun and G Derluguian (eds) Aftermath. A New Global
Economic Order? New York and London: Social Science Research Council and
New York University Press.
Münch R (2007) Die akademische Elite. Frankfurt am Main: Shurkamp.
Münch R (2011) Akademischer Kapitalismus. Über die politische Ökonomie der
Hochschulereform. Berlin: Suhrkamp.
OECD (2008) The Global Competition for Talent: Mobility of the Highly Skilled. Paris.
Olsson Å and L Meek (2013) Gaps in Research and Innovation Management at Policy
and Institutional Levels in Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam: Draft
Synthesis Report. OECD Programme on Innovation, Higher Education and
Research for Development. Available online.
ORF (Observer Research Foundation) (2013) Report of BRICS Think-Tanks
Symposium. Available online.
Pambazuka News (2013) ‘5th BRICS Academic Forum recommendations’,
Issue 622, 20 March.
Rooieravotr (2015) ‘Student protests escalate in Amsterdam’, Blogpost on,
25 February.
Schmidt V and M Thatcher (2013) Resilient Liberalism in Europe’s Political Economy.
Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Smith R (2011) ‘Green capitalism’, Real World Economic Review 56: 131–133.
Smith, R (2015) ‘Søvngjengeri mot stupet: Kapitalismens ødleggelse av livet og
jorda’, Vardøger 35 (15): 127–149.
Streeck W (2013) Die Vertragte Krise des democratischen Kapitalismus. Berlin:
Stiglitz JE (2002) ‘An agenda for the new development economics’, New Agenda 5 (1).
UN (2013) A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies
Through Sustainable Development. Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent
Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Available online.
UN (2015) Global Sustainable Development Report 2015 (Advance unedited edition).
New York.
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Chapter 1
Disability in southern Africa: Insights into its magnitude and nature
Vyvienne RP M’kumbuzi, Hellen Myezwa, Tonderai Shumba
and Alice Namanja
In 2011, the World Health Organization published the World Report
on Disability, which estimated the global prevalence of people living with
some form of disability at 15 per cent (WHO 2011). This prevalence rate
is only one reflection of disability prevalence, as patterns of disability are
acknowledged to vary considerably between and within countries, depending
on specific health and environmental conditions. Variability in relation to
definitions of disability, as well as in the methodologies and quality of data
collection, are other factors that affect estimates of prevalence (Mont 2007).
In the first section of this chapter, we analyse how disability is defined in
southern Africa and use a review of available data to present existing statistics
on disability prevalence in the region. In the second section, we explore how
definitions of disability have shaped the ways in which disability is measured.
Our findings are based on research we conducted in two villages in Namibia
and one in Malawi, which revealed much higher prevalence rates than
estimates based on national census data would predict.
Defining disability
In many parts of the world, including in southern Africa, disability has been,
and in some cases still is, understood in relation to mythological and religious
beliefs. People with disabilities (PWDs) were perceived to be receiving
punishment from God, or the ancestors, or as possessed by evil spirits (Wa
Munyi 2012). These perceptions led to PWDs being excluded from many
aspects of community life. In extreme cases, children born with disabilities
have been killed in an attempt to destroy the evil spirits believed to be
possessing them.
In the twentieth century, advances in science created an understanding
of disability based on medical and biological knowledge. This ‘medical
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model’ viewed disability primarily as an individual problem, and focused on
the provision of curative medical care by health professionals. The medical
model took root in global health organisations such as the World Health
Organization, Médecins Sans Frontières, the International Red Cross, etc.,
and gradually also began to influence the health sectors in various parts of
the world, including in southern Africa. Within this framework, impairments
in body function were seen as being aligned to specific health conditions
(WHO 2010).
In the early 2000s, in response to the advocacy work carried out by the
disability-rights movement, disability was redefined again – this time as a
social rather than purely an individual problem. This meant that, in addition to
funding medical research and developing assistive devices, health organisations
began to focus on addressing the infrastructural and social barriers affecting
PWDs. A range of social approaches developed in an attempt to close the
gaps between people with disability and those without (WHO 2010).
Understandings of disability within the medical and social sectors have
thus evolved in response to changing worldviews (see Table 1.1). In 2001,
the World Health Organization (WHO) published the International
Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF), which defined
disability as an umbrella term for the impairments, activity limitations
and participation restrictions that result from the interaction between
any person with a health condition and various environmental or personal
factors (WHO 2001).1 Prior to the publication of the ICF, terms such as
‘cripple’ or handicap’ were used interchangeably with the terms ‘disabled’
and ‘disability’.
A midpoint between the medical and social model is now fairly prevalent
at the level of health policy in most parts of the world. Known as the ‘biopsychosocial model’, this combines both medical and social approaches, is
centred on individuals, and considers people and their health problems within
a social context. To unpack the term a little:
The biological aspect refers to the physical or mental health condition.
The psychological aspect recognises that personal and psychological factors
influence functionality.
The social recognises the importance of the social context, pressures and
constraints on functionality (Overland Health 2015).
The ICF classifies human functioning along a continuum that allows for the
grading of degrees of ability, and is more positive and inclusive in its outlook
than earlier models tended to be. It also rates the level of difficulty that an
individual experiences while performing certain activities in terms of ‘little
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Table 1.1 Traditional and modern terminology related to disability
Description of disability
Traditional term
Modern/ICF term
Amputated leg
Significant deviation or
Structural impairment
that impacts on
physical, physiological
or psychological
Difficulty walking
Difficulties experienced
executing a task or action
Unable to get to
work to earn a
Problems an individual
may have in a life
Participation restriction
Source: Adapted from WHO (2001)
difficulty’, ‘moderate difficulties’, ‘significant difficulties’ and ‘unable’. Activity
limitations and participation are further measured in terms of performance
(which involves describing what an individual does in their current
environment) and capacity (which describes an individual’s potential ability to
execute a task or action, and aims to indicate the highest level of functioning
that an individual might reach under defined circumstances) (WHO 2001).
In response to a need for further classification of childhood disability,
the WHO developed the ICF Children and Youth Version (ICF-CY). This
framework for measuring health and disability covers children from birth
to 18 years, and comprehensively captures the ‘universe of functioning in
children and youth’, including play and schooling (WHO 2007).
Classifying levels of ability on a continuum means that individuals can
be seen as potentially moving from impairment to participation restriction
and back to being classified as ‘not disabled’. This depends predominantly on:
Access to health care and rehabilitation services. For example, a person
who has a leg amputated (impairment of structure) following gangrene
due to uncontrolled diabetes (impairment of physiological function) is
unable to walk (activity limitation/disability), and would be classified as
disabled. However, if an appropriate rehabilitation service is provided
(including stump bandaging, muscle strengthening, balance reeducation, and a prosthesis) and the person learns to walk again, with
or without a crutch, the individual moves from being unable to walk to
walking, at which point, according to the ICF, he or she is no longer
considered disabled.
Disability in southern Africa
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Social attitudes. Consider a 10-year-old boy who has a hearing and a speech
deficit from birth. Both are considered activity limitations/disabilities.
His parents believe the boy will never achieve anything so they decide
not to send him to school. They believe the boy is better off at home
because other children laugh and make fun of him. The boy’s parents
and the other children are displaying negative attitudes, often shaped by
ignorance, which lead to the boy being prevented from attending school
(participation restriction). If social interventions encourage more positive
attitudes and behaviours, the parents might become better informed,
and facilities might be developed for the boy in an appropriate school
or class that caters for children with ‘special needs’. With resources that
facilitate his learning and communication skills, the boy could ultimately
be integrated into a class in an ordinary school. Accordingly, the definition
contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities
(CRPD) recognises that ‘disability results from the interaction between
the person with impairment and attitudinal and environmental barriers
that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal
basis’ (UN 2006).
The conceptual framework provided by the ICF for understanding disability
is helpful in capturing the complexities of different experiences of disability,
and it takes into account the myriad factors that impact on the quality of
individual and social life. Of course, the way in which disability is defined is
important in determining how prevalence is estimated. And an awareness of
the prevalence of different types of disability then shapes societal responses,
as well as the manner (urgency, rigour and scope) in which rehabilitation
services are developed and provided.
Contemporary understandings suggest that rehabilitation efforts should
be designed to respond to the different kinds of challenges experienced along
the disability continuum. Thus, what Gordon (1983) described as primary
interventions target the prevention of impairment, and include, for example,
addressing issues of diet, exercise, nutrition, immunisation, health education,
health promotion, etc. Secondary interventions include health-care services
that aim to prevent illnesses, injuries or impairments from developing into
disabilities or activity limitations (Gordon 1983). Examples of this are the
control of hypertension and diabetes mellitus using exercise, diet and health
education as well as medication and/or surgery. Tertiary interventions include
actions targeted at enhancing environmental conditions and social attitudes
so as to prevent disabilities from restricting people’s participation in society;
examples would be legislation to prevent discrimination in the education
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and employment sectors, advocacy and community education, as well as
environmental and infrastructural changes aimed at making public spaces and
amenities increasingly accessible via the construction of ramps and handrails,
etc. (Gordon 1983). Clearly the aim of these primary, secondary and tertiary
interventions is to improve the quality of life of PWDs, creating opportunities
for them to participate in, and contribute to, the social, economic, civic and
political development of their communities.
Disability in southern Africa
For obvious reasons, governments and health services worldwide require
legislation to define disability. In the past, disability was crudely classified
according to categories such as ‘upper limb’, ‘lower limb’, ‘deaf/dumb’, ‘blind’,
‘mental deficiency’, ‘trauma’ and ‘other’. Using, such categories, statisticians
sought to enumerate absolute disability without considering the question of
degree, and therefore excluded what they perceived as ‘minor’ limitations. This
approach did not acknowledge different kinds of impairments, or that their
effects on individuals differ. Nor did it allow for the fact that some people
have a single impairment while others have multiple impairments, or that
some are born with impairments and others acquire impairments after birth,
etc. Since 2007, several southern African countries have signed or ratified the
CRPD, and most use one of the paradigms outlined earlier to legally define
or classify disabilities (see Table 1.2).
The measurement of disability in southern Africa
Drawing data from national censuses is common when generating disability
estimates in southern Africa. However, because the definition of disability
differs from country to country, and because the methodologies used
in collecting census data (and particularly disability-related data) differ,
estimates tend to be incomparable across countries (Mont 2007). In addition,
the questions usually contained in census questionnaires seldom capture the
richness of human functioning inherent in current definitions and models
of disability – either in terms of type of disability (physical, mental, sensory,
and psychological) or functional domain (body structure/function, activities,
and participation). A further disadvantage of census data is that the focus on
physical disability results in an underestimation of disability related to mental
health (Mont 2007). Suliman et al. (2011), quoting the ‘burden of disease’
work by Murray and Lopez, report that neuropsychiatric disorders cause up
to 17.6 per cent of years lost due to disability (YLLD) in Africa.
Nevertheless, census data is still largely used for international comparisons
of disability prevalence, because in many of the lower-income countries,
Disability in southern Africa
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Table 1.2
Definitions of disability in southern Africa
Definition of disability (disability paradigm)
Source, year
Ratification of
Not yet
Not yet
DR Congo
Not yet
Signed 2007,
not yet ratified
Long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory
impairments which in interaction with various
barriers may hinder persons, full and effective
participation in society on an equal basis with
others. (Bio-psychosocial)
Disability Act, 2009
A person who is unable to ensure by himself
[sic], wholly or partly, the necessities of a normal
individual as a result of a deficiency, whether
congenital or not, in his [sic] physical or mental
capabilities. (Medical)
Persons Act,
A physical, mental or sensory impairment that alone,
or in combination with social or environmental
barriers, affects the ability of the person concerned
to take part in educational, vocational, or
recreational activities. (Bio-psychosocial)
Council Act,
Suffering from a physical or mental disability on
account of injury, disease or congenital deformity.
Council for
Persons Act,
South Africa
The loss or elimination of opportunities to take part
in the life of the community, equitably with others
that is encountered by persons having physical,
sensory, psychological, developmental, learning,
neurological or other impairments, which may be
permanent, temporary or episodic in nature, thereby
causing activity limitations and participation
restriction with the mainstream society. (Biopsychosocial)
Council for
Persons with
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Definition of disability (disability paradigm)
Source, year
Ratification of
The loss or limitation of opportunities to take part
in the normal life of the community at an equal level
with others due to physical, mental or social factors
Policy on
A ‘permanent’ impairment resulting from the
interaction between health conditions and external
contextual factors. (Bio-social)
Persons with
Act, 2012
A person with a physical, mental or sensory (visual,
hearing or speech) functional impairment, which
gives rise to physical, cultural or social barriers
inhibiting him [sic] from participating at an equal
level with other members of society in activities,
undertakings or fields of employment that are open
to other members of society. (Bio-psychosocial)
Persons Act,
Notes: In Lesotho, disability is not defined in any legal document, despite the publication of the National
Disability and Rehabilitation Policy in 2011. According to a study of living conditions among people with
disabilities in Lesotho, conducted between 2009 and 2010, disability tends to be defined according to the
ICF (Kamaleri and Eide 2011). Questions asked in Lesotho’s 2006 census described disability in terms of the
medical model (Lesotho Bureau of Statistics 2007).
The constitutions of Angola, DR Congo, Botswana, Mozambique and Lesotho provide for the protection of
PWDs, but provide no definition of disability.
For signatures and ratifications, see UN (2012).
including in the majority of countries in southern Africa, this is often the only
source of data available. Disability prevalence in southern Africa as obtained
from census data is shown in Table 1.3.2
In their report, Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries: A Snapshot
from the World Health Survey, Mitra et al. (2011) have published the only
other data pertaining to the prevalence of disability in the general population
in southern Africa. In general, they estimate higher disability prevalence rates
than those that are reflected in national census data. For example, their report
gives the following estimates: Malawi – 12.97 per cent, Mauritius – 11.43 per
cent, Zambia – 5.78 per cent and Zimbabwe – 10.98 per cent.
To sum up, data pertaining to the magnitude of disability in southern Africa
is predominantly census based. However, data for the region is incomplete,
often dated, and in isolated cases, disability is excluded from national census
questionnaires. In addition, the available data does not consistently reflect
the ICF. Instead, disability is defined in various and dissimilar ways, and
data collection methods lag behind internationally accepted best practice.
For example, census questionnaires tend to ask respondents to self-identify
Disability in southern Africa
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Table 1.3 The prevalence of disability in southern Africa based on census data
Population in millions*
DR Congo
South Africa
Prevalence of
disability (%)†
Sources: * UN (2012); † Population census data for each country
Notes: a: The 1993 census data for Madagascar do not include prevalence of disability. In 2003,
the government estimated disability prevalence to be 7.5 per cent (Ministère de la Santé 2003).
Madagascar planned to conduct its third census in 2009 but failed to do so because of social and
political instability.
b: The last available census report for Swaziland (2007) does not state the disability prevalence;
therefore the last reported prevalence is 3 per cent (1997 census).
c: Zimbabwe’s most recent census was conducted in 2012, and attempted to count the number of
economically active PWDs but analysis of the data on disability was incomplete at the time of writing
(see ZIMSTAT 2013b); disability was defined as ‘a person having the following problems: difficulty
moving, totally blind, difficulty seeing; difficulty speaking; deaf; difficulty hearing; difficulty learning/
mental handicap; chronic fits/epilepsy; strange behaviour/mental illness; lack of feeling – hands or
feet/leprosy; albinism (ZIMSTAT 2013a: 118). Thus, disability was defined using both impairments
and activity limitations, which is inconsistent with the legal instruments available in Zimbabwe.
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as disabled but PWDs (and especially with mental disabilities) are often
hidden from the world, and so might not have opportunities to respond to
questionnaires. In other words, all indications are that census-based disability
rates for the region are underestimated.
An alternative data-collection method
In this second section of the chapter, we describe how we have attempted to
overcome the limitations of census data and develop the means to arrive at
more accurate disability estimates. That is, we designed an alternative means
for collecting disability data that defines disability using the concept of activity
limitation, and that encourages PWDs, their families and their communities
to participate in the research process. Part of our motivation for this was the
fact that, since the UN adopted the CRPD in 2006, many governments and
international development agencies have begun turning their attention to the
inclusion of PWDs in socio-economic development initiatives (Mont 2007).
And although a number of countries in southern Africa have not yet ratified
the CRPD (see Table 1.2), there is growing acknowledgement that the
Millennium Development Goals will never be fully and completely realised
unless PWDs are included in social and economic development programmes
(UN 2012).
A further motivating factor was that the goal of eradicating poverty was
made central to the UN’s post-2015 development agenda (UN 2013). The
new SDGs focus on the very poorest and the most excluded people, and
acknowledge that the MDGs were silent on the effects of conflict and violence
on development. PWDs are often marginalised and very poor (DFID 2000;
Filmer 2008; Mitra et al. 2011); a vast number have become disabled as a
result of conflict, war and violence – the wars in Angola and Mozambique
offer many visceral examples in this region. Many PWDs are also subjected to
ongoing domestic and sexual violence because of their disability (WHO n.d.).
The first transformative shift proposed in the UN’s post-2015 development
agenda is, ‘Leave no one behind’ (UN 2013), and disability is specifically
mentioned as one of the target areas in this regard.
If the social conditions and economic opportunities of PWDs are to
improve, accurate data will be required to enable rehabilitation resources
and services to be appropriately directed and implemented. Furthermore,
measuring the prevalence of disability over time will make it possible to
monitor the impact of rehabilitation programmes, and if data is collected that
allows for a bio-psychosocial analysis, participation restrictions will provide
indicators of social integration, economic opportunities and the status of
human rights.
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Setting, population and sampling
The study was conducted in two rural villages in Namibia (Okamatapati and
Iiyale) and one village in Malawi (Lizimba, which is in the district of Mangochi).
The selection of the villages was done in collaboration with a number of
stakeholders. At the sub-district levels in both countries, representatives of
PWDs, together with traditional leaders and the lead government department
responsible for providing services to PWDs, participated in the selection of
study sites. Other stakeholders, such as development partners, signalled their
willingness to integrate PWDs into development programmes in the locality.
In Namibia, the impetus for the survey came from the Ministry of Health
and Social Welfare’s directorate for Community-Based Rehabilitation, which
desired to strengthen its rehabilitation services. In Malawi, the impetus came
from the College of Medicine at the University of Malawi, which had an
existing partnership with a community in the area selected because its annual
field placements for public health students take place there.
In addition, the communities chosen had to fulfil the following selection
Be geographically isolated and have difficulty accessing rehabilitation
Have PWDs that could benefit from rehabilitation services.
Have community workers who were willing to expand the scope of their
services to include PWDs.
Have a district hospital within reasonable proximity that would be able to
provide technical expertise and sustain services to PWDs in an ongoing
The survey methodology was first piloted in Namibia, and later adapted and
used in Rwanda and Malawi, as has been described in detail in M’kumbuzi et
al. (2014). In this chapter, we report on the process and findings from Malawi
and Namibia. Four instruments were used to collect data as outlined below.
1 Area-profile surveys. Survey questionnaires were adapted from an
instrument contained in the Guidelines for Implementing Communitybased Rehabilitation in Zimbabwe (MOHCW 2002). The questionnaire
was used to profile the villages and their districts in terms of population
characteristics, education, health and rehabilitation services, economic
activities and resource persons already available for rehabilitation activities.
2 A home-entry checklist. The research team and community workers
developed this checklist collaboratively to provide researchers with
guidelines on a culturally acceptable way to enter homes (see Box 1.1). The
checklist encouraged researchers to acquaint themselves with the home
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Box 1.1 The home-entry checklist
Greet home dwellers.
Introduce the survey team.
Introduce the survey.
Explain the purpose of the visit.
Determine the number of people that permanently live in the house (follow-up
questions might be necessary).
Determine how many are children (0 to 18 years) and adults (18+ years).
Determine the number of PWDs in the house.
Classify PWD/s as child or adult and obtain their exact age.
Classify and record the type/s of disability.
Record the house number and the name of the head of the household.
Thank participants.
dwellers, and to communicate the purpose of their visit and the intentions
of the study to respondents. The home-entry checklist also reminded
researchers to verify the population data obtained from the appropriate
government department and recorded in the area profile.
3 Disability-screening tools. Adult and child disability screening tools were
developed based on the activity limitations section of the ICF (WHO
2001) and the ICF-CY (WHO 2007). Prior to being used in the
study, researchers worked with community members and community
workers to assess the validity of the screening tools. The child-screening
tool included age-appropriate questions about children on issues
such as feeding/suckling and learning difficulties. Age-appropriate
developmental milestones were included so that these could be assessed.
The screening tools also collected socio-demographic data on the PWDs
and their caregivers. Box 1.2 shows the screening form developed for use
with children.
4 Rehabilitation management plans. First a form was developed to guide
detailed and comprehensive clinical and rehabilitation assessments.
The form was adapted from the standard assessment tools routinely
used by rehabilitation personnel for such assessments. It documented
clients’ histories, problems and the underlying causes of those problems,
and this information was then used to design a tailored rehabilitation
management plan (including referral to other health and support workers
where appropriate).
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Box 1.2
Child-screening form for children aged 0 to 18 years
If there are any problems fill in this form and bring the child/ren with the mother/
caregiver to the assessment point.
Name of the child . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Age of the child . . . . . . . .
Gender . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Name of the mother/guardian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Region . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . District . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Traditional authority . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Village . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Screening Point . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Name of the community worker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Contact details. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mark with an X the part on the body chart where the client has difficulty
Please ask the mother or caregiver the following questions:
Was the child born before 8 months?
2. Was the child yellow at birth?
3. Did the child cry at birth?
4. Does the child suffer from fits?
5. Is the behaviour of the child different from other children?
6. Does the child have difficulty with any of the following?
a. Mental functions
b. Special sensory functions
Communication (including preverbal communication)
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d. Body systems
Neuromusculoskeletal and movement-related functions
e. Mobility (walking)
Head control
Self care
g. Domestic life
Finding shelter
Preparing meals
Caring for property
Bed rolling
Looking after one’s health
Cleaning the house
Interpersonal relationship (including caregiver
and child interaction)
h. Major life areas
Play (object and peer play)
Economic transactions
Community social and civic life
Recreation and leisure
Religion and spirituality
Human rights
Political life and citizenship
Community life (e.g. membership of churches, clubs, etc.)
Assessment point . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
All clients must bring their health passport books to the assessment points.
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All of the above instruments were developed in English. The home-entry
checklist and the disability-screening tools were translated into Otjiherero
for use in the village of Okamatapati and into Oshiwambo for the village
of Iiyale in Namibia. Both tools were also translated into Chichewa for use
in the village of Lizimba in Malawi. A typical forward and back translation
was done by two independent translators, and a workshop was held involving
community workers, village chiefs, rehabilitation experts and researchers at
which consensus on the final version of each document was reached.
Two field trials were undertaken in Namibia to test the validity and
applicability of all the instruments. The study as a whole involved a five-phase
process as outlined in Table 1.4.
Table 1.4
An outline of study procedures followed in Namibia and Malawi
Activity categories Specific activities
1. Training of mid-level and community rehabilitation workers on:
what disability is; what causes disability; what rehabilitation
services are and which ones are available in the locality for
PWDs; the potential for the rehabilitation of PWDs.
2. Refining tools and translating them into the local languages for
use when screening for and assessing disabilities in children
and adults.
3. Training researchers in the use of documentation for
enumerating the population profiles for each household,
transect and village, as well as in how to enumerate the
proportion of the population observed to be disabled, and to
disaggregate this by age group and gender.
1. Training mid-level and community rehabilitation workers to
identify, screen and refer PWDs.
2. Mobilising the community by informing them about:
* how to access services to manage different disabilities such
as mental and physical, learning, visual and hearing;
* how to relate to disabled people’s organisations (DPOs);
* the causes of disability, the benefits of rehabilitation, and
the need for prevention;
* immunisation, good nutrition, well-maintained sanitation,
hygiene, and environmental safety;
* the need to encourage influential community members to
sustain community rehabilitation services.
3. Making researchers aware of the context in which the survey
was to take place by profiling the demographic, socioeconomic, geo-political and physical landscapes of the
selected study sites.
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Activity categories Specific activities
1. Multi-disciplinary teams conducted a ‘door-to-door’ survey
with community workers to audit the population data made
available during the pre-survey stage, and to establish the
disability profile by screening for disability, disaggregating
data by age and gender, and by activity limitations.
1. Physical and objective assessment and examination
of identified PWDs was done at outreach points by
multi-disciplinary rehabilitation teams which included
physiotherapists, mental health practitioners, ophthalmology
technicians, orthopaedic technologists, education and social
welfare practitioners, and medical services.
2. A rehabilitation plan including referral was instituted for each
client. Involvement of the family and community and capacity
building was planned and encouraged or implemented.
3. Sustainable stakeholder involvement was arranged in an
attempt to develop an ongoing community rehabilitation
4. All documents pertaining to the initial survey and its outcome,
including client screening and assessment forms, were
handed over to the relevant district hospitals.
Data analysis
1. Data from the screening instruments and rehabilitation
assessment forms were entered into well-known and widely
used spreadsheet software. Population data were enumerated
by age and gender for each village and tallied against the
enumeration data obtained during the door-to-door survey.
Descriptive statistics were computed to characterise the
demographics of PWDs. Proportions were computed to
summarise the activity limitations.
Table 1.5 summarises the population data for the surveyed areas. Table 1.6
presents the overall prevalence of disability for each survey site. Tables 1.7 and
1.8 summarise the types and frequency of disabilities observed in children
and adults respectively. Overall, hearing and talking disabilities were the
highest disability clusters among children; difficulties with walking were the
most frequently observed disabilities among adults.
Community response
Community responses were initially directed by the local leaders’ understandings
of the survey objectives, they at first found it very difficult to fathom why the
study teams wanted to mobilise their whole community to deal with matters
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Table 1.5
Population data for survey sites
Number of
Average age
(years ± SD)
Namibia site 1:
4 000
(34% is 18 years or
Namibia site 2:
(36% is 18 years or
(8.3% is 18 years
or younger)
Not available
Not available
33.43 ± 10.5
Note: During the initial survey in Namibia, age-related data was not collected.
Table 1.6
Prevalence of disability
Prevalence of disability in adults (%)
Prevalence of disability in children (%)
Total prevalence (%)
Table 1.7 Types of disability according to activity limitations in children, 0–18 years
Activity limitations
Feeding / sucking
Strange behaviour
Note: a: Children might have had multiple disabilities; N = the number of disabilities recorded, not the number
of children.
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Table 1.8 Types of disability (activity limitations) in adults (18+ years)
Activity limitations
Strange/inappropriate behaviour
(mental health condition)
Note: a: Respondents might have had multiple disabilities; N = the number of disabilities recorded, not the
number of adults.
of disability. Early meetings were mainly attended by PWDs. However, over
time, advocacy by other community members improved the response rates,
and educational programmes generated further interest. The educational
programmes were highly interactive, and included audio-visual and multimedia presentations defining disability, its causes, the rehabilitation services
available in the area, and the role of the community and organisations
representing PWDs in meeting the needs of PWDs. During the pre-survey
phase, technical experts, including physiotherapists, orthopaedic technologists,
ophthalmologists, mental health specialists, as well as education and social
welfare officers, addressed the community at each study site in a meeting
to which all members of the community were invited. The purpose of the
educational programmes was to demystify and de-stigmatise disability, to
facilitate community participation in the door-to-door survey, and especially to
try to limit barriers to access to PWDs during the household survey.
Consequently, no resistance was encountered during the door-to-door
survey, and no reports were received of PWDs hiding from researchers.
PWDs from neighbouring villages also responded to the survey after hearing
about it, and although they were not enumerated in the surveys, they were
given access to services to satisfy ethical considerations.
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The prevalence of disability in the villages surveyed was two to three times
higher than the figures reported in national census data from both countries.
Apart from national censuses and the World Health Survey mentioned earlier
(Mitra et al. 2011), this study marked the first disability survey in Malawi and
Namibia since 2006. The findings typically mirror the estimate of 15 per cent
provided by the WHO (2011) for a defined community, as well as the results
of the World Heath Survey snapshot, which indicated a prevalence of 14.78
per cent for Malawi (Mitra et al. 2011).
Our findings suggest that the planning and provision of services for
PWDs in these countries is likely to be grossly inadequate, as stakeholders are
tending to rely on data that could be significantly inaccurate. The findings are
somewhat perplexing in that both Malawi and Namibia define disability in
their legislation using a bio-psychosocial paradigm, and both countries have
ratified the CRPD. Nevertheless, a wide margin exists between our findings
and the most recent census data on disability prevalence. This margin might be
attributable to a lag between practice and knowledge, or that those entrusted
with administering the census lacked the awareness, time or resources to
incorporate their knowledge into their data-collection and analysis.
The difference in disability prevalence between the two districts in
Namibia, highlights the fact that randomly sampling districts in a country
like Namibia might not generate data that can be reliably generalised to the
country as a whole. A truer picture would emerge from surveying individual
districts, and might warrant the extra time and effort from researchers, as their
findings would then more accurately inform policy and service development.
Rather than being a limitation, purposive sampling in the case of disability
prevalence studies might well provide data that is better able to inform the
prioritisation of services and service development where resources are scarce.
Disability was higher proportionally in adults than in children in all
three villages surveyed. This might merely point to the more diverse causes
of disability (congenital and acquired) that occur in adults than those more
typical for children.
The nature of disabilities observed
The observed frequency of learning difficulties in children may be a reflection
of speech and hearing difficulties, which had a similar distribution, and make
the case for paying greater attention to the educational needs of children with
disabilities. Adults experienced more difficulties with mobility. Although
this survey did not attempt to determine the causes of disabilities that were
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recorded, it is reasonable to assume that walking aids or similar assistive
devices would be beneficial.
Difficulty with mobility can preclude PWDs from participating in many
activities and aspects of civic and political life (WHO 2011). On a more
basic level, it can limit the ability for self-care, so that individuals require
assistance with bathing or going to the toilet. Such needs tend to deny PWDs
their dignity, lower their self-esteem and reduce their independence (see
Thornicroft et al. 2007; WHO 2011), and are often ultimately responsible for
PWDs being left behind or left out of development agendas.
Disabilities related to mental health were cumulatively the second most
frequently occurring cluster. We believe that this finding is a fair reflection
of what pertains. It also demonstrates that accurate data can feasibly be
obtained, even for persons with mental health challenges. We believe that
the study methodology (community mobilisation combined with a door-todoor survey) worked effectively to ensure that persons with mental health
challenges were identified. We attribute this to the educational programme,
which helped to destigmatise disability, and to the high levels of community
participation that occurred in all phases of the study.
The survey paradigm: our definition of disability
In the survey, we used the concept of activity limitation to define disability.
Judging from the perceptions of health workers involved in our study,
disability seems to be strongly identified as a medical issue in Malawi and
Namibia, even though disability data has been excluded from demographic
health surveys in both countries. Interestingly, the rehabilitation team in
Namibia, who also participated in the survey, needed some assistance to
develop their awareness of the medical causes of impairment. They were all
social workers, and tended to define disability operationally from within a
purely social paradigm, which tends to downplay the role of rehabilitation
workers in primary prevention activities, and can lead to social workers being
excluded from care programmes that are driven by health departments.
The instrument we used for detecting disability lacked a rating scale for the
severity of the disability. In addition, no distinction was made between PWDs’
capacity and their performance of activities, nor were participation restrictions
among adults investigated. These are important measures in relation to the ICF.
The fact that they were excluded from the study means that the prevalence of
disability in all three villages might in fact be higher than observed. We also did
not attempt to determine the causes of disabilities observed, as this was beyond
the scope of the study. Causal factors are, however, important for the planning
of ongoing prevention and primary health care interventions.
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The implications of adopting the ICF framework is important in that it
informs choices made within research programmes. Ideally, this should be
discussed openly in research teams, to make individual researchers aware of
their own assumptions and biases. This would also help researchers to ensure
that their findings respond appropriately to community needs rather than to
goals predetermined by funders or other stakeholders.
The right stakeholders and duty bearers, namely the ministries of health,
social welfare and education in both countries, were involved from the outset.
Our findings challenge official (census) data, and will hopefully contribute
to a deeper awareness of the magnitude and nature of disability in southern
Africa. Hopefully, this awareness will not become an end in itself, but will
translate into meaningful policies and programmes that encompass broader
social and human-rights perspectives on disability.
The immediate priority for further research will be to evaluate the extent
to which the insights from this study can be used to inform those offering
services to PWDs in districts and villages throughout Namibia and Malawi.
That is, more information is needed about what services, beyond medical
and physical rehabilitation, PWDs in the region are able to access. If health
authorities are using census data to estimate their own service provision, it
seems likely that very little provision will have been made for PWDs.
The relationship between disability and poverty is reported liberally in the
literature. For example, although the discourse on increasing access to schooling
for children with disabilities has done the rounds for some time, little progress
has been made over the years. Filmer, in his 2008 paper, ‘Disability, poverty
and schooling in developing countries: Results from 14 household surveys’,
finds a ‘vicious cycle of low schooling attainment and subsequent poverty
among people with disabilities’. Such findings call for some brave decisions
to be made to ensure, for example, that all children, including children with
disabilities, obtain the kind of education that will facilitate the breaking of this
cycle. These decisions require courage because they challenge attitudes that
view PWDs as recipients of charity, and instead place PWDs on a path to
empowerment. In addition, these decisions require that economic priorities be
reconsidered to include PWDs. Their inclusion, in turn, requires the installation
of appropriate infrastructure, as well as further training for those in the health
and social services sectors to ensure that all service providers are more attuned
to inclusivity in the delivery of their services.
Ensuring that PWDs enjoy basic human rights is embedded in
international and in country-level legislation in most southern African
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Figure 1.1: The WHO’s community-based rehabilitation matrix
Advocacy &
marriage &
Culture & arts
Recreation, leisure
& sports
Self-help groups
Disabled people’s
Early childhood
Medical care
Secondary &
Wage employment
Financial services
Lifelong learning
Social protection
Assistive devices
Source: WHO (2010)
countries. The aim of this legislation is ‘to empower PWDs and to ensure
their participation in political, economic, social and cultural life’ (Bury 2003).
The WHO’s Community-Based Rehabilitation Guidelines capture the essence
of this approach, describing a matrix of five key development areas – health,
education, livelihood, social and empowerment – in which the mainstreaming
and empowerment of PWDs and their family members needs to be promoted
(WHO 2010) – see Figure 1.1.
As the figure shows, each element in the matrix includes five areas of
activity. The ICF underpins the WHO Guidelines in terms of defining
disability. Consequently, provision for inclusivity can be mapped on the
activities contained in the community-based rehabilitation matrix. This
is a daunting task as it includes all the major life areas. Hence, prioritising
programmes that have wide impact, and are both cost-effective and have
proven benefits, would be a good place to start.
Our experience of working with the health authorities in Namibia and
Malawi indicated a bias towards the medical model of disability. As in
many other countries, the private and public health-care systems appear to
concentrate their prevention and intervention efforts on major communicable
diseases rather than on the non-communicable diseases or on the other causes
of disabilities (Suliman et al. 2011). We recommend, therefore, that countries
in the region refocus on this aspect of health-care provision, both in relation
to training rehabilitation professionals and the provision of rehabilitation
infrastructure. Shrinking health budgets demand that the planners who
inform health policy make careful decisions regarding resource allocation, and
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that both the direct (treatment) and indirect (impaired functioning in work
and other social roles) costs of not tackling disability are considered (see also
Suliman et al. 2011).
As noted, the disability prevalence rates observed in our studies of two villages
in Namibia and one in Malawi are two to three times those reported in the
most recent census data for the two countries. This finding makes it clear that,
despite having adopted the CRPD, several southern African countries provide
no guidance on how to define disability and others continue to use a medical
paradigm when collecting census and other forms of demographic and health
data. Mauritius, Namibia and the Seychelles, for example, promulgated
legislation that defines disability prior to the development of the CRPD, and
have not reviewed this since their countries ratified the Convention. Lesotho,
Namibia and South Africa seem to have ratified the CRPD amidst the flurry
of activity that occurred immediately after it was adopted by the UN in 2006,
but their subsequent commitment to the ethos of the Convention has been
less than energetic. Their disability-data collection systems, therefore, seem to
lag behind policy and legal understandings of the issue.
We recommend that rehabilitation experts conversant with the epidemiology of disability should participate in framing questions on disability for use
in census and other data collection questionnaires. Efforts made in this regard
by Rwanda (see Thomas 2005), should be emulated. In addition, researchers
should be encouraged to redouble their efforts to monitor disability trends in
the region, and development partners should be encouraged to prioritise the
funding of disability research as a central feature of their development agenda.
Additional surveys, using contemporary methods of defining disability,
would help to more accurately quantify and describe human functioning
and the needs of PWDs in the southern African region. While census data
on disability contains such numerous limitations, its usefulness as a basis
for shaping rehabilitation services will remain limited, and might even be
obstructing the release of the kinds of resources that would help PWDs
contribute more fully to the realisation of the post-2015 agenda.
The kinds of personal factors referred to here include the particular background
of an individual’s life and livelihood that are not related to their health, such as
gender, age, etc.
When compared to census data, smaller local surveys tend to report higher rates
of disability. This might be because smaller studies are able to pose more detailed
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questions that relate specifically to disability (see Eide and Loeb 2006). However,
smaller local surveys can also underestimate some forms of disability as people
sometimes avoid reporting socially stigmatised conditions (Mayhew 2001).
Research methods that include the self-identification of disability, are based on
diagnosable conditions only, and on the actual performance of activities of daily
living (eating, bathing, dressing etc.) tend to result in lower prevalence figures
for disability. These methodologies can also result in discrepancies when crossnational comparisons are made (AIHW 2003). For example, in Zambia’s 1990
census, the question ‘do you have a disability?’ yielded a disability level of only
1 per cent (Eide and Loeb 2006). By contrast, a function-based study, using the
United Nations Washington Group Questions and detailed survey questions,
yielded a disability prevalence of over 13 per cent (Eide and Loeb 2006; see also
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2003) Disability Prevalence
and Trends (AIHW Cat. No. DIS 34). Canberra.
Bury T (2003) Primary Health Care and Community-Based Rehabilitation:
Implications for Physical Therapy Based on a Survey of WCPT’s Member
Organisations and a Literature Review. World Confederation for Physical
Therapy’s Briefing Paper 1. Available online.
DFID (Departmentfor International Development, UK) (2000) Disability, Poverty
and Development. Available online.
Eide AH and M Loeb (eds) (2006) Living Conditions Among People with Activity
Limitations in Zambia: A National Representative Study. SINTEF Health
Research Report No. STF78 AO4451, 26 August.
Filmer D (2008) ‘Disability, poverty and schooling in developing countries: Results
from 14 household surveys’, World Bank Economic Review 22 (1): 141–163.
Gordon RS Jr (1983) ‘An operational classification of disease prevention’, Public
Health Reports 98 (2): 107–109.
Kamaleri Y and AH Eide (eds) (2011) Living Conditions Among People with
Disabilities in Lesotho: A National Representative Study (Report No. A17239).
Oslo: SINTEF. Available online.
Lesotho Bureau of Statistics (2007) 2006 Lesotho Census of Population and Housing:
Preliminary Results Report. Maseru.
Lund C, I Petersen, S Kleintjes, A Bhana (2012) ‘Mental health services in South
Africa: Taking stock’, African Journal of Psychiatry 15: 402–405. Available online.
Mayhew L (2001) ‘Disability: Global trends and international perspectives’, paper
presented to the Staple Inn Actuarial Society, London, 4 December. Available
Ministère de la Santé, Madagascar (2003) Enquête démographique et de santé
Madagascar, 2003–2004. Antananarivo.
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Mitra S, A Posarac and B Vick (2011) Disability and Poverty in Developing Countries:
A Snapshot from the World Health Survey. Special Discussion Paper No. 1109,
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Chapter 2
Facilitating access to higher education for students with disabilities:
Strategies and support services at the University of Botswana
Pedzani Perci Monyatsi and OS Phibion
By the close of the twentieth century, higher education in Botswana,
like in many developing countries, had been transformed from the preserve
of the elite into a more accessible arena that annually enrols large numbers of
students from all sectors of society. This change reflects shifts in demographics,
economics and politics, as well as a significant improvement in the number of
children who have access to primary and secondary education. The adoption
of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 (which ushered in
efforts by the United Nations to promote social, economic and cultural rights
in tandem with civil and political rights), the 1989 Convention on the Rights of
the Child (which became binding in international law in 1990), the 1990 World
Conference on Education for All (held in Jomtien, Thailand), and the Dakar
Framework for Action (adopted in 2000), have all pressured many countries
around the globe to commit to improving citizens’ access to education.
After the 1990 Jomtein Conference, the principle of education for all was
strongly emphasised, and the international community was urged to prioritise
basic education. At the same time, it was acknowledged that different learners
have different basic learning needs and different ways of meeting their needs.
As noted by Torres (1999), basic learning needs vary with individual countries
and cultures, social groups and population categories (according to race, age,
gender, culture, religion, territory, etc.) and with the passage of time. The
Dakar Framework espoused six goals that all emphasise:
Full and equal access, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.
Equitable access to appropriate learning and life-skills programmes
(World Education Forum 2000).
Signatories to the Dakar Framework committed themselves to: ‘Ensuring
that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances,
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and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to and complete free
and compulsory primary education of good quality’ (World Education Forum
2000: goal 2). For the purposes of this chapter, people with disabilities can be
counted among those in ‘difficult circumstances’.
With these commitments, many nations of the world expressed support
for the goal of education for all, and went on to develop targets and strategies
that reflect country-specific priorities, conditions and challenges, often linked
to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and subsequently to the
Post-2015 Development Goals. Regionally, the South African Development
Community developed a Protocol on Education and Training in 1997, which
calls for regional co-operation in enhancing the provision of education and
training in various ways, including:
Widening provision and access to education and training, as well as
addressing gender equality.
Increasing equitable access, improving the quality and ensuring the
relevance of education and training.
Rationalising admission requirements to education and training
institutions and accreditation of qualifications (SADC 1997).
As will be shown, the government of Botswana has worked hard to create
a non-discriminatory society that espouses the democratic principle of
equality before the law. Furthermore, institutions such as the University of
Botswana have emulated the government by attempting to create optimum
environments for disabled students. Nevertheless, students with disabilities
still face daunting challenges. The purpose of our study was to investigate
factors that enable and hinder equity, access and equality at the University of
Botswana, with particular emphasis on students with disabilities.
Our main research question was: how does the university foster social
cohesion, reduce inequality and raise the level of knowledge, skills and
competency in society, as well as promote equality of opportunity and
participation in the civic, cultural and social life of the nation? From this
central question, the following sub-questions were key:
What strategies and structures has the university put in place to facilitate
the achievement of equity, access and quality for students with disabilities?
What procedures and criteria are used to select students with disabilities?
What challenges face the university in achieving equity, access and quality
for students with disabilities?
Before providing details of our study and our findings, we offer some
background information about disability in Botswana, and about the history
of government and university policies related to this issue.
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The context
Since attaining independence in 1966, the government of Botswana has
shown an interest in the welfare of people with disabilities. For instance,
in the 1970s, the government commissioned a study on the nature and
prevalence of disabilities in the country, the results of which were used by the
health ministry to introduce the Special Services Unit for the Handicapped
in 1975 (Republic of Botswana 1996). This unit has since been integrated
into the Ministry of Health’s Rehabilitation Services Division. In the 1970s,
the Ministry of Local Government Lands and Housing established the
Department of Social Welfare and Community Development. The services
delivered by this department were not specifically aimed at disabled persons,
but were intended to benefit all who were in need. Since 1992, the Ministry of
Labour and Home Affairs has taken over the Division of Culture and Social
Welfare and works with local authorities to provide social welfare services to
the whole population, including people with disabilities.
Botswana’s 2001 Population and Housing Census showed that 58 976
people were living with disabilities, and about 66 per cent of these were living
in rural areas. According to the 2011 Census, this figure had risen to 59 103,
accounting for 2.92 per cent of Botswana’s total population (Hlalele et al.
2014: 151).1 Of the total number of disabled people in Botswana in 2011,
approximately half were male and half female. Hlalele et al. have provided
the following breakdown of the prevalence of different types of disability in
Sight/visual impairment: 40.7 per cent.
Hearing impairment: 17 per cent.
Impairment of leg/s: 11.7 per cent.
Speech impairment: 9.9 per cent.
Mental health disorder: 7.8 per cent.
Impairment of arm/s: 6.3 per cent.
Intellectual impairment: 3.3 per cent.
Inability to use the whole body: 2.5 per cent (2014: 152).
In general, the government has opted to take a policy rather than a legislative
route in addressing issues related to people with disabilities (Grobbelaar et
al. 2011; Kotze 2012). That is, the government’s National Policy on Care
for People with Disabilities, adopted in 1996, signalled the government’s
intention to take a multi-sectoral approach, integrating the issue of
disability into various development initiatives across sectors such as health,
education, institutional capacity building, social welfare and environmental
conservation (Grobbelaar et al. 2011). The policy set out nine principles
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that state-run entities should adopt to enhance the quality of life of people
with disabilities in Botswana; that is, all government departments are
expected to:
Recognise and protect the human rights and dignity of every individual.
Acknowledge that participation in the basic entities of society – the family,
social grouping, and community – is a core aspect of human existence.
Strive for a self-sufficient society through the formation of an environment
within which all peoples, including those with disabilities, can develop to
the fullest possible extent.
Ensure that people with disabilities have the responsibility and the right
to determine their own well-being.
Ensure that families are given clear objectives in relation to socialising,
educating and caring for family members with disabilities.
Ensure that people with disabilities are proactively integrated into society.
Recognise that caring for people with disabilities is a continuous
process that requires family and community involvement more than
Ensure that equal opportunities are available to all members of society,
but acknowledge that variation according to the needs and abilities of
individuals is inevitable.
Ensure that care for people with disabilities is co-ordinated effectively,
and in a spirit of co-operation and beneficial interaction (Republic of
Botswana 1996: 5).
The policy also assigned roles to the various government ministries. It is
important to note that the principles of the policy are based on guidelines
contained in various national development plans issued by the government
of Botswana, and in the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled
Persons that was adopted by the United Nations in 1982. Accordingly, the
government also funds organisations that provide disability-related services.
For instance, in 2012, Kotze (2012: 21) indicated that ‘the Botswana Council
for the Disabled receives an annual budget of BWP25 million [approximately
US$2.5 million] from the government, which is expected to cover its own
running costs and those of its affiliates’. However, as early as 2001, the
government acknowledged that
the sustainability of NGOs has mainly depended on donor funding
over the last three decades. International NGOs and governments from
developed nations have been supporting indigenous NGOs’ work in
different areas of social welfare, poverty alleviation, disability, cultural
development, environmental management, training and development of
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Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises etc. Support has often taken the
form of funds, personnel, equipment and technical assistance. (Republic
of Botswana 2001: 6).
One key factor that has hindered the implementation of Botswana’s policy on
disability is that the policy failed to define disability, and this has rendered it
inadequate in many respects. For example, it has been argued that the policy
encouraged ‘a purely medical approach that focuses on the “disability” as in
need of cure and rehabilitation instead of providing the necessary conditions
in the society to enable children [and others] with disabilities to realise their
full potential’ (Deen 2014: 1).
Nevertheless, in relation to education, the government has committed
itself to educating students with disabilities and, although special education
has long been an integral part of the education system, the 1994 Revised
National Policy on Education added new impetus to this by enabling the
education ministry to increase access to education for children with special
needs. Through this policy, the government committed itself to providing
education for all children, including those with disabilities, acknowledging
that education is a fundamental human right. Prior to this, special units
in regular schools dominated the provision of special education. Hopkin
(2004: 89) has since observed that Botswana’s government then adopted
‘an “open” system of special education in which children with special needs
were mainstreamed or integrated into ordinary schools’. Since the policy
was issued, it has been recognised that all children tend to benefit when
those with special needs are included in the general education environment
(Matale 2000).
In 2013, in an attempt to further address issues of people with disabilities,
the government issued its Inclusive Education Policy Plan which seeks to
ensure accessible and equitable education for all. According to the assistant
minister of education and skills development, Patrick Masimolole, the
government’s aim in developing the policy was to
achieve an inclusive education system which provides children, young
people and adults with access to relevant, high quality education
which enables them to learn effectively, whatever their gender, age, life
circumstances, health, disability, stage of development, capacity to learn or
socio-economic circumstances. (quoted in The Voice BW 2013)
Inclusive education is thus the government’s latest approach to addressing
the diverse needs of individuals in the general education system in Botswana.
This is not surprising as the government has long considered equity to be
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a hallmark of its education policies, and has constantly sought strategies to
provide equal opportunities for its citizens. Provision has long been made
for the education of children with disabilities and, to support teachers in
this regard, special centres were established by the education ministry to
disseminate information about cognitive, behavioural, and other educational
challenges that students with disabilities might face. In 1994, in the Revised
National Policy on Education, the ministry recommended that all trainee
teachers be exposed to special education programmes. According to Hopkin
(2004: 94):
Other developments in this direction were that appropriate programs
have been developed in the Primary and Secondary Colleges of
Education. Pre-service programs leading to the Diplomas in Primary
and Secondary Education include Special Education as a mandatory
component. A Special Education option is available in the Diploma in
Primary Education. Programs offered in the University of Botswana
now include a range of Special Education training programs from
Diploma to Masters.
Tertiary education in Botswana includes certificates, diplomas, degrees and
other advanced courses offered by various institutions. Data published by
Commonwealth Education Online (2015) indicates that tertiary education in
Botswana is provided by approximately thirty vocational and technical training
centres, four teacher-training colleges, two colleges of education and two
universities. Other tertiary institutions include the Institute of Development
Management, the Botswana College of Agriculture, the Botswana Institute
of Administration and Commerce, and the Botswana College of Distance
and Open Learning.
The University of Botswana
The University of Botswana was established by an Act of Parliament in 1982.
The institution is an offshoot of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and
Swaziland, which was established in 1963 as a joint institute to serve these
three countries (Mokopakgosi 2013). Its vision is to be ‘a leading academic
centre of excellence in Africa and the world’.
Two of the core values it espouses are cultural authenticity and equity,
which the institution tries to achieve ‘by ensuring that the diversity of
Botswana’s indigenous values and cultural heritage forms an important part
of the academic and organizational life of the institution’ and ‘by ensuring
equal opportunity and non-discrimination on the basis of personal, ethnic,
religious, gender or other social characteristics (University of Botswana 2015).
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With regard to students with disabilities:
The University of Botswana is non-discriminatory in its admission
procedures and is committed to providing wider access, high quality, and
innovative services to students with disabilities. The University has created
an inclusive learning environment in which students with disabilities have
equal opportunity for education, can participate in all university activities
and competently realize their academic, career and personal goals.
(University of Botswana 2015) As early as 1982, the university established its Disability Support Services
Unit (DSSU) to offer support to all students with disabilities. Services
provided include: diagnostic support and needs assessments, assistive devices,
as well as psychosocial networks, and referrals.
Students with disabilities are encouraged to request academic
‘accommodations’ as soon as they receive notification of acceptance to the
university, but can also submit such requests at any time during the academic
year (University of Botswana 2015). Students wishing to request support
from the DSSU are advised to:
Register with the DSSU as soon as possible.
Provide verification of their disability by a medical practitioner, physician,
and/or allied health professional; and/or,
Provide documentation of any professional assessment of their condition
to guide the unit in providing the appropriate services (University of
Botswana 2015).
Research methods
Due to the aims and the nature of the study, document analysis (see Bowen
2009), was employed to generate some initial data about the registration of
students with disabilities at the university. Our primary research methods were
qualitative, however, as we wanted to focus on how students with disabilities at
the University of Botswana experience their environment. Following methods
advocated by Schurink (1998), as well as McMillan and Schumacher (2010),
our aim was to obtain respondents’ perspectives on issues that affect them.
Accordingly, semi-structured interviews were conducted with:
Two officers in the university’s Admissions, Liaison and Exchanges Unit,
which oversees admissions and therefore plays a role in determining access
for people with disabilities.
Two officers in the DSSU, which aims to ensure that the university
environment is responsive to the needs of students with different abilities.
An officer in the Department of Institutional Planning, which deals with
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issues pertaining to the institutions’ physical infrastructure, and thus
directly affects the experiences of many students with disabilities.
Three lecturers in the education faculty’s Special Education Unit who deal
with academic issues affecting students with disabilities.
Six students with disabilities; of these, two had visual impairments, two
used wheelchairs and two had learning difficulties.
In total, 14 respondents participated in the study, and were selected because they
possessed rich information about the experiences of students with disability.
We developed a semi-structured interview questionnaire that was based on
our research questions and the documents we reviewed. The questionnaire was
first tested with selected officers in the units described who were not part of
our respondent group. Respondents were informed that their participation was
voluntary and that they could terminate the interviews at any time. They were also
informed of the importance of their participation to the study. All the respondents
were interviewed individually, and notes were taken during each interview.
Data analysis
Interview data was analysed in relation to the research questions. The data
was coded so that emerging patterns and themes could be identified and
documented. After this, responses were interpreted, and attempts were made
to understand the perspectives of the respondents in relation to the policy and
other documents that we reviewed.
The findings are presented according to the research questions that guided
the study.
Strategies and structures used to ensure equity, access and quality
To ensure access, equity and quality, the University of Botswana set up various
structures. A senior employee noted that ‘One of the structures in place is the
Admissions and Liaison and Exchange Services Unit which is responsible for
admissions and selection of students into the university’s programmes. This is
the department that is responsible for supporting students.’ Another structure
is the Student Affairs Division, which is responsible for, among other things,
creating a holistic environment for students that ‘ensures that learning is their
central focus, and by establishing and developing a range of learning, social,
cultural and recreational opportunities that will facilitate the full realization
of their potential for academic and personal growth’ (University of Botswana
2013: 5).
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The DSSU is, however, the major structure that facilitates the achievement
of access, equity and quality for disabled students at the university. A senior
member of the unit noted:
The Unit was established to particularly take care of the needs of the
students with disabilities at the University of Botswana. The purpose of
the DSSU is to offer support and remove barriers such as curriculum,
social, cultural and environmental issues in relation to students with
The unit’s assistant manager echoed these sentiments, explaining that
much as members of the DSSU do not take part in the initial admission
(selection) of students with disability into university programmes, there
is an important role we play. The admissions department always refers
potential students for specialist assessment, which gives us the opportunity
to impact the process.
The two DSSU officers interviewed were in agreement with these comments
and further explained their mandate. One of them pointed out:
As specialists we advocate for policies and practices that are disability
compliant or inclusive. We are in the process of unpacking the university’s
and the government’s access policies. For instance, access for whom? How
will the policy be implemented with regard to the marginalised? The
policies need to be domesticated for them to be relevant.
Another senior officer declared that the DSSU have made giant strides in
creating a conducive environment for students with disabilities, noting that
‘the unit boasts a staff complement of seven. There is a braillist in place for the
visually impaired, an orientation/ mobility instructor for the visually impaired,
an assisted technology technician, and a scribe for those who cannot write’.
A student who uses a wheelchair pointed out that the university is
providing a lot of support in many areas such as user-friendly walkways, a
minibus [that can carry a wheelchair] and so on. But he lamented the fact
there are no recreational facilities for students with disabilities at the
university. In fact nobody cares about this but some of us were engaged in
sports before we met with accidents, and we would like to continue where
we stopped.
These sentiments were echoed by several students interviewed, and are mirrored
by Onyewadume and Nwaogu (2006) who found significant inadequacies in
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the provision of recreational facilities for pupils with disabilities at school
level in southern Botswana.
A student who is visually impaired recounted:
I lost my vision a long time after graduating as a primary school teacher.
I had given up on advancing my studies and I felt really depressed. I was
fortunate to be admitted to the University of Botswana because since
arriving here I was provided with a mobility assistant by the DSSU, and
this has made my studies here easier and more enjoyable as I am able to
go anywhere I want with his assistance. I hope that after graduating I will
get the same assistance.
Another student pointed out:
Through the assistance of the DSSU, I was able to acquire this walking
device which has made my life and studies more manageable and easier. I
am able to attend classes and visit the library with ease.
University policy states that
a wide range of services are provided to students who have disabilities, the
main aims being to ensure equal access and full participation of people
with disabilities in higher education. Some of the assistance provided is
assessment and development of individual academic plans, liaison with
academic staff for academic assistance and arrangements for the taking of
examinations. (University of Botswana 2013: 7)
The university has mandated the DSSU to create an environment that promotes
access and participation of students with disabilities in the curricula and cocurricular activities. The DSSU strives to provide an environment that not only
enhances their inclusion in university activities, but also increases students’
chances of success in their studies and of engaging in lifelong learning.
Through its disability policy, the university is committed to promoting
equal opportunities in university life. A senior officer in the Department of
Institutional Planning at the university pointed out that in order to increase
access, equity and quality for people with disabilities
the University of Botswana developed infrastructure such as the creation
of more classroom space. These classrooms are accessible even to students
with disability who use wheelchairs. Furthermore, students who are
physically challenged are always allocated space in classrooms on the
ground floor while some rooms are accessible through lifts. Most of the
roads and walkways have ramps to facilitate ease of movement.
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This is in line with the legal requirements of the government’s Building
Control (Amendment) Regulations of 2009, which require a local building
authority to issue Disability Access Certificates for the construction of all
non-domestic buildings. The certificate serves to confirm that the design
of any proposed structure caters for the accessibility needs of people with
Efforts to improve the welfare of students with disabilities are further
reflected in the university’s 2009/2010 Annual Report, in which it was
pointed out that
during the 2009/2010 academic year, the University of Botswana Disability
Support Services made visible strides…through the procurement of
a wheelchair mini-bus to meet their special transportation needs. The
vehicle has provided specialized transport services to facilitate safe
and secure transportation of students with disabilities. (University of
Botswana, 2010: 18)
Another senior officer in the DSSU concurred with this assessment and
emphasised that ‘The University of Botswana has over the years created a
friendly environment for students with disability by providing students with
motorised wheel chairs [so that they can] move around with ease’.
This is clearly in line with the University of Botswana Strategic Plan to 2016
and Beyond (University of Botswana 2008: 17), which stated:
In 2007, capital funds were released to enable the significant expansion of
physical facilities that had been proposed to the Government, reflecting a
policy commitment to major expansion…Extending access to education
and increasing opportunities and levels of participation in tertiary level
education remains essential to the achievement of Vision 2016, the
delivery of the National Human Resource Development Strategy and for
advancing the economic development of the Nation in a global economy.
Procedures and criteria for selection of students with disability
There are no special admission requirements for students with disabilities; that
is, all admissions are purely merit based. Admission regulations stipulate the
basic entry requirements to undergraduate degrees and diploma certificates
as follows:
The normal basic requirements for entrance to Undergraduate Degree
and Diploma programmes shall be the Botswana General Certificate
of Secondary Education (BGCSE) with a grade C or better in English
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Language, but other qualifications may be accepted on their merit as
alternatives. (University of Botswana 2014: 11)
However, special requirements have been made for primary school teachers
who want to upgrade their qualifications from certificate to degree level.
A senior officer in the Department of Admissions, Liaison and Exchange
Services at the university explained:
Apart from the normal entrance requirements, the university has over
the years developed other entrance routes specifically for those groups
that would not enter the institution through the usual route because of
certain historical instances. For example, most if not all primary school
teachers until the 1994 Revised National Policy on Education had either
a Form 3 academic attainment or a fail, while others had entered the
teacher training colleges with a primary school qualification. The entry
requirements for University of Botswana programmes were a Cambridge
Overseas Certificate. In order to cater for these primary school teachers
to upgrade their qualifications to degree level, they entered through a
Mature Age Entrance Examination.
While this access route may not be necessary for many students with disabilities,
it illustrates that the university is willing to make special arrangements,
and that precedents have been set in this regard. It also illustrates that the
university is flexible enough to respond to the specific needs of particular
communities. Another respondent explained that to cater for disadvantaged
students such as those from remote rural areas and for people with disabilities,
the University of Botswana, at some point, had a quota system for those
students from the disadvantaged areas and those with disability. This
was in recognition of the fact that the environment where one operates
can have an impact on the performance of these students in one way or
the other. But the government [later] terminated the sponsorship based
on this because it felt that all areas in the country have developed since
independence, and resources have been distributed equally to enable all
students to compete well.
Challenges facing the university
The mostly positive responses obtained by student respondents to our study
seem to suggest that the University of Botswana is doing a very good job
in facilitating access, equity and quality for students who are disadvantaged
in various ways, but clearly some challenges still hinder such students. For
instance, an officer in the DSSU pointed out that
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because admission is based on merit, most of our potential students are
left behind. They miss out on this opportunity. This is exacerbated by
the fact that assessment of students is done after they have already been
Another officer explained that the university
does not have clear admissions procedures which the DSSU has
recommended since benchmarking with other universities to learn about
best practices when it comes to special dispensations in admissions
procedures for people with disabilities. With regard to admissions, DSSU
works closely with departments and faculties to provide advice on access
issues, and this includes the Admission Office as well.
A senior officer complained that
support from management and parents is very minimal. Another problem is
that even the central government is not doing much to relieve the problems
of students with disabilities. Until the Botswana Government comes up
with a national policy on people with disabilities, like they did with people
living with HIV and AIDS, nothing is going to improve. One of the main
challenges is that the unit does not have a budget to operate effectively.
A further challenge relates to attitudes shown towards people with disabilities.
One student noted that:
Lecturers do not recognise that some of us are slow learners due to our
disabilities and we need a different pace in order to understand issues.
Lecturers maintain a fast pace in their delivery as if we are the same.
They always say that they have a course outline to cover and students with
disabilities are delaying their progress. Some do not even give handouts
to guide us.
These realities clearly contradict the university’s stated vision and mission.
However, in response to some of these difficulties, the DSSU has taken
the initiative, offering additional learner support programmes and services,
particularly in relation to information and communication technologies.
There is an awareness that technology now permeates key areas of academic
study, including teaching, learning, access to information, the use of the library
and various assessment processes. This was creating a ‘digital divide’ between
students with and without disabilities, in relation to access and participation
in curricular activities (University of Botswana 2015). Essentially, the DSSU
has realised that students with disabilities require advanced and specialised
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adaptive and rehabilitation technologies designed to help them access and
participate fully in curricular activities.
Discussion and recommendations
From the findings of this study, it can be argued that the University of
Botswana has made significant progress towards achieving access, equity and
quality with regard to catering for students with disabilities. In particular, the
establishment of the DSSU in 1982 has helped the institution to co-ordinate
academic and other support services for students with disabilities. The DSSU
has been mandated to create an environment that not only promotes the
access and participation of students with disabilities in curricular and cocurricular activities, but also increases their chances of success in their studies.
In addition, the university has made significant efforts to provide
the infrastructure that is conducive to quality learning for students with
disabilities. Buildings have been modified and other infrastructure such as
ramps and handrails has been provided to meet the needs of these students
and promote participation. The provision of motorised wheelchairs is another
step in the right direction. Further use of assistive technologies could take
these initiatives to greater heights.
Administratively, efforts have been made to provide qualified staff to
manage the necessary systems and processes. The DSSU, in particular,
collaborates with faculties and departments on matters pertaining to
meeting diverse learning needs of students with disabilities. This is a very
strong indication of deliberate moves towards greater inclusion. As the
oldest institution of higher learning in Botswana, it seems only right that
the university should take the lead in this way. Nevertheless, the university
needs to work harder to improve the attitudes of both students and lecturers
towards people with disabilities. Until stigmatisaion and negative attitudes
change, issues of equity and quality will remain pipedreams.
The support of those in political office has been essential in facilitating
what the university has achieved so far, and the University of Botswana should
be urged to take advantage of this conducive political environment to increase
the access and participation of people with disabilities in their programmes.
It is well known that, since achieving independence from Britain in 1966,
the government has done an excellent job of investing in education for all its
citizens. However, the government must be encouraged to provide additional
support to those who are marginalised, including people with disabilities, and
to act strongly as it did when the country faced the scourge of HIV and
AIDS. More resources need to be channelled to this area if the targets of
Vision 2016 and beyond are to be met.
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One of the major challenges that the disability sector is facing is declining
donor support. Major donors are leaving Botswana because the country is
now in the middle-income category, and is therefore perceived as being able
to afford to use its own resources for development. In addition, the global
recession has created an uncertain financial situation for NGOs. Perhaps
it is time for Botswana to focus on its own local resources. For example,
the university’s Faculty of Education has had a viable Special Education
Programme in place for decades that might well have impacted positively
on the whole education system. This would be a valuable topic for further
While the 1996 Disability Policy is a notable one, it is recommended that
the government consider domesticating the United Nations Convention on
the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and enacting a law that mirrors this
convention. This would be achieved if civil society and other groups were to
vigorously lobby the government. The domestication of the UN convention
would make the implementation of disability support and resources easier
and relevant for all concerned. Another challenge that faces the University of
Botswana specifically is lack of adequate funding to meet the requirements
of PWDs. It is therefore recommended that the university administration
escalate its efforts to raise more funding by engaging other sectors of society
such as the private sector and NGOs. Additional funding would enable the
institution to acquire more targeted assistive devices and other resources that
could help to further improve the lives of students with disabilities.
In the 2011 Census, Botswana’s total population was estimated at 2 024 904.
Bowen GA (2009) ‘Document analysis as a qualitative research method’, Qualitative
Research 9 (2): 27–40.
Commonwealth Education Online (2015) Universities and Colleges in Botswana.
Available online.
Deen T (2014) ‘The myth of inclusive education in Botswana’, AfricLaw, 18 August.
Available online.
Grobbelaar-du Plessis I and T van Reenen (2011) Aspects of Disability Law in Africa.
Pretoria. PULP.
Hlalele T, R Adeola, A Okeowo, DB Muleta and LB Njiti (2014) ‘Country report:
Botswana’, African Disability Rights Yearbook 2: 151–226.
Hopkin AG (2004) Special Education in Botswana: Social inclusion or exclusion?
Pula: Botswana Journal of African Studies 18: 88–102.
Facilitating access to higher education for students with disabilities
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Kotze H (2012) Disability Rights in Southern Africa: Country Profiles Report.
Johannesburg: Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa.
Matale, JL (2000) ‘Special education needs as an integral part of Botswana
education system: A move towards inclusive education’, paper presented at the
International Special Education Congress, University of Manchester. Available
McMillan, JH and S Schumacher (2010) Research in Education: Evidence-based
Inquiry. Boston: Pearson.
Mokopakgosi B (2013) ‘Why the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland
failed: Lessons from the brief history of a regional university in southern Africa’,
Journal of Southern African Studies 39 (2): 465–480.
Onyewadume I and P Nwaogu (2006) ‘A survey of recreational facilities in southern
Botswana schools for children with disability’, Mosenodi 9 (1): 17–24.
Republic of Botswana (1996) National Policy on Care for People with Disabilities.
Approved and adopted through presidential directive CAB: 5/96. Gaborone.
Republic of Botswana (2001) National Policy for Non-Governmental Organizations:
Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs. Gaborone.
Republic of Botswana, (2011). Decent Work Country Programme for Botswana,
SADC (Southern African Development Community) (1997) Protocol on Education
and Training. Available online.
Schurink EM (1998) ‘The methodology of unstructured face-to-face interviewing’,
in AS de Vos (ed.) Research at Grassroots: A Primer for the Caring Professions.
Pretoria: Van Schaik.
The Voice (2013) ‘MOE launches inclusive Education Policy’, The Voice BW,
1 March. Available online.
Torres R M (1999). One Decade of Education For All: The Challenge Ahead. Buenos
University of Botswana (2008) University of Botswana Strategic Plan to 2016 and
Beyond. Gaborone.
University of Botswana (2010) Annual Report 2009/2010. Gaborone.
University of Botswana (2013) General Student Handbook. Gaborone.
University of Botswana (2014) Academic Calendar, 2014/2015. Gaborone.
University of Botswana, (2015) Implementation Report on Assistive Technology
Training Laboratory. Gaborone.
UBLS (University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland). (1971) Senate Admissions
Committee, Roma: University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
World Education Forum (2000) Dakar Framework for Action: Education For All,
Meeting Our Collective Commitments. Resolutions adopted at a conference in
Dakar, Senegal, 26–28 April. Available online.
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Chapter 3
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the
University of Malawi: The case of Chancellor College
Elizabeth Tikondwe Kamchedzera
In 2013, the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Post-2015
Development Agenda concluded that this ‘universal agenda’ must be driven
by the following ‘five big transformative shifts’ (United Nations 2013):
Leave no one behind.
Put sustainable development at the core.
Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth.
Build peace and effective open and accountable institutions for all.
Forge a new global partnership.
The Panel argued that these five shifts will help to eradicate ‘the barriers
that hold people back, and end the inequality of opportunity that blights
the lives of so many people’ (UN 2013: ii). Implicit in the first shift is the
recognition that inclusivity is a major goal of development. If we also accept
that tertiary education is a key driver of development, the inclusion of people
with disabilities in tertiary institutions becomes a vital aspect of any national
development agenda. Of course, as the Panel pointed out, the impact of these
shifts will ‘depend on how they are translated into specific priorities and
actions’ (UN 2013: ii)
This is not the first time that global organisations working for equitable
development have advanced an agenda that aims to ensure that more people
with disabilities have access to education. Indeed, several international
standards and frameworks have stressed the importance of access and equity
in education.1 For example, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (UN 2006) emphasises the principles of
non-discrimination; full and effective participation and inclusion in society;
respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of
human diversity and humanity; equality of opportunity and accessibility.
More specifically, Article 24 of the CRPD recognises the rights of people
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with disabilities to inclusive education, and Article 9 provides the following
guidelines for governments:
To enable persons with disabilities to live independently and participate
fully in all aspects of life, States Parties shall take appropriate measures
to ensure to persons with disabilities access, on an equal basis with
others, to the physical environment, to transportation, to information
and communications, including information and communications
technologies and systems, and to other facilities and services open or
provided to the public, both in urban and in rural areas.
Malawi ratified the CRPD in 2009, and this too has influenced the
development of policy on inclusive education.
In this chapter, I first provide some background about the prevalence of
disability in Malawi and about government policy on inclusive education,
before describing some research I conducted about conditions of learning at
Chancellor College (CHANCO). The largest of five colleges affiliated to the
University of Malawi, CHANCO is located in the southern city of Zomba,
and has five faculties, namely: Humanities, Science, Law, Social Science and
Education. CHANCO has a total student population of about four thousand.
Out of these, 39 are students with disabilities. The College first admitted
students with disability in 1972. By 1999 a total of eight students with visual
impairment had graduated from the University (Msowoya 1999). Since
2000, the University of Malawi (UNIMA) has atempted to increase access
for students with disabilities at their CHANCO campus. For instance, such
students are exempted from taking the University Entrance Examination and
they are admitted based on their Malawi School Certificate Examination
(MSCE) results (UNIMA 2007). At the time of writing, CHANCO
was still the only one of the university’s five colleges that catered for such
students. UNIMA has indicated willingness to accept ‘more students, taking
into account special needs and gender, for a stronger and more competitive
workforce’ (UNIMA 2012: 3) into any of its colleges that are ready to enrol
students with disabilities. In my research, I used various means to examine
the experiences of students with disabilities at CHANCO, and key concepts
related to access and equity were used to investigate the effectiveness of the
delivery of inclusive education by the College.
The Post-2015 Development Agenda is particularly relevant for Malawi,
which has a significant population of people with disabilities. The country’s
2008 population census revealed that there were 498 122 people with
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disabilities in Malawi, representing a prevalence rate of 3.8 per cent (NSO
2008). The data suggests that the prevalence rate is relatively low. However,
it is possible that sensitisation and intervention programmes on the causes of
disability conducted by the Federation of Disability Organisations in Malawi,
the Directorate of Special Needs Education and other organisations are
making a positive impact. Of the 498 122 persons with disabilities, the census
data indicated that 49.9 per cent were male and 51.2 per cent were female.
The literacy rate among people with disabilities stood at 56 per cent overall,
with 64.7 per cent of males with disability and 47.9 per cent of females with
disability being literate. The prevalence rate of disabilities in what the report
defined as ‘the higher education sector’ and in the age group 15 to 24 years,
was 5.6 per cent. Here too, the literacy rate for male students with disability
was higher than that for female students with disability.
In terms of the categories of disability, out of the total number of
persons with disabilities, 27 per cent had a visual impairment, 16 per cent
had hearing impairments, 6 per cent had a communication disorder, 22 per
cent had physical disabilities, and 29 per cent experienced ‘other’ unspecified
disabilities (NSO 2008: 41, Table 3.3). Visual impairment is therefore the
most prevalent form of disability in Malawi, and, as shown later in the
chapter, this is also true of the students with disabilities who have registered
at CHANCO since 2004.
The Post-2015 Agenda is also pertinent for Malawi because of policies
the country has adopted in its quest to comply with international frameworks.
Thus, according to Malawi’s current education policy (see Ministry of
Education 2007), inclusive education has to extend to tertiary education.
Similarly, Malawi’s National Education Sector Plan 2008–2017 stipulates
that special-needs education programmes should feature prominently at
all levels of the education sector (MOEST 2008). The education ministry
has therefore committed itself to ensuring access and equity in relation to
educational opportunities for students with disabilities. Recognising barriers
such as shortage of space and other resources, and taking into account special
needs and gender factors, the National Education Sector Plan nevertheless
enjoined the Malawi’s education institutions to aim to double enrolments
in educational institutions. More directly, in its National Special Needs
Education Policy, the Ministry of Education (2007: 15) set out its general
vision as follows: ‘For learners with special educational needs to achieve their
potential enabling full participation in the community’.
The expressed mission is ‘to provide access to quality and relevant
education to all learners with special educational needs in Malawi for their
survival, growth and development’ (Ministry of Education: 2007: 15). Its
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University of Malawi
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stated goal is to ‘develop the personal social and academic competences of
learners with special educational needs’ (2007: 16). Furthermore, in 2012,
Malawi’s Disability Act was signed into law, making provision for inclusive
education at all levels.
Theoretical and conceptual frameworks
The so-called medical and social models of disability are often used as
conceptual frameworks for understanding and responding to disability (Oliver
1990; Shakespeare 2006). The medical model dominated understandings
of disability for the better part of the twentieth century (Hargrass 2005;
Priestly 2003 ). This model defines disability in terms of individual deficits
(Shakespeare 2006), and views the causes of disability in terms of functional
limitations or psychological losses (Vlachou 2004). That is, disability is viewed
as a problem or a measurable defect located in an individual, and is seen
as requiring cure or eradication by medical experts (Priestly 2003; Vlachou
2004). This assumes that medical and rehabilitative interventions are the only
means to resolve disability, and that people with disability should strive for
‘normality’ (Hargrass 2005). Underpinning these assumptions is what Oliver
(2004: 19, 2006: 8) called the ‘personal tragedy theory of disability’.
The deficiencies of this model are clear when it is juxtaposed with the
social model, which shifts the location of disability from the individual and
focuses instead on society’s responses to difference and people’s different
abilities (Bolt 2005; Priestly 2003; Shakespeare 2006). The idea underpinning
the social model is that disability, in part, derives from ‘externally imposed
restrictions’ (Oliver 2004: 19). Alongside this redefinition of disability, a
politics of disability has gradually emerged, which advocates that barriers to
participation for people with disabilities be both recognised and removed at
all levels (Oliver 2004, 2006).
In the education sector globally, the social model has influenced the
notion of inclusive classrooms, and resulted in attempts to have students with
disabilities learn in mainstream schools (UNESCO 2001) as has been the case
in Malawi. Inclusive education is consistent with the social model because it
rejects stereotypes and discrimination, lobbying instead for social awareness
and acceptance of diversity in the delivery of education. As stated by the UN
(2006), inclusive education recognises the fact that all children are different
and that children with disabilities should be able to access and participate
in the education system. At the same time, equity should be emphasised. In
both high- and low-income countries, inclusive education has been widely
accepted in principle by policy-makers – see, for example, the Salamanca
Statement (UNESCO 1994).
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The advantage of viewing inclusion as a right is that no group of students
can be left behind. It also means that although questions of feasibility,
effectiveness and efficiency may be real and critical, they cannot be allowed to
override students’ rights to education. However, as Lindsay (2007) argues, if
inclusion is accepted as a human right, regardless of its effectiveness, differing
views and understandings of social and human rights are likely to create
conflict around the implementation of policy and practice. In Malawi, both
models seem to have influenced the development of policies on inclusion, but
no conflict is evident. Disability is now viewed as a crosscutting issue in the
sense that it cuts across all sectors, including education, agriculture, health,
the economy, etc. As a human rights issue, it is accepted that everyone has a
right to education irrespective of their differences.
Literature review
The literature on access and equity for students with disabilities at tertiary
level in Malawi is sparse. However, studies conducted elsewhere do provide
some useful insights into the issues under discussion.
Access: enrolment of students with disabilities
Rickinson (2010) and Steff et al. (2010) have noted that students with
disabilities are more likely to access higher education through non-traditional
routes, but provided no insight into why this is the case. In terms of subject
areas, Rickinson’s 2010 synthesis of current trends reveals that enrolment
of students with disabilities is high in certain subjects (such as creative
arts, design, agriculture and related subjects) while fields such as medicine,
mathematical sciences, languages and law show very low enrolments. By way
of explanation, Rickinson cites Gosling (2009) as offering a variety of reasons
ranging from the under-achievement and low aspiration levels that tend to
be common in students with disabilities (including at school level), to issues
of social class and ethnicity, or a combination of all these factors. As Gosling
pointed out, ‘we cannot rule out the possibility that prejudice against disabled
students and ignorance about what they are capable of, with appropriate
support, has also contributed to their under-representation’ (see Rickinson
2010: 4).
Inaccessible physical environment and infrastructure
Other studies have revealed that when students with disabilities access
universities, they face challenges in their learning related to the physical
environment and infrastructure. For instance, Singleton and Aisbitt (2001)
observed that the inaccessibility of buildings (with stairs, narrow corridors,
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University of Malawi
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and inaccessible bathrooms) often constitutes a major barrier for students with
disabilities. Duguay (2010) adds that, in spite of developments in international
and national legislation as well as policies that promote access and equity for
students with disabilities, built environments remain a major problem.
Equity when enrolled
Several studies have noted that once enrolled, students with disabilities suffer
mixed reactions, from stigmatisation to hyper-sensitivity. Studies linked to the
UK-based Premia project (2004) reveals that the challenges are even greater
when university personnel underestimate the effects of students’ disabilities,
minimise them, or ignore their impact. Furthermore, the Premia material
indicates that preconceived notions about what students with disabilities
can or cannot do often presents problems for students. On the other hand,
staff who are supportive, open-minded and sensitive to students’ disabilities
often have a great impact on students’ confidence and success. Such staff are
often able to encourage students to advance in their studies, and to excel by
giving their best. When learning conditions ensure the possibility of equitable
participation for all students, academic performance improves (Premia 2004).
A lack of the necessary support for students with disabilities has been
widely identified as a barrier to inclusive education. To give just one example,
Steff et al. (2010) revealed the multiple challenges encountered by students
with disabilities once they enrol in tertiary institutions as including:
Expectations that students will naturally adapt to university life and a lack
of appropriate forms of support from institutions.
Attitudinal discrimination by university personnel and other students.
Lack of awareness and understanding with respect to disability issues.
Underestimation of the impact of a disability.
Steff et al. also observe that students with disabilities face a constant struggle
to prove that they are as capable as other students. They point out that
funding is a major problem that leads to shortages of academic and other
personnel who are qualified to support students with disabilities. Inadequate
funding also means that institutions seldom provide the necessary support
for students with disabilities such as: braillists and sign-language interpreters;
adaptive technologies and adapted academic resources; appropriately designed
assignments and exam papers; or accessible physical environments (Steff et al.
2010). All of these factors put students with disabilities at a disadvantage and
make the learning process unfair.
Similarly, Jacklin et al. (2006) have observed that students with
disabilities experience a range of challenges and frustrations once they
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enter tertiary education. Karangwa (2008) also observed that the absence of
institutional interventions at universities in Ghana and Tanzania led peer
communities to start providing support. Nevertheless, academic support has
to be provided to students with disabilities if they are to succeed in the sector
(Richardson and Wydell 2003). This is also stipulated in the international
standards and frameworks related to inclusive education, such as the
Salamanca Statement (UNESCO 1994) and the CRPD (UN 2006).
Research questions
My main research question was an open one, indicating the exploratory
nature of the study, and was formulated as follows: to what extent has access
and equity been inclusive of students with disabilities at CHANCO? Subquestions included:
How many students with disabilities (including visual impairment,
hearing impairment, albinism and physical disabilities) have enrolled at
the College since 2004?
How accessible was the physical environment and infrastructure for these
students at the time of the study (in 2014)?
How fair are learning conditions for students with disabilities at the
Research design and methodology
Armstrong (1998) contended that if new possibilities and practices within
inclusive cultures are to be opened up, research needs to involve teachers and
students. Accordingly, I decided to include qualitative research methods in
the study. This included interviewing both staff and students at the College,
as well as organising focus groups with different groups of students during
which I hoped to use ‘naturalistic enquiries’ to collect data in a natural
setting (Newby 2010). This provided opportunities for me to find out how
participants in my research constructed meanings in their own contexts, and
allowed me to compare learning conditions at the college for students with
and without disabilities.
Sampling strategy, sample size and research sites
Purposive sampling was used to select the participants and research site. The
total sample size for the study was 34 people. These included 12 students (six
female and six male) with disabilities (including visual impairment, physical
and motor disabilities and albinism) pursuing various degree programmes.
The justification for selecting students of both genders and with different
types of disabilities was to gather information from a variety of perspectives
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University of Malawi
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in relation to the students’ experience. I included albinism as a category of
disability, because in Malawi people with albinism have long been sidelined.
Participants without disabilities were also selected in order to get the
perspectives of other students, as well as lecturers and administrators in the
College. Of these, 12 students without disabilities (six female and six male)
plus a female student from the students’ union called ‘a student welfare officer’
offered their perceptions. In addition, six lecturers (one female and five males)
were included on the basis that they had students with disabilities in their
classes. Respondents from the institution’s administration/management
included the Vice-Principal and Assistant Registrar (academic) because
they form part of the policy-making body, and are responsible for academic
issues and the welfare of all students. A braillist was also included because
he supports and assists several students with visual impairment with their
academic work, and familiarises them with the campus and its surroundings.
Data collection
Three data collection methods were used because the nature of the study
required an in-depth analysis from multiple perspectives. The first method
involved an examination and analysis of enrolment records, to determine the
number of students with disabilities who had enrolled in the College. As ‘no
document is innocent’, the documents were treated not simply as a reflection
but also as a construction of social reality (see Rose and Grosvenor 2001: 51).
The second data collection method involved interviewing various people
on the question of whether the learning conditions for students with
disabilities is fair. In this regard, a semi-structured interview questionnaire
was used to collect data from the vice-principal (hereafter labelled M1), the
assistant registrar (academic) (labelled M2), six lecturers (labelled L1, L2, L3,
L4, L5 and L6) and the student welfare officer.
The third data collection method involved focus group discussions with:
six female students with disabilities; six female students without disabilities;
six male students with disabilities and six male students without disabilities.
Discussion topics were linked to students’ perceptions of the accessibility of
the environment and the fairness of learning conditions. The focus groups
provided insights on the issues at hand from the students with disabilities, and
also from those without disabilities, who all learn together. Focus groups held
with students who do not have disabilities were useful because these students
study with, and sometimes support, students with disabilities. These students
were therefore able to provide their perceptions of the lived experiences of
students with disabilities with respect to whether learning conditions were
fair to all. An attempt was made to mitigate the risk that the participants
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might not feel free to express their thoughts by creating separate groups as
described, and by reassuring participants that everyone was free to express
their thoughts and views without fear of reprisal.
Ethical issues
As pointed out by Lewis (2003), any research raises ethical considerations,
and this is particularly true when vulnerable groups are researched (Rose and
Grosvenor 2001). The following ethical issues were taken into consideration
in conducting the study: the need for informed consent, confidentiality
and anonymity, as well as confirmation that there would be no betrayal or
deception. Accordingly, a letter was sent to the relevant authority to secure
the consent of the College for the study. Participants were also fully informed
about the nature and purpose of the study, how data would be used and what
their participation would require. The importance of the study was explained,
along with the fact that it was the first of its kind. This information seems to
have encouraged the participants, enhancing their willingness to participate
and helping to secure their consent. All prospective participants were informed
that they had the right to refuse participation, and to withdraw from the study
at any point (Cohen et al. 2007; Denzin and Lincoln 2005).
Participants were also assured that all information given would be treated
with the strictest confidentiality and that their anonymity and privacy would
be protected. By chatting and cracking jokes about unrelated issues before
focus group meetings began, the participants were encouraged to relax and
allow their voices to be heard. Throughout, their behaviour and responses
were monitored closely, with the researcher checking for signs of discomfort
and/or distress. No participants showed signs of discomfort at any point in
the process, and the entire study was characterised by tact, honesty, sensitivity,
dignity and respect for the privacy of the participants. In addition, once the
findings had been interpreted, they were presented to all participants who
were available, and their comments were noted.
Data analysis
The data collected via the interviews and focus group discussions were
analysed following Braun and Clarke’s (2006) six phases of thematic analysis.
Phase one required me to review the data, and group the responses, looking
for patterns and themes. Phase two involved first-level coding, which proved
useful in summarising segments of data and laid a foundation for later
higher-order coding that constituted phase three. In phases four and five, I
reviewed, refined, combined and named the themes where possible. Phase six
was the final stage of data analysis and reporting, including the formulation
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University of Malawi
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Number of students per year
Figure 3.1:
Enrolment at Chancellor College by disability type, 2004–2014
Visual impairment
Hearing impairment
Physical disability
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Year of enrolment
Source: Data supplied by the Student Resource Centre, Chancellor College
of ‘thick’ descriptions, interpretations and discussion (Miles and Huberman
1994; Punch 2005). Threats to reliability were minimised by conducting a
pilot study.
Limitations of the study
The study was small scale, focusing on just one public institution that enrols
students with disabilities and thus offers limited insights into the issues of
access and equity for students with disabilities at tertiary level in Malawi. As
noted, CHANCO is the only public higher education institution in Malawi
that enrols students with disabilities. Research has yet to be conducted on
issues of disability in relation to the private colleges and universities.
The findings are presented according to the major themes of the study, namely,
access and equity.
Access in relation to student enrolment
Article 24 of the CRPD, as well as Malawi’s Disability Rights Act, requires
that education should be accessible to people with disabilities. The total
enrolment of students with disability at the College between 2004 and 2014
was 58, of which 31 were boys and 27 were girls. As illustrated in Figure
3.1, the total number of students with disabilities enrolled at the College
between 2004 and 2014 has fluctuated. In terms of disability types, students
with visual impairment have been in the majority, followed by students with
hearing impairment, physical disability and albinism.
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Table 3.1 Enrolment of students with disability at Chancellor College, by course and
gender, 2004–2014
Bachelor of Arts
Bachelor of Social Science
LLB (Honours)
Bachelor of Education
Source: Data supplied by the Student Resource Centre, Chancellor College
An analysis of the College’s enrolment records shows that the students with
disabilities are indeed selected into the university on merit. In addition, in
2004, the university undertook to ‘ensure affirmative action with regard to
gender, and the mentally and physically challenged’ (UNIMA 2004), and in
2012, the university reiterated its willingness to enrol ‘more students, taking
into account special needs and gender’ (UNIMA 2012: 3).
In terms of programme enrolment, certain programmes had higher
proportions of students with disabilities. Of the 58 students with disabilities
enrolled between 2004 and 2014, 29 (50 per cent), were pursuing a Bachelor
of Education, 16 (28 per cent) were pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree, 7
(12.1 per cent) were pursuing a Bachelor of Social Science degree, 2 (3 per
cent) were pursuing a Law degree, and 4 (7 per cent) were pursuing a master’s
degree. See Table 3.1.
According to the university’s selection process, each faculty has a cut-off
point, and remaining eligible applicants are then directed to the Faculty of
Education. Clearly, accessibility to the various programmes is characterised
by disparities, and it is not surprising that the majority of students with
disability pursue Bachelor of Education degrees. These findings mirror those
of Mwaipopo et al. (2011) and Rickinson (2010).
Perceptions of access in relation to the physical environment
In the course of the study, participants were asked to indicate whether the
physical environment and infrastructure in the college were accessible for
students with disabilities. Their responses indicated that most of the students
find the physical environment and the buildings inaccessible, and that this
makes it difficult for students with disabilities to reach many areas of the
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University of Malawi
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college. Many students have to depend on their friends to guide them or push
their wheelchairs, etc. As one participant explained:
If you go to Chirunga hostel, you will find drains have not yet been
modified, whereby those who want to go to the library need someone to
push them. So during examination time, some people are very busy and
they cannot help. They will be complaining that ‘every time we should
be pushing you, we have our exams to attend to’. This means that the
person will just stay there [at the hostel], and will not go to the library.
The same applies to the girls’ hostels. For example, at Kamuzu hostel, they
laid rough pavements, which means that if there is nobody who can push
them, it is very difficult for [students] to go to the library. (Student welfare
officer, Interview)
It is important to note that the wheelchairs available to most of the
students who need them are very basic, and need to be pushed, so students
in wheelchairs have no alternative but to ask for assistance. Several other
participants also noted that key areas of the campus are inaccessible for
students with disabilities. As the vice-principal explained,
Talk about the library: the library is the central place for every student, but
those with disabilities have problems going up to access the books because
of the nature of the structure, the way it was put up. (interview)
The vice-principal lamented that even though the library has no lift, all books,
journals and other learning materials are housed on the first and second floors,
making them difficult for the students in wheelchairs to access. In addition,
the ground floor entrance that leads to the stairway has metal security bars
that create a major obstacle for those with visual impairment.
Similarly, a female student with disabilities reported that ‘Some of the
lecturers’ offices and classrooms are upstairs, and it is difficult for those who
use wheelchairs to access such rooms’ (Focus group). A male student without
disabilities reported that
in most cases, students with disabilities fail to access essential services, not
only for their academic endeavours, but also for their social, spiritual, and
physical development. Such disability-unfriendly facilities include the
cafeteria, sports complex, and chapel. (Focus group)
Several participants in focus group discussions suggested modifying and
improving the physical environment by, for example, constructing more
pavements and ramps to render the environment more accessible for students
with disabilities.
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These perceptions and experiences mirror the findings by Singleton and
Aisbitt (2001) about universities in the UK, and those by Duguay (2010) about
campuses in South Africa. However, they also reveal clear gaps in Malawi’s
commitments in relation to the CRPD. They underline that although some areas
of the physical environment may be accessible, many students with disabilities
face crucial barriers to learning, such as the inaccessibility of the main library.
Perceptions of equity and fairness
Both Article 24 of the CRPD and Malawi’s Disability Rights Act emphasise
the need for practicality in relation to fairness. Thus, both call for ‘reasonable
accommodation’ in ensuring that people with disabilities enjoy their human
rights. In this study, participants were asked to indicate how fair they thought
the conditions for learning were for students with disabilities in the College.
Responses were mixed.
Some aspects of the College’s responsiveness to the academic needs of
students with disabilities were regarded as fair. Appreciation was expressed
that the College was gradually responding to the needs of students with
disabilities. Participants indicated that Braille materials were available for
students with visual impairment, although these were still inadequate. An
alternative library has also been made available for students using wheelchairs,
although it lacks the facilities and resources of the main library. One student
without disabilities reported that ‘the main library allows students in
wheelchairs to take out books from the reserve even though students without
disabilities are not allowed [to do this]’ (Focus group).2
To emphasise that there is equity/fairness in the learning process, one
female student with disabilities stated that ‘the students with disabilities are
accommodated in the class taught by the same lecturer’ (Focus group). In other
words, all students, irrespective of their differences, are taught by the same
lecturers in the same classes. Another female student with visual impairment
stated, ‘there are other lecturers who are open to assist us in class, if we ask
them a question where we didn’t understand, they invite us to their office,
and they provide us with the learning materials’ (Focus group). During the
focus group discussion with male students with disabilities, one participant
indicated that students with disabilities were given extra time to complete
their assignments because lecturers understand the challenges that these
students were facing. He stated that ‘all departments understand if we ask
for extensions because we are facing problems when it comes to information
and we cannot submit in time. They understand our problems. So it is fair’
(Focus group). Several respondents reported that attempts were made during
classroom learning to accommodate students with disabilities. For example,
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these students are given a chance to sit in front; in addition, some notes and
all assignments are translated into Braille for those with visual impairment.
Another male student with visual impairment expressed appreciation
for the way in which the College administrators manage the examinations
process. The student elaborated, ‘if we are about to write exams, the
administration tells the lecturers to give the transcriber the exam scripts in
good time so that they can be transcribed into Braille for us. So we have no
problems with the issues of writing the exams’ (Focus group). It was also
noted that students with disabilities are allowed to write their exams in a
separate room if they wish to do so.
Perceptions of unfairness and inequity
Despite the perceptions of fairness outlined above, most participants in
the study were of the view that the learning conditions for students with
disabilities were generally unfair. This related to several factors, as outlined
First was the lack of support services. For instance, evidence from the focus
group discussions and an interview with one of the lecturers (L3) revealed that
the College had no systematic support services for students with disabilities.
As a result, students with visual impairment and those using wheelchairs are
forced to depend on their friends to collect books for them from the library.
L3 questioned how effective the learning of these students was:
They depend on their fellow students and therefore even if they want to
exploit a particular aspect on their assignment or anything or an exam, for
example, they will still depend on somebody who is not even an expert. I
think it becomes quite a challenge.
The braillist also argued that learning conditions were unfair because the
lack of guiders might make students with visual impairment miss classes. To
address these kinds of problems, participants suggested that the provision of
additional support would enhance their learning.
It was also revealed that, because of their dependence on others, students
with impairments are vulnerable to anything from simple teasing to serious
abuse by students without disabilities, and this can dramatically affect their
learning. For instance, one female student with disability explained, ‘We are
sometimes abused by male students without disabilities especially when we
ask them to assist us, for example, to help us with mobility’ (Focus group).
Second, a lack of information about the inclusion of students with disabilities
made it difficult for lecturers to include them in the learning process. L2
described his experience as follows:
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To some extent, this problem is a creation of the administration in the
sense that there is no information whatsoever at the beginning of every
academic year as regards the number of students with visual impairment,
or indeed students with disabilities in general, who have joined the
College. If there is indeed such information, then it is not shared with the
lecturers. If such information was shared early enough, it would somehow
be easier for lecturers to plan ahead. It’s so sad that I have to learn that
I have the visually impaired amongst my students while in class. I had
such a bad experience a couple of years ago which haunts me up to now.
I was teaching my first lesson of a certain first-year English course, and
at some point I asked a question and pointed at a certain gentleman
wearing sunglasses to answer the question. The gentleman sat still and
seemed to be staring at me behind his sunglasses. I walked towards the
student and was about to get annoyed for his unresponsiveness when one
student suddenly said, ‘Sir, he is visually impaired!’ I felt bad, very bad. I
was ashamed. I tried to joke about the whole incident there and then, and
we all laughed, but I still remain drenched in shame.
Similarly, L4 reported that she did not know that she had a student with
a hearing impairment in her class but later on someone told her. She then
began to use the chalkboard more than usual, knowing that the student could
not hear but could read. L1 explained that not being made aware of the needs
of students with disabilities means that learning conditions are unfair:
It is not fair to a large extent, because when we are teaching we face a lot of
challenges, and it actually depends on you as a lecturer. If you are actually
not conscious that you have special needs students in your lesson, that
means they will not be able to follow what you are doing. They will remain
behind. But if you are conscious all the time, you will be reminded that I
have some students I am supposed to check whether they are following.
When you are teaching, like in my case, I used to have a challenge when I
was presenting something, if I say, can you see here, and quickly someone
would come out to say we do have some students with special needs who
are not able to see. Again, if you write the number in a table, you should be
able to explain what is contained in that table. Yeah, I also remember there
was someone who I thought was ok in terms of sight and then she came
back to me to say if you are setting an exam please can you make sure that
the font is 14 or 16 because I cannot read anything below that.
Evidence from all the focus groups indicated that some lecturers forget to
have exams transcribed into Braille or to bring exam scripts with large print,
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and that not enough textbooks are available in Braille. In addition, it was
reported that students with visual impairment often receive their copies of
class handouts very late in the semester. This is unfair because they write
exams at the same time as everyone else. The following comment made at the
focus group discussion with female students with disabilities gives an example
of what was reported:
Sometimes during the exams, lecturers tend to forget that in their classes
there are certain students who need examination papers transcribed
into Braille, and some who need the papers printed in large print. So
when the day of writing the exams has come, they say we forgot, can
you wait? So it delays us because we have already prepared and been
waiting for some minutes. It affects us. Then we start thinking about
what the lecturer has done, thinking that doesn’t the lecturer consider
me or think about me as one of his students in class. So it is a big
problem. Sometimes because of this problem, those of us with low vision
are asked to read the question even though they are not in Braille; that
is hard for those with low vision.
Strategies suggested to address these kinds of problems were for lecturers to
be made more aware of students with disabilities, and for lecturers to make
sure that they find out about the nature of their students’ needs and respond
appropriately. If this is implemented, lecturers should be able to better meet
the academic needs of all their students.
A third factor is lack of orientation and training for lecturers on how they
should respond and support the learning of students with disabilities. For
instance, several male students with disabilities indicated that, in their
view, the braillist was under qualified and that this negatively affected their
academic performance:
We…need somebody with higher qualifications who can understand the
university system, and who can advise the students accordingly, so that we
can talk the same language. Even with transcribing, we never know how
much we lose. The lecturer will look at transcribed work as my work, not
taking into account the problem made by the transcriber. (Focus group)
Another male student with disability elaborated:
Accessibility of important texts is a problem. You find most of the time
that those books are not in Braille and that you have to depend on
someone to read for you. Sometimes they [read too] fast, so most of our
work may be half-baked. Some of our friends also become busy with their
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assignments and it’s difficult for them to help us. Sometimes you have to
beg people to assist you. (Focus group)
One strategy to address such unfairness is the procurement of additional
Brailled teaching and learning materials, as well as audiotapes and digital
files, including special computer software (such as the JAWS screen reading
program) that is suitable for various types of disabilities.
Fourth, large classes are problematic. As one male student with disabilities
stated, ‘one lecturer cannot meet the needs of all, or pay attention to all students
with special needs’ (Focus group). In 2014 and 2015, the average student-tolecturer ratio for education-foundation courses was 170–200 : 1. With classes of
this size, it is indeed difficult to pay extra attention to the students with
disabilities. Worse still, the College has only one specialist, one braillist and
one resource room to support all students with disabilities. In 2015, the College
had enrolled one female post-graduate student who was being assisted by the
specialist during all her lectures and seminars. This meant, however, that during
these times no other students were receiving any support.
Fifth, negative attitudes from some lecturers and peers can undermine learning.
As the braillist explained:
Most of the lecturers have a negative attitude towards girls with disabilities
because they think that they cannot excel with their education because of
their disabilities. (Braillist, interview)
It is interesting that this respondent focused particularly on young women in
this observation. Generally in Malawi, females are portrayed as being unlikely
to go further with their education because of their circumstances. These
circumstances are assumed to include taking responsibility for the care of
children and the elderly, as well as doing all the housework and cooking. Girls
with disabilities therefore experience double discrimination, both as females
and as people with disabilities.
With reference to lecturer attitudes, one female student with visual
impairment lamented:
They consider us as being lazy but that is not true because there are a
number of things that can help us to do well in the courses. In class, they
choose others, and that is not fair. They humiliate us, saying this one is
lazy. They think we were selected to come here because of pity, and if we
were not selected, we would have nothing to do. (Focus group)
In terms of other students being obstructive, a female student with disabilities
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University of Malawi
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We have a right to ask a lecturer to explain something which we did
not understand as part of our learning process. So it may happen that
sometimes when we ask the lecturer to repeat a point, a number of the
class members start booing at us, and say ‘you are delaying us’ or they say
something embarrassing. (Focus group)
Notably, most of the issues raised in interviews and focus groups highlighted
the problems faced by students with visual impairment. This was undoubtedly
because, as indicated earlier, there are more students with visual impairment
than any other disability at the college. However, similar experiences have been
noted in studies done elsewhere. Karangwa (2008) observed that the absence
of institutional support means that students’ peers often offer support. This was
certainly the case at CHANCO. Kraska’s 2003 study reveals that 82 per cent
of the students indicated that faculty members needed to learn more about
disabilities. This is important as the lack of this knowledge affects student
performance. Other researchers, such as Jacklin and Robinson (2007) have
pointed to similar challenges. Indeed, it can be argued that support for students
with disabilities has been the subject of much study precisely because it is so
often implemented in ways that are haphazard and serendipitous. Clearly, access
has to be accompanied by institutional support if students with disabilities are
to attain and remain in the sector (Richardson and Wydell 2003).
Conclusions and recommendations
Overall, it seems reasonable to conclude that although the University of
Malawi appears to be inclusive by enrolling students with disabilities in some
of its programmes at CHANCO, inadequate provision has been made for
these students, and more needs to be done to remove crucial constraints to
their learning. Furthermore, only one of the university’s four colleges is even
attempting to practise inclusive education. This requires urgent attention for
the university to be able to claim to uphold the principles of fairness and
equity. However, this issue extends beyond increasing access and ensuring
equity for students with disabilities in the higher education sector. Malawi
urgently needs to produce a critical mass of graduates who are able to
contribute effectively to the development of the country. This is more likely to
be achieved if the Ministry of Education issues clearer policies on inclusive
education at tertiary level.
As of 2015, students with disabilities are still unable to register for certain
programmes at CHANCO, and often tend to be left behind in the teaching
and learning process once they are enrolled. There is therefore a clear need to
consider the provision of additional and more specialised support services to
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students with disabilities. Attention also needs to be paid to the orientation
and training of lecturers so that they are better equipped to deal with issues
linked to disability and inclusive education. The reported experience of
students with disabilities reveals that they highly appreciate peer support and
responsiveness from lecturers towards their learning needs. However, there
is a definite need to create a more inclusive culture at the College, so that all
students and personnel become more sensitive to issues related to disability
and inclusive education.
To respond to the first imperative contained in the Post-2015
Development Agenda, to ‘leave no one behind’, the University of Malawi will
need to consider:
Budgeting for a restructuring of the physical environment on all its
campuses so that all infrastructure is more accessible to all students.
Establishing a dedicated office to deal with issues relating to students
with disabilities, including screening and enrolment, as well as providing
specialised support to students and academic staff, and monitoring student
success and failure rates.
Lobbying the education ministry to reassess their funding system so that
universities receive adequate funding to enable them to budget for and
implement inclusive practices in their institutions.
Collaborating with organisations established by people with disabilities
to obtain specialised advice and support for students and staff, and
monitoring the impact of such collaborations on a continual basis.
Conducting ongoing research, including on how the academic performance
of the students with disabilities compares with that of other students.
In this chapter, I define the term ‘equity’ as fairness, in the sense of treating
people equally without favouritism or discrimination. Access is defined as the
entry of students with disabilities into the university, and arrangements that
ensure that they can equitably participate in its programmes, including access to
infrastructure and the physical learning environment.
Books and articles that are in high demand, and of which the College has very
few copies, are shelved in a ‘reserve’. There are strict rules and regulations for
the books and articles on reserve. Essentially they are held in a separate room in
which students can work with a text for no more than three hours before they
have to return them for use by other students. However, because students with
disabilities are not able to access the library, they can ask other students to collect
the books for them and they are then given an opportunity to take these books
out and read them in the resource room set aside for their use. The resource room
Access and equity for students with disabilities at the University of Malawi
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is also where a specialist assists students with disabilities with their academic
work; all brailling is done in this room, and computers that have been modified
for easier use are also housed here.
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Interviews and focus groups
Student Welfare Officer, interview, 8 October 2013
Vice-Principal, interview, 14 October 2013
Braillist, interview, 14 October 2013
Student Welfare Officer, interview, 18 November 2013
L1 (Lecturer 1), interview, 19 November 2013
L2 (Lecturer 2), interview, 19 November 2013
L3 (Lecturer 3), interview, 19 November 2013
L4 (Lecturer 4), interview, 19 November 2013
L5 (Lecturer 5), interview, 19 November 2013
L6 (Lecturer 6), interview, 19 November 2013
Focus group discussion with male students with disabilities, 2 August 2013
Focus group discussion with female students with disabilities, 2 August 2013
Focus group discussion with male and female students without disabilities,
18 August 2013
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Chapter 4
Promoting research in resource-challenged environments:
The case of Malawi’s Mzuzu University
Victor Mgomezulu
Many higher-education institutions in low-income countries have
limited financial incentives to offer researchers as a way of encouraging them
to increase their research output (Tongai 2013). At the same time, these
researchers are often drawn into contract-based or externally funded research
to which monetary rewards or other career-advancing benefits are attached
(Healy and Nakabugo 2010). Naturally, most researchers like to earn extra
income or benefits if they can, resulting in increased numbers of research
outputs that are linked to externally funded contract-research projects
(Wangenge-Ouma et al. 2015). Meanwhile, purely academic research or the
pursuit of knowledge for its own sake seems to be declining (Kotecha 2012).
At Mzuzu University in Malawi, many academics seem to prefer to
engage in private consultancy and contract-based research.1 In 2014, a staff
member in the office of the university’s research director confirmed that they
have limited information on what the institution’s academics are researching
or publishing. Whether this was because little research is taking place or
because researchers are not disclosing all of their research activities seemed
unclear.2 Certainly, the limited number of faculty and departmental seminars
advertised on campus creates the impression that very little research is taking
While many universities in high and middle-income countries offer
financial or career-related incentives to researchers (Tongai 2013), this
cannot be said about universities in lower-income countries (Furth 2006).
Nevertheless, Altbach (2003) and Yavuz (2004) argue that, despite the
financial challenges facing lower-income countries, providing incentives to
researchers is an indispensable way of promoting research. My aim in this
chapter is to explore whether the availability or non-availability of incentives
is a factor in relation to encouraging greater research productivity among
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academics in resource-challenged universities generally, and at Mzuzu
University in particular. Against this background, I also explore ways in which
universities in the lower-income countries can use non-financial incentives to
encourage and promote academic research.
Apart from reviewing official university documents (on academic
research, and on research and development), and investigating the kinds of
incentives that are available to researchers, I based the chapter on my personal
experiences and observations of how research-related activities operate at
Mzuzu University. In addition, a brief review of media sources related to how
the corporate world deals with the issue of incentives provided some useful
pointers for the discussion.
Theoretical framework
This paper is guided by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (see Mwamwenda
2004), which is helpful as a theoretical framework in so far as it relates to the
underlying factors that drive academics to undertake research. Many scholars
are encouraged to undertake research for some form of tangible or intangible
reward. For instance, some academics undertake research for monetary
rewards to be able to address their basic needs for shelter, food and security.
Others might be motivated by a wish to receive honour and recognition, or by
sense of altruism and of having a vocation to contribute to a particular field.3
Such motives address needs related to building a sense of belonging, selfesteem and self-actualisation. The link between basic needs and the need for
recognition is that both are critical elements of human life. They are different,
however, and ignoring either can undermine the well-being of individuals
and, by extension, of societies as well (Mukhtar 2014).
Of course, Maslow’s work has been critiqued by scholars who argue that
human beings do not necessarily ‘seek to satisfy their needs in hierarchical
order, starting from the lowest unsatisfied need’ (Yavuz 2004: 141). While
this may be so, Maslow at least encourages us to consider the whole of human
experience – with all of its interrelated physical, psychological and intellectual
aspects (Woolfolk 2004). His hierarchy thus provides tools for examining the
interplay between the expectation of incentives and research output, and to
investigate the types of incentives that could induce academics to focus on
increasing their research output.
Altbach (2003) reported that lecturers in the majority of high-income
countries earn what Yavuz (2004) called a ‘satisfying wage’. One can therefore
infer that, in general terms, lecturers in the higher-income countries have
little difficulty meeting their physiological and safety needs. Altbach further
indicated that lecturers in many lower-income countries receive salaries that
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hardly support a reasonable standard of living, and so they are probably far
less able to address their physiological and security needs. Malawi is one of
the poorest countries in the world, and yet, without comparing Mzuzu to any
other university, I can testify that lecturers earn enough to meet their basic
needs. As of October 2014, for example, lecturers earned around US$1 450 a
month (Mzuzu University 2013), while their counterparts at the University of
Zimbabwe and the University of California earned US$1 300 and US$3 844
per month, respectively (New Zimbabwe 2014; University of California
2015).4 While not all academics at Mzuzu University would admit that what
they earn is reasonable, many drive cars and live in relatively luxurious homes.
Of course, these individuals might have additional sources of income, but the
fact that they remain in their posts might indicate that they are reasonably
satisfied, at least on a material level. Whether their needs for belonging, selfesteem and self-actualisation are being met might be another matter.
Research incentives
Viewed broadly, both academic and applied research (or R&D) play useful
roles in the economic, social and political development of nations (UNESCO
1998). Unfortunately, due to the ever-growing demand for economic growth,
most countries seem to be focusing more attention and resources on applied
research, to the detriment of academic research.5 Accordingly, universities
and academics are also focusing increasingly on R&D. University–industry
partnerships are increasingly common in this context, and tend to offer
significant financial benefits for universities, allowing them to finance new
projects and offer additional financial or other benefits to staff (Bekkers and
Freitas 2009).
Healy and Nakabugo (2010) propose that R&D-related research should
be well supported by higher-education institutions because it is critical
for enhancing living standards and improving sustainability worldwide.
Regrettably, this and similar views seem to be lowering the status of socalled pure research; certainly research in fields such as social science and the
humanities seems to be less appreciated by those who want to see quick and
tangible benefits, preferably linked to profit-making products and patents.
Furthermore, many researchers appear to have lost interest in academic
research, partly because this is often miserably funded, or not funded at all,
and is therefore far less rewarding in monetary terms (Kotecha 2012; Mzuzu
University 2013). The fact that the salaries of researchers in lower-income
countries are relatively low when compared to those paid by institutions in
middle- to high-income contexts (Altbach 2003) certainly doesn’t help.6
Low remuneration levels might be what drives so many academics at poorer
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institutions into consultancy work or into trying to hold down multiple jobs
(Kotecha 2012; Villalonga 2006). What is certain, however, is that certain
kinds of academic research are being compromised (Sundquist 2011).
The significance of attaching incentives to research was underscored by
Stella (2008), who argued that the overall motivation for academics to conduct
research is based on perceptions of the attractiveness of associated incentives,
and with the probability that their research will produce those incentives.7 Put
differently, if no incentives are attached to research, lecturers are likely to seek
out other activities that do bring in such returns. As Altbach (2003) observed,
such situations are common in universities in lower-income countries, and this
is why, even though funding flows are unlikely to increase significantly in the
near future, the issue of incentives needs to be better understood and addressed.
The challenge of finding appropriate incentives
In a study at Eduardo Mondlane University in Mozambique and the
University of Nairobi in Kenya, researchers asked (among other things) if
incentives offered by their universities made academics engage in more
research or not (Wangenge-Ouma et al. 2015). The findings were inconclusive,
but did indicate that many academics responded to ‘multiple principals’ who
rewarded different kinds of output. For example, a university might reward
researchers for certain types of research, while the corporate world might
reward researchers for other types of research. Either way, it was clear that
incentives played a role.
What appears to be at issue, therefore, is not whether incentives are essential,
but what types of incentives are effective and why. If we accept that most people
are motivated by earning rewards that address as yet unmet needs, it seems
important to consider what kinds of incentives would best address the higherlevel needs of academics at Mzuzu University as a means of motivating them
to increase research output. And, if we also accept that academics at Mzuzu
University earn salaries that are adequate in relation to their basic needs, and
acknowledge that neither the university nor the state are likely to be able to
fund much higher salaries anytime soon (however much as they might wish
to), the question that becomes relevant is whether any other kinds of incentives
might be effective in inducing greater research productivity.
Justifying monetary incentives for academic research
Professor Catriona Macleod from Rhodes University in South Africa has
expressed the fear that financial-incentive systems might make academics
compete for personal glory and lead to reduced collaboration, particularly
in team-based research work. Macleod also noted that, to push up their
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publishing rates, too many researchers are tempted to publish in low-ranked
journals for which acceptance rates are high, even though their level of
scholarship is rather weak (quoted in Tongai 2013).
Notwithstanding these reservations, incentives can play a useful role in
promoting research. Well-motivated researchers tend to have high research
output levels and are therefore able to build good reputations for themselves,
their universities and their nations (Zhang and Davies 2011). To encourage
academic staff to increase performance, governments, the corporate world
and universities in developed countries attach incentives to research (Altbach
2003; Kotecha 2012; Tongai 2013). Several universities in China, South
Africa, the United States of America and Europe provide monetary incentives
to individuals for each completed and published piece of research. Meanwhile
individuals that satisfy a certain measure of research productivity are sometimes
given research budgets that they can use for any research-based activity or
resource. To illustrate the point: in 2011, the academic staff at South Africa’s
University of Stellenbosch who had made the biggest contribution to peerreviewed and accredited publications received bonuses equal to US$5 000.
Similar reward systems operate at the University of Cape Town and the
University of the North West (also in South Africa) (Tongai 2013).
The high value that most societies place on money might be why monetary
rewards seem to be appreciated more than other kinds of incentives (Bekkers
and Freitas 2009; Yavuz 2004). Financial incentives symbolise a degree of
recognition for work done, and increased income means that researchers have
fewer anxieties about being able to meet their personal needs (Hendriks and
de Sousa 2008). Thus, monetary incentives can be said to address both lower
and higher needs on Maslow’s hierarchy.
Reporting on a study involving public servants in Turkey, Yavuz (2004)
highlighted the relationship between monetary incentives and wages. He
noted that employees were only motivated by monetary rewards if they already
earned a fair wage. In other words, institutions must ensure that employees are
being given a fair wage before they can expect additional income to motivate
employees to work harder. Yavuz’s study suggests that researchers value
monetary incentives more highly than non-monetary incentives, which might
imply that researchers are mostly concerned with the needs that money can
address. However, it is also true that monetary incentives can enhance a sense of
belonging to a class of successful people and increase one’s self esteem.
The limitations of monetary incentives at Mzuzu University
Even if we take it that lecturers at Mzuzu University receive decent wages,
the fact that no financial incentives are attached to research does little to help
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their motivation. However, neither state nor donor income is easily available
in countries like Malawi where governments face a range of competing
demands. Limited resources are a major obstacle to academic research if it
has to rely on financial incentives.
In many ways, Malawi exemplifies resource-challenged countries (IFAD
2009). Low-income countries also tend to have less vibrant private sectors,
which are, in turn, less likely to fund or participate in the research activities
of public universities. Public universities in Malawi, like Mzuzu University,
are particularly poorly funded since almost all funding comes from the
government and from student fees. The fact that the government prevents the
public universities from charging fees at commercial rates exacerbates their
financial hardship.
In the case of Mzuzu University, a quick calculation shows that the
government provides more money to students in the form of allowances than
it collects from them in fees (Mtenje 2013). In short, Mzuzu University is
offering free education at a time when ‘cost-sharing’ would be more financially
sustainable.8 The net effect is that Mzuzu University has limited resources
with which to function as a teaching institution, and funding for research
activities is often lacking. For example, in the university’s 2013/14 budget
allocation, approximately US$12 195 (5 million Malawi kwacha) was set aside
for research and publications (Mzuzu University 2013).9 This amount had to
cover research funding as well as research and publication incentives for about
170 staff members. Simple arithmetic shows that, on average, each member
of staff would be entitled to about US$72 per annum – an amount that is in
no way adequate to support any meaningful research activities or monetary
incentive scheme.
Malawi’s financial challenges seem likely to persist for the foreseeable
future. In 2014, massive state corruption was uncovered (National Audit
Office Malawi 2014), and remains symptomatic of a dysfunctional system.
Individuals abuse public resources for personal gain, and prevent important
research programmes from receiving funding. Rather than give up on research
at the university, it seems sensible to begin to search for non-monetary
incentives that might offer an effective alternative.
Non-monetary incentives
In a study of retail-sector employees, Harunavamwe and Kanengoni (2013)
found that non-monetary incentives were indispensable and played a role
that monetary incentives did not. In fact, non-monetary incentives can even
outperform monetary incentives in certain circumstances. For example, the
Zambian government in collaboration with the United States Agency for
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International Development (USAID) conducted a pilot study to measure the
motivation levels of health-care workers at health centres in Luwangwa and
Chongwe (see Furth 2006). Employees at Luwangwa were offered trophies
while those at Chongwe were offered monetary rewards if they satisfied
certain criteria. Staff performance was measured five times over a period of
six months. The study revealed that the non-monetary reward system was as
motivating, if not more so, than the monetary rewards.
Work done by Jeffrey (2003) supported the findings of the Zambian study,
and suggested that it is possible for non-monetary rewards to be comparable
to financial rewards when the reward offered is something special, and that
is difficult to buy or obtain by other means. In addition, Jeffrey found that
non-monetary awards enjoyed a special status in that many people felt more
comfortable bragging about these than they did about cash awards – in many
cultures it is easier to show off a trophy than a cash prize. To enhance the
value of non-monetary incentives, Jeffrey advised that efforts be made to
ensure that the awards are truly ‘priceless’ in the sense of being particularly
special in ways that are highly valued by recipients.
In the next section, therefore, I propose five types of non-monetary
incentives that might encourage academic staff at Mzuzu University to
increase their research output. Note that these exclude verbal expressions of
appreciation, which should ideally be integral to the university’s organisational
and management culture.
Trophies, medals, shields and certificates
Symbols of appreciation given to health-care workers at Luwangwa fit into
the category of ‘priceless’ rewards ( Jeffrey 2003). In Malawi, the state president
recognises certain citizens who make outstanding contributions to the nation.
Trophies are awarded at an annual public event that is also broadcast on radio
and television. The value of this kind of trophy is that it remains a permanent
and visible reminder that one has made a valuable contribution to humanity
and it cannot be purchased. Arguably, therefore, the value of a trophy can
outlive financial rewards, and is enhanced by the fact that the winners might
receive admiration and praise for many years after receiving the award ( Jeffrey
2003; Yavuz 2004).
Given these benefits, winners would probably feel happy and proud and
experience increasing self-esteem since there is a close association between
feelings of self-esteem and experiences of success (Young and Hoffmann n.d.).
Receiving a rare and valued award might happen only once a lifetime, and
might be one of the greatest events in a recipient’s life, therefore engendering
a sense of self-actualisation.
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Public recognition
Many businesses select ‘employees of the month’ and display their photographs
where customers and other staff can see them, thus publically declaring
their appreciation for staff members’ contributions. Jeffrey (2003) and Furth
(2006) have found that staff value such symbols immensely. Borrowing
this practice, universities could nominate ‘researchers of the month’ (or any
period deemed appropriate) and display their photographs appropriately on
campus, in a university magazine, and on institutional websites, adding a note
of appreciation about the work done by these researchers. Such accolades
have the potential to encourage recipients to work harder and to motivate
others (Furth 2006). Once such awards are institutionalised, their value often
increases, making them highly sought after.
Reduced workloads
Experiences in Argentina indicate that academic staff are very often
overloaded with teaching duties (Villalonga 2006). In Kotecha’s (2012)
opinion, academics with proven research abilities should be given lighter
teaching loads so that they can commit more of their time to research.
Better still, they should be allocated to the teaching of postgraduate
classes that are usually smaller. The expectation is that reduced teaching
loads would free up time for academics to undertake more research, thus
benefitting the individuals, their universities (via improved ratings), and
their countries. It is also hoped that this enviable status enjoyed by senior
researchers would not only act as an acknowledgment of the researcher’s
prowess, giving rise to a range of positive feelings and leading to increased
self-esteem and self-actualisation, but also give junior lecturers something
to aspire to.
Cultural validation
Private citizens could be approached to make their resources available to
support and promote research. For example, in 2012, Chief Kanyesha of
Zambia expressed his appreciation for national football hero and goalkeeper,
Kennedy Mweene, and especially for his contribution to Zambia’s winning
the Africa Cup of Nations, by giving Mweene two cows and 250 hectares of
land (Zanis Sport 2012). The chief did not offer Mweene money, but instead
provided a reward that was both available and culturally valuable. Similar
individuals might find ways to support academic research if the importance
of doing so were to be explained to them.
What is critical is that such cultural values be shared by both recipient and
donor, so that appropriate items and acts are awarded. If universities were to
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institutionalise such awards, appreciation among the researchers would likely
grow, and receiving such an award could help to address researchers’ needs for
psychological and emotional fulfilment.
The corporate world can be very useful to higher education institutions, as
demonstrated by the co-operation between universities and the private sector
in China (Zhang and Davies 2011). In southern Africa, this is seldom the
case. An academic at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania has queried
why the corporate world so seldom supports research activities yet can so
often afford to sponsor sports teams (quoted in Bailey et al. 2011). Kotecha
(2012) makes a similar observation that evidence of private sector support
for higher education (including research) in the southern African region is
very limited. Currently, two Malawian cell phone companies (AIRTEL and
TNM) support sports teams to the tune of millions of kwachas every year. It
is unclear why universities do not approach such companies for support.
If businesses cannot afford to fund research directly, they could be
encouraged to make their products or services available to researchers
as incentives. For instance, an airline could provide an air ticket to an
international conference, or a hotel could offer to accommodate researchers
doing a local study ( Jeffrey 2003; Yavuz 2004). Similarly, the possibility of
a free holiday to some interesting place is something that many researchers
might strive for. It can be argued that the value of such awards can even go
beyond monetary value.
I have argued that where resource challenges make it inappropriate, if
not impossible, for academic institutions to award monetary incentives to
researchers, non-monetary incentives could play a critical role. Alternative
rewards that focus on recognition and acknowledgement can address the
‘higher needs’ outlined in Maslow’s hierarchy, making researchers feel valued
and appreciated, and thus engendering feelings of self-esteem and a sense of
self-actualisation. Further, non-monetary rewards could motivate researchers
to engage not only in contract-based R&D, but also in academic research
that may attract fewer resources but may be even more useful socially and
developmentally, striving to improve the quality of life, and to promote gender
equality, peace, and environmental awareness.
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That academics are increasingly engaging in contract research is understandable
in the light of expectancy theory, which suggests that effort exerted in pursuit of
an incentive correlates to the value of the incentive offered (Incentive Research
Foundation n.d.).
Personal communication.
One can argue that providing incentives to researchers may make them engage
in research for the sake of incentives, or skew their questions or findings in ways
that might serve a funder’s agenda. Although this might be true in some cases,
most research institutions have regulations and ethics committees that ensure the
rigour and quality of research projects. The incentives I am referring to are those
that aim to entice more academics to engage in more research because this is
where the discoveries and innovations that can advance the quality of human life
lie (Healy and Nakabugo 2010).
Due to technical constraints I have not been able to compute purchasing power
parity (PPP). These amounts should be taken at face value.
In my experience, academic researchers concern themselves exclusively with
adding to the pool of knowledge, and tend to have a high level of intrinsic
motivation linked to a love of research for its own sake (Zhang and Davies
2011). Passion, curiosity and interest form the driving forces behind much
academic research (McRobbie 2007). Those involved in R&D are often more
interested in dealing with specific issues, identified by financiers, that have a
direct bearing on improving the well-being of humanity. The aim of R&D is to
improve the economic and social well-being of people.
It should be noted that easy access to information encourages people in lowerincome countries to compare their lifestyles with those of their counterparts in
high-income countries even though their circumstances might be different.
The tendency to engage in activities that benefit one most also seems to validate
Rational Choice Theory, which advances the idea that patterns of behaviour in
society reflect the choices individuals make as they try to maximise their benefits
and advantages while minimising their losses or disadvantages (Hodgson 2012).
While it is true that various Nordic countries started offering free tertiary
education in the nineteenth century, when they might have been considered
among the world’s poorer countries (Alestalo et al. 2009), it might not be
prudent to transplant this model to southern African countries without first
unpacking the notion of poverty, to check if it means the same thing in these two
culturally and economically different regions. Unfortunately, such a comparison
is beyond the scope of this chapter.
Conversion rate is as of 5 November 2013 when 410MK = US$1.
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Alestalo M, SEO Hort and S Kuhnle (2009) The Nordic Model: Conditions,
Origins, Outcomes, Lessons. Hertie School of Governance, Berlin, Germany.
Available online.
Altbach PG (ed.) (2003) The Decline of the Guru: The Academic Profession in
Developing and Middle-Income Countries. New York: Palgrave.
Bailey T, N Cloete and P Pillay (2011) Universities and Economic Development in
Africa: Case Study Tanzania and University of Dar es Salaam. Cape Town: CHET
and HERANA. Available online.
Bekkers R and IMB Freitas (2009) ‘Background paper: An evaluation of incentives
and policies that affect research institutions’ knowledge-transfer activities’,
Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands. Available online.
Furth R (2006) Zambia Pilot Study of Performance-based Incentives. Lusaka: USAID
and Government of Zambia.
Harunavamwe M and H Kanengoni (2013) ‘The impact of monetary and nonmonetary rewards on motivation among lower level employees in selected retail
shops’, African Journal of Business Management 7(38): 3929–3935.
Healy MG and MG Nakabugo (2010) ‘Research capacity building resources for
higher education in development’, in MG Healy and MG Nakabugo (eds)
Research Capacity Building for Development: Resources for Higher Education
Institutions. Belfast: TSO Ireland.
Hendriks PHJ and A de Sousa (2008) ‘Motivating university researchers’, Higher
Education Policy, 21: 359–376.
Hodgson GM (2012) ‘On the limits of rational-choice theory’, Economic Thought
1: 94–108.
IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development) (2009) Enabling Poor
Rural People to Overcome Poverty in Malawi. Rome. Available online.
Incentive Research Foundation (n.d.). Advancing the Science of Motivation and
Incentives through Research. Virginia. Available online.
Jeffrey S (2003) The Benefits of Tangible Non-Monetary Incentives. Incentive Research
Foundation Resource Center, University of Waterloo. Available online.
Kotecha P (2012) ‘Higher education in the Southern African Region: Current
trends, challenges and recommendations’, presentation to an extraordinary
meeting of Ministers of Higher Education and Training, 5 June, Johannesburg,
South Africa.
McRobbie MA (2007) ‘The place for information technology in planning for
innovation’, EduCause Review, 42 (6): 12–13.
Mtenje A (2013) ‘University of Malawi: The past, present and possible future’, paper
presented at SANORD’s fourth biennial international conference, Lilongwe,
Malawi, 1–4 December.
Mukhtar N (2014) ‘The Abraham Harold Maslow Theory of Needs and its
implication to Nigerian primary school children’, paper presented to the Faculty
of Education, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto, Nigeria. Available online.
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Mwamwenda TS (2004) Educational Psychology: An African Perspective.
Johannesburg: Heinemann.
Mzuzu University (2013) University Budget for 2013/2014. Internal document.
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Malawi Government Finances, 21 February. Available online.
New (2014) ‘Zimbabwe college lecturers demand hike on US$300
pay’, All Africa, 22 September. Available online.
Singer E and MP Couper (2008) ‘Do incentives exert undue influence on survey
participation? Experimental evidence’, Journal of Empirical Research on Human
Research Ethics, 3 (3): 49–56.
Stella O (2008) ‘Motivation and work performance: Complexities of achieving good
performance outcomes’, paper presented in partial fulfillment of requirements for
a master’s degree, Institute of Social Studies, The Hague. Available online.
Sundquist M (2011) ‘Argentina’s long-suffering universities’, Americas Quarterly
5 (2): 112–116. Available online.
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universities’, paper presented to the Department of Economics, Universitat Ille
Balears, Palma de Mallorca.
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knowledge production in Africa’, in N Cloete, P Maassen and T Bailey (eds)
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Chapter 5
‘The path of the mother is trodden by the daughter’:
Stepping stones for entry into the middle class in South Africa
Dan Darkey and Hilde Ibsen
‘I really missed you, Don,’ she says breathlessly, and then breaks away
excitedly. ‘Guess what I brought you?’ she says. She rummages through
one of the suitcases and brings out an orange jersey.
‘A jersey?’
‘It’s a Zara Man, baby. You can’t get it in South Africa. You’re going to
look like a real Black Diamond in that.’ (Mda 2009: 174)
In his novel, Black Diamond, Zakes Mda captures the life of Tumi, a former
model and now a business executive, who drives a Jaguar and aspires to live the
life of the rich and famous. Tumi represents a popular view of urban middleclass black women in the new South Africa who have climbed the social
ladder. Born disadvantaged in Soweto, Tumi now lives in a small apartment
in one of Johannesburg’s formerly white suburbs. She is portrayed as someone
who loves stylish clothes and expensive cars, eats at fashionable restaurants
and drinks expensive wine, while at the same time remaining deeply attached
to her cultural roots. She loves to visit Soweto on weekends and join her
relatives there for Sunday lunch.
While the popular media have done much to create and reinforce this
stereotype, academic research reflects the fact that the roles of black middleclass women has changed in tandem with their increasing economic power
and newly won freedoms (Posel 2010). ‘It’s onwards and upwards for SA’s
Black Diamond women’, stated one research study, noting that these women
are independent, financially secure and ambitious. ‘South Africa’s 1.5 million
Black Diamond women are increasingly calling the shots when it comes to
making decisions about purchases’ (UUISM 2008: 1).
Research on South Africa’s new black middle class has primarily been
directed towards their income levels, occupational categories and lifestyles
(Alexander et al. 2006; Rivero et al. 2003; Schlemmer 2005; Southall 2004).
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Yet, while Cock and Bernstein (2002: 168) have argued that the fact that
black women in South Africa have access to the middle class is ‘one of the
most dramatic changes’ in South Africa, the gender aspects of this change
have not yet been explored in any depth.
Our aims in this chapter are twofold. The first is to contextualise the
emergence of black middle-class women from their marginalisation under
apartheid and from the strong patriarchal norms in traditional African
culture. The second is to interrogate aspects of how upward social mobility has
become possible for women who grow up in poor and humble conditions. Our
research questions were: what aspects of their backgrounds and upbringing
supported the advance of previously disadvantaged women, and how do they
experience their roles in the new democratic state?
Narratives and micro-storia
To contextualise black women’s entry to South Africa’s middle classes, the
first section of the chapter provides brief background information on their
historical and political circumstances. This is based on material collected from
academic literature, the media and government policy. The second section
analyses the findings of a pilot study of urban black middle-class women, in
which we collected women’s stories about their childhood, upbringing and
current concerns.
Central to our study was the view that it is impossible to treat any group of
women as a single cohort, and that defining them or their experiences on the
basis of their education, income, social status or other statistical analysis, tells
only part of the story. We agree with Van Loggerenberg and Herbst (2010:
120, 115) who argue that ‘culture is the inner script and lens through which
(people) view the world’ and that storytelling is an inherent part of culture.
Thus, to capture the experiences of black middle-class women, and the culture
into which they are bound, a narrative approach, as used in this chapter, allows
respondents to construct their own self-images and to systematise the way
they comprehend and interpret the world (Cortazzi 1993/2002).
Since we sought to capture the mindset of each participant, we decided
to use the ‘micro-storia’ approach which involves elucidating ‘historical
causations on the level of small groups where most of real life takes place
and open history to peoples who would be left out by other methods’ (Boje
2002: 47). This approach is relevant since we seek to make visible women who
are otherwise hidden. Our perspective is informed by African feminists such
as Gasa (2007), McFadden (2000), Nnaemeka (2005) and Salo (2009) who
argue for both a feminist and women-centred approach. In our view, African
feminism is a strong part of women’s collective past. African women have
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long resisted being seen as problems to be solved, but have instead ‘defined
and carried out their own struggles’ (Mama quoted in Salo 2001), set their
own priorities, and acted in strong and innovative ways, often in exceptionally
difficult circumstances (Nnaemeka 2005).
Primary data was collected through a mixed questionnaire; closed questions
related to general demographic issues, income and level of education, and open
questions related to family background, childhood experiences, aspirations,
socio-economic progress and experiences of upward social mobility. There
were 24 participants, the majority of whom were between 18 and 40 years
old. They all came from previously disadvantaged families, and grew up in
rural areas. Their experiences as children and teenagers were embedded in
apartheid or its legacy, which they associated with their own experiences of
deprivation, suppression, violence, hunger, ill health and general misery in
rural homelands. A common element was that they had all obtained a tertiary
education and regarded themselves as middle class. They did not, however,
identify with the Black Diamond stereotype.
At the time of the study, all the women were living in the province of
Gauteng but were originally from, and sometimes return home to Limpopo
province. Gauteng is the economic engine of South Africa, highly urbanised
and strongly attractive to Black Diamonds for its academic, corporate,
business and social opportunities. Limpopo, on the other hand, is one of
the poorest and most rural provinces. Nevertheless, despite relatively limited
opportunities for incubating Black Diamonds, Limpopo has produced many
outstanding female politicians, academics and business executives, and
continues to do so.
Theory and conceptual frameworks
To analyse how participants escaped poverty and stepped into the middle
classes, we draw on path-dependence theory and both a bottom-to-top
and top-to-bottom framework. Within this theory and these frameworks,
past events affect current politics, institutions, culture, beliefs, worldviews,
connectedness and behaviour (Bednar and Page 2006; North 1990; Page
2006). Bednar and Page, in particular, point to the fact that micro-level
processes can reveal the often subtle but salient historical patterning in the
interplay between the cultural forces and institutional choices that create
cultural and institutional path dependencies. We argue that culturally
mediated institutional systems of domination (in this case, patriarchy and
apartheid) emerged together with an emancipatory culture linked to women
and the ANC. This conjuncture between domination and emancipation
created a path of struggle and democratic ideals. Along this path, we identify
The path of the mother is trodden by the daughter
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how the interplay between culture and institutional choices resulting from
historical processes served as stepping stones for entry into the middle class.
Two further conceptual frameworks relevant to this chapter are
Appadurai’s notion about the capacity for aspiration (2004) and the definition
of a democratic developmental state (Edigheji 2010) – both of which capture
something of what we see as helping to explain people-driven processes
and institutional choices, as well as the link between behaviours and beliefs
as reflected in responses to our pilot study. In his article, ‘The capacity to
aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition’, Arjun Appadurai explains that
aspirations ‘have to do with wants, preferences, choices and calculations’, and
argues that the capacity to aspire (which he also describes as a ‘navigational
capacity’) is decisive for poor people if they are to alter their living conditions
or to create alternative futures (2004: 10). For Appadurai, aspirations, or a
lack thereof, can also be rooted in the core cultural values that surround the
poor. Thus poor people tend to either be loyal to their cultural regime or to
try to escape from it. To escape, the poor have to be able to develop a capacity
to aspire, and when this capacity is present, the chances of success increase.
To explain how our respondents’ advancement into the middle class
depended on institutional and political choices made by black South Africans
in the past, it is necessary for us to briefly outline the relevant aspects of South
African history.1 When the ANC was formed in 1912, the overall goal was
equality for all South Africans. Initially it was intended that this should be
achieved through political, social and economic engagement and activism. A
year later, the 1913 Land Act was introduced, which excluded Africans from
ownership of 87 per cent of South Africa’s land. Employment opportunities for
black workers were also extremely limited and poverty increased rapidly. The
ANC was divided over how to react. In the 1920s, the ANC became a relatively
conservative organisation, and an attempt to revitalise it, led by JT Gumede in
1927, failed. In the 1940s, a new energy took hold, and the ANC remodelled
itself as a mass movement. Together with the South African Congress of
Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, the ANC formed the
Congress Alliance, and set out to organise the Congress of the People. On 26
June 1955, the Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown, Soweto.
The Freedom Charter essentially called for a national democratic
revolution based on mass participation. The role of the state, as envisaged by
the Charter, would be to guarantee basic freedoms, including democracy and
equal rights for all citizens: ‘only a democratic state, based on the will of all
the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race,
sex or belief ’ (South African Congress Alliance 1955). The Charter became
a platform for the ANC and served as a source of inspiration even after the
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organisation was banned and forced underground in the 1960s. In 1992, as
the ANC prepared to assume the reins of power, the principles for freedom
and democracy stated in the Freedom Charter were revisited in the document
Ready to Govern, which stated that the ANC’s two basic objectives were:
To develop a sustainable economy and state infrastructure that will
progressively improve the quality of life of all South Africans; and,
To encourage the flourishing of the feeling that South Africa belongs to
all who live in it, to promote a common loyalty to and pride in the country
and to create a universal sense of freedom and security with in its borders.
(ANC 1992)
Equitable economic development and increased social inclusion were seen as
working hand in hand. The ANC was very specific about its vision of creating
an inclusive democracy, balancing institutional reforms with people-driven
processes, and, at the same time, addressing the legacy of apartheid. Those
expected to benefit most from these policies were the marginalised and poor,
who had had previously been denied access to acceptable nutrition, health,
education, as well as safe and secure living conditions.
Since 2003, the ANC has specifically stated that it intends to make South
Africa a developmental state, and, since 2007, this has been rephrased as ‘a
democratic developmental state’ (ANC 2007). In 2011, when Jacob Zuma
addressed the nation at the opening of parliament, he stated: ‘Our goal is clear.
We want to have a country…where the quality of life is high’ (Zuma 2011).
The challenges involved in making South Africa a democratic
developmental state, in which citizens experience a high quality of life, are
extensive. If democracy is to mean more than ‘one person, one vote’, then
reducing inequality, incorporating people into the workforce, and facilitating
the participation of citizens at all levels of state and society are of central
importance. Democracy is about ‘achieving a quality of life that is sustainable
and allowing the expression of the full range of creativity and humanity’
(Maathai 2010: 56). Thus, citizens must have opportunities to contribute and
to ‘make democracy’ work (Edigheji 2005: 3, 2010).
Why the middle class matters: historical lessons and future prospects
Historically, the middle classes in Europe and beyond have been agents of
transformation, representing values such as respectability, political stability,
equality of opportunity, inclusive economic growth, a high regard for education
and for fair and proper conduct (López and Weinstein 2012; Perkin 1989).
They have also been key drivers of economic growth through consumption.
The middle classes tended to win their status more by merit than by birth, and
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their expansion in Europe during the 1800s apparently accelerated poverty
reduction in that region (Perkin 1989).
State policies and reforms promoted middle-class virtues and values, while
individual narratives of success often focused on the importance of education.
With education and hard work leading to the development of professional
skills, it was suggested that even the destitute could escape poverty. An
involvement in charity and other forms of civic improvement was a key aspect
of upward social mobility and a stepping-stone for entry to the middle class.
Thus, even now, when agencies and states pursue agendas that aim to
eradicate global poverty, the building of civil society, investing in human
capital, and ensuring equality of opportunity are often still seen as key. The
argument is that growth of the middle class can help to reduce poverty in
the long term (AfDB 2011: 15). Various multilateral organisations endorse
this view. For example, the Monrovia Communiqué from the UN’s HighLevel Panel states: ‘Our vision and our responsibility are to end extreme
poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development and to have
in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all’ (UN 2013). This
encapsulates the essence of the development agenda for 2015 and beyond.
Global visions of poverty reduction and sustainable development have been
discussed and documented for decades in reports, visions and goals. However,
in practice, implementation of this vision has fallen short. In the Post-2015
Development Agenda, focus is directed at five major transformative shifts,
and civil society is envisaged as playing a strong role as agents of change – a
role long advocated by international organisations and states (Dicken 2007;
OECD 2008).
The young, urban, middle-class segment of the world’s population is
expanding massively and rapidly. In 2009, this group was estimated at 1.8
billion people and was expected to rise to 4.9 billion by 2030 (Pezzini 2012).
In Africa, strong economic growth over the past two decades has helped to
reduce poverty and expand the size of the middle classes, and even if the
African middle classes are less robust than they are in places such as Asia or
Latin America, the middle class is acknowledged by some to be the hope of
Africa (AfBD 2011). This is also true in South Africa, which, together with
Nigeria and Ethiopia, is expected to contribute strongly to the growth of the
middle class in Africa.
Coping with patriarchy and apartheid: woman power in
historical context
A dominant view of the position of black women in South Africa is that they
are at the back of the queue when it comes to social development. Exploited and
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oppressed by African men, as well as by the apartheid system, they remained
minors under the law, and were kept under the control of husbands, in-laws
and chiefs, with few rights to own land or property. Women in rural areas
were particularly heavily burdened by South Africa’s patriarchal culture, while
shouldering much of the responsibility for securing their own livelihoods and
that of their children. And despite the fact women were largely responsible
for providing for and caring for their children, fathers held legal custody.
Nevertheless women found ways to cope and to challenge the authoritarian
structure of society (McFadden 2000). Thousands of South African women
participated powerfully in mobilising their communities against apartheid
despite being subjected to patriarchal practices (Gasa 2007). Furthermore,
urban and educated women were, to a certain extent, able ‘escape the worst
aspects of male control’ (Meintjes 1996: 53). Two clear pathways can be
traced in this regard: emancipation through becoming modern and educated,
and emancipation through civic and union activism.
During the 1920s and 1930s, awareness of gender practices and ideologies
emerged in many parts of the globe. In the US and Europe, but also in African
countries, suffragettes fought for women’s rights. In this process, a new and
modern image of women entered the social spotlight: the flappers. Flappers
were young women of the roaring 1920s – a period of economic prosperity,
conspicuous consumption, and rapid social change. The flappers represented
a new feminism fighting for social equality. Their emancipation project was
associated with a carefree outlook and a redefinition of what behaviour could
be considered acceptable.
Flapper feminism was not an American or European phenomenon alone.
South Africa, too, experienced tumult and social transformation related
to gender, particularly during the economic depression of the 1930s and
in the war years of the 1940s. Rural South African women suffered as the
their brothers, fathers and husbands were recruited into the migrant labour
market (Thomas 2006). Gradually however, women were drawn to the cities,
and a strong urban black culture developed. A sense that tribal culture was
holding people back grew at this time too. ‘Fashion, ideas, language usage and
entertainment changed accordingly. Often the acceptance of the new meant a
rejection of the old, or in some cases an amalgamation of the two’ (SA History
Online n.d.).
Essentially, a new woman was born, and her story was told by magazines
that were targeted at black women and published at that time (Laden 2003;
Thomas 2006). A sibling of the Western flapper, this new woman was dubbed
‘the modern girl’ by Drum and other magazines that instructed their readers
about modern consumer behaviour, and offered tips on how to create an urban
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lifestyle (Thomas 2006: 461). One leading agent of change was Bertram Paver,
an ex-farmer who founded the magazine Bantu World in 1932. Distributed
nationally on a weekly basis, the magazine aimed to reach mission-educated
Africans, and those who aspired to be middle class. Through the magazine,
Paver advocated a ‘progressive yet moderate’ political ideology, and stressed
the importance of the role of educated black South Africans in shaping the
future (Thomas 2006: 466).
Bantu World focused on news, but also on ‘women’s issues’, which seem to
have been understood as consisting primarily of an interest in fashion, beauty
and hygiene products. The magazine ran a beauty competition in its first year,
and throughout the 1930s, debates raged about the qualities that epitomised the
‘modern African woman’. She appears to have been supportive of urbanisation
and politically progressive, but using cosmetics, for instance, was ‘interpreted as
anything from disreputable to respectable’ (Thomas 2006: 464).
However, by being educated and cultivating a cosmopolitan appearance,
modern urban African women challenged traditional views of what it meant
to be a ‘decent African woman’ (Thomas 2006: 464). Urban women began to
symbolise racial pride and upliftment. Laden has argued that Paver ‘provided
the historical conditions for creating…a modern, urban infrastructure for
social transformation through consumption patterns and consumer-oriented
activities’ (Laden 2003: 206). In addition, Laden emphasised, Paver launched
a new ‘social tableaux’, showing how it might be possible to acquire new
goods, and thus, shaping aspirations to new kinds of social statuses and
‘modern’ lifestyles.
Despite the rise of the apartheid regime after 1948, the modern middleclass African woman never totally disappeared. In spite of massive restrictions
and discrimination, and despite being deprived of consumptive power and
other attributes associated with the middle class, the black middle class
struggled on during the 1960s and 1970s (Posel 2010). Then, in the 1980s,
the creative and reckless American ‘yuppie’ culture spread to South Africa,
and young black upwardly mobile professionals became known as ‘buppies’.
One might ask if the ‘modern woman’ and the female ‘buppie’ now coincide
as urban professionals in the new South Africa , even if a ‘patchwork quilt of
patriarchies’ still support a framework that presupposes that ‘women have and
know their place’ as Meintjes asserts (2011: 114).
African women’s political struggles and emancipation has been elaborated
on by several feminist scholars including Davies (2014) and Gasa (2007).
Such scholars have traced the political experiences of African women through
female-centric narratives. According to Davies, women were active in the start
of pan-Africanism around 1900. In South Africa, from pre-colonial times
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through the formation of the Union of South Africa and into the apartheid
era, African women from all social strata struggled for emancipation. Women
were made chiefs; they led militant protest marches’ they have been active in
the trade unions, fought in the ANC underground, and struggled for better
living conditions and peace in civil society organisations. During the fight
against apartheid in the 1980s and early 1990s, mothers, daughters, sisters
and wives took part in a variety of organisations and actions. They built
barricades and played leading roles in establishing street and area committees.
They built women’s organisations and arranged protest marches, including
naked protests, but also initiated hunger strikes and bus boycotts, throwing
stones and petrol bombs to prevent buses from entering the townships. ‘And
we used to hit people who were using buses that time, hit them with sjamboks’
(Cherry 2007: 297).
Many women also took on the struggle for gender equity while acting
against state repression. While they fought for better living conditions and
more say in civic life, they were also often constrained by the patriarchal
ideology and macho culture of the amabutho – the groups of militant young
men who organised violent protests that often got out of hand (Cherry 2007;
Hassim 2002). Even if the activism of black women during the last days of
apartheid was not often overtly feminist, their actions can be said to have
enhanced genuine empowerment at a grassroots level (Cherry 2007), and
this perhaps helps to explain why gender equality was integral to discussions
about transformation in South Africa after 1990 (Hassim 2002).
Towards transformation: politics and gender equality
According to Waylen (1994) and Jacquette and Wolchik (1998),
democratisation processes in various countries since the late 1990s have
enhanced women’s power and widened the political space that women
occupy. These authors claim that transition periods often are characterised
by crisis and intense politicisation, bringing new ideas and institutions into
political life, and providing ‘a rare window on how social structures underlie
political structures and practices’ ( Jacquette and Wolchik 1998: 3). Of course,
democratisation does not necessarily support the emancipation of women, nor
improve women’s participation in civic life, but in South Africa, the political
transition after 1994 saw ‘the insertion of gender equality concerns into the
heart of democratic debates’ (Hassim 2002). However, while South African
women rapidly entered the public realm, they did not emerge from a void.
The idea of a national women’s movement that embraced both ANC and
non-ANC members, and women of all races, was discussed at the Malibongwe
conference in 1990, which was held under the banner, ‘Women united for
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a unitary, non-racial, democratic South Africa’. The conference passed
resolutions that should have paved the way for the deeper emancipation of
women in South Africa, with a particular focus on black women who were
acknowledged as having carried the heaviest burden of ‘oppression and
exploitation’ (ANC 1990). Within the ANC, the top leadership structure,
the National Executive Committee, released a statement entitled, ‘On the
emancipation of women in South Africa’ (ANC NEC 1990).
In April 1992, the Women’s National Coalition was formed to continue
discussions of women’s roles and need for support. Around seventy women’s
organisations came together with the aim of creating a Women’s Charter,
which they planned to present to parliament. The Women’s Charter for
Effective Equality was duly adopted by the Coalition in February 1994, and
presented to parliament in August the same year. The Charter lays claim to
equality for women in all spheres of life, affirms women’s right to education
and lobbies for effective affirmative action programmes to secure space for
women in the economy (WNC 1994).
Obviously the year 1994 represented a step forward for all black South
Africans who had been excluded from political decision making until then.
The new government introduced a quota system for women (30 per cent)
both in parliament and in the ruling party’s own executive council, and began
to develop policies that would ensure affirmative action in the workplace.
As one observer put it, ‘Merely being female became sufficient to motivate
election into leadership, regardless [of ] the experience a likely candidate had.
Being female gave [women] a competitive edge’ (Skenjana 2012: n.p.).
At the opening of South Africa’s first democratic parliament, Nelson
Mandela strongly emphasised women’s emancipation: ‘It is vitally important
that all structures of government, including the president himself, should
understand this fully: that freedom cannot be achieved unless women
have been emancipated from all forms of oppression’ (quoted in Cock and
Bernstein 2002: 162).
Consequently, gender equality was formally discussed in government,
and after the government signed the UN’s Beijing Plan of Action in 1995,
the notion of gender mainstreaming gradually infiltrated government policy
and research programmes. In 1996, the new South African Constitution was
enacted, and asserted that the new South Africa was founded on ‘values of
human dignity, achievement of equality and advancement of human rights
and freedom, non-racism and non-sexism’. In 1997, the government set up
a Commission for Gender Equality, and established an Office on the Status
of Women within the presidency. Both structures formed part of the socalled national gender machinery that aimed to promote gender equality
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in government and in civil society more generally. According to Cock and
Bernstein (2002: 164), the mechanisms for gender equality introduced in
the new South Africa were among ‘the most comprehensive in the world’,
covering an all-inclusive framework to secure rights for women.
However, legal rights and entry into the halls of government were but
limited mechanisms implemented to fulfil the government’s ambitious
gender-equity policies. Access to jobs in the private sector and the progress of
women in the economy were also crucial to counter the previously inequitable
distribution of socio-economic benefits. The black economic empowerment
(BEE) strategy, set out by then-president Thabo Mbeki in 2003, was intended
to support those previously excluded from economic activity, but this has since
been heavily criticised for creating a culture of entitlement. ‘The flaunting
of ill-gotten gains by BEE beneficiaries adds salt to the wounds of those
left marginalised. Expensive cars, ostentatious houses and partying out of
all proportion to the previous lifestyles of the nouveaux riches have become
commonplace’ wrote Mamphela Ramphele (2008: 261).
As black people rapidly gained access opportunities that were denied
them under apartheid, a significant number became millionaires (Dowden
2009: 407). To an extent, however, it can be argued that women benefitted
last from BEE; the top echelons of South Africa’s private sector remain
heavily male dominated, and sexism is entrenched in South African culture,
both public and private (Ramphele 2008). Thus, although gender equality
was institutionalised, some have argued that the empowerment of women
in South Africa has turned into a form of ‘elite-pacting’ (see, for example,
Meinjtes 2011: 112). Admittedly, more women have been brought into
decision-making positions, in both the public and the private sectors, and
more women have become owners of capital, but achieving gender equality
is far more complex than mainstreaming the issue in the phrasing of policy
documents and legislation. Grassroots participation and the emancipation of
women from traditional gender roles and stereotypes will require substantial
changes to South African culture and norms (Meintjes 2011). This reality
makes it all the more important that we investigate how women from poor
and humble backgrounds have managed to escape poverty and step into
the middle class. We therefore turn to the findings of our study, and try to
elaborate on what aspects of our respondents’ lives have been empowering,
and to sketch the kinds of civic issues that preoccupy them.
Mothers and empowerment
The saying basus’iimbokodo, bawel’imilambo (they remove boulders, they cross
rivers) has long been used to describe South African women’s experiences
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of struggle. As noted earlier, South African women have, for generations,
trodden difficult paths in their quest for freedom and power (Gasa 2007).
One thread that runs very clearly through the micro-storias we collected is
that entry to middle class was nurtured within the families our respondents
grew up in, and particularly by their mothers: ‘I am the woman I am today
because of her, said one respondent. ‘Yes, I am a strong, educated woman
because of her, said another. Mothers were perceived to have mentally stood
by their daughters’ sides and taught them to remove the boulders from their
paths. They encouraged their daughters in ways that helped them to develop
an integrated sense of self, giving them tools and life skills that encouraged
high aspirations and empowerment.
Respect and responsibility
One important set of values transferred from mother to daughter relates to
respect and responsibility. One respondent wrote, ‘The role played by my
mother is so essential. She shaped me to be a responsible person, taught me
to respect everyone irrespective of age or profession’. Another wrote that she
had become a responsible and hard-working young woman with ‘morals,
integrity, humble and not selfish’, treating people with respect and ‘trusting
God’, because her mother had been ‘too strict’. The respondent went on to
explain that this firmness had been necessary because her mother had carried
sole responsibility for her three children. A third respondent stated:
My mother played a bigger role in values as she grew up in the rural village
that respects the values and cultures of the people…She is the one who
instilled values which I still live by, that is respect and love, and taught me
how to conduct myself as a young woman.
Spirituality was another strong part of values transfer. As one respondent
commented, her mother told ‘stories about religion and about righteousness
and encouraged [me] to think and do good to other people’.
Fighting spirit
Inheriting a fighting spirit was mentioned as crucial in their obtaining an
education and in building their self-esteem. Several women stressed how
their mothers and grandmothers had implanted a fighting spirit within them.
One of the women explained how this had affected her, saying ‘She indirectly
made me a fighter for whatever I aspire to do, to be able to achieve anything
I put my mind into’.
Another reported that her mother had been very ‘negative’ and a person
who chose the ‘easy way out’, but this had turned out positively as her
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daughter, our respondent, had decided to be someone who refuses to give up
when things are difficult.
I forced my way into tertiary education with no money, my mother
was not supporting the idea but I forged ahead anyway. In a way she
has influenced some of my decisions, especially where she had a negative
opinion I would want to go out of my way to prove that I can do it.
This respondent also mentioned that she had inherited some values from her
very strong and hard-working grandmother.
Paradoxically, however, patriarchal values remain extremely entrenched
in South Africa. In this context, being a strong woman is not easy. It is
possible that the notion of women being strong and empowered threatens the
patriarchal value system, and that this is linked in some way to the country’s
chronically high levels of domestic violence and abuse of women and children.
The most concrete expression of mothers’ roles as empowering agents was
their support for education. Most of the mothers of our respondents had
some education, and repeatedly told their daughters to value education if they
wanted to escape the poverty trap. Mothers affirmed that, through education,
their daughters would be able to ‘live better than they did’ as they had not
had the same opportunities. One of the respondents recalled how tough her
schoolgoing experiences had been:
We didn’t have electricity, so one needed to make fire, boil water and warm
leftover food. Thereafter, we would walk more than an hour and twenty
minutes to school. We used to be late at school because the path we used
to travel was not a straight path but it consisted of hills and valleys…
The community didn’t believe in sending a girl to school, and indirectly
influenced my dad who didn’t care whether we had school uniforms or
books. We attended the whole of primary school barefoot, not out of
choice. My mom was so determined that she would send her five girls to
school irrespective of the community beliefs. She didn’t want us to be like
her: illiterate.
Statements by other respondents echo the importance of education. ‘Education
is the weapon to fight poverty’ wrote one, adding that her mother had stressed
this ‘repeatedly’. One woman stressed that even though her mother was not
educated, she was ‘very strict with going to school’, and had made beer at home
to finance her daughter’s education. Education was regarded as the key to
success and a ‘well-deserved lifestyle’.
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My mother always made sure that everything needed for our academic
advancement was provided even if it meant her working long hours to
ensure that school fees were paid well in time and we had the necessary
study material. She aspired well for her children, always made us remember
that her not having the desirable educational qualifications should not
impede us from having greater things in life. She even set a curfew for 5pm.
From upbringings that many would consider humble, the women who took part
in our study managed to get away from poverty-sticken rural areas, and create
successful lives for themselves in the urban areas of Gauteng. Encouraged and
supported by their mothers, they used education as a tool. They then climbed
the social ladder and stepped into occupations typically occupied by the
upper- and lower-middle class. Having achieved economic independence, their
expenditure patterns reflect the centrality of fashionable cars and good housing
as status symbols in contemporary South Africa, but then these are symbols of
middle-class lifestyles in many parts of the world (Ibsen forthcoming).
Based on responses to our questionnaire, the households that these women
are part of spend most of their income on housing, transport and on educating
their children, followed by food, clothing/jewellery, electrical equipment/
entertainment and beauty products (in this order). To a large extent, therefore,
their spending is more family-related than individualist; typically, the women
who participated in our study spoil themselves very occasionally, and when they
do they spend their time and money on celebrating birthdays, taking holidays,
eating out or visiting spas. They seem to live in ways that contrast with the life
led by Tumi in Zakes Mda’s novel, and also with the stereotype of middleclass women as conspicuous consumers. Shopping was no big issue for our
respondents, but they did highlight several societal and political concerns.
Social and political preoccupations
The new South Africa was seen as an intricate state that citizens have to
navigate. The dilemmas of transformation and reconciliation were very present
in respondents’ lives, and many of the challenges facing the country have roots
deep in the past. Ramphele (2008) has dubbed these challenges ‘stubborn
ghosts’, and includes racism, ethnic chauvinism, sexism and authoritarianism
as the four main ones. Respondents expressed concerns about all of these
issues, stressing South Africa’s high rates of criminal and domestic violence,
the high incidence of rape and teenage pregancy, the lack of decent and
affordable health care, discrimination against women, and the quality of the
public education system. Another enormous problem they pointed to was
inequality and corruption:
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We have high levels of poverty among our people and I do not think that
it is because we do not have money to uplift our communities. Money is
wasted on corruption and there is no accountability. It breaks my heart as
a taxpayer to see money being misused when there is so much needed for
social issues.
Their discomfort at living in one of the most unequal societies in the world,
and being surrounded by the stubborn ghosts of the past, seems to be driving
women to raise their voices about the need for change. Participants in our
study seem to see themselves as fighting patriarchy and ‘male dependence’,
and find strong transformative potential in gender awareness and education –
both civic and academic. Typical expressions of this vision included:
Women must engage in gender struggle and fight patriarchal structures.
All women must understand and correctly speak to the female gender
struggle and collectively work towards abolishing consequences of a
patriarchal state without being apologetic.
Another common sentiment was that women should stand up for themselves:
Women must not feel they are second to men. We can do even better than
most of them. We only need to believe in ourselves.
Defining ourselves in terms of men is not right. We can get good, fulfilling
jobs and raise families. We are strong and wise.
The notion of self-respect was also strongly expressed:
Women are equally competent and, irrespective of policies like BEE,
women can still make it regardless of the inherent family responsibilities.
Several women highlighted the fact that they have gained their independence,
and are strong, but that women have to work hard to remain empowered and
must to strive to reach the goals they set for themselves. As one woman wrote:
Women must work hard and be smart about their choices in life. Those
who believe that the political/legal provisions for affirmative action will
solve their problems must think twice. We are who we make ourselves.
Those with genuine concerns may rely on the political solutions but they
must be aware of what they are asking and be prepared to sweat for it.
Of great importance to these women was their right to resist suppression and
dependence. Comments expressing what respondents saw as important in
this regard included:
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Saying no to violence of any sort; more so sexual and domestic ones.
It is ok to walk out of a dysfunctional relationship or marriage before you
get hurt.
The ability to say no to sex; more so, to sex without protection.
Of concern was that many women still see married women as somehow more
respectable. For example, one respondent noted:
Some women still think you must be married to be complete, even if
you are married to an idiot as a husband…Men are masters and we are
servants in their mansions.
Another problem respondents identified was lack of economic consciousness.
They felt that few women understand their rights in relation to BEE, and ‘still
require approval from the male partner’. Respondents also argued that since
few women see value in obtaining an education, they will remain dependent
on men or the government. Comments on this theme included:
Relying on government grants will never be satisfying.
Women must be educated and remain decisive.
Women must get educated, generally wise, enlightened and become
militant in speaking on societal ills.
Get more women quality education; not just academics but also general
whole-life orientation, including skills for self-awareness and survival,
ultimately for making it to reach their aspirations.
The prospects for females like myself are very good in our country. We are
given opportunities to play a meaningful role in society and I believe we
can do more.
The focus of this chapter has been to explore how black women who grew up
in poor and humble conditions entered the urban middle classes, and how
they experience their role as citizens in the democratic developmental state
that South Africa aspires to be. We hope our study has shown how history
matters, and that path dependence related to apartheid and poverty, patriarchy
and authoritarianism opened up a strong emancipatory culture among South
African women generally, and within the ANC in particular.
Historically, South African women have been powerful and decisive
through long periods of institutionalised oppression. They breathed life
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into a culture of emancipation through becoming modern and educated,
and through their participation in civic organisations and activism. A clear
tradition connects the modernism of the 1930s and 1940s to the contemporary
Black Diamonds and black middle-class women. These women did not pop
up from nowhere. They are the heirs of the culture created and celebrated by
vibrant modern urban women who were part of the black petite bourgeoisie
in the 1930s, and whose example never faded, even during the decades of the
mature apartheid state.
Thus, to better understand how previously marginalised women entered
the growing middle classes in South Africa so rapidly, we affirm feminism
as a theoretical paradigm as well as its usefulness in enhancing women’s
emancipation in an authoritarian world. The capacity to aspire personally,
however, does not give us the whole story. Policy choices made by the ANC
have been of core importance. A key stepping stone for the women in our
study was the emancipatory culture inherent in the ANC, as expressed in the
fight for liberation and democracy. Since 1994, the ANC-led government
has produced a flurry of documents and strategies related to equality, social
justice, and economic empowerment. Gender issues have been highlighted, at
least rhetorically, and the ANC has repeatedly stressed the importance of the
role of the middle class in forging real democracy and development.
Unfortunately, the institutionalisation of participatory democracy through
public involvement in development remains a largely unfulfilled objective.
Even if black women constitute a large portion of the middle class, and
have become more aware and responsible citizens due to their dedication to
education and hard work, South African society as a whole has a long way
to go. To move beyond policy and platitudes, in ways that are in line with
the aims of the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda, South Africans, like
many other nations, will have to begin to understand and transform the ways
in which patriarchy undermines the well-being, prosperity and productivity
of all citizens.
The quote used in the title of this chapter is taken from Gasa (2007: xvi).
For readers who wish to know more, the ANC has a homepage with a brief
history of their organisation. Other recommended popluar histories of South
Africa include Allister Sparks, The Mind of South Africa: The Story and the Rise
and Fall of Apartheid, Arrow Books, 1997, and Herman Giliomee and Bernard
Mbenga, New History of South Africa, Tafelberg, 2010.
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AfDB (African Development Bank) (2011) The Middle of the Pyramid: Dynamics of
the Middle Class in Africa. Market Brief, 20 April. Available online.
Alexander P, MC Dawson and M Ichharam (2006) Globalisation and New Identitites:
A View From the Middle. Johannesburg: Jacana.
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Action. Available online.
ANC (1992) Ready to Govern: ANC Policy Guidelines for a Democratic South
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ANC (2007) 52nd National Conference: Resolutions, 20 December. Available online.
ANC (2015) A Brief History of the African National Congress. Available online.
ANC NEC (National Executive Committee) (1990) ‘Statement on the
emancipation of women in South Africa’, 2 May. Available online.
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Stanford University Press.
Bednar J and SE Page (2006) Culture, Institutional Performance, and Path Dependence.
Working Paper, Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California,
Berkeley. Available online.
Boje DM (2002) Narrative Methods for Organizational and Communication Research.
Sage: London.
Cherry J (2007) “We were not afraid”: The role of women in the 1980s township
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History. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
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culturalist analysis in African gender discourses’, Feminist Africa 19: 78–93.
Dicken P (2007) Global Shift: Mapping the Changing Countours of the World Economy.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Dowden R (2009) Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles. New York: Public Affairs.
Edigheji O (2005) A Democratic Developmental State in Africa? A Concept Paper.
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Edigheji O (ed.) (2010) Constructing a Democratic Developmental State in South
Africa: Potentials and Challenges. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
Gasa N (ed.) (2007) Women in South African History. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
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Africa’s transition to democracy,’ Social Research 69 (3): 693–732.
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Ibsen H (forthcoming) ‘Black Diamond: The jewel in the ANC’s state machinery,
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Central and Eastern Europe. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Kaufman, CE, T de Wet, and J Stadler (2001) ‘Adolescent pregnancy and
parenthood in South Africa, Studies in Family Planning 32 (2): 147–160.
López R and B Weinstein (eds) (2012) The Making of the Middle Class: Towards a
Transnational History. Durham: Duke University Press.
Maathai W (2010) The Challenge for Africa. London: Arrow.
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Mda Z (2009) Black Diamond. Johannesburg: Penguin.
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to democracy’, Transformation 30: 47–64.
Meintjes S (2011) ‘Reflection: The women’s struggle for equality during South
Africa’s transition to democracy’, Transformation 75: 107–115.
Nnaemeka O (2005) ‘Bringing African women into the classroom: Rethinking
pedagogy and epistemology’, in O Oyewumi (ed.) African Gender Studies:
A Reader. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
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New York: Routledge.
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Posel D (2010) ‘Races to consume: Revisiting South Africa’s history of race,
consumption and the struggle for freedom’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 33 (2):
Ramphele M (2008) Laying Ghosts to Rest: Dilemmas of the Transformation in South
Africa. Cape Town: Tafelberg.
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class in democratic South Africa’, Politeia 22 (3): 6–29.
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(2008) ‘It’s onwards and upwards for SA’s Black Diamond women’,, 4 November.
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Chapter 6
Using solar energy to enhance access to ICTs in Malawi
Luke Mwale
Socio-economic development in low- to middle-income countries is said
to have a new ingredient to aid its realisation. According to Paul Romer’s
‘New Growth Theory’, socio-economic growth is driven by the accumulation
of knowledge (Cortright 2001). Furthermore, the accumulation of knowledge
is understood to be preceded by access to information or, indeed, knowledge.
We can therefore assume that access to information is a prerequisite for the
accumulation of knowledge and the development of a learned society. A
society can be considered learned if it is well-informed and well-endowed
with myriad kinds of information and knowledge that its members can easily
access and use to enhance and expand their socio-economic, sociopolitical
and cultural lives (Banisar 2010).
The United Nations’ High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development
Agenda (UN 2013) has proposed putting ‘sustainable development at the
core’ of all new development agendas. In my view, the first step towards
sustainable development involves acknowledging that access to knowledge,
and its successful application in real life, at individual, community or societal
level, is both a freedom and a right in any society that calls itself democratic
(see Mathiesen 2008).
In this chapter, I attempt to outline the importance of ICTs in enhancing
access to information and knowledge, and as a means through which rural
communities in Malawi can empower themselves and deepen democracy. I
describe some of the obstacles that face communities as they attempt to join the
so-called ‘information age’ and suggest how a simple information centre could
be established using available ICT and solar energy technology equipment.
Much of the data about conditions in rural communities used in writing
this chapter was collected through two surveys I conducted. The first survey
was done in 2012 in the rural areas of Northern Malawi, and focused on the
attitudes of 700 adults and 700 youth and children to learning about and using
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ICTs. The second survey was done during 2014 in five randomly selected
rural growth points in Malawi (see Mwale 2014):1 The areas I worked in
were Chisitu in the Mulanje District and Goliati in the Thyolo District (both
districts are in Southern Malawi), Kabudula in the Lilongwe District and
Njombwa in the Kasungu District (both in Central Malawi), and Enukweni
in the Mzimba District (in Northern Malawi). Respondents were randomly
interviewed and several focus-group discussions were held. Key informants
were purposively selected to assist in the discussions and with interpretation
whenever words in local dialects became a problem.
In reflecting on my aims in writing this chapter, I began to question what
benefits inhere in giving people access to information, and I realised that two
key assumptions underpin my approach. The first is that any country, regardless
of socio-economic standing, has to consider the provision of education
(beyond basic education) to its citizens. One of the five transformative shifts
suggested by the UN High-Level Panel is, ‘to build peace and effective, open
and accountable institutions for all’. For me, this highlights the importance of
transparency and accountability in development and democracy. If citizens are
accorded due transparency and accountability, information will be available to
them; and if they have access to information, they can obtain knowledge about
where and how taxes, aid, and revenues from extractive industries are being
spent, for example (Mathiesen 2008). Even (and perhaps especially) if the
majority of people are illiterate or semi-literate, access to such information is
vital in encouraging people to learn and to participate as active citizens both
locally and nationally (Poudel 2010).
My second assumption is that a key prerequisite for enhancing access
to information is the provision of facilities that enable people to access the
information they require. These may take the form of national electricity grids
and fibre-optic cables in some contexts or public libraries and community
centres in others. However, it seems that few low-income countries are
making any real progress with the provision of such facilities. Whether this
is because of economic instability, a lack of political will, or sheer greed and
negligence by those in power is unclear (Aina 2004). While the provision
of ICT infrastructure can never be transformative in itself, its productive
deployment can assist and benefit people as they transform their lives. To
give just one example: with ICTs, cross-regional collaborations and collective
efforts can occur via various forms of teleconferencing, making expensive and
often polluting forms of travel unnecessary (Aina et al. 2008).
To return to Romer’s New Growth Theory for a moment, Cortright
(2001) observed that technological platforms can not only serve as tools of
knowledge acquisition, but also provide a basis for socio-economic growth.
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In this context, knowledge is of even greater importance. Certainly, this
supports the notion that free access to information ‘forms’ an informed
society. As Harris et al. (2003) observed, efforts to enhance knowledge
acquisition through ICT centres in rural Nepal led to a decrease in poverty
in the area (by about 8 per cent), an improvement in health and literacy
levels, enhanced status for women, and a stronger social fabric. Harris
et al. acknowledged that, despite these achievements, major challenges
remained in reaching rural communities with information. Nevertheless,
the transformations that were achieved would be desirable in any society,
and seem to provide a clear indication that access to information and
knowledge can lead to beneficial forms of growth and development.
Based on these assumptions, I hope to show that socio-economic and
political development in countries that do not have extensive electricity
transmission and distribution grids requires:
The establishment of technologically well-equipped rural information
centres that can provide access to ICTs, including access to the world of
digital information and services.
An acknowledgement that the energy challenges we all face means that
such centres have to be run using renewable and sustainable energy.
People’s own will to transform information into knowledge and skills
(including technological) to empower themselves and prevent them from
being ‘left behind’.
Malawi’s national psyche: a commitment to sharing
and an enthusiasm to participate
Malawi is indeed a young democracy; it only came to be called democratic
in 1994, after being under one-party rule for thirty years. According to the
World Bank (2014) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO
2014), 85 per cent of Malawians live in rural areas. The gap between the tiny
minority of rich people and the poor majority is huge (FAO 2014). And
although Malawians have a general awareness of human rights, we have much
to learn about the practical application of the concept. Nevertheless, Malawi
is widely perceived to be a communal society (ICEIDA 2012). For example,
funerals are communal regardless of whether one knows the deceased or
not; weddings are often communal too, even if one is not close friends or
family of the bride or groom. This suggests that sharing is fundamental to
the Malawian way of life, and if encouraged to do so, people might well
share information about socio-economic development strategies, including
effective soil improvement and crop-cultivation techniques, ways of installing
small-scale irrigation systems or improved grain preservation methods, etc.
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In addition, if well informed about what is entailed in a particular project,
and about its expected benefits, Malawians are generally enthusiastic and
willing to participate. My experience is that when Malawians share ideas, they
are open to new understandings about issues such as agricultural extension,
the relationship between water and sanitation, democratic principles versus
developmentally compromising socio-cultural beliefs; as well as workable policy
and legal frameworks (Chirwa 2014). In my view, when Malawians are well
informed, they choose to live democratically, value openness, and are willing to
influence change or defend the status quo as necessary.2
This vision of Malawians making collective decisions on the basis of
shared information, and working together towards common goals and
understandings, seems to provide the only likely platform from which a sense
of national development in Malawi could be launched. Indeed, responses
to the small research study I conducted (Mwale 2014) indicated that many
Malawians believe that one of the major causes of the country’s failure to
develop is that information sharing is among the lowest priorities on the
country’s national agenda, if indeed a truly national agenda can be said to
exist at all. This line of thinking is supported by the fact that neither access
to information nor information sharing is mentioned in the government’s
Growth and Development Strategy, 2006–2011 or its subsequent Growth and
Development Strategy II, 2011–2016, in which the state outlined its national
development agenda. As Booth et al. (2006) have argued, if citizens remain
uninformed, they have no way of taking ownership of and responsibility for
their community’s and country’s affairs; that is, they begin to avoid acting
collectively in community as well as national development.
A major problem in tackling the lack of access to information is that
ICT infrastructure at national level is generally poor. Public libraries and
information centres are sparse, and scarcely any primary or secondary schools
have well-equipped libraries. In fact the problems lie deeper still: the country
does not generate sufficient power to meet its existing needs, and although 90
per cent of the population live in rural areas, the transmission and distribution
grid mainly serves businesses and industry in the urban areas.
Electricity generation and distribution in Malawi
Malawi relies primarily on hydro-electric power for electricity generation.
This means that electricity generation depends on the amount of water in
the catchment areas that feed the turbines. In the drought that affected
much of southern Africa in 1992, water levels became so low that electricity
generation was drastically reduced. In more recent years, flooding as a result
of torrential rains has meant that aquatic weeds, vegetation and other debris
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often clog the water channels used to generate the power. Malawi’s rainy
season lasts for six to seven months of the year (ESCOM 2014). In addition,
the seven power plants run by the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi,
(the parastatal that is currently the country’s sole legitimate power generator
and distributor) are very old and barely able to meet the country’s current
energy requirements. As of 2014, the parastatal had the capacity to generate
348.5 megawatts of electricity and estimated that the average demand is
approximately 350 megawatts (ESCOM 2014).
In terms of usage and consumption, only 11 per cent of the population has
access to the national grid and is able to use electricity generated by ESCOM in
their homes (ESCOM 2014). If the rural population make up 90 per cent of the
country’s total population, this means that only 1 per cent of rural households
have access to the national grid. On the other hand, ESCOM has reported that
only 30 per cent of urban households have access to electricity. This highlights
not only an imbalance between urban and rural electricity provision, but also
that there is a large deficit in the provision of electricity for domestic use. The
power generated by Malawi’s lone electricity supply company is not nearly
sufficient to meet the country’s existing needs, never mind the power needed to
facilitate sustainable growth in demand into the future.
Obviously, the electricity crisis has placed stringent limits on the national
roll-out of ICT infrastructure in Malawi, and frequent power outages further
reduce connectivity. In the public sector, the Departments of Road Traffic
and Immigration are particularly badly affected. On average, not a day
passes without connectivity outages disrupting public services immensely.
Such outages appear to be even worse in the private sector, and even in the
commercial banking sector, connectivity is persistently erratic (Mwale 2014).
If Malawi were to develop an adequate solar power generation infrastructure,
power generation and distribution would be much less of a problem.
Simply put, Malawi urgently needs to develop alternative sources of
energy, and must prioritise the strengthening of its ICT infrastructure to
enhance the use of ICTs, particularly in the rural areas where the majority of
citizens dwell. This would at least make it possible for people to access and
share information, as well as to empower themselves and one another, socially
and economically.
General attitudes to ICTs
In 2012, I conducted a survey on attitudes to learning about and using ICTs.
The respondents were 700 adults over 18 years and 700 youth and children
between the ages of 7 and 17 years who were living in the rural areas around
Mzuzu City in Malawi’s Northern Region. Before the survey was conducted,
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I assumed that children and youth were more likely to have positive attitudes
towards learning about and using ICTs, because younger people tend to be
more adventurous in and receptive to trying out new things. Indeed, the
results revealed that 52 per cent of the adults and 71 per cent of the children
and youth would be glad to learn about and use various ICTs (Mwale 2012).
Although there was a big difference in the responses from the two
groups, both categories of respondents showed that many people place value
on learning about and using ICTs, seeing this as a special skill that would
make their lives easier. The main obstacle for many was access to ICTs. Few
Malawians have regular access to computers or to the internet, and very few
schools have ICTs for learners to use. While most respondents aspired to own
computers and printers as well as modems or routers, many noted that the
cost of basic computer equipment was way beyond what they could afford,
and that the charges levied by internet service providers were prohibitive.3
Not surprisingly, ICT literacy levels are low in a considerable percentage of
the total population (World Bank 2014). Although Malawi’s general literacy
levels appear to be rising,4 many people in the rural areas have little exposure
to ICTs, and the digital divide between people in urban and rural areas is clear
(albeit undocumented as far as I am aware). One may question the rationale
behind improving access to ICTs in communities that have relatively low
levels of ICT literacy. Nevertheless, when asked what they would like to use
the internet for, many adult respondents expressed an interest in accessing
information about community-based agribusiness and the running of cooperatives so as to broaden their knowledge and enhance their skills. Many of
the younger respondents indicated that they had heard a lot about computer
games and digital books which they would like to play and read if they could
have access to computers.
The development of a national ICT infrastructure and
ICT education initiatives
In 2013, Malawi’s Department of e-Government and the Malawi
Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA) embarked on a
countrywide donor-funded project to establish a telecentre in each of the
country’s 386 wards. By December 2013, 51 telecentres had been established
(DOEG 2013). The plan was to install good ICT infrastructure and internet
connectivity in all telecentres, giving local communities wider access to
information and knowledge. It is hoped that by connecting citizens to
government e-services, the telecentres will contribute to improving their
communities’ welfare and livelihoods through sustainable personal or
communal projects linked to agriculture, environmental management, water
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and sanitation, health, education and small to medium enterprises, to mention
but a few.
The telecentres have the potential to be a huge asset to the rural people
of Malawi, and could contribute significantly to enhancing sustainable socioeconomic development. The challenge, however, is that a lack of funding has
delayed the project so much that it is already lagging behind rapidly changing
technological innovation.5
Solar energy and rural development
Of course, ICTs rely heavily on electric power and, as explained, while this is a
challenge in Malawi’s urban areas, for most rural dwellers, access to electricity
is little more than a dream. The shortfall in energy generation capacity as
well as the country’s ageing and mainly urban electricity infrastructure, means
that powering the rural telecentres is a major challenge. However, Salima
and Chavula (2012) have noted that Malawi experiences an average of 6.6
hours of sunshine per day all year round. Perhaps one solution, therefore, is to
exploit this relatively constant source of energy, and use solar energy systems
to power the telecentres.
Installing large-scale solar power plants capable of meeting national
power demands in Malawi might be a long-term solution, and would
require substantial amounts of financial, technical and highly skilled human
resources. In the short term, however, rural communities could set up their
own information centres using small-scale solar power systems with solar
panels, batteries, inverters, and off-the-shelf ICT equipment including
computers, printers/scanners/photocopiers, internet routers, switches and
other allied gadgetry (see the Appendix to this chapter for the power and
energy requirements of a typical installation).
Obstacles to exploiting solar energy in Malawi
Although, as mentioned, Malawi has adequate sunshine for most of the year,
the first major obstacle is the price of photovoltaic panels and batteries. The
Malawian government tried to reduce the costs by lowering import duty on
all solar installation equipment but (with import tax at between 23 and 28 per
cent, and VAT still to be paid) the prices are still way beyond the reach of the
average citizen (Mwale 2014).
The second obstacle is that the costs of maintenance and services are also
high. Although not all solar infrastructure should need frequent servicing,
it is extremely costly to replace if anything goes wrong. Indeed, the average
lifespans of photovoltaic panels (20 years) and batteries (10 years) are
relatively short given what they cost. In addition, photovoltaic panels are
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imported, high-tech equipment that few locals have the skills to repair. If
there are technicians, they tend to be based in the urban areas, and the costs
of their services increase substantially if they have to travel any distance to the
worksite (Mwale 2014).
The third obstacle, and this applies to the existing electricity grid too, is
vandalism and theft. The high cost of solar-power equipment, particularly
of photovoltaic panels that have to remain outdoors and exposed to the
sun, attracts thieves. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that police
patrols and a general police presence are extremely limited in the rural areas.
Neighbourhood-watch groups, who could take turns patrolling the area around
the community information centres, could provide an effective deterrent but
would require strong buy-in and commitment from communities.
The fourth obstacle relates to a lack of proper controls on the importation
of goods. Fake solar equipment with very low efficiency levels and even
shorter than usual lifespans, at costs equivalent to the genuine products,
have flooded the market in Malawi. Frequent replacement costs on already
expensive equipment is obviously not cost effective (Mwale 2014).
If these obstacles can be managed or overcome, solar energy offers
Malawi a highly viable way of supplementing the existing hydro-electric
power provision, not only for community projects like the one advocated here
but also for domestic use in areas that are off-grid. The state would benefit
enormously if it were to put its political will behind efforts to extend and
enhance solar energy generation in Malawi.
The installation of ICT infrastructure and solar energy generation should
be made a major priority for national development, and should form part of the
country’s much-needed national agenda. The Malawi Growth and Development
Strategy II was formulated in relation to the Millennium Development Goals,
and it is of utmost importance that this is revised to reflect the Sustainable
Development Goals listed in the Post-2015 Development Agenda (UN
2015). Access to information, electricity and ICTs are core areas that need
to be looked into and included in the revised framework. In addition, the
delivery of e-services by the state, mainly via rural information centres, run
using renewable energy, should become a priority area linked to the existing
prioritisation of rural energy provision and electrification.
In this era of larger-than-life technological advancements, ICTs are a
vital tool for access to information and could deliver huge benefits to the
rural communities that are regarded as the most marginalised, even by
international economic organisations like the International Monetary Fund
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(IMF 2014). Community information centres offer one way of providing
collective access to information and ICTs. However, sustaining rural
information centres is likely to be a strenuous endeavour that will need
substantial resources as well as excellent collaboration between government,
the donor community and local communities. For community centres to
work, the government will need to consider reducing import duties and
VAT on all ICT and solar installation equipment to increase affordability
for entrepreneurs and end users. In fact, I would suggest that some of the
taxes simply be removed altogether.
Perhaps Malawi’s most valuable asset in pursuit of this goal is that
Malawians are willing to embrace any development that offers them
opportunities to access information and new paths to technological
advancement. Indeed, what Malawians may need, for example, is to be able
to find out more about other societies around the world and to learn from
their ways of life. With ICTs in place, other parts of the world could also
potentially learn about areas in which Malawi has succeeded or failed; for
example, in running free primary education programmes (Kadzamira and
Rose 2001; Ngozo 2010).
What remains uncertain is whether a proliferation of rural and urban
information centres has the potential to reduce the cleavages between the
poor and the rich, and between the politicians and the people. According
to The Centre for Social Concern (CfSC 2014), this uncertainty derives
from the fact that so many other factors (including corruption and the lack
of political will to address it) influence the growing gap between rich and
poor. However, in my view, once people are informed, they can choose to
fight corruption, and reduced corruption might, in turn, increase levels of
transparency and thereby contribute to closing the rifts between poor and
rich, and between politicians and citizens. If this happens, and if people can
develop some sense of contributing to and having an equitable share of the
national cake, productivity levels might increase, and sustainable social and
economic development might ensue.
Malawians need to not only cultivate and nurture their young democracy
but also to harvest and enjoy its fruits. One way to achieve this is to ensure
that information flows to all corners of the country to empower citizens with
access to information about the issues affecting their lives and livelihoods.
The power and energy specifications for a simple but viable solar power
installation suitable for a small rural community information centre are set
out in Tables A1 and A2. The estimates assume that such a centre would have:
Using solar energy to enhance access to ICTs in Malawi
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Table A1
Power demand
power (W)
usage (hours)
Daily energy
demand (Wh)
Desktop computers
64 000
Heavy-duty printer (output
in full colour and black
only at around 50 pages
per minute)
5 220
14 400
LAN switch
3 600
54-inch television sets
2 700
DVD players
Flatbed scanner
2 800
Battery charging station
Security lights (12v DC
using low-energy bulbs)
Interior lighting (lowenergy-bulbs)
1 200
Total energy demand
Estimated energy loss @ 10%
Energy demand incl. losses
Daily consumption based on a diversity factor of 0.6
95 680
9 568
105 248
105 248 × 0.6 =
63 878wh
Notes: W = watt; Wh = watt hours.
Twenty desktop computers with internet access, a catalogue of local
resources, and software to service the administration of the centre.
A server that can be accessed by users on demand. All digital resources, as
well as user records and other technical records may also be stored here.
A switch that serves as the local area network plug-in point for the twenty
Three 54-inch plasma television sets and three DVD players that can be
used to show videos of interest to local community groups and organisations.
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Table A2
Energy requirements
System requirementsa
Number of solar panels
65 882Wh / (5.5h x 250W)
48 solar panels
Number of batteries
40 x 200Ah batteriesb Inverter
20kVA single phasec
Notes: a. The requirements assume 5.5 sunshine hours per day and 250W per solar panel; autonomy
days for Malawi is 3; b. This number is a best-guess estimate and requires verification; the batteries
will have to be arranged 4 in-series and 10 in-parallel; c. kva = kilo-volt amps.
A photocopier/printer that may be used for various purposes, particularly
if the centre is used for adult education and by school students.
One flatbed scanner for scanning documents that need to be disseminated
to community members.
A battery charging station large enough to charge at least 10 cell phone
batteries. Besides being useful to users, a minimal charge to users could
help to generate some income to help sustain the centre.
Six security lights to provide lighting around the building during night
Ten interior lights for night-time use; the centres should be built to
capture as much natural light as possible, using for example, durable white
or transparent roofing sheets and windows should be large enough and
positioned to allow in the maximum amount of light.
In Malawi, a rural growth point is a centre for community and socio-economic
development. There seem to be no clear criteria for how a town or settlement
achieves this status, but they tend to be designated as such by the government
and to offer sales or storage facilities to large-scale farming enterprises. These
then encourage or lure other small, medium or large businesses into the area.
Like Chirwa (2014), I believe that if people are well informed and knowledgeable
they can develop a common understanding on development issues that surpasses
or surplants older belief systems that they can see are hindering community
development. For example, the Lomwe and Yao people of Malawi traditionally
believe in female circumcision, which is globally acknowledged to be an extreme
form of cruelty that negatively affects women’s sexual and reproductive health and
well-being. Unpublished sources indicate that these people are slowly accepting the
government’s call to stop this cultural practice.
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From my observations, the most common ICT equipment in the rural areas is
the cell phone, and the likelihood is that most adults in rural communities will
never have regular access to any other ICT device. At the time of writing in
2015, even the cheapest smart phone sold in Malawi cost about 450 per cent
more than the national minimum wage, and a very tiny minority of Malawians
have access to these devices. Ordinary cell phones are far cheaper and thus
arguably more affordable.
Indications are that the general literacy level reached 74.8 per cent in 2015
(Findthedata 2015) as compared to 61.3 per cent in 2010 (Knoema World Data
Atlas 2010).
Despite the delays, various related initiatives are forging ahead. For example,
FAIR-Denmark (a Danish NGO geared towards improving ICT use in low- to
middle-income countries) and the Department of ICT at Mzuzu University,
in the capital of Malawi’s Northern Region, are working together to set up
ICT facilities in selected secondary schools in all the districts of the Northern
Region. FAIR-Denmark donates used computers (desktops and laptops),
printers, projectors and various other kinds of computer equipment, while the
Department of ICT at Mzuzu University has assembled a technical team
from among its staff who manage the distribution and installation of the
equipment in the schools. Meanwhile, a staff development project is being run
by Malawi’s Ministry of Education (MoE). Through this project, the MOE
sponsors teachers to complete a degree programme in ICT developed jointly by
the Department of ICT and the Faculty of Education at Mzuzu University. The
degree programme aims to enhance teaching effectiveness in ICT studies in the
secondary school curriculum.
Aina LO (2004) Library and Information Science Text for Africa. Ibadan: Third World
Information Service.
Aina LO, SM Mutula and MA Tiamiyu (eds) (2008). Information and Knowledge
Management in the Digital Age: Concepts, Technology and Africa Perspectives.
Ibadan: Third World Information Service.
Banisar D (2010) ‘Linking ICTs, the right to privacy, freedom of expression and
access to information’, East African Journal of Peace and Human Rights 16 (1).
Available online.
Booth D, D Cammack, T Harrigan, E Kanyongolo, M Mataure and N Ngwira
(2006) Drivers of Change and Development in Malawi, Working Paper 261,
Overseas Development Institute, London. Available online.
CfSC (Centre for Social Concern) (2014) Bridge the Gap Between the Rich and the
Poor. Press statement issued in December. Available online.
Chirwa WC (2014) Malawi: Democracy and Political Participation. Johannesburg:
Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa.
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Cortright J (2001) New Growth Theory, Technology and Learning:
A Practitioner’s Guide. Reviews of Economic Development Literature and
Practice No 4. Portland, OR: Impressa.
DOEG (Department of e-Government, Malawi) (2013) The Last Mile Solution
Model for Provision of Government e-Services to Citizens: A National Report.
Unpublished Official Document. Available on request from Department of
e-Government, Malawi.
ESCOM (Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi) (2014) Power Generation.
Available online.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) (2014) Gender Inequalities in Rural
Employment in Malawi: An Overview. Available online.
Findthedata (2015) What is the literacy rate in Malawi, a country in the continent
of Africa? Available online.
Harris R, A Jacquemin, S Ponthagunta, J Sah and D Shrestha (2003) ‘Rural
development with ICTs in Nepal: Integrating national policy with grassroots
resourcefulness’, Electronic Journal on Information Systems in Developing Countries
12 (4): 1–12. Available online.
Kadzamira E and P Rose P (2001) Educational Policy Choice and Policy Practice in
Malawi: Dilemmas and Disjunctures, IDS Working Paper 124, University of
Knoema World Data Atlas (2010) Malawi Literacy Rate: Adult. Available online.
ICEIDA (Icelandic International Development Agency) (2012) Malawi Country
Strategy Paper 2012–2016. Reykjavík. Available online.
IMF (2014) Malawi: The Joint Staff Advisory Note of the Poverty Reduction Strategy
Paper. IMF Country Report Number 12/223 of August 2012. Available online.
Mathiesen K (2008) Access to Information as a Human Right. Available online.
Mwale L (2012) A Comparative Study on the Attitude of Adults, Youth and
Children to Learning and Using ICTs: The Case of Adult and Young Learners
in Selected Learning Institutions in Mzuzu City of Malawi. Unpublished
findings of a survey conducted as part of a feasibility study prior to the
commissioning of a computer centre project by FAIR-Denmark.
Mwale L (2014) Results of a Quick Survey on the Use of Solar Energy for ICTs
in Rural Information Centres. An unpublished study conducted to enhance
the development of a paper presented at the 2014 SANORD International
Conference, Karlstad University, Sweden, 10–13 June.
National Statistical Office, Malawi (2014) Statistical Year-Book 2012. Available
Ngozo C (2010) ‘Malawi: Free education at what price?’ IPS News, February.
Available online.
Poudel R (2010) Access of ICT Benefits for Underserved Rural Communities in
Developing Countries: A Case Study of Nepal. Available online.
Salima G and M Chavula (2012) ‘Determining angstorm constants for estimating
solar radiation in Malawi’, International Journal of Geosciences (3): 391–397.
Available online.
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UN (2013) A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies
Through Sustainable Development: a Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent
Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Available online.
UN (2015) Global Sustainable Development Report 2015 (Advance unedited edition).
New York.
World Bank (2014) Country at a Glance: Malawi. Available online.
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Chapter 7
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
Miroslaw Staron
In contemporary society, software features in the manufacturing of almost
every product, and software engineering has become a recognised engineering
discipline. Software engineers are responsible for a wide range of activities,
from planning and writing new software to maintaining or upgrading
software that is already in use. This means that software engineers need a
solid and broad education with options that allow them to specialise in areas
such as software architecture, product testing or project management. What I
hope to show in this chapter is that the software engineering profession can
assist in the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UN
2015) in a number of ways.
For entrepreneurs in low-income economies, investing in software
development might seem an unlikely option, especially if their real aim is to
help reduce poverty and inequality. However, compared with the development
costs involved in establishing mechanical or other kinds of engineering
projects, the costs involved in shipping software assets and products are small.
This allows small businesses to quickly build confidence and skills platforms,
and low shipping costs make it feasible for them to contribute to projects
anywhere on the globe. In addition, lower labour costs, and the ability to
ship software without long and complex supply chains, also give low-income
countries some competitive advantages.
Software engineers1 in Asia, Africa and South America have the potential
to become drivers for growth in their economies by utilising the increasing
importance of software in many aspects of our daily lives (Boehm 1981).
However, software engineers in lower-income countries face a number
of challenges. For example, they need to be highly flexible as they have to
constantly balance developing their own products at low cost and in-sourcing
software from global companies. To attract business partners, software
engineers have to be able to offer high levels of competence at low cost. As
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indicated by Khan et al. (2011), after cost-savings, skilled human resources
are the second most important factor when large companies consider using
an outsourcing partner. Hence, for software engineers to be successful on
the outsourcing market, thereby attracting new capital into their economies,
software companies have to focus on enhancing the competence, skills and
knowledge of their staff.
The central question I address in this chapter is: how can software engineers
in low-income countries develop software products in ways that maximise learning
and build long-term client-supplier relationships when in-sourcing new projects?
Although the scope of the question is wide, I address it by focusing on how
software engineers can build competence while they develop or in-source new
products. This focus on learning is crucial for the sustainable development
agenda; giving everyone a chance to learn and develop addresses the first
transformative shift in the UN’s Post-2015 Development Agenda (UN
High-Level Panel 2013).
In tackling this question, I review existing research on software development
in lower-income countries, and identify challenges related to adopting the
most modern software development technologies. I present an alternative
model that focuses on rapid release-and-learn software development. This
allows developers to continually release new software increments and to
learn from each release, thus minimising the risk of running into contractual
problems with business partners. The model is based on the Build-MeasureLearn Cycle (Ries 2011) designed for software start-ups.
The chapter is structured as follows – first I provide a brief overview of the
role of information and communication technologies (ICT) in sustainable
development. I then focus on the software engineering field, and outline the
challenges for software development start-ups, which I argue are similar all
over the globe. I then outline a recommended software development process
and finally propose an education programme that any country can adopt or
adapt to support the development of competence in this field.
The role of ICT in achieving the SDGs
When considering the role of ICTs in sustainable development, Goals 4, 8
and 17 in the UN’s (2015) list of SDGs are particularly relevant. I have listed
them below, but in the order that makes most sense in this context:
Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the
global partnership for sustainable development.
– Goal 17.6. Enhance North–South, South–South and triangular
regional and international cooperation on and access to science,
technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing on
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mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination
among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level,
and through a global technology facilitation mechanism.
Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth,
full and productive employment and decent work for all.
– Goal 8.6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in
employment, education or training.
– Goal 8.7 Increase Aid for Trade support for developing countries, in
particular least developed countries, including through the Enhanced
Integrated Framework for Trade-Related Technical Assistance to
Least Developed Countries.
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote
lifelong learning opportunities for all.
– Goal 4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and
adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational
skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
Although all of these goals are relevant for the development of society as
a whole, and deserve support, they also raise a number of questions. For
example, how can we support the efficient diffusion of competence between
North and South without encouraging a flow of skilled workers into the
high-income countries? And, how can lower-income countries enhance the
speed of technology uptake without jeopardising the development of longterm competencies?
In the following section, I further problematise these issues in relation to
the three key goals listed above; in the remainder of the chapter, I propose a
technology model and supporting education programme that I believe can
address these issues.
Strengthening the means of implementation
In striving to achieve Goal 17, the need for partnerships between the lowerto middle-income countries (or regions) and the high-income ones is clear.
Too often in the past, the movement of knowledge (via technology and
knowledge transfer) from North to South led to the phenomenon (often
described using the negatively loaded term ‘brain drain’) whereby skilled
people from the South move northwards in search of higher income and other
rewards for their work. This phenomenon is present when economic rewards
for potentially equally skilled workers are imbalanced. The development of
North–South business partnerships can address this challenge and establish
relations in which competence development in the low-income countries
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
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helps to strengthen local social and welfare systems. The ICT field is a
perfect example of a domain in which this kind of ‘paired development’ is
feasible, because the costs of establishing software ‘production’ infrastructure
is significantly lower than the costs of establishing other types of industrial
production and manufacturing processes. To start developing software, the
basic infrastructure required is electricity, plus computers and internet access.
Where these are available, the main barrier is a lack of skilled individuals. This
brings us to Goal 8.
Promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth
Goal 8 is about the need for sustainability in growth. This implies business
development based on long-term relationships and trust. To attain sustained
growth, countries and individuals need to focus on lifelong learning. In our
rapidly changing world, it is no longer possible to remain relevant in the job
market unless we constantly invest time and resources in renewing our own
education and upgrading our skill sets. Many of the technical skills taught
at universities remain relevant for a limited period; as the sciences, arts and
medicine move forward, individuals must too.
For the lower-income countries, the capacity for rapid reskilling is even
more important. When these economies grow, they tend to do so faster than
the high-income countries, but their starting point in relation to technological
development is lower. This means that an individual might start working
with technology that can be categorised as relatively ‘simple’, but, within a
period of only a few years, the same person might be expected to work with
‘advanced’ technologies. Modern ICT affords the lower-income countries
access to new technologies and knowledge. In Rwanda, for example, the ability
to build mobile-phone networks made it unnecessary for communications
companies to build the infrastructure required for the installation of landlines
countrywide. However, to be able to maintain, develop, and extend this kind
of ICT infrastructure and its related functions, local, skilled workforces are
essential. This brings us to Goal 4 – education.
Ensuring inclusive education
A major challenge linked to Goal 4 lies in making education sustainable
and inclusive. Unlike the short-term projects in which skilled teachers visit
low-income countries to provide courses and quickly leave again, sustainable
solutions are needed that develop local competence, and train new generations
of teachers in the South.
Another challenge is the need to combine the skills needed for short-term
development (the ability to handle and use the newest technologies) with the
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skills that sustain innovation over the longer term (such as problem-solving
and mathematics skills). If educational programmes do not combine these
two sets of skills, there is a danger that graduates will be unable to support
longer-term economic growth, and that future generations will have even
fewer opportunities as job markets dwindle.
In the rest of the chapter, I explore the potential for software engineers
to significantly shift the ICT sectors in lower-income countries, thereby
potentially helping to reduce global inequality.
Continuous software engineering
The SDGs advocate sustainable growth, which includes a focus on product
lifecycles, and the ability to evolve products over time. One discipline in
which this concept of continuity is prevalent is software engineering.
Software engineering is about processes for developing software that
ensure their repeatability, predictability and ultimately their success ( Jalote
2000; Team 2002). In this section, I focus on how the continual development
and delivery of software allows developers to learn while constructing new
software (Duvall et al. 2007; Humble and Farley 2010). Known as ‘agile and
lean software development’ (Oppenheim 2004; Staron and Meding 2011;
Tomaszewski et al. 2007), this approach is discussed in a little more detail
below as it provides the foundation for the build-measure-learn cycles that I
outline later in the chapter.
Lean and agile software development
In addition to the benefits offered by continual product development, the
lean and agile approach to software development supports the establishment
of long-term partnerships, built on trust and mutual sharing, because
communication and dialogue play a central role in the process.
Agile software development is an umbrella term for a number of
programming processes including scrum (Rising and Janoff 2000) or XP
(extreme programming) (Beck 1999). As described by Cockburn and
Highsmith (2001) the agile approach emphasises short development cycles,
as well as collaboration and contact with customers over more complex or
longer-term software development projects.
In contrast to older software development models (such as the rational
unified process) the more modern agile model recognises that:
Users do not always know exactly what they want upfront.
Software development teams seldom fully understand what users
communicate upfront.
Continual change is a natural part of the software development process.
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
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Figure 7.1 Lean and agile software development processes in which multiple teams
work in parallel
for a feature
for a product
development teams
Accordingly, agile processes involve short development loops (or ‘sprints’)
which aim to deliver working software or an increment in the process towards
working software so as to:
Provide proof of progress to clients or users.
Discuss, specify and refine understandings of user requirements.
Implement changes that might be required if misunderstandings occurred
during the previous sprint.
These short development cycles minimise the risk of developing inappropriate
software, and emphasise the delivery of working software at each iteration (as
opposed to documentation about what will be delivered).
Lean software development requires close collaboration between developers
and customers to ensure the delivery of products that correspond to customer
requirements and demands (Poppendieck 2007). Following the manufacturing
model developed by the Toyota Corporation, the focus of lean software
development allows for (and aims to optimise) flows within manufacturing
systems while focusing on the need for close collaboration with customers
and the variability of their requirements (Oza et al. 2012).
This implies short release cycles, quantitative monitoring of software
development, agility within development teams, and lean software
development techniques (Poppendieck and Poppendieck 2003). Figure 7.1
depicts a typical lean and agile software development set-up, in which the
managers plan which features or functional requirements are to be developed
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(FR-F1, FR-F2) and development teams take responsibility for designing,
creating and testing each feature.
Figure 7.1 also shows that functional requirements are separated into work
packages, and that different features can be developed by different teams. Each
team delivers their coding into the main program, and can thus deliver code
to any component of the product. The requirements derive from customers,
and these are prioritised and packaged into features by product managers
who communicate with system managers about the technical aspects of how
the features will affect the product architecture. The system managers also
communicate with the development teams who design, implement and test
the functionality of all features. All coding is tested thoroughly by dedicated
testing units before products are released (Staron and Meding 2011).
Combining a lean management approach with agile development
processes allows software companies to rapidly change features without
needing to rework project plans, which can be costly and time-consuming.
Naturally there are several alternatives to the lean and agile model. One of
the most prominent is V-model development (Mellegård and Staron 2010).
V-model processes focus on the integration of functionality, and are used by
automotive software suppliers worldwide, including in India and China.
Proprietary versus open-source development
Software engineering is evolving in two directions. On the one hand, are
the advanced and specialised software development tools used in application
domains such as automotive software; examples include UML and Simulink
modelling (Pretschner et al. 2007). On the other hand, open-source tools
are used to develop software for non-critical systems; an example here is the
Eclipse Platform (DesRivières and Wiegand 2004; Geer 2005).
Development and business models for proprietary and open-source
software also differ significantly (Camara and Fonseca 2007). Proprietary
software developers derive most of their income is from selling software to
customers, and a secondary source of income related to the selling of product
support. For most open-source software developers, the major income
opportunities are related to the delivery of training and support.2
Challenges for low- to middle-income countries
Software development in low- and middle-income countries has been
investigated from a number of angles. Various researchers have documented
the development of competencies and technologies in countries such as India,
China, Pakistan and Vietnam. The challenges for many of these countries
seem to be primarily financial (in terms of access to funding; this is related to
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
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SDG Goal 17), technical (linked to infrastructure and tooling; this is related
to SDG Goal 8) and social (in that education systems tend to be weak; this is
related to SDG Goal 4).
Heeks (2002) conducted a meta-study looking at published evidence of
failed and successful information-system projects in what he called ‘developing
economies’. He concluded that one of the main problems facing entrepreneurs
was a lack of business knowledge. In an earlier article, Heeks (1999) identified
a number of other major barriers to the success of software developers, one
of which he called the infrastructure roadblock, that is, the need for reliable,
high-capacity infrastructure for exports to succeed. A second major barrier
was the lack of trust in business relationships. In a similar vein, Correa (1996)
identified barriers for lower-income countries related to factors such as:
Limited internal markets – market size can limit the development of
software products above a certain threshold of complexity and cost.
Firm sizes – a lack of sustainable mechanisms for venture-capital funding
often limits the size of software development companies.
Quality standards – start-ups in lower-income countries are often
unaccustomed to stringently self-monitoring quality standards.
Shortcomings in qualifications and methodologies – the focus of many
start-ups is the need to raise capital, and this can mean that stringent
software development methodologies are compromised.
Limited infrastructure – lack of access to infrastructure and new
technologies can be hindrances for competitive start-ups that want to
work at the cutting edge of technology development. (I focus more on
this issue in the next section.)
These factors constitute significant obstacles for software engineers in
economies where innovation is often desperately needed but where
establishing software enterprises can be difficult. However, possible remedies
– such as lightweight development methodologies (to initiate and build
relationships with clients) or crowdfunding (to raise capital) do exist, and are
described in more detail below.
Accessing technologies and funding
Entering the market is difficult when starting from scratch (Schware 1992).
However, the lean start-up approach advocated by Ries (2011) involves developing
the minimum number of viable products using a build-measure-learn cycle as
discussed below. However, lack of access to the internet and its technologies
would be a major challenge, especially as modern software distribution channels
are now so different from the traditional ones. For example:
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Mobile applications tend to be distributed via dedicated online stores – in
the mobile phone segment, all applications are certified and distributed
via established distribution channels – App Store for iOS (Apple), Google
Play for Android (Samsung, HTC, Sony) or Windows Marketplace
(Microsoft, Samsung, HTC, Nokia).
Desktop applications have built-in mechanisms for software updates –
almost all modern desktop applications are installed once only and are
automatically updated via the internet from time to time. And when
application updates are sold, this is often done via vendors’ online stores
(Windows Marketplace, Apple’s App store, etc).
Modern customers almost expect their products to grow over time, to be
continually updated with new functionalities without them needing to
buy new hardware for each update. Such updates are often realised via
continuous deployment, and without user interaction.
Thus, access to the internet, deployment frameworks and dedicated servers is
essential; and access to these technologies can be problematic for countries
on the periphery. However, the popularisation of mobile technology is
increasing access to the internet globally, and opening up possibilities for the
development of new products and new processes (Arora and Gambardella
In terms of access to financing, some start-ups in smaller economies have
used crowdfunding. As described by Schwienbacher and Larralde (2010) and
by Belleflamme et al. (2013), crowdfunding is a simple scheme whereby startups seek investors by announcing their goals on various websites, and asking
individuals to make small investments. In contrast to traditional venturecapital financing, this approach offers developers and investors more flexibility,
and is less dependent on geographical proximity. However, to be successful,
start-ups need to show quick results, and regularly deliver new functionalities.
Without these abilities, they risk losing investors (Mollick 2013). provides the following examples of successful
crowdfunding projects in China and Vietnam:
mDrawBot – for designing 3D drawing robots (China).
Filamento – for the next generation of 3D printers (China).
Freedom Wheels – for designing lightweight and robust wheelchairs
From these examples, it can be argued that crowdfunding projects have
the potential to stimulate and support democratic movements globally.
By providing citizens with opportunities to decide which projects to fund,
citizens can help drive social change linked to the success of those projects,
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
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especially when the projects themselves directly address the needs of citizens
(like the wheelchairs in Vietnam, for example), rather than pursuing purely
commercial gains. Successful citizen-oriented projects can also help to ensure
that companies see democratic ways of operating as more beneficial for
themselves and society.
Correa (1996) stressed that software product development and export
can be a major driving factor for economies as it minimises the risks of the
client-supplier relationship. As I show later in the chapter, these risks can
also be minimised by the use of highly iterative and responsive development
processes that require little upfront investment.
Trust between clients and suppliers
One of the barriers identified by Heeks (1999) was the issue of trust between
clients in high-income countries and suppliers in low-income countries. The
importance of this issue is also stressed in Goal 17 of the SDGs – building
partnerships. Software developers are especially at risk in this regard as
software is relatively easy to reproduce (copy) without permission from the
copyright owner. This can lead to fears on both sides related to loss of control
of intellectual property.
However, partitioning the development process (by modularising the
design, service-orientation, etc.) allows companies to build trust incrementally
over time. Thus, software development companies can start with small
modules that require frameworks and other parts to function (and that are
sourced elsewhere), and therefore cannot easily be resold or reproduced in
another context.
I return to the issue of trust building in the software development process
described below.
An agile software development model for low-income countries
In this section, I outline a development process that is aligned with the agile
approach mentioned above. This kind of process is ideal for the development of:
Web applications for which new software can be delivered continually.
Mobile applications for which distribution channels (such as Google
Play) already exist.
Desktop products that can access continuous deployment mechanisms.
Each of these scenarios is popular in situations where in-sourcing companies
work closely with their customers. For web applications, the learning element
is often based on so called A–B testing. For the other two product types,
learning is based on customer acceptance testing.
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Figure 7.2
Build-measure-learn principle
Analysis for
next cycles,
e.g. split
from data
Incremental development,
e.g. rapid delivery, free and
open-source components
Feedback from
releases, e.g.
Source: Adapted from Ries (2011)
The process is iterative and focuses on delivering a new working version of the
software with each iteration. Iterations take between two and five weeks, thus
ensuring that discussions with customers happen often, and that learning
cycles are kept short. As shown in Figure 7.2, the development process
consists of three major stages: building products (including analysis, design,
implementation and unit/module/system testing), monitoring releases
(effectiveness of deployment and assessment of quality by users) and learning
from feedback (evaluation and planning for the next iteration).
For optimal effectiveness, software development teams should make
use of mechanisms for the continual deployment of software. For example,
updating channels for mobile applications or dedicated menu items as
these are developed. This allows clients to monitor the progress of product
development, and lowers the chances of companies failing to deliver, especially
in new client-supplier relationships (Giardino et al. 2014).
Incremental development processes also minimise the risk of inappropriate
functionalities being developed. Frequent interaction between designers and
customers increases the developers’ understanding of customers’ requirements,
and ensures the development of more sustainable products. This model also
allows companies to plan for ongoing development without the need for
costly reworking of highly developed software.
Activities and deliverables
The goal of each build stage is to deliver an increment of new functionality
that can be used by the customer. This increment can be a new product or a
new feature that functions correctly, but is not complete (new features will be
added in the new increment).
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
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Figure 7.3
Activities in the build phase
requirements into
Function test
the features
feature burndown
Unit, module and
system test
Estimate effort
based on user
Develop the
At the first iteration, this is known as a minimum viable product (Blank 2013;
Ries 2011). In practice, this means that the build stage includes the activities
shown in Figure 7.3. These activities can be done in one or in several iterations.
However, the number of iterations should be kept to as few as is necessary to
deliver a usable new increment.
In Table 7.1, I briefly describe each activity in the build phase, and
recommend sources for more detailed descriptions of possible techniques for
these activities.
Table 7.1
Description of activities in the build phase
Detailed description
requirements into
Requirements from the customer are
grouped into features and described using
user stories.
Cohn 2004
Create feature burndown charts
To monitor progress and communicate
the status of the project (both within the
company and with customers) graphs are
created to monitor each feature of the
Barton et al.
Staron et al.
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Detailed description
Estimate feature
development effort
based on user
Using user stories, the team can easily
estimate the development effort and adjust
the speed at which each iteration needs
to be completed. This allows for agile
responses to changing environmental and
customer needs.
Cohn 2005
Develop the
New features are created using the
program code. Its comments feature is
used to keep documentation costs down.
and Hunt 2006
Unit, module and
system test
New features and new codes have to be
thoroughly tested using, for example,
automated unit testing and module testing.
Crispin and
Gregory 2009
Function test the
The final stage of the build cycle is
acceptance testing.
The transition between the building and the monitoring phases is done via the
deployment of the newly developed software. Measuring the effectiveness of
the new increment (that is, the monitoring phase) begins when the customer
first uses the new product (see Figure 7.4). Typical activities involved in this
phase are described in Table 7.2.
Figure 7.4
Activities in the monitoring phase
Deploy the
Measure usage –
feature uptake
Measure defects
Measure retention
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Table 7.2
A description of activities in the monitoring phase
Detailed description
Deploy the
Releasing the software is only a first step.
More important is ensuring customer uptake.
Continuous deployment is one technique used
for this.
Humble and Farley
2010, Ries 2011
usage/ feature
The first thing to measure is the number of
customers who use the newly developed
feature – feature uptake.
Ries 2011
The next important piece of data is the
number of customers who repeatedly use
the new feature. This approximates customer
satisfaction indexes usually collected through
Ries 2011
Another important aspect to measure is the
Mellegård et al.
number of defects identified by customers. This 2013, Staron et al.
helps to quantify the quality of the product.
2010, Ries 2011
Measure client
One key way to measure client satisfaction is
the number of recommendations the feature or
the developer receives from customers.
Lassar et al. 1995,
Ries 2011
The goal of the next phase – the learning phase – is to understand customer
needs better. This is achieved by monitoring which features are well received
by the market (by analysing customer retention and recommendations) and
which features were used often (analysing uptake). Activities related to the
learning phase are presented in Figure 7.5, and a short description of what is
involved in this phase is provided in Table 7.3.
The focus of this process is on maintaining good relations between
customers and software development companies. In my view, the skills related
to working in this way should be included in courses on software engineering
for small businesses.
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Figure 7.5
Activities in the learning phase
Analyse data
for patterns in
feature uptake
Decide which
features to prioritise
in the next release
Improve operations
Plan to improve
the most popular
Table 7.3
Prepare to rework
faulty features
A description of activities in the learning phase
Analyse data for
patterns in feature
Understanding which features are more
popular than others is an important step
for companies who need to optimise their
operations – e.g. when building client-supplier
Decide which features
should be prioritised
in the next release
Prioritising the next cycle opens up discussion Cockburn and
about future optimisations – the so called rapid Williams 2003
feedback loop.
Note features that
do not work correctly
Features that are unused or faulty need to be
noted for fixing during the next iteration.
Plan for further
The most popular features need to be analysed
to further enhance the product.
Improve operations
Based on this analysis the software
development team also consider how they can
improve their operations – including how to
develop better quality software or optimise the
efficiency of their development processes.
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A recommended skills training programme
In this section I outline an educational programme that any university offering
software engineering courses could adopt or adapt to:
Provide the combination of technical and managerial skills that allow
individuals to act flexibly in client–supplier relationships.
Introduce students to open-source technologies that minimise the costs
of software development.
Capture the major trends in software development and enable students to
identify new business opportunities.
The programme is based on a curriculum developed by the Association
for Computing Machinery (ACM) for computer science and software
engineering (see ), which, is
in turn, based on surveys of the best software engineering courses worldwide
(Werth 1987), and is constantly updated. A similar programme is used by
the University of Gothenburg in Sweden for their International Program
in Software Engineering and Management, and has been evaluated from
various perspectives.3
The skills included in the curriculum make graduates attractive in the job
market worldwide. According to CNN Money (2015), for example, twenty
per cent of the top fifty jobs in the United States are in the area of software
engineering, and software architects were at the very top of the list in 2015.
The programme’s strong skills focus should, therefore, reduce the risk of
unemployment among graduates.
Goals of the programme
The education programme is intended to be a three-year course starting
from the university entrance level and aims to provide all the necessary skills
to turn students into competent software engineers. The skills set offered
combines technical skills (such as programming and software architecture)
with managerial skills (metrics, software quality and project management)
and leadership skills (entrepreneurship and contract management). The
programme includes project work that constitutes at least 30 per cent of
the learning time; this is to simulate the real-world environment and teach
students the basic skills of teamwork.
Typical course modules in the programme
The educational programme should comprise a number of modules as shown
in Figure 7.6.
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Figure 7.6 Suggested modules for a model educational programme
UI design
Individual project
Discrete mathematics
SW testing
Logic and algorithm design
SW architecture
Open source
Indiv. project II
Programming II
Web technologies
Embedded SW
Process improvement
Business models
Group project
Project management
Quality management
Individual research project
The aim of the first year is to introduce students to computer programming
(using either Java or C#), enhance their communication skills, and provide
the basis for project-based teamwork and discrete mathematics. Table 7.4
provides an outline of the first year of the course.
In the first year the students need to learn the technical skills to start
working as software developers, but they also need to work on the so-called
‘soft skills’ such as communication, trust building and teamwork. The issue of
developing trustworthy collaborations is introduced in the communication
course and practised in practical projects throughout the programme.
The aim in the second year is to further train students in teamwork and in
advanced software engineering concepts; this includes software architectures
and advanced programming. Table 7.5 outlines the content of the secondyear course.
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
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Table 7.4
Description of courses in year 1
Topics covered
Object-oriented programming using one of the modern languages
– e.g. Java, C#, Python.
UI design
Design of user interfaces for desktop applications and for
smart phones/tablets.
Individual project
The assignment should include programming of a small app for
either a desktop or a mobile phone (such as a notes app).
Sums, progression.
Software testing
Developing test cases, test suites and test strategies. Build on the
programming course and allow the students to understand the
difference between a test code and a product code.
Giving slide presentations, writing technical documentation and
writing academic reports. This course should prepare students to
give short ‘pitch’ talks about their work.
Introduction to teamwork and co-operation; this should relate to
building trust in client-supplier relationships.
Pair project
Integration of the programming and software testing courses and
group work. This project should include an oral presentation.
Logic and
algorithm design
Design of advanced algorithms using single- and double-linked
lists, trees, dictionaries and hash tables. This course should also
explain how garbage collection works in modern programming
The third year of the programme aims to prepare the students to work as
software engineers: entrepreneurship, innovation and research are the main
themes for the year (see Table 7.6).
After the third year, students are equipped to start work as software
engineers and as independent entrepreneurs in software start-ups. They have
the basic skills to start their own projects and to continue with postgraduate
studies if they wish to do so.
Widening access to the programme
The modularisation of the programme supports learning in environments
where university infrastructure is lacking. This means that the programme can
be delivered via distance education, using modern e-learning platforms, and
complemented with modules from open online courses offered via Coursera.
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Table 7.5
Description of courses in year 2
Definition of software architecture, architectural styles,
performance evaluation, architecture patterns and architecture
evaluation (e.g. ATAM).
Open source
Open-source movement, licensing schemes and their implications,
crowdsourcing and crowdfunding, and open source community
project II
Conducting a small research project with the goal of advancing
technology (not process improvement) and contributing to a
chosen open-source project.
Programming II
Programming using a different paradigm – e.g. functional
Web technologies Programming of web applications using JavaScript, AJAX or similar
technologies; use of web-based frameworks for smart phones
(e.g. Titanium).
Embedded SW
Programming of embedded devices (e.g. Raspberry Pi or Arduino
board) to familiarise students with the limitations of hardware
Group project
Integration of a complete application including testing and
deployment. The students should learn how to work in a group of
3 to 5 students, how to plan their work and how to distribute their
work to peers.
In this chapter, I argued that a systematic approach to simultaneously
developing new businesses and skills could contribute to the achievement of
at least three of the SDGs. In particular, I focused on the value of training
skilled ICT professionals to develop ICT products within strong crossregional partnerships. I discussed the role of educational programmes in
advancing quality standards in software product development and clientsupplier relationships, as well as the need to ensure that the necessary business
and entrepreneurial skills are an integral part of the education process. I then
provided an outline for the design of an educational programme that aims to
teach ICT students about the need for trust–building, communication and
other relevant skills, while developing the necessary technical expertise.
I indicated how a focus on software engineering might help the world’s
smaller economies to grow and thus support the achievement of the SDGs.
Software engineering in low- to middle-income countries
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Table 7.6
Description of courses in year 3
Models for software process improvements – e.g. SPICE;
frameworks for assessment of process maturity – e.g. CMMI.
Business models
Modern business models for small and medium enterprises
with a focus on start-ups and service- and outsourcing-oriented
Managing software development and software maintenance
projects. This should include modern, agile-oriented
methodologies and focus on the human aspects of project
Learning about quality management models such as Six-Sigma
and TQM (Total Quality Management), including information on
standards and quality measurement.
Development of a business plan, including customer acquisition
and customer-relations management. The course should stress
different business models including the lean start-up model.
Introduction to statistical analyses of market surveys and
product-performance data. Should include elements of designing
research experiments to prepare students for research work
linked to their own projects.
Individual research
Thesis project where students should show how they can integrate
the knowledge from different courses in individual work.
After reviewing the barriers and challenges facing this sector, including
the need for reliable, high-capacity infrastructure for exports to succeed, I
described how strategies such as crowdfunding and lean start-up principles
might help small businesses to gradually increase their export volumes, while
building long-term relationships with clients.
Two important aspects are not covered here but are worthy of further
consideration. The first is the need to encourage changes in secondary school
curricula worldwide to give interested school pupils opportunities to start
exploring software programming before they reach university. The second is
the expansion of software development initiatives that encourage financing
schemes (such as Kickstarter) to invest more in enterprise development in the
low- to middle-income countries.
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In the past, we tended to speak of computer science, and it was possible to
become a computer programmer with no background in engineering, but as the
profession has evolved, the skills required are more typical of the engineering
field. The work involved in software architecture (designing large software
systems with multiple abstraction levels), software management (planning
releases onto the market and continuous monitoring of changes in the market),
and software quality control (combining multiple quality assurance activities to
achieve high quality of the developed software) is often more akin to engineering
than science.
My primary focus in this chapter is on product development, although
I acknowledge that software companies have to manage both product
development and service delivery (Choudhary 2007; Easingwood 1986).
I have also evaluated this course from various perspectives. See, for example,
Staron (2005; 2007a; 2007b) on whether exposing students to real-life situations
promotes their learning, and (Staron et al. 2005) on students’ abilities to solve
real-world problems related to quality, as well as Kuzniarz and Staron (2002) on
students’ contributions to learning in the computer modelling community.
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Chapter 8
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe:
Opportunities lost?
Henri-Count Evans
Climate change has become a serious global threat; mitigation and
adaptation are urgently needed to minimise its impact. The increases in
global average temperatures, rising sea levels and shifting rainfall patterns,
combined with extreme droughts, flooding and heat waves, are already
impacting negatively on the sustainability of human, plant and animal life,
particularly in lower-income countries. Climate change poses a major threat
to global food and water security, as well as to health and environmental
systems, and its impacts are undermining the activities directed towards
achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Post2015 Development Agenda. Zimbabwe is no exception; the intensity of the
effects of climate change, especially recurring droughts and shifting rainfall
patterns, threaten the country’s food security. The need for climate-change
responses to be mainstreamed is urgent so that communities can begin to
enhance their resilience in the face of climate shocks. This is especially true of
rural communities that rely on rain-fed agriculture, and tend to have weaker
adaptive capacities.
The severity of climate change: a Zimbabwean perspective
According to Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response Strategy (GoZ
2013), climate change is already affecting the country in many ways. In terms
of water resources alone, the document says that climate change has affected
Zimbabwe hydrologically and socio-economically, and this is affecting
hydraulic management. Zimbabwe’s National Climate Change Response
Strategy is based on the report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC 2007), which predicted a 15 per cent reduction in
precipitation in southern Africa, coupled with a 3.1°C temperature increase
in the course of the twenty-first century. The IPCC also predicted that, in
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general, the dry seasons will be hotter and winters will be colder, while the
traditional onset and cessation of the rainfall season will shift. The fear is that
rainfall seasons will be shorter and more erratic (IPCC 2007).
The reduction in precipitation means that the region will receive less water,
while projected rising temperatures will increase evaporation levels, resulting
in reduced quantities of available water (GoZ 2013). It is predicted that, by
2050, temperature rises will increase evaporation levels by between 5 and 15
per cent, and less water will be available for domestic use, crop irrigation, river
flow and to recharge the groundwater (GoZ 2013). Zimbabwe’s dependency
on agriculture and tourism adds complexity to the country’s capacity to adapt
to lower rainfall levels, but obviously, any negative impacts on water resources
will have serious consequences for every aspect of life in Zimbabwe and the
Extreme weather and climate events are also predicted to increase
in southern Africa (GoZ 2013). Mare (2011) noted that Zimbabwe has
experienced a spate of climate-related natural disasters, including Cyclone
Eline (in 2000) and Cyclone Japhet (2003) which both resulted in severe
flooding in the Muzarabani and Lower Zambezi areas. He argues that these
disasters, like the drought of 1991 and 1992 (which was then described as
the country’s worst in living memory), are evidence of climate change in
Given the likely severity of the ongoing impact of climate change in
Zimbabwe, it seems only natural to expect the media, the government and
civil society and ordinary citizens to play a vital role in disseminating and
interpreting information, raising awareness and helping to build adaptive
capacity and resilience in both urban and rural communities. This kind of
communication, with the intention of promoting climate change awareness,
adaptation and mitigation, can lead to behaviour changes, resulting in
improved livelihoods and more sustainable lifestyles. In this context, it can be
argued that new media1 is an excellent platform through which to promote
climate change adaptation, disseminate information, build resilience capacity
and enhance public comprehension.
In this chapter, I first describe climate-change coverage by Zimbabwe’s
mainstream media, and then analyse the quality and quantity of information
being produced and disseminated by key non-media actors (including
environmental and civil society activists and the government) using new
media. I also investigate whether and how often the general public in one
urban and peri-urban area access online information on climate change. I end
the chapter with some reflections on how new media could play a key role
in climate monitoring and early warning systems mitigation and adaptation.
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Climate-change coverage in Zimbabwe’s mainstream media
Chagutah (2006) argues that the media is duty bound to provide relevant
and timely information about the environment so as to educate citizens
about the importance of environmental conservation. Even though the
environment represents such an important reservoir of resources for the
people of Zimbabwe, Chagutah stresses that the environment is nonetheless
being overexploited, and suggests that
The press is obliged to educate society on good environmental stewardship
and promote sustainable practices. It should provide a bridge between
environmental experts, the public and policy makers in efforts to preserve
the environment. To do this however, coverage of the environment has to
increase in quantity and improve in quality. (2006: 28)
Carvalho and Burgess (2005) have argued that the media play a central role
in the social construction of risk. As the main source of public information,
the media shape climate-change awareness (Carvalho 2010). Similarly, Giltin
(1978) noted that the media provide an authoritative version of everyday
reality for many people, and specialise in orchestrating consciousness.
However, studies carried out in Zimbabwe by Chagutah (2006), Evans
(2011) and Mare (2011) have shown that the mainstream media are failing to
effectively cover climate change.
Despite evidence of the negative impacts of climate change, coverage of
climate change in Zimbabwe has been kept backstage in news and current
affairs programming by both the mainstream media, be it online or traditional,
private or state-owned. In general, the subject of climate change seems to
attract the attention of journalists when there is a major disaster or climate
change event happening elsewhere in the world. In addition, much climatechange related coverage has been inaccurate. For example, due to sheer lack
of knowledge, reporters often misinterpret scientific information and fail to
explain the distinction between global warming and climate change. It is
fair to say therefore that climate-change discourse in Zimbabwe has been
marred by various kinds of journalistic inaccuracies and confusion. Firstly,
Zimbabwe’s mainstream traditional press has tended to treat climate change
as a phenomenon that is happening elsewhere and not as a local problem.
Secondly, the media has treated climate change as something inevitable, and
hence as not really newsworthy. Stories on climate change seldom make it to
the front pages of the newspapers or make the headlines in broadcast media,
but tend to be buried on the inside pages or in special-interest programmes as
they are perceived to be of less importance.
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe
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Climate change, the media and neo-liberalism
Unfortunately, much of the climate-change discourse worldwide is trapped in
the ideological warfare between the ‘West and the rest’ (see Hall 2006). This
has contributed greatly towards poor and imbalanced coverage of climate
change both globally and in Zimbabwe. The scarcity of local journalists who
are sufficiently interested and informed about climate change means that local
media companies rely heavily on global news agencies for news on this issue
(Evans 2011). However, such agencies often under- or misrepresent matters,
placing particular bias on aspects that affect Western economic interests
(Takahashi and Meisner 2012).
Through the planetary vulgate of globalisation (as conceptualised by
Fairclough 2003),2 the international media has also played a role in attempting
to promote ‘green’ industries based in the North, while encouraging lowerincome countries to invest in weather forecasting and other kinds of
technology transfer. As Timmons Roberts and Parks (2006) have argued,
global climate politics is highly imbalanced in terms of economic and
political decision making. Similarly, the politics of climate change is deeply
entrenched in global inequalities and in representations of the issue by the
Western media, and the ‘global’ news agencies they run. Indeed, reporting
generally mirrors these inequities because the media largely represent and
champion Western ideological and economic interests.
These global inequalities are also evident in new media. Fuchs (2010) has
suggested that the new technologies have become new agents of imperialism,
not replacing the mainstream global offline media, but complementing them
and ensuring global dominance by the capitalist world. As early as 1991,
Sussman and Lent argued that the new technologies had redefined the ‘centre’
to mean transnational corporations that have made client nations dependent not
only on their technology, but for other economic needs as well. Multinational
companies emerged after the Second World War and initially were forced
to operate within, or be excluded by, restrictive neo-communist economic
policies pursued by many of the world’s lower-income countries. Since the
1980s, the multinational corporations have benefitted from the delocalisation,
deregulation and privatisation of these economies as many poorer countries
adopted structural adjustment programmes designed by the World Bank and
the IMF. Effectively, the multinational corporations have been strengthened by
capitalist ideology that favours privatisation and the deregulation of markets.
As Amin (1997a) argued, the worldwide expansion of capital takes place in a
world that is still controlled by political system of inter-state relationships.
Through the global rhetoric about technology transfer and green funds,
Western nations are attempting to shape actions taken by lower-income
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countries to mitigate the effects of climate change and reduce further
emissions. While acknowledging the need for global collective action on
climate issues, Amin (1997a) pointed out that given uneven levels of control
over world resources, approaches to response mechanisms should not be
expected to be linear or uniform. Nevertheless, approaches that favour the
political and economic interests of the North are implemented
because the ‘market’ is a set of mechanisms operating on a short-term
basis (maximum 15 years), whereas the environmental effects of the
development of productive forces are situated on a much longer-term
time-scale. As a result, it is absolutely impossible to avoid catastrophe
without first accepting the principle of rational planning which goes
against the ‘market’. (Amin 1997b: 18).
Climate-change coverage by government and civil society in Zimbabwe
Environmental and civil society organisations and the government have
developed their own ability to produce and disseminate information on
climate change through new media. As Boumashoul (2009) has argued,
massive online interconnectedness has made it possible for organisations to
create alternative spaces of interaction on the internet. Through using new
media, NGOs in many parts of the world have found a platform through
which they can make their voices heard outside the nation-state, and this has
been complemented by audiences’ capacities to access sources of information
that give them a different view of the society they live in, and opportunities to
interact with others (Boumashoul 2009).
As a medium, the internet is difficult to control, providing, a relatively
liberal communicative platform for both producers and audiences of new
media in the sense that both producers and consumers have the ability to
produce, disseminate and consume online content with fewer restrictions
than the traditional offline media. As Skare-Orgeret and Rønning (2009)
noted, digital technologies have made it easier to provide alternatives to
the monopolistic state-controlled broadcasting companies. Accordingly, the
topic of climate change is covered online via websites, networks and blogs,
as well as on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Research methods
I used various qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate how the
government and environmental NGOs in Zimbabwe are using new media
to raise awareness about climate change, and the need for adaptation and
mitigation strategies. I also sought to examine how audiences use, benefit
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe
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from and are challenged by their consumption of climate change information.
Having noted that rural communities in Zimbabwe are worst affected by
climate change, but that very few rural areas have access to the internet, I
decided to conduct my research in an urban and peri-urban setting. In terms
of audience, I therefore began with a wide sample drawn from residents
of urban and peri-urban areas of Bulawayo. Zimbabwe’s second largest
city, Bulawayo is located in hydro-ecological zone 5, which is the hottest
zone in the country and receives the least rainfall. It is arguably therefore
more vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Participants in the study
all owned either a computer or a smart phone, and had regular access
to the internet.3 Questionnaires were then used to collect data from the
study population. A total of 200 questionnaires were distributed, of which
168 were returned. The questionnaire consisted of five sections. The first
consisted of closed-ended questions on respondents’ familiarity with climate
change. The second set of questions sought to gather data on their access to
online media. The third set of questions was on if and how respondents use
new media to access information about climate change and/or participate
in online forums in which climate change is discussed. The fourth set of
questions focused on respondents’ use of social media in the production and
dissemination of climate change information, and the last set of questions
sought to gather data on access to and use of internet radio stations that
focus on climate change awareness. Open-ended interviews were conducted
then with twenty respondents to complement data collected through the
My research also focused on how five key institutions in environmental and
climate-change awareness in Zimbabwe were using new media to disseminate
information on climate change with the aim of enabling civic participation and
fostering sustainable development. The five institutions were:
The Environmental Management Agency, a statutory entity created
through the Environmental Management Act of 2003.
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, the government
department tasked with the overall sustainable management of Zimbabwe’s
natural and environmental resources and to ensure their sustainable use.4
ZERO Regional, an NGO whose mission is to work with rural and urban
communities fostering balanced, healthy growth and self-reliance within
a rapidly changing world. This organisation is also the lead agency in
Zimbabwe for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals
(MDGs) and functions as the regional secretariat for the Community
Organisations Regional Network, which is a network within the Southern
African Development Community.
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The Development Reality Institute, an NGO established in 2009 with
the mandate of promoting sustainable development, and especially
the sustainable use of resources and adaptation to climate change. The
organisation’s main objective is to mitigate and build society’s adaptive
capacity to the effects of climate change.5
Environment Africa, an NGO whose mission is to raise awareness,
advocate for a better environment and uplift standards of living with all
sectors of society. It focuses on sustainable livelihoods, climate change,
environmental governance and biodiversity.
The selected institutions were chosen because they have all stated that their
mission is to protect the environment, promote the sustainable use of natural
and environmental resources, and mainstream responses to climate change in
their activities.
To assess the level and extent to which these institutions use new media
to produce and disseminate climate change information, I used qualitative
content analysis to examine the content on the organisations’ websites,
Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and YouTube listings.6 My analysis focused on
content describing the causes and impact of climate change, and advocating
strategies linked to adaptation, mitigation and enhancing resilience. The
study was conducted from January 2012 to May 2014. Thematic analysis and
pattern matching were used to identify convergences and similarities in the
results. Themes were also analysed for convergence with data obtained from
the survey and the interviews.
Community access to new media
As shown in Figure 8.1, 73 per cent of respondents to the survey had regular
access to the internet (primarily through their workplaces and their smart
phones). Those that had access to the internet also confirmed that they had
joined Facebook, but only one participant had a Twitter account. However,
46.4 per cent of participants with regular internet access indicated that they
were not using the internet to participate in climate change discussions or to
find information about climate change. A total of 26.6 per cent of respondents
revealed that they use social media to promote climate change awareness,
and 13.3 per cent participated in online climate change forums. It has to be
noted, however, that the use of social media for climate change awareness and
participation in online climate change forums is done inconsistently and on
a limited scale, and to little effect. Those who had Facebook accounts noted
that they use the social platform primarily to connect with their friends and
relatives and had no connections with either environmental or climate change
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe
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Figure 8.1
Participant knowledge of climate change and internet use in Zimbabwe
Internet access and use ratios
People with
climate change
People who
People with
People with
People using
People who
People who
knowledge on
the internet
use social
participate in
the impact of mitigation and internet access
to access
media for
online climate
climate change adaptation
climate change climate change change forums
and chatrooms
pages, individuals or organisations via this platform. Responses and actions in
relation to climate change seem to be determined by individuals’ perceptions
of its impact in their local areas. Most participants in my study perceived
climate change as happening elsewhere and hence as ‘not their problem’.
An ‘us’ versus ‘them’ dichotomy seems to be operating in terms of both risk
perception and response.
New media use by environmental institutions
Twitter feeds
As of May 2014, Environment Africa had 1 207 Twitter followers. Environment Africa–Zimbabwe had no independent page, but used Environment
Africa’s home page as a mother board. Environment Africa–Zimbabwe’s
Twitter feed was not being updated regularly, with the most recent tweet
having gone out on 29 November 2012. This was just before Zimbabwe’s
annual tree-planting day. No tweets were sent out in 2013 or 2014. Analysis
showed that the organisation has mainly been active on Twitter prior to
an event or international celebration. However, none of these posts had
anything to do with the causes of, impacts of or solutions to climate change.
Some tweets focused on policy dialogues, but provided no additional links or
background to the problem, making it very difficult for the general public to
acquire any meaningful information on climate change.
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Similarly, during the research period, the Development Reality Institute’s
Twitter feed was seldom updated. The organisation had 42 followers on
Twitter, and their last update was on 17 April 2014. None of the tweets sent
out during 2013 were on climate change awareness or adaptation, and many
were simply re-tweets from other organisations. Highlighting the inactivity
of the Institute’s Twitter page, Twitter’s own data displayed that the page had
been ‘last updated more than a year ago’, which suggests that the organisation’s
twitter activity tends to be poor and inconsistent.
ZERO Regional, the Environmental Management Agency and
Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate had no presence
on Twitter.
Website analysis
Environment Africa had a functional website with an integrated news portal.
Information posted on the website was primarily event-based; that is, key
global and regional environmental events were covered. However, no news
stories were found that related specifically to climate change, adaptation or
mitigation. By the end of the research period, the most recent news article
published was on 23 November 2012. Events covered included: Zimbabwe’s
National Tree Planting Day, the International Union for the Conservation of
Nature’s World Conservation Day, International Biodiversity Day, Earth Day
and World Wetlands Day.
The Development Reality Institute’s website featured an integrated
Virtual School that delivers an online course on the basics of climate change;
a Knowledge Hub that provides information on climate change and functions
as a mini e-library that includes films and documentaries; and a forum called
Cool-Clubs which attempts to involve schools around the country in climate
change awareness campaigns. The website’s own news feed had last been
updated in November 2011 during the UN Climate Change Conference held
in Durban, South Africa.
As of 28 May 2014, the Knowledge Hub had links to 28 articles on topics
such as clean energy technologies; the impacts of climate change in West
Africa; climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation; climate change
and urban development in Africa; and climate change adaptations in northern
Burkina Faso. No research papers on Zimbabwe were found, and little
reference was made to climate change in Zimbabwe in any of the articles. The
portal thus focuses on Africa and the rest of the world, and fails to provide
specific information on the impact of climate change in Zimbabwe. Implicit
in this is the notion that climate change is not really an urgent problem, and
that it is occurring elsewhere, not in Zimbabwe. This fosters false perceptions
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe
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of social dichotomies; that is, climate change is seen as ‘their’ problem and not
‘our’ problem because it is not happening here.
The Environmental Management Agency’s website had basic information
on the organisation’s mission and contact details. The news portal contained
no news articles, and the website had no information about climate change.
The websites of ZERO Regional and that of the Ministry of Environment,
Water and Climate were dysfunctional for the duration of the research period.
Facebook use
Environment Africa–Zimbabwe had no independent Facebook page, so
content on their head office page was analysed instead. The organisation’s
Facebook page was similar to their Twitter feed, with content mainly related
to the announcement of events. No content was found on climate change
adaptation and mitigation in general or with regard to Zimbabwe.
The Development Reality Institute’s Facebook page had been last updated on
28 March 2014. Most posts were just announcements of upcoming events. The
page had no information on climate change awareness, adaptation and mitigation.
ZERO Regional and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate
were not on Facebook.
Audience use of new media
As noted earlier, this study selected participants from an urban area only.
In previous studies (Evans 2011, 2013) I have noted that the distribution
of internet accessibility in Zimbabwe remains scalar, from the rich to poor,
urban to rural and literate to illiterate. I have argued that these structural
divisions influence the consumption of climate change information, so that
although the poor are the worst affected and the most vulnerable, they have
the least access to information. The present study made it clear that access
to information does not necessarily translate into an interest in climate
change, or a willingness to take action in relation to it. Where people have
internet access and literacy, they often show no interest in reading about or
participating in discussions related to the environment and climate change.
Of course, access to information is no guarantee that people will develop an
interest in that information. The major indication from the survey was that
access to the technologies did not determine consumption. In terms of the
urban population studied no direct causal links are evident between having
access to the technologies and using them to get climate change information.
Through interviews with survey participants, I attempted to understand
what determines consumption of climate change content online and what
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problems users have found in relation to this consumption. Participants noted
that when they consume or look for information, they often follow leads from
an offline source. They noted their need for an offline referral point, such as
a natural disaster, or events like floods, storms and veld fires that are covered
by the mainstream media. As Cohen (1963: 13) observed, the media may not
be successful in telling people what to think, ‘but it is stunningly successful in
telling its readers what to think about’.
Decisions about how respondents use new media and its content was
also influenced by factors that are unrelated to the technology. Facebook
and Twitter for example, are mainly relevant for users when fresh content
is uploaded. The poor rate of internet and social media use by respondents
to access climate change information corresponds with the poor coverage
of the topic by the environmental NGOs, the government and other online
media. Non-existent or tiny coverage of the topic on social media platforms
by environmental organisations translates directly into poor hit rates and low
interest from the audiences.
It can be argued that the non-use and lack of interest in accessing online
information about climate change in Zimbabwe is intrinsically linked to
the absence of coverage on climate change in the offline mainstream media
(Chagutah 2006; Evans 2013). The absence of offline reference points makes
it difficult for people to learn about or develop an interest in following
environmental or climate-change issues online. If the offline mainstream
media were to cover climate change in more depth, it is likely that people
would seek additional information, research and in-depth analysis online.
This finding concurs with those of Barabási (2004) who dispelled the
notion that the internet, with its instantaneous availability and virtually nonexistent content censorship, embodies a democratic and egalitarian forum in
which everyone has the same opportunities to be heard and noticed. Instead
Barabási’s research revealed that simply making information available does
not guarantee that it will be viewed by anybody, and that that the topology
of the World Wide Web determines that only a small fraction of the billions
of documents available online end up generating significant traffic to actually
reach a sizeable audience.
New media and climate change mainstreaming
in Zimbabwe: a lost opportunity
Whereas proponents of the ‘information society’ theory argue that that the
new technologies have liberated the means of communication, making these
available and accessible to all at much lower cost than the traditional media,
the Zimbabwean experience paints a different picture. The use of the new
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe
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media is still in its early stage. NGOs, the media and government are not yet
using online media in effective ways to promote climate change awareness
and mainstreaming.
In my view, the opportunity to mainstream climate change information
using online media (alternative public sphere) has been lost, regardless of all
the advantages this form of media can have. There is a lack of climate change
information from those with the mandate to educate and inform communities
on climate change. Neither the media (both mainstream and alternative) nor
other institutions such as the government and civil society organisations have
produced substantive information on the subject.
From a technologically determinist perspective, the new media, with its
interactive capacity that allows anyone to easily create and publish content,
should be a platform through which climate change information is effectively
discussed and disseminated. The establishment of NGOs that purported to
focus on climate change raised expectations that these organisations would
use new media to steer the climate change debate in Zimbabwe and the
region, raising awareness and helping to co-ordinate effective responses. It
was hoped that these organisations would use online platforms to disseminate
accurate scientific information at minimum cost.
In so doing, several of these organisations had an opportunity to create
an alternative public sphere where debates and discussions on all the issues
relevant to climate change (causes, impacts, adaptation and mitigation) could
take place, without the barriers exerted by the mainstream media, which frame,
prime, and subject their content selection within certain preferred readings.
The NGOs could have used the new media to communicate directly with
audiences through online radio, Facebook and Twitter, with the objective of
mainstreaming climate change.
Dead information sources
The media, and journalists, in particular, rely on news sources (government
officials, civil society organisations, business people, etc.) for timely news and
current affairs stories. The almost total lack of climate change information
from both environmental NGOs and the state has a bearing on the poor
profile of climate change coverage by the media, and this has a net effect on
the public as well. Thus, while the online presence (in websites, Twitter and
Facebook) of all the organisations studied is primarily focused on notices
about world environmental days and events, this trend is also evident in the
mainstream media (which also tends to write about mere announcements as
if they were news stories) resulting in almost total ignorance about climate
change among the public (Chagutah 2006; Evans 2011; Mare 2011).
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Why are the traditional mainstream media so crucial in this technologyclimate change matrix? Many authors argue that the traditional media, because
of their established tradition and credibility as generators of news, are in the
best position to dominate the internet news game by establishing their online
versions as the most trusted nodes of news traffic in the web. Newspaper
analyst Donna Logan (quoted in Boswell 2009) describes newspapers as ‘the
foundation of the entire media game’, leading the news agenda and paving
the way for other sources. She points out that the internet is very dependent
on specialised newspaper staff, databases, and large newsrooms for news and
information. These ‘continue to establish the parameters for what gets covered
and how’, and that digital media have not ‘developed the reporting infrastructure
or the level of credibility that newspapers enjoy’ (Nichols, 2007: 177).
New media for monitoring and co-ordinating mitigation
New media have the potential to be useful in mitigating climate change in a
number of ways. On a physical level, they can assist in the reduction of carbon
emissions through what Young (2007) referred to as de-carbonising and dematerialising. This refers to the replacement of physical media with online
dissemination (see Ospina and Heeks 2010a; Zanamwe and Okunoye 2013).
For example, the move away from print newspapers to online editions reduces
the need for paper and printing inks, as well as the transport infrastructure
involved in newspaper distribution. Such shifts have the potential to reduce
carbon emissions and deforestation levels.
The use of e-government and e-commerce along with the promotion of
e-learning systems in schools, e-scheming, e-planning and e-recording could
reduce deforestation by minimising the use of paper. Similarly, the use of
emails, blogs, video-, tele- and web-conferencing have the potential to reduce
the use of fuel on transportation as well as the related carbon emissions.
Perhaps more importantly, using data obtained from a case study on the
use of ICTs in municipalities in Mozambique, the International Bank for
Reconstruction and Development (World Bank 2012) recommended that
governments worldwide adopt four types of ICT tools to help their cities adapt
to the effects of climate change. The four tools are geographic information
systems (GIS), e-governance, early-warning systems (including telemetry)
and wireless communications. They advocate GIS and e-governance for use
in disaster prevention and recovery, and argue that wireless communications
and early-warning systems have the potential to facilitate efficient disaster
warnings and emergency responses.
Similarly, Zanamwe and Okunoye (2013) have noted that ICTs are
being used for weather forecasting, climate monitoring, predicting, detecting
Climate-change awareness and online media in Zimbabwe
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and mitigating the effects of natural disasters. They cite the International
Telecommunications Union description of technologies that allow remote
monitoring and data collection using ICT-equipped sensors (telemetry).
In addition aerial photography, satellite imagery, grid technology and the
use of global positioning by satellite (GPS) have proven useful for tracking
slow, long-term environmental changes, such as that of glaciers or ice flows
(ITU 2008). Satellites and weather radar are used to monitor the progress
of hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes and storms, and supercomputers are used
by meteorological services to produce complex general circulation models
of climate. Various kinds of radio-communication systems (satellite and
terrestrial) are also used for dissemination of information about natural and
human disasters (ITU 2008).
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU n.d) has also noted
that other uses of ICTs include the Global Observing System which uses
remote sensors attached to satellites, aircraft and radios to record and transmit
data to environmental and meteorological centres. Another crucial tool is the
Global Data Processing System which consists of thousands of micro and
super computers processing volumes of meteorological data and generating
warnings and forecasts (ITU n.d).
The wide availability of all this meteorological data could enable policy
makers and communities to craft adaptation mechanisms to predicted
weather and climate events. Nelson et al. (quoted in Ospina and Heeks,
2010a) have defined climate change adaptation as deliberate change made in
anticipation of or in reaction to external stimuli and stress. Ospina and Heeks
(2010a) note that given its potential to address external shocks and trends,
adaptation is critical for the achievement of developmental outcomes, which
include but are not limited to increased income, well-being, improvements in
food security and sustainable use of natural resources.
In addition, Ospina and Heeks (2010b) note that the experiences of
vulnerable communities in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean
point to the use of applications such as mobile phones, the internet and
community radio as part of climate change responses. They note that, among
other things, these forms of media have been used to strengthen natural
resource management and training, provide access to relevant information
and networking opportunities, and raise awareness.
Despite all the threats implicit in climate change in relation to global food
security, health systems and environmental sustainability, and how much its
impacts are likely to undermine the goals of eradicating global poverty, the
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orphan line
level of climate change awareness in Zimbabwe remains alarmingly low.
The traditional mainstream offline media have failed to effectively
provide coverage on climate change, and the hope that the new media of
communication would salvage the situation has proven false as those
institutions that have a mandate to mainstream debate and action in relation
to climate change have produced very little online content. Notwithstanding
the poor profile of climate change communication and appropriation online,
a tiny minority of Zimbabweans are taking the initiative to use the new media
to improve climate change awareness and to participate in online climate
change forums. But even the tiniest minorities can grow.
I define new media as communication that is distributed via the internet and is
potentially interactive; it includes platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and
online news.
Fairclough argued that while it is often asserted that the world is a global village
(which implies equal relations of existence) the reality is that the globe is highly
polarised between the rich, capitalist nations of the global North and the poor,
dependent countries of the global South.
From 2009, broadband internet access in Zimbabwe improved when service
providers, such as Telone and Africom, provided Asymmetrical Digital
Subscriber Lines (ADSL). This was further augmented when Econet Wireless
laid fibre-optic lines across major urban areas.
For more information about the ministry see
More information about the Institute is available on their website at
I also checked organisations’ podcasts and RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds,
but found nothing noteworthy.
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Change in Developing Countries: A Scoping Study. Centre for Development
Informatics, University of Manchester. Available online.
Roberts JT and B Parks (2007) A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North–South
Politics, and Climate Policy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Preston T (2001) Potential of cassava in integrated farming systems. Paper presented
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Skare-Orgeret K and H Rønning (eds) (2009) The Power of Communication: Changes
and Challenges in African Media. Oslo: Unipub.
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MIT Press.
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Affected Urban Poor: The Case of Mozambique. A report of the International Bank
for Reconstruction and Development. Available online.
Young S (2007) ‘ICT and climate change: Shifting the emphasis’, paper presented at
the INFSO European Commission, Brussels, 2 May.
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Chapter 9
Culture meets culture at a distance
Berith Nyqvist Cech and Lars Bergström
In 2008, the social work department at Karlstad University in Sweden
was asked to give a distance-learning course in social gerontology for students
at the University of Namibia. The request was accepted, and the course was
planned and offered in early 2009 to eleven interested students. We titled
this chapter ‘Culture meets culture at a distance’ to highlight the fact that our
experience of working with Namibian students included a strong aspect of
mutual cultural exchange. The chapter outlines some of what we, as two of the
lecturers involved, learned in the process of designing and delivering the course.
By way of background, it is perhaps useful to explain that the first author
of this chapter has extensive experience of managing nursing homes for the
elderly in different parts of Sweden. After many years of practical work,
she returned to the academy to educate future elderly-care workers, and to
conduct research with elderly people. The second author, while employed
by Karlstadt University, has also been a visiting lecturer at the University of
Namibia since 2006. During this time he has researched the lives and rights
of the elderly in Namibia, as well as Namibian organisations that care for the
elderly, including the Namibia Social Workers Association. In addition, 12
students in the social work programme at Karlstad University have completed
their practical placements and collected data for their Bachelor’s theses in
Namibia in recent years. This meant that we had access to basic information
about elderly people in Namibia, even though the subject of social gerontology
is generally rather neglected in the country.
Course preparation
Based on our experience in teaching social and care work, our idea was to
encourage the students to try to produce knowledge from their own sociocultural platform by comparing their own experience with that of other
professionals expressed through course literature. The crucial step in this
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process is for students to present the results of their comparisons and not
simply reproduce what they have read and heard.
Having discovered that there is a shortage of literature on social
gerontology from an African perspective, we suspected that we and our
students would benefit if we were to establish a shared knowledge base
that was neither Swedish nor Namibian. We therefore decided to look at
using literature on social gerontology that has been published in English
as our primary text for the course. Among the available literature, a book
written in the United States seemed to fit our purpose in that it specifically
addressed elderly care from a culture-dependent perspective. The book, Social
Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective by Hooyman and Kiyak (2011),
contained information that we found generally useful and valid.
Apart from this core text, we developed a written study plan. Such study
plans are often applied in Swedish social work/social care programmes, and
are routinely used by our department. The study plan provided an outline of
the course and was intended to work as a course guide for students. It included
additional readings as well as the schedule of assignments, and encouraged
e-mail contact between lecturers and students. The study plan was based on
the idea that students would need time to reflect on the theories they were
being exposed to, and on whether those theories offered any useful tools and
practical skills that could be applied to elderly care in Namibia.
Course preparation therefore focused a great deal on trying to translate the
theories applied to elderly care in the USA into the Namibian context based
on our practical knowledge of Swedish culture and elderly care. Part of our aim
was to test how the American text and the Swedish study plan would translate
into the Namibian context. Perhaps inevitably, our preparations ended in our
accepting that both the teachers and the students on the course would have
to start from what we know, and aim to create a shared understanding of one
another’s culture. We then had to work out an effective way of achieving this.
As the course began, we soon discovered that there was a further
knowledge process to grasp; namely, that the Namibian students knew best
what was in the interests of the elderly living in Namibia. We therefore
relied on the students’ ability to translate the theories and work processes
they were learning about into their own contexts; they had to learn to shift
between cultures to assess what aspects could best be applied to elderly
care in Namibia. Students were therefore asked to look out for differences
in perceptions and perspectives in each aspect of the course, as well as to
describe these differences, and explain the positive and negative effects of the
respective perspectives on the elderly and their ageing process. The work of
Grenier and Hanley (2007) was particularly useful in this regard.
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Some background on Namibia
Namibia is a young nation that gained independence from colonial occupation
in 1990. The country has a modern, democratic constitution; its protection of
freedom of expression and freedom of the press is among the strongest in
the world, and it has a hint of a welfare policy. Namibia is classified as an
upper-middle-income country (World Bank 2015), but also ranks among the
world’s most economically unequal countries with a high ratio of absolute
poverty. The country is large in area but sparsely populated. The population
is estimated at 2.15 million people, approximately 85 per cent of whom are
black and affiliated to 13 different African ethnic groups. Of the remaining
population, about half (7 per cent) are of mixed origin and half are white
Europeans or their descendants. This means that the country has a great mix
of cultures, lifestyles and family patterns.
The majority of the population is very young, but population growth has
levelled off and the birth rate is declining. In 2012, about 137 000 (6 per
cent) of the total population (2.15 million) was over 60 years, which is the
official retirement age and the age at which citizens are defined as elderly.
The estimated total population for 2030 is 2.26 million, of which 190 500
(8.4 per cent) are expected to be elderly (60+), and for 2050, the projected
total population is 2.15 million, with 300 300 (14 per cent) over 60 years (US
Census Bureau 2015).
Namibia is one of the few countries in Africa in which a general social
pension is paid to all citizens over sixty years. The amount is small but very
significant for most pensioners. Public health care is free for the elderly, but
apart from pensions and health care, there are no other public services for the
elderly. Some municipalities do offer discounts to pensioners for electricity
and water, but are under no legal obligation to do so. Some municipalities also
have privately run retirement homes and other institutions for the elderly, but
these are, for cultural and economic reasons, mainly requested by and available
to a small number of people mainly from the mixed and white communities.
For the large majority of Namibians, the day-to-day care of the elderly is seen
as a family responsibility. However, family patterns and living arrangements
have changed rapidly in recent decades, in response to urbanisation and the
associated modernisation of the labour market and social life. Many elderly
people suffer intractable problems as a result.
The aim and structure of the course
The course was designed to provide knowledge about theories of social
gerontology relevant to social workers, nurses, and other professionals who
have contact with, and provide services to, the elderly in Namibia. The
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minimum academic entry level required for the course was a Bachelor of Arts
degree or equivalent. All of the students who registered with us also had some
direct contact with ageing and elderly-care issues in their professional work.
The aim of the course was make students working in various occupations
related to elderly care come together and discover new ways of thinking about
their field of work.
As mentioned, we had realised that that, being from Sweden, our
knowledge of social gerontology, at the levels of both theory and practice,
was primarily relevant to our own contexts. By using a book from the USA
we hoped to establish a platform from which both the lecturers and students
could learn about the practice of social gerontology in the United States and
compare this with their own contexts and experiences. Our assumption was
that the students would bring their existing knowledge of their own culture
with them, and that they would encounter new ideas through the course
literature, as well as through the experience, knowledge and perspectives of
their Swedish teachers.
The course was designed to include three assignments and three meetings
at which the whole student group could discuss the assignment topics. Before
the meetings, the first author received the students’ work via email, entered
into some discussion and reflection with each student and with the second
author, and then emailed comments back to the students. The second author
then met with all the students, one of whom had been asked to present
their assignment for discussion by the group. The second author facilitated a
discussion about the assignment, giving the group an opportunity to reflect
on their own work. On the basis of the written feedback they received, as well
as what they learned from the meetings, students were given an opportunity
to revise their assignments and resubmit them for final assessment.
This course was delivered over 15 weeks at a relatively slow pace. Students
were expected to work individually and in groups or pairs on different tasks.
We strongly recommended that all groups or pairs arranged face-to-face
meetings when working on assignments together. Successful students were
awarded a diploma from Karlstad University.
The process was not without difficulties. Besides teaching the material, the
lecturers had to make time to be taught by the students about their society and
culture so that together we could find ways to integrate the theory with the
conditions students faced in practice. However, knowledge and knowing are
always culture and context dependent; this is especially true in social work and
related fields, and so many of the challenges we faced were not unique to this
course. Those in the caring professions often see themselves at the intersection
of scholarly knowledge (that is based on research) and praxis-oriented and
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tacit knowledge (that is based on professional experience); indeed, researchers
involved in ‘social care work’ often have this double knowledge. However,
cultural clashes and even conflict in a research–praxis–teaching context are
common, and practitioners have to learn how to manage these.
In our approach, we were inspired by a social anthropological research
model that is well known in Scandinavia and known as, ‘Dig where you stand’.
Inspired by Sven Lindqvist’s (1978) handbook of the same name, which was
written for industrial workers who wanted to research the history of their
work and workplaces, the model is based on the idea that it is possible to find
truth close to home.
The course begins
When we offered the course, eleven students enrolled. We had e-mail contact
with the group as a whole, and also gave feedback to each individual via
e-mail. All students were expected to work on their own to prepare for group
meetings and to reflect on the recommended readings. Where a student’s
need for specific information became clear, lecturers sometimes recommended
additional reading material. Throughout the course, students were required to
reflect on whether and how the content of the course material transferred
to their own cultures and social environments, and to the legislation and
regulations pertaining to the care of the elderly in Namibia.
In an effort to prevent uncertainty or confusion from affecting student
motivation or performance, all students were also encouraged to contact the
course conveners for information or instructions. We expected students to
demonstrate a genuine interest in their own work as well as in the work and
participation of fellow students, since the course content generally focused on
the students’ chosen careers. For this reason, we often used group-oriented
work methods as a pedagogical tool; here we were inspired by the work of Paolo
Freire (1970/1996) who advocated consciousness-raising, and encouraged a
reflective approach to knowledge, as well as peer-to-peer learning.
We wanted the students to meet at least three times to complete the
different course components, and we allowed enough time enough for
each student to deal with the individual or group assignments that were
due between these meetings. Thus students were required to read course
material and actively contribute to the student group, and to seek additional
information related to other current research on ageing. The students were
also asked to look for articles in the field of elderly care that captured their
interest and related to current knowledge of aspects of ageing and being a
senior in society. Readings that we often recommended to students included
Heaphy (2007) and Russell (2007).
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Throughout the course, the students were asked to keep two key
perspectives in mind: i) the need to contribute to general knowledge
production internationally; and ii) that national/cultural/local knowledge
provides the basis for effective praxis. We pointed out that these perspectives
were equally important. Following Shenk et al. (2001), our view was that the
course conveners of an international course are responsible for providing basic
information about the former, and for encouraging and equipping students to
take responsibility for actively developing the latter, and to search for articles
on both.
We expected each student to decide on an area of specialisation related
to aspects of ageing and of relevance to their own professional development
of the field as a whole. The learning outcomes were related to the three
components described in the following sections. We also told the students
that they all should remember that they were not alone in the learning process,
but supported by instructors, literature, fellow students and the study guide.
Early in the course design process, we discussed what kind of ‘results’ we
wanted, and how we would evaluate the course. We decided to use an outcomesbased approach, as this allowed us to include and assess aspects of learning such
as self-reflection, attitudinal change and capacity building. We used this term
in all planning and course-related documentation.1 In this section, we outline
the six intended learning outcomes and describe what students were required
to do to achieve each one. At several points in the course process, we asked the
students to describe how they understood the learning outcomes in relation to
the tasks and assignments they were asked to complete.
We defined learning outcomes 1 and 2 as, an ability to give an account
of the social, socio-cultural, psychological and biological processes of ageing,
and to demonstrate an understanding of how stereotypes, attitudes and
discrimination based on age contribute to subjective experiences of old age.
The first meeting covered issues related to a basic knowledge of gerontology,
social gerontology and its applications. Students had to study the first three
chapters of Hooyman and Kiyak (2011) and list the issues that were most
relevant to their own needs in relation to geriatric care. The students were also
asked to reflect on ageing and its many multifaceted processes, including how
stereotypes, attitudes and age-related discrimination affect elderly people and
their self-image. The students then had to write a report on what they would
like to know more about in the field of study covered by the next component
of the course, and to prepare for a conversation they were required to have
with an elderly person. The next step for the students was to prepare for a
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face-to-face meeting with the rest of the study group at which their first
assignment was discussed.
Learning outcomes 3 and 4 were defined as: an ability to communicate with
the elderly based on the pedagogy of ageing, and an ability to reflect on how
the conditions of ageing are created in meetings, routines and processes, as
well as on the roles played by professionals in this process. In accordance with
the study plan, we asked each student to read Chapters 5 to 8 in Hooyman
and Kiyak (2011).
As a background to the second assignment, the students were asked to
reflect on the demographics of development and change in the care of the
elderly in their own vicinities and contexts and to compare this with the
information provided in the prescribed literature.
In addition, each student had to carry out a field study, and interview an
old person who was involved in an activity offered to the elderly in their own
community or town. The aim here was to give students an opportunity to reflect
on how the social care system works, and some insight into the ways in which
the conditions of ageing are created via meetings, routines and processes that
elderly people are involved in. In addition, students were expected to gain some
skills related to conversation as a professional tool in the social care of the elderly.
Student experiences related to this task were then presented both orally
and in writing. The written report was sent to the instructor. At the next
group meeting, each student was given an opportunity to discuss their
observations and their experiences of interviewing elderly people with their
fellow-students and the instructor.
At the next course meeting the students were asked to do a role-play in
pairs or groups, using students’ prior experiences, talks with the elderly and
to the theories presented in the course literature. The purpose of the role-play
was to enact an experience of ageing, so as to provide an understanding of the
ageing person’s situation. Each student was also expected to refer to course
material, the library and to the internet to seek current research.
Each group was asked to write a report on their role-play project,
describing how their collaboration had informed the content of the role-play.
The students were then asked to prepare a presentation on what they had
learned for the next group seminar.
Learning outcomes 5 and 6 were defined as the ability to use current research
on the elderly and on the ageing process to identify effective interventions
at the individual, group and society level, and to relate a knowledge of
demographic change to community planning.
The students’ final assignment concerned identifying appropriate and
current research material on a chosen theme.2 Within this, students were also
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expected to be able to relate their knowledge of demography and its effects on
local planning, to caring for the elderly. Our aim was to ensure that, as future
professionals, students would develop an awareness that their chosen field of
work is informed by an ever-changing body of knowledge that is developing
worldwide, and of the need to be willing to constantly update and critique
their existing knowledge.
Examinations and course completion
On completing the third assignment, the students were invited to take a final
examination. This took the form of an individual oral exam if practicable, and
if not, a written exam. In both cases, the students were asked to document
their reflections on the whole the course and draw up a presentation on one
of the following topics:
Information for a group of people considering working as ‘paid care givers’
to old people.
Information for a group of politicians or government officials interested
in old people, and wishing to create an ‘elderly policy’ for local or national
Here the assessment was designed to help the students reveal the knowledge
they had acquired about theories of social gerontology and the application of
these theories in the kinds of contexts they might face in their future careers.
Our aim was also to help students develop their skills in addressing their
peers and other important stakeholders.
Here, too, the students engaged strongly with the task at hand and coped
well. Some proposed making slightly different presentations based on this
course assignment, which they then used in their workplaces. One student
told us after she had repeated her oral presentation at her place of work, some
changes had been made and elderly care had improved. She was very proud.
Theory meets practice
The title of this chapter sums up our aim: it involves applying theory in a
practical situation. As mentioned, the course was designed to help students
understand how theory can be applied in practice. We reflected on this idea
with students using James Dewey’s thoughts on learning by doing (Dewey
1985/1997), as well as Paulo Freire’s pedagogical idea about the need to
make time for reflection and to develop an awareness of everyone’s value and
knowledge (Freire 1970/1996).
The students wrote interesting papers on different themes. Some of them
carried out quite thorough research on the quality of life experienced by
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elderly people from the perspective of Namibian culture. Others conducted
interesting research on ageing in relation to the usual retirement age of
sixty years in the context of the fact that many older Namibians are forced
to continue working because any loss of income would make it impossible
for them to survive. Others worked on the issue of violence perpetrated
against elderly people by their next-of-kin and how difficult it is for elderly
people to get help in such situations – cross-generational relations seem to be
problematic for many elderly Namibians. As course convenors, we found it
interesting to compare this reality to that in Sweden, where, historically, the
elderly often had to endure problematic relations with their children, and
reported feeling vulnerable and worthless when they had to stand back and
allow their children to take over from them as managers of family-owned
land or businesses.
Student feedback
Students were asked what they thought of the course. One of them responded
as follows:
I experienced the Scandinavian teaching and learning philosophy very
different to get used to. It really is very different from the way we are
tested in Africa, but I am impressed and appreciate it, because it is so
much more positive and encouraging.
I really had to work hard, but the information was interesting and even
for me who had 17 years of experience in the field, learned a lot. It was
definitely a great course!
The assignments were not always clear and easy to understand, but
challenged my knowledge and in the end I felt great about my own effort.
I found the last assignment’s article very valuable and used it many
times since the course. I did a presentation at the Alzheimer and Dementia
Support Group, as part of a group supervision [session] for social workers
and a few other times with the care givers at the old age home [where I
work]. I also used the information from the second assignment about the
community for the management planning committee of the old age home
where I also work. I think that the second assignment has all the potential
to end in a Master’s degree, with information on the whole country.
It was essential and I needed to discuss the tasks with the group or
individual group members. Although it also became a negative network of
complaints for some of the members. It was also difficult to get everyone
together for the meetings and sometimes we had to continue without
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I am also passionate about gerontology for all the elderly people in
the country; because the focus in Namibia is on the pre-modernised,
ethnic elderly, ignoring the needs of the modernised older people and
the gap between the groups is growing. In the group discussions we had
the opportunity to talk and learn from one another. Gerontologists in
Namibia still work in segregation with only the one or the other group. It
is only me who works in both communities and is trying to build bridges.
The group support was also important and helped me to pace myself
to follow through.
I am so curious about Sweden that my family is planning a holiday in
December in Stockholm!
This was written by one of the most eager students on this course. She was
very active and did a tremendous job in all assignments. Four other students
were also very pleased with the course, a couple of whom plan to continue
with doctoral studies in social gerontology.
As course convenors, we found ourselves very engaged in our students’
learning. We learned a lot from them and found ourselves reflecting in new
ways and on new themes related to ageing and social gerontology in both
the Swedish and Namibian contexts. Running the course, and interacting
with the students has given us new knowledge about elderly care, which we
appreciate very much. We also obtained some good insights about how to
design distance courses, and when one of the students asked why the course
was not part of a master’s programme, we were inspired to consider how to
work together with students to further their studies.
The aim of our project was to see how a well-established concept in Swedish
education (written study plans), in combination with theories of social
gerontology developed for an American context, would translate into a Namibian
context with students working in elderly care in Namibia. Our interest was in
how different cultures can interact and contribute to a wider understanding
of elderly people and their life situations, using social gerontology theory as
a basis for discussion. The idea of learning through juxtaposing three cultures
(Swedish teachers, Namibian students and American theories) seems to have
worked well. The differences provoked thinking, and forced both teachers and
students to examine their own assumptions and understandings of their own
cultures and the situation of elderly people, in relation to other cultures. Judging
from this experience, cross-cultural teaching and learning widens horizons and
promotes learning for all those involved.
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Because of the second author’s experience of lecturing in Namibia,
we were aware that, in our work at Karlstad University (in both face-toface and distance courses), we have less formal relationships with students
than most Namibian students are used to, as well as a different pedagogic
base and assessment model. But, as we were giving the course on behalf of
Karlstad University, and not in direct collaboration with the department at
the University of Namibia, we decided to follow the pedagogic model that we
thought best. We could see the risk in this, but thought that, by presenting the
pedagogic method and the material well, we could make it work. Of course,
there were moments of confusion for the students at the beginning, and some
students chose to drop out, but by the end, the course had received a lot of
positive feedback. In the process we, as teachers, learned much about course
presentation, both via distance and face-to-face-methods. We also learned
that it is important to stress issues of ‘how’ students are expected to learn
and demonstrate their learning so as to avoid a potential clash in pedagogical
systems for students who participate in international distance courses.
As lecturers, we will go on developing our teaching practice, as we have
done for many years. But we learned a lot from our collaboration with each
other and with the Namibian students. We hope to be part of interesting future
collaborations and that this model might inspire the development of other courses
through which different cultures meet one another. The sociology department
at our university is already basing another collaboration with the University of
Namibia on this example, so the course seems to have laid a basis for sustainable
and mutually beneficial collaboration between our two institutions.
The technical method for evaluating these outcomes was a semi-structured
questionnaire responded to by students after the formal examination, plus
contact that one of the co-authors had with students when he visited Namibia
for other reasons.
The themes were proposed by the course convenors and included: life quality
and ageing; love, sexuality and ageing; death in old age; next-of-kin perspectives;
violence between close relations; ageing and cross-generational relations; ageing
and work.
Dewey J (1985/1997) Demokrati och Utbildning (Democracy and Education).
Göteborg: Bokförlaget Daidalos.
Freire P (1970/1996) Pedagogy of the Oppressed (twelfth edition). New York:
Culture meets culture at a distance
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Grenier A and J Hanley (2007) ‘Older women and “frailty”: Aged, gendered and
embodied resistance’, Current Sociology 55 (2): 211–228.
Heaphy B (2007) ‘Sexualities, gender and ageing: Resources and social change’,
Current Sociology 55 (2): 193–210.
Hooyman, NR and HA Kiyak (2011) Social Gerontology: A Multidisciplinary
Perspetive (ninth edition). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Krekula C (2007) ‘The intersection of age and gender’ Current Sociology 55 (2):
Lindqvist S (1978) Gräv där du står: Hur man utforskar ett jobb [Dig where you
stand]. Stockholm: Bonnier.
Russell C (2007) ‘What do older women and men want? Gender differences in
the “lived experiences” of ageing’, Current Sociology 55 (2): 173–192.
Shenk D, GD Rowles, J Peacock, J Mitchell, BJ Fisher, KS Moore and L Hare
(2001) ‘Teaching research in gerontology: Toward a cumulative model’,
Educational Gerontology 27: 537–556.
US Census Bureau (2015) International database.
World Bank (2015) World Development Indicators, 2015.
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Chapter 10
The Consortium of New Southern African Medical Schools:
A new South–South–North network
Quentin Eichbaum, Marius Hedimbi, Kasonde Bowa, Celso Belo,
Keikantse Matlhagela, Ludo Badlanga, Peter Nyarango and Olli Vainio
Africa bears 24 per cent of the world’s burden of disease but harbours only
3 per cent of its health workers. The shortfall of health workers extends beyond
Africa however, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates the
global shortage to be 4.3 million (quoted in Crisp 2010). It has been suggested
that even the United States will experience a physician shortage within the
next 10 to 15 years.1 In Africa, the HIV and AIDS pandemics and the ‘brain
drain’ have further aggravated the problem. How to increase the size of the
health-care workforce is therefore an ongoing conundrum preoccupying
governments and health agencies across continents.
At the 2011 conference of the Association of American Medical Colleges,
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group and co-founder of
Partners in Health, gave two reasons why he believed that medical schools
should provide the innovative momentum in global health. First, he argued
that medical schools provide the locations, infrastructure and resources for
the training of physicians and health workers, so interventions at this level are
most likely to affect medical practice ‘downstream’. Second, medical schools
are located in universities, and are thus in a position to co-opt a wide range of
additional disciplines to ensure a more comprehensive delivery of health care.
A new consortium emerges
The (US) President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) seems
to have staked its bets on the African continent’s medical schools. Since
the establishment of the Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI)
in 2010, PEPFAR has focused on medical education and training as
a path to capacitating and retaining health workers in Africa. However,
the US$133 million that MEPI disbursed in 2010 to 13 African medical
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schools attracted some criticism. Although modest by American standards,
the award was sizeable in the African context, and several medical schools
felt excluded from the initiative. This was particularly the case among the
newer schools, several of which were floundering with inadequate funding,
scarce resources and uncertainty regarding their sustainability. Eichbaum
et al. (2012) suggested that dividing the funding cake more equitably, and
giving smaller awards to more schools might have been more effective in
enhancing the capacities of a wider range of schools.
Since its inception, however, MEPI has instructed its member schools
to create ‘networks, alliances and consortia’ with other medical schools and
health agencies. This approach to strengthening alliances within the health
sector was also advocated in Frenk et al.’s landmark article on global health
education, published in The Lancet in 2010. In accordance with this, MEPI
subsequently created partnerships with the University of Zambia, Ibadan
University in Nigeria, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, and with a
consortium of five medical schools in Uganda known as MESAU (Medical
Education for Equitable Services to All Ugandans).
Nonetheless, medical schools outside of this MEPI network still felt
impelled to establish their own collaborative networks. With facilitating
Northern partners in the US and Finland, the Consortium of New
Southern African Medical Schools (CONSAMS), emerged, with the
aim of supporting one another through South–South and North–South
collaborations, as well as by sharing resources and innovations (Eichbaum
et al. 2015). The founding members of CONSAMS were the University of
Namibia, Copperbelt University (in Zambia), the University of Botswana,
Lurio University (in Mozambique), the Medical School of Lesotho, Oulu
University (in Finland) and Vanderbilt University (in the USA). Two
additional medical schools subsequently joined: Masinde Muliro University
in Kenya and the Catholic University in Mozambique. CONSAMS’s
educational niche comprises medical schools that are less than five years old
at the time of joining (Eichbaum et al. 2014, 2015).
The Northern partners provide guidance in the form of:
Staff training (including via academic exchanges).
Access to better-developed research infrastructure through collaborative
research projects.
Links to other international organisations and resources.
Raised visibility through joint publications and presentations at research
Training for research staff and administrators.
Assistance with research-grant applications (Eichbaum et al. 2014).
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One way in which Northern partners stand to benefit is through ‘reverse
innovation’, whereby innovations developed in low-resource settings are
efficiently adopted in the high-resource settings of the global North, as
Crisp eloquently describes in his book Turning the World Upside Down
(2010). All partners stand to benefit through joint grant applications and
research projects.
In these ways, the network is envisioned as cultivating equal bi-directional
relationships in which all partners benefit mutually, rather than ‘neocolonialist’ relations in which the Northern (high-income) countries ‘help’ or
exploit the Southern (low/middle-income) states.
CONSAMS plans to expand to include most of the new medical schools
within the southern African region, and ultimately, to include new medical
schools across the entire African continent, via the Consortium of New
African Medical Schools (CONAMS) (Eichbaum et al. 2015). However, this
expansion is being hampered by the lack of funding necessary to support and
sustain a larger number of members.
The educational context
Frenk et al. (2010) have suggested that medical education is experiencing
‘a slow burning crisis’ and is in urgent need of innovation. They ascribe
this to the explosive growth in medical knowledge, rapid globalisation,
and shifting patterns of migration and disease, which have left the older
medical schools with their standardised curricula struggling to keep up.
They went on to propose critical reforms in global health education that are
significant for the new schools – such as those in CONSAMS – presenting
a strong argument for the establishment and promotion of new medical
schools. New schools, they argue, have the potential to be more agile in
adapting to ‘rapidly changing local conditions drawing on global resources’
than established schools, which may be ‘encumbered by curricular rigidities,
professional silos, static pedagogy [and] insufficient adaptation to local
contexts’ (Frenk et al. 2010: 8).
As Bleakley et al. (2011) cautioned, medical educational strategies should
not be cooked up in Western universities and then exported, without taking
into account needs of local populations and environmental contexts. They
recommended that curricula and education strategies be context specific, fit
for purpose, and formulated ‘in the heat of practice’ (Bleakley et al. 2011: 179).
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Educational strategies
Community-based education at the University of Namibia
School of Medicine
CONSAMS’s approach has been to work towards formulating medical
competencies for African medical schools from within this ‘heat of practice’. An
example of this approach is being piloted at the University of Namibia School
of Medicine (UNAMSOM). Students translocate for some months to semiurban areas or to rural areas in the north of the country, where they live among
local families and learn about people’s lifestyles, diets and medical issues. The
students also work day shifts at local clinics. This form of training is referred to
as community-based education and service, and is compulsory for all medical
students from first to the fourth year of their studies. During these community
placements, students are exposed to families at household level to facilitate their
understanding of the socio-economic and cultural determinants of health.
In particular, students are expected to gain insight into health-seeking
behaviours, levels of access to, and demand for, health services, as well as
the cultural determinants relating to income disposal and the proportion of
income allocated to health. After initially living with families for several weeks,
students then continue to visit the families weekly over a period of 24 months
to discuss and observe health-seeking behaviours. The health of pregnant
women, and of children, is monitored and discussed, as are chronic diseases
among the elderly. The role of family members in assessing and analysing
their own health problems is emphasised, and attention is paid to how they
allocate resources to health. Getting to know families so well gives students
opportunities to observe some of the root causes of health problems and to
suggest interventions to improve the health of the family. Working in this
way, students are able to gain an understanding of the country’s health-care
challenges, and the kinds of competencies required to work in rural contexts.
Community-based education and service encourages transformative learning
and aims to produce the kinds of enlightened change agents that are essential
for health-care advocacy and for strengthening the health sector (Crisp 2010).
The application of this programme has the potential to transform individual
students, but also families and communities, making them all better informed,
more self-reliant and more empowered.
Transporting students to their community-based placements is expensive
and places enormous strain on the limited resources of an emerging school
of medicine such as UNAMSOM. To alleviate this, the university teamed up
with the University of Oulu, Finland, resulting in UNAMSOM receiving
two 13-seater buses and a sedan to facilitate the transportation of students
during their community placements.
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Transformative learning and transprofessional
education at Lurio University
Frenk et al. (2010: 11) argued that the goals of strengthening health-care
and capacity building in resource-limited settings should be guided by two
outcomes, namely: ‘interdependence’ and ‘transformative learning’. Instead
of struggling in isolation, medical schools should strive for ‘interdependence’
with one another, and work together collaboratively in ‘networks, alliances
and consortia’ (such as those created by MEPI, MESAU and CONSAMS).
They also advocated ‘transformative learning’ that would be able to produce
the ‘enlightened change agents’ necessary to strengthen the health-care sector
(Frenk et al. 2010: 6).
One example of transformative learning is the ‘One-Student-One-Family’
programme created by CONSAMS partner, Universidade de Lurio (UniLurio),
in Mozambique. Students in this programme are each paired with a particular
family in a rural community for the duration of their medical degree. As in
Namibia, students initially live with families for several weeks and then continue
to visit the families every few weeks to discuss their health issues. This allows the
students to serve as a family’s health advocate and gain a deeper understanding
of the issues affecting their health. The main aims of the initiative are to:
Give students the opportunity to learn how to build a ‘case study’ as a
practice in the teaching and learning process.
Encourage lecturers to design innovative curricula that can address the
problems that contribute to underdevelopment.
Allow lecturers and students to pursue relevant research for community
This offers students opportunities to learn how to work with communities
and alongside ancillary health workers within the health-care system. The
mutual learning and relationship of deep trust that develops between students
and families is transformative, and strengthens the delivery of health care.
Throughout the process, students are encouraged to conduct research that
contributes to improving the well-being of families, and to enhancing
community development.
This programme also includes community health workers and represents
an example of ‘transprofessional education’. That is, workers outside the health
professions, such as community workers, traditional healers, volunteers, and
possibly even lawyers and entrepreneurs, are also encouraged to contribute
to the delivery of health services where appropriate (Frenk et al. 2010). The
inclusion of these other sectors and professions is aimed at strengthening
health care, and is particularly effective in settings where resources are limited.
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Distance learning and virtual microscopy
With the help of MEPI funding, the medicine faculty at the University
of Botswana developed a simulation laboratory for training and service
provision. Another MEPI-supported project is the mobile-learning project
through which academic staff and students are provided with android tablets
to access teaching, learning and clinical resources, especially when at offcampus teaching sites. Each device comes pre-configured and loaded with a
robust collection of medical applications (for example, Epocrates, Medscape,
uCentral, and PubMed mobile), research databases (including EBSCOhost),
as well as various health-care guidelines and protocols specific to Botswana.
Linked to this, a CONSAMS project was established that involves the
Universities of Botswana and Namibia and Copperbelt University acquiring
virtual microscopy software from the University of Alabama (UAB). UAB
and Vanderbilt University, both in the US, also provided a trainer who trained
African academics and students to use the software. Virtual microscopy
substantially reduces infrastructure costs and faculty time, thereby freeing
these resources for other projects. The software is used extensively by pathology
and anatomy students. Since all students now evaluate the same digital
histological images, slide-to-slide variability is eliminated, thus enhancing
and ensuring standardised learning. The incorporation of digital slides in
medical training also enhances interaction between faculty and students and
facilitates classroom discussions. This project highlights the benefits of the
South–South and North–South relationships forged by CONSAMS. It also
demonstrates the kinds of roles that established Northern universities can
play in the teaching and delivery of health care in new Southern medical
schools (Eichbaum et al. 2014, 2015).
Innovative admissions policies
The global shortage of health workers raises questions about medical school
admissions policies. Are current policies equitable? Are they aligned to
increasing the number of health professionals? Do they lead to physician
retention or do they aggravate ‘brain drain’? Traditional admissions policies
in medical schools are based mostly on ‘merit’. This often places applicants
from rural areas, who tend to have less access to education, at a competitive
disadvantage. Ultimately, these policies have also resulted in rural areas
suffering a deficiency of health workers since students from urban areas are
less likely to choose to practise in rural settings. Conversely, students from
rural areas are known to have a greater tendency return to practise in those
areas (see Strasser and Lanphear 2008; Wilson et al. 2009). Evidence from a
number of countries demonstrates that medical students from rural areas tend
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to subsequently practise in rural areas (De Vries and Reid 2003; Laven and
Wilkinson 2003; Playford et al. 2006; Rabinowitz 1993).
UNAMSOM has attempted to solve this problem by introducing an
innovative quota system, whereby each region of Namibia is allocated a quota
of student admission slots. This admissions policy seems to be enhancing
physician retention in rural areas. However, effective medical practice in rural
settings does not necessarily require fully qualified medical specialists (who
may require over a decade of training). Horrocks et al. (2002) have argued
that nurses working in primary care can provide care virtually equivalent to
that provided by doctors, and can be trained in half the time and at half the
cost. In fact, they state that, in countries such as Namibia and Mozambique,
nurses and ‘medical officers’ (who receive a similar level of training as physician
assistants in the United States), provide appropriate (and often excellent) care
to patients at a level virtually equivalent to physicians (Horrocks et al. 2002).
A thorny issue linked to this has been how wide to open the doors of the
medical schools. Eichbaum et al. (2010) describe a potential model (in the
United States) in which candidates are initially admitted as ‘pluripotential’
students. These students initially engage in self-paced learning through
various online modalities before ‘differentiating’, through competencybased apprenticeships, into more specific career paths – choosing to become
physicians, nurses/nurse practitioners, physician assistants, case managers or
health administrators, etc.
Aspects of this model may be feasible for new African medical schools as
well. The prodigious availability of online and distance learning – via massive
open online courses for example (especially those that have self-assessment
tools, such as the Kahn Academy, NextGenU and Coursera) – means that
the teaching of medicine can extend beyond the classroom to allow also for
self-directed learning. This has the potential to free up some lecturing staff
and allows students to engage in a wider range of courses or to seek ancillary
learning. The availability of such open-access and distance-learning modalities
may also serve to attenuate regional ‘brain drain’. In this regard, Jamison et
al. (2013) have drawn attention to the role of open-access learning resources
for professional development, and to the power of information technology
for worldwide learning, including distance learning. The CONSAMS schools
are therefore exploring broadband internet connectivity and, in some schools,
iPads are being used to facilitate online learning.
The conundrum of ‘standards’ and ‘standardisation’
Discussions about admitting larger numbers of students to medical schools
inevitably lead to concerns about ‘standards’. Many question whether it is
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possible to ensure that health-care workers that are educated via distance
learning will be adequately trained as well as motivated and mature enough to
treat patients. Experience from Namibia’s ‘quota-based’ system of admissions
and their effective use of both medical officers and nurses in rural settings
suggests that such innovations are feasible and can strengthen health systems.
The standardisation of accreditation is another major debate in global
medical education. The accreditation standards developed over decades in the
US and Europe might not be feasible, or even appropriate, in African and
other contexts, given varying epidemiological patterns, education systems and
socioeconomic profiles. As Bleakley et al. (2011: 181) stated, ‘At its extreme,
this emphasis on standardizing risks echoing the homogenizing process of
Western-inspired “McDonaldisation”. In this case, however, what is being
traded in the global marketplace is knowledge rather than hamburgers.’
We believe that African medical schools should largely develop their own
context-appropriate standards of accreditation. Bleakley et al. (2011) draw
attention to the nervousness about not being seen to conform to Western
educational imperatives that permeates medical institutes in some low-tomiddle income countries and drives them to seek US and European standards
of accreditation. However, while the exporting of US medical education and
accreditation systems to Middle Eastern and South Asian countries (such as
Qatar, Oman, Malaysia and Singapore) has become a source of revenue for
some American universities, this is not a model that CONSAMS favours.
Instead, CONSAMS has established a network of ‘external examiners’ who
form part of a regional committee that is tasked with developing accreditation
standards appropriate to the region.
Standardisation also has implications for health worker retention, which is
a major issue for many African countries. In other words, by making it easier
for African health workers to practise in other countries, standardisation has
the potential to aggravate the ‘brain drain’. According to De Vries and Reid
(2003), one of the reasons health workers give for leaving Africa is that their
medical training is often disconnected from the realities they face in practice.
Other reasons include the isolation they experience (especially in rural
settings), and the lack of essential medical services and specialised support.
The collaboration and sharing of resources, combined with the promotion
of inter- (and trans-) professional programmes in CONSAMS, alleviates
some of these problems. For example, the University of Oulu in Finland
has developed several capacity-building and inter-professional education
with UNAMSOM, UniLurio and Copperbelt University. These programmes
involve innovative pedagogies aimed at students in medicine, nursing,
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pharmacy, public health and optometry, the ultimate goal of which is to
improve the quality and accessibility of health care within communities.
Judging from our experience, CONSAMS’s collaborative networks reportedly
help health workers to feel better connected with their peers and colleagues,
and so might ultimately also contribute to retention.
Developing research infrastructure
The need for context-specific education also extends to the training of
scientific and medical researchers. Currently, very little of the world’s
biomedical research is conducted in regions that bear the highest burden of
disease. Resnick (2004) described this as a ‘90/10 divide’, noting that less
than 10 per cent of the world’s biomedical research funds are dedicated
to addressing problems that are responsible for 90 per cent of the world’s
burden of disease. Physicians and researchers in African countries might
well experience a greater sense of connectedness and commitment to their
work if solutions to health-related challenges that they face daily were to be
addressed through relevant research conducted in their own contexts.
In alignment with MEPI’s aim to develop ‘regionally relevant research’
(Mullan et al. 2012), one of CONSAMS’s major goals is to enhance the
research capacity of its partners. All the CONSAMS schools have stressed
the importance of conducting relevant research, including on the major
infectious diseases (namely, HIV, TB, and malaria), for which grant funding
and American or European collaborators are available. However, research on
emerging non-communicable diseases, as well as on diseases affecting local
livestock and wildlife, are also relevant and deserve attention.
While some of the newer medical schools have state-of-the-art research
facilities (UNAMSOM being one example), others lack the basic research
infrastructure. This applies not only to a lack of laboratory space and equipment
but also to administrative capacities, such as research review committees and
research-grant offices that could help to manage the complexities of grants
funding. Even more critical, is the inability to access research funding. This is
often linked to a lack of expertise in writing grant applications and securing
the necessary research partners. The Northern partners within CONSAMS
are playing an important role here, assisting with the writing of grant
applications and facilitating research collaborations.
A further challenge in situations where resources are sparse is that
academics are often overburdened with administrative and teaching duties,
and have little time for research. The shortage of postgraduate research
programmes in some African universities is also not conducive to the
expansion of research capacity, and means that few students even consider
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pursuing a career in research. Some of the older medical schools such as
those in South Africa, and at Makerere University in Uganda, have relatively
strong research capacities, but the newer medical schools struggle to attract
researchers and postgraduate students. This is even the case at UNAMSOM,
which does have appealing research facilities. CONSAMS’s clear focus on
enhancing research capacity will need to remain in place for as long as these
kinds of challenges persist.
New medical schools in Africa enjoy some unique opportunities, but they face
many daunting challenges. Working with others in networks, alliances and
consortia such as CONSAMS offers newer medical schools an effective path
towards strengthening health-care provision by enhancing staff training,
facilitating relevant and locally based research, as well as encouraging
professionals to remain in, and be committed to, the development of healthcare infrastructure in their own areas.
This point was made by a keynote speaker at the 2011 conference of the
Association of American Medical Colleges.
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education’, Medical Education 42 (3): 266–270.
Crisp N (2010) Turning the World Upside Down: The Search for Global Health in the
Twenty-First Century. London: Royal Society of Medicine Press.
De Vries E and S Reid (2003) ‘Do South African medical students of rural origin
return to rural practice?’ South African Medical Journal 93 (10): 789–793.
Eichbaum Q, T Grennan, H Young and M Hurt (2010) ‘An alternate model for
medical education: Longitudinal medical education within an integrated health care
organization, a vision of a model for the future?’ Permanente Journal 14 (3): 44–49.
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Eichbaum Q, P Nyarango, J Ferrao, N Tlale, M Hedimbi, C Belo, K Bowa, O Vainio
and J Kumwenda (2014) ‘Challenges and opportunities for new medical schools
in Africa’, Lancet Global Health Report 2 (12): e689–690.
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for a new century: Transforming education to strengthen health systems in an
interdependent world’, Lancet 376 (9756): 1923–1958. Available online.
Horrocks S, E Anderson and C Salisbury (2002) ‘Systematic review of whether
nurse practitioners working in primary care can provide equivalent care to
doctors’, British Medical Journal 324 (7341): 819–823.
Jamison DT, LH Summers, G Alleyne, KJ Arrow, S Berkley et al. (2013) ‘Global
health 2035: A world converging within a generation’, Lancet 382 (9908):
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strong is the evidence? A systematic review’, Australian Journal of Rural Health
11 (6): 277–284.
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E Kiguli-Malwadde (2012) ‘The Medical Education Partnership Initiative:
PEPFAR’s effort to boost health worker education to strengthen health systems’,
Health Affairs 31 (7): 1561–1572.
Playford D, A Larson and B Wheatland (2006) ‘Going country: Rural student
placement factors associated with future rural employment in nursing and allied
health’, Australian Journal of Rural Health: 14 (1) 14–19.
Rabinowitz HK (1993) ‘Recruitment, retention, and follow-up of graduates of a
program to increase the number of family physicians in rural and underserved
areas’, New England Journal of Medicine 328 (13): 934–939.
Resnik DB (2004) ‘The distribution of biomedical research resources and
international justice’, Developing World Bioethics 4 (1): 42–57.
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Chapter 11
International collaboration for pedagogical innovation:
Understanding multiracial interaction
through a time-geographic appraisal
P Assmo and R Fox
We live in an increasingly global world. Technical innovations and
improved infrastructure enable people to interact and work on a wider scale
than ever before. Key changes relevant to the academic landscape are the
increasing internationalisation of both students and academic staff, as well as
the spread of web-based learning. These changes demand the development
of pedagogical research and practices that provide high-quality learning and
impart the analytical understandings and skills now needed by students.
In an effort to develop such practices, Linköping University in Sweden
and Rhodes University in South Africa are participating in a Linnaeus–
Palme student/staff-exchange programme. The programme’s overall goal
is to establish self-sustaining educational collaborations between the two
universities that enhance understanding, knowledge and openness between
and within our different cultures and regions. Research collaborations
between the two institutions are integral to this process. The study described
in this chapter is an outcome of one such collaboration.1 Although this
chapter focuses on work done in South Africa, a parallel study is ongoing
at Högskolan Väst in Sweden, and our intention is to produce comparative
empirical material that can be used to encourage similar international
collaborative initiatives elsewhere. It is our hope that students in international
higher education environments will build on the approach outlined in this
chapter to help them identify various patterns relevant to cultural diversity,
and analyse their implications to gain a better understanding of a range of
issues, including the impact of globalisation.
In this chapter, we describe how students at Rhodes University were
taught to use internet resources and a time-geography approach to deepen
their understanding and ability to analyse their own activities in the city of
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Grahamstown, where the university is located. Time geography or timespace geography originated in Sweden, and has rarely been used in Africa.
A multidisciplinary approach, time geography enables researchers to analyse
interactions in time and space.
In the contemporary world, a particular point of interest and concern is
the degree of separation within and between urban and rural areas, as well
as within and between countries. In South Africa, the spatial polarisation of
people along cultural and racial lines was particularly stark under apartheid,
and it remains highly visible despite attempts to redress the injustices of the
past. However, post-apartheid spaces and structures are gradually starting to
exhibit new patterns that reflect the changing constraints and opportunities
that South Africans now experience. Given Grahamstown’s diverse blend of
students, many of whom were born just after apartheid was abolished, this
small city was seen as an interesting starting point from which to begin a
time-geography study of post-apartheid society. Our central question was
what a time-geography perspective could reveal about multiracialism and
segregation in Grahamstown twenty years after the end of apartheid.
Another issue that is relevant for Grahamstown, and globally, is
studentification. Work done in the United Kingdom for example, shows how
the urban structure of university towns has become increasingly studentified
as the numbers of students in higher education institutions have expanded in
this neo-liberalist era (Hubbard 2008; Smith 2002; Smith and Hubbard 2014).
To begin to explore these questions within a time-geography framework,
we worked with students in the geography department at Rhodes University,
where we both teach from time to time. Second-year students majoring
in geography at the university take a semester-long course called ‘Space
and Place in Southern Africa’. The aim of the course is for students to
gain an understanding of rural and urban landscapes in southern Africa
through selected human and physical geographical perspectives. With this
understanding of geography as a basic scaffold, students are then introduced
to problems of environmental change and human development. For the
2014 course, we used time geography as the perspective through which we
would develop the students’ analytical understandings of space and place. As
will be explained in this chapter, our aim was to introduce and use a timegeographic appraisal to enable the students to describe and analyse how and
why people’s daily lives are influenced by authority and coupling constraints,
through the creation of pockets of local order. We developed and applied
a web-based tool that allowed students to monitor and analyse their own
patterns of activity and movement within the city. We then analysed this
data, alongside data from South Africa’s 2011 population census, and the
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students’ own perceptions of the city, to reveal patterns of multiracialism and
studentification in Grahamstown.
The time-geography framework
Before presenting further details of the study, we offer a brief introduction to
time geography.
Most of us can agree that developing a deep understanding and analysis
of people’s activities requires studies that begin at the local level. However,
local studies often take a rather narrow and conventional approach, focusing
on specific environmental, social or economic phenomena to the exclusion
of others. Several studies of post-apartheid South African cities follow this
trend (see for example, Barchiesi 2004; Freund 2010; Tomlinson et al. 2003).
Torsten Hägerstrand (1970, 1974, 1985), the founder of time geography,
was critical of this approach. He argued that it simply divides complex
realities into smaller entities, creating a hierarchic view of the world that is
based on scale, and offers little more than a set of context-less categorisations
that largely ignore why people think and act as they do in the everyday world.
Hägerstrand’s concept of time geography advocates a local focus on individual
people’s daily livelihoods, with all their constraints and opportunities,
and offers an important alternative starting point for analysis. Inspired by
Hägerstrand’s approach, we opted to focus on our students, and on their
specific time and spatial contexts.
Hägerstrand also stressed the importance of a contextual ‘all-embracing’
perspective, however, arguing that the world can be viewed in terms of pockets
that contain assortments of beings and processes that share a common
existence in space and in time. Time geography therefore attempts to provide
a platform from which it is possible to observe and describe certain elements
of reality, without losing touch with the total context (Krantz 2006; Lenntorp
1999; Thrift 2005).
The basic notion in time geography is the co-existence of time and
space. The literal meaning of the phrase ‘taking place’ points to the power of
processes that are occurring in a physical space for a specific period of time
(Hägerstrand 1974, 1991; Lenntorp 1999). From this perspective, human
utilisation of the physical world (which includes the socio-cultural and mental
dimensions of this usage) is the primary focus. The meaning of space is thus
seen as primarily physical, even if it extends from the meaning of place. That
is, all individuals are perceived as having goals and projects, which they enact
using physical and cultural resources available to them in a specific time and
spatial context. These resources are then analysed as constraints that have the
potential to determine human actions and experiences.
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Somewhat simplistically, the human time-space context can be described
as consisting of three worlds from which people are not seen in isolation
or as separate, but are rather understood as an integral part (Hägerstrand
1974, 1993). Hägerstrand’s idea of these three mutually connected and
interdependent worlds can be conceptualised as a drama in which we all take
part; the drama includes actors or people, the role/s we play, and the scene or
places in which we act (Lenntorp 1999, 2004). Within this framework:
People are seen as actors who perform activities in space and time. However,
the reasons why people do certain activities in particular ways cannot be
directly observed since their thoughts, expectations, aims and experiences
are not transparent.
How and why people act in certain ways is understood as deriving
primarily from the role/s they play. To some extent, one can say that the way
people play their role/s is connected to culture, values, rules, institutional
frameworks, and power relations, which are related to a particular timespace pocket.
Scenes are understood as including all the actors and all physical objects
in a space. Apart from the natural environment (such as land, soil, lakes,
rivers, groundwater, mountains and minerals) the scene incorporates all
the physical features that people make (such as buildings, roads, machines,
In the analytical process, the basic aim is to integrate these three worlds or
dimensions, or at least try to separate them as little as possible, since they
are, in practice, highly interdependent and largely inseparable (Hägerstrand
1985; Krantz 2006; Lenntorp 1999). Hence, a classical time-geographical
perspective is not really subject specific in the conventional academic sense, but
rather a way of connecting and relating different complex integrated elements
that describe reality. In this way, a time-geographical perspective provides an
alternative structure for development thinking, and attempts to consolidate
the spatial and temporal perspectives of different academic disciplines into a
more concrete analytical platform in which all elements play a role (Åquist
1992; Ellegård and Wihlborg 2001; Krantz 2006; Lenntorp 1999).
Depending on interest and focus, the time-space platform enables
researchers to focus on certain components without losing touch with the
overall complexity of reality. In later sections of the chapter, we show how we
traced the patterns that our students produced in space and time, and used
questionnaires to help us understand their constraints and their connectedness
to the scenes in which they play their roles. We portray the scene later in the
chapter, using maps that reveal some of the backdrop to their activities.
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Pockets of local order
Hägerstrand’s classical time-geography concept has been criticised for being
more descriptive than analytical (Giddens 1984, 1989). However, it can be
argued that Hägerstrand’s concept of ‘pockets of local order’ facilitates a
structured analysis of human action (in time) and in a certain environment
(place) in relation to various forms of constraints and power relations
(Hägerstrand 1985). A pocket of local order can be defined as a distinct timespace in which actors form or produce a specific order to conduct specific
projects. Activities conducted within a pocket of local order often define and
reproduce that order. Thus, the concept aims to capture the interplay between
actors and scenes so as to enhance analyses of local practices (Assmo and
Wihlborg 2010, 2012; Ellegård and Vilhelmson 2004; Hägerstrand 1993). In
other words, a pocket of local order, as an analytical concept, focuses on social
order, but is based on, and formed in relation to, physical preconditions and
the relevant actors’ mental interpretations.
The concept also encompasses the notion that the aims and ambitions of
local actors cannot be realised without resources, and that the arrangement and
management of locally available resources are often experienced as constraints
that lay the basis for specific kinds of order within a given time-space pocket.
Analysing a pocket of local order therefore embraces the interplay of both the
natural resources, as well as all the technical, social and mental arrangements
of those resources, and the constraints that surround them, thus facilitating a
more comprehensive investigation.
Our students examined their own time-geographies in relation to
Grahamstown’s apartheid and post-apartheid urban structure. Their work
showed that they inhabit, produce, and reproduce particular pockets of local
order in the town. The university campus, neighbouring suburbs and the
central business district all include pockets of local order that are structured
through various forms of constraints.
A central concept related to resource management in pockets of local order
is that of constraints. Hägerstrand identified three main forms of constraint
that affect people’s possibilities for action in a given time-space context,
namely: capacity constraints, coupling constraints, and authority constraints.
Capacity constraints focus on individual capacities; coupling restrictions
refer to everything that limits individuals’ relations with other people and
with physical artefacts. Both capacity and coupling constraints tend to be
biological, mental, intellectual, and spatial in character. Authority constraints
include everything that has the power to steer an actor’s actions and thereby
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limit their space to act. Although primarily expressed through laws and
regulations (as enacted by formal institutions), authority constraints also
operate informally through discourses, norms and cultural attitudes and
values systems (Ellegård and Nordell 1997; Hägerstrand 1985, 1993).
In short, how people respond to constraints and opportunities depends
on the physical resources, economic structures, social institutions and cultural
values of a particular society (Assmo and Wihlborg 2007). Thus, a timegeography analysis, focusing on constraints in a pocket of local order, seemed
an ideal approach for exploring multiracialism and segregation among
students in Grahamstown twenty years after the end of apartheid.
The Grahamstown case study
As noted, our overall aim was to develop the students’ analytical understanding
of space and place. Adopting a time-geography approach allowed us to test
the model’s applicability and usefulness in analysing inter-racial interactions
among students in a post-apartheid city.
At the start of the study, we asked students to complete a questionnaire
that was designed to help us reveal some of the basic constraints on their
activities. We asked questions about their ethnic and gender identities, their
parents’ incomes, their modes of transport, etc. A review of their responses
revealed that of the 53 students who participated in the study, approximately
29 per cent self-identify as black African or coloured, 68 per cent were white,
and 3 per cent were Indian.2 The gender ratio was about 60 per cent female
and 40 per cent male, with a similar distribution across the different ethnic
groups. These patterns are typical for the institution’s student body. Not
surprisingly, the majority of students (47 in all) were South African citizens:
four were from adjacent southern African countries and two were from
countries outside Africa.
In response to questions about transport, 38 students listed walking as
their dominant transport method when at university. Significantly, all of the
African students walked. Six students indicated that they walk and use a private
car, while a further six said they use private cars only. Of those who used cars
exclusively, four were white and two were coloured. In addition, two students
cycled and one used a motorbike; all three of these students were white males.
A follow-up question asked participants what methods of transport they
had access to. In response, 24 said that they either owned or had access to
a private car. Of these students, 18 were white, two were coloured and two
were Indian. Four had access to motorbikes and one to a bicycle: all were
white students. It is significant that none of the African students had access
to private cars: this triangulates with responses to the previous question.
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Most participants noted that their parents’ incomes were above the South
African average.3 Thirty-one said their parents’ income was higher or much
higher than average, and only eight said that their parents’ income was lower
or much lower than average; 40 indicated that both of their parents were
employed, predominantly in professional, managerial and commercial
occupations. Just 11 students had one employed parent and two had no parents.
Roughly a quarter of the students lived in private rented accommodation:
of these, 12 were white, one was black and one was Indian. Three lived in their
parents’ or guardians’ homes in Grahamstown, and all of the other students
lived in university residences on the campus.
Mapping activities in space and time
Students participated in a set of practical exercises in which they used Google
Drive to collect and map their own activities with reference to the spaces and
places they occupy in Grahamstown. At the end of this process they completed
questionnaires in which they reflected on the identity of Grahamstown, and
on their own knowledge of the city. They then wrote brief summaries of their
own experience of Grahamstown and connectedness to its various places.
Racial mosaic
The race spaces of Grahamstown were mapped using the segregated group
areas as defined during the apartheid era. This was overlaid with detailed
information available from the 2011 national census in which data about the
population of Grahamstown was collected using South Africa’s standard race
categories. The census data shows where middle- and upper-class multiracial
areas are located and where lower class single-race areas persist.
We extracted the data at the smallest geographical resolution: the small
area layer. This gave us 115 small areas with approximately 500 persons in each.
These data were then saved as spreadsheets and combined, by the students, with
the small area census tracts for Grahamstown that we also extracted from the
census databases. Next we traced the daily activities of a multiracial group of
students as they navigated through the racial mosaic revealed by the data.
Time-space diaries
We dispensed with the diary often used in studies that adopt the timegeography approach. Instead, we asked students to photograph each place
(station) they visited over a 24-hour period. They then geo-referenced each
place so that their movements could be mapped using Fusion Tables in
Google Drive. The students then edited their Fusion Tables to indicate the
types of places they visited and modes of transport used.
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Sense of place questionnaire
Students completed a second questionnaire at the end of the course, once
they were familiar with their own spatial activity patterns and the city’s racial
mosaic as revealed by census data. In responding to this questionnaire students
were encouraged to use their own words to indicate what it was that attracted
them to or repelled them from different parts of the city. That is, they were
asked which areas or suburbs they liked or felt a good connection with and
which they disliked or felt a negative connection with. In addition, students
were asked whether they see Grahamstown as having a strong identity and to
identify factors that they perceived as affecting this identity.
Student feedback
Four weeks after the students had completed their work, they were given
feedback showing what their data revealed about their activities in
Grahamstown’s race space. The information was presented in a sequence of
slides, giving an overview of the practical activities followed by maps and
word clouds representing the results. The students were then asked to write a
short summary of what they had learned from the study.
A map of Grahamstown, showing the layout of land classes, clearly shows the
physical segregation between different groups and land uses (Figure 11.1).
Grahamstown lies at the head of the Kowie River Valley. The university
is at the extreme south-western limit of the city and near the headwaters of
the river system. To the south and west of the campus lie steep hills that have
acted as a barrier to development and expansion. To the north and east of
the university lie the city’s middle-class suburbs and central business district,
both of which were zoned as white during apartheid. This area also embraces
five large schools and two medical institutions. The eastern side of the city
includes the areas formerly designated as black and coloured group areas.
These areas were physically separated from the more affluent white suburbs
by buffer zones comprising the railway line and the associated industrial area
as well as the river valley. Since the mid 1990s, the so-called coloured and
black communities have spread eastwards away from the city centre and the
university campus.
It is important to note that Hägerstand’s concept of pockets of local order
can be applied to the segregated nature of the city under apartheid. Imagine
the city as composed of separate pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each containing a
different function and/or race group, and each a distinct pocket of local order.
The university campus, for example, was where the overwhelming majority of
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Figure 11.1
Relief and layout of land classes, Grahamstown
Black townships
group area
White suburbs
Kowie River
the students lived and studied up to 1994: coupling and authority constraints
kept them there. Later we show how this area had changed by 2014 as the
constraints changed and as the global drive to increase access to higher
education has swollen student numbers.
Figure 11.2 reveals the racial distribution of Grahamstown according to
the 2011 national census (Stats SA 2012). There is a very marked gradient
from south-west to north-east. The south-western areas of the city are now
racially mixed, and stretch from the university campus north-eastwards
through the suburbs and central business district. Beyond the railway line,
and on the far side of the river valley, the areas become noticeably segregated,
and are dominated by either coloured or African people.
When students monitored their movements and activities in time and
space for a 24-hour period, starting in the morning, their typical daily pattern
included the following:
Other (often a nightclub or visiting other students in their digs for a party)
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Figure 11.2
Grahamstown’s racial mosaic, 2011
2 500
Small area
Data source: Stats SA (2012)
Modes of transport used were overwhelmingly dominated by walking; private
cars were the second most used. Not surprisingly, the focus of activities was
the campus, where the majority of the students also live. Their digs/res/home
stations were located both on campus, in the central area of the city and in the
northern suburbs. The location of accommodation among the students can
largely be related to their parents’ income.
Some groups of students had therefore studentified the central business
district and some of the adjacent suburbs. The university’s main sports
facilities are on the northern side of the campus. Eating and socialising
at cafes and pubs took place either on campus in the residences, or in the
central part of the city immediately adjacent to the campus, where several
well-known student pubs and nightclubs are located. However, data obtained
from responses to the questionnaires revealed that many students choose to
visit other pubs or nightclubs in this area, and that certain venues were more
popular among certain race groups.
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Figure 11.3
Distribution of student activities, by racial identity
Figure 11.3a
Blocks show location of activities of white students
Figure 11.3b
Blocks show location of activities of black students
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Figure 11.3c
Blocks show location of activities of coloured students
Figure 11.3d
Blocks show location of activities of Indian students
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In short, mapping and comparing students’ activities according to race clearly
indicated that the spatial distribution of white student activities is different to
those of the black students (see Figure 11.3 A–D). As indicated in Figure 11.1,
various physical constraints continue to influence students’ activity patterns.
Authoritative constraints might also have an impact. Rooms in the various
residences on campus are, for example, allocated by the university, and the cost of
this kind of accommodation is often lower than private digs located off campus.
Similarly, differences in movements and activities in time and space
along racial lines also seemed to be related to a combination of coupling and
authoritative constraints. White students (with their greater access to private
cars and higher prevalence in private rented accommodation) tend to move
further away from the campus. They have, therefore, begun to constitute a new
pocket of local order that is centred on the campus and spreads out into the
central and northern suburbs. In other words they have spread beyond one
piece of the apartheid era jigsaw on to two adjacent pieces. The activities and
places visited by black students were more focused on the campus itself and
along the city’s main street (High Street) in the centre of the city. However,
many students also mentioned that they actively seek accommodation with
roommates of the same race (and gender) as this provides them with a sense of
security and attachment.
Our analysis of students’ comments about their sense of connectedness
(or liking) with Grahamstown’s urban areas, and their impressions of the
city’s identity, is summarised in Figure 11.4. The map shows which areas the
students ‘liked’ and ‘disliked’. The largest number of positive connections was
made in relation to the campus itself and the adjacent multiracial areas of the
city. Interestingly, a number of students had negative associations with these
areas too. Three typically positive responses about the campus were:
I feel safe and secure, and it’s basically where my life rotates when I’m in
Rhodes University Campus evidently is where I study so this is pretty
much my home in this town and all my activities happen here.
There is a diversity of people from different cultures and this is where I
spend most of my time.
Negative comments for the campus area and surrounding suburbs included:
The fact that one may get stuck within the realm of campus and not
venture beyond what is close and known. The fact that the environment is
concentrated by the same people and same atmosphere of work.
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Figure 11.4
Positive and negative associations with place
Danger to walk alone, anywhere really. I have been mugged in the centre
of the town. It’s really bad to live in fear of some idiot that will stab or
rob you.
The distance to other areas was emphasised as a constraint by many
respondents. Crime and security are common themes and represented
another major constraining factor. Students go to areas where they feel safest,
and reasonably secure from mugging and theft. However, a minority felt that
the campus area was too insular.
Most respondents didn’t have much to say either positively or negatively
about the townships or the former coloured area as they knew so little about
them. ‘I have never been to any of the places so I wouldn’t know if I like them’
was a typical response. Positive associations with the township areas were few
but included:
I go for community engagement and I have been able to build relationships
with the people and it is always a joy to work with them.
I have relatives and friends living around the area so it’s convenient for
making unplanned visitations or should I say a surprise visit.
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Figure 11.5 Word cloud on Grahamstown’s identity derived from participants’ own words
On the other hand, there were some negative associations such as:
I never visit these areas and thus cannot make a judgement on them. By
saying this you can assume I am uncomfortable with this as it is not an
area I want to visit.
It’s very rough, people always fighting and it’s far.
In some senses, the authority constraints of apartheid have been replaced,
and distance and security have become dominant constraining factors.
Coupling constraints feature, by inference, in that female students will not
walk alone at night. Given that all the respondents were students, it is hardly
surprising that they strongly associated Grahamstown’s identity with the
university. The beauty of the campus was frequently mentioned, as were the
historical buildings and architecture of the university and the central area of
the city. Social aspects of the city’s identity that were mentioned included
the rich diversity of cultures, the young people who attend the schools and the
university, and the National Arts Festival that is hosted in the city every year.
Here are two typical quotations:
I think that it is a very diverse town, there are many cultures and you can
see and experience all of them. Rhodes University and the students play a
large role in Grahamstown as well as the Arts Festival.
The town has an interesting history and lots of old buildings that still
stand and there is a specific architectural style in Grahamstown.
Figure 11.5 summarises the students’ responses about the city’s identity. The
texts of all of the student responses are included, with common English words
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such as if, and, but etc. removed. The software used to generate the word
clouds gives greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the
source texts. The interconnectedness of the town, its people and the university
comes across clearly, along with the unique nature of the place and its cultural
history and diversity. This is important as it indicates that apartheid’s pockets
of local order have broken down, at least partially and for these university
students, in the post-apartheid era.
Student learning from the time-geography activities
As noted earlier, after seeing the results of their study including the maps
and word cloud shown here, the students were given about ten minutes to
consider and write down what they had learned from the time-geography
course. A total of 46 responses were collected and subsequently transcribed
for simple text analysis using a similar process to that used to generate
Figure 11.5. In other words, Voyant Tools software was used to analyse the
responses (Sinclair 2009). The text was input to a web portal and common
English words were excluded. Word counts were then extracted from Voyant
and reformatted to produce a Wordle or word cloud (Feinberg 2010). Key
words in context (KWICs) were also considered for the following words
and their synonyms: space, place, race, segregation and time (see Figure
11.6). The maximum number of lines of text any student wrote was seven
(one student). Six responses had six lines and eight responses had five
lines. The modal class was four lines with 13 responses; there were eleven
responses with three lines and, finally, seven responses with two lines.
The sentences were short, so four lines of text was usually either three or
four sentences.
The majority of students gave integrative and/or reflective types of
responses. In all, 37 students gave over 60 integrative and/or reflective
comments, which indicates that their understanding was highly organised
and typical of relational or extended abstract levels of understanding (Biggs
and Tang 2007). The second largest category of comments was technical
and skills oriented; there were 23 of these. These responses are typical of
students with multi-structural levels of understanding. Lastly, 11 students
gave responses that can be considered affective-positive; they said that the
course had been ‘interesting’, ‘amazing’, ‘cool’, ‘good’, ‘easy’, ‘new’ or ‘useful’.
No negative responses were given.
The word cloud generated (see Figure 11.6) is clearly dominated by the
media they used (Google) and the learning they acquired. The key words
indicate that the time-geography practical exercises enhanced their knowledge
and awareness of key geographical principles in relation to their own activities
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Figure 11.6 Word cloud of student responses to the question: what did you learn from
the time-geography practicals?
in Grahamstown’s race space, and allowed them to enhance their technical
skills in relation to the use of internet-based tools.
Examples of typical responses showing integrative/reflective and technical/
practical learning are provided in Table 11.1.
Table 11.1 Examples of students’ comments on what they learned from the time-space
geography course
Key word
Examples of technical/
practical learning
Examples of integrative/reflective
How to identify place, where
I had been, from a photo and
how to map it.
I also learned that the spaces/
places we chose to live and travel to
are influenced by our backgrounds,
race and how we feel about those
Well, we learned how to
construct a map using Google
maps [and] to fuse all the
racial patterns, activities and
space occupied by them.
That we interact with certain spaces
based on our lifestyle choices.
Learned Grahamstown still faces
issues of segregation.
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Key word
Examples of technical/
practical learning
Examples of integrative/reflective
Time and movements can help to
study the adjacent race spaces in
the area one lives in. Grahamstown
still is racially, commercially and
spatially segregated at different
The university has brought about
the mixing of races and we can see
the diversification on campus.
I learned how to Georeference
photographs in order to get
a sense of where I had been
over a certain period of time.
…. lectures on space, place,
injustice and various geographical
social relationships also help
clarify and contextualise things. I
can now see how time-geography,
social, spatial, economic, and
historical features are tied
Concluding comments
The application of time geography as a pedagogical tool, and the innovative
use of smart phone technology, as well as Google Maps, Google Drive and
Fusion Tables, enhanced students’ awareness and understanding of timespace concepts. The analysis of their empirical data enabled students to
reflect on their daily activity patterns against the backdrop of race spaces
in Grahamstown.
The time-geographic concept therefore has the potential to deepen our
understanding of multiracial interaction and segregation in post-apartheid
cities. An analysis of the distinct pockets of local order that were evident
revealed how various constraints influence students’ movements and activities
in time and space. It can be argued, therefore, that the time-geographic
framework provides a useful analytical tool for analysing and enhancing
awareness of issues related to multicultural interaction and segregation in
specific time-spatial settings. Furthermore, new pockets of local order were
shown to be emerging in the city, and seemed to indicate the studentification
of sections of the urban structure. Although there is not the space here to
compare this finding with studies elsewhere in the world, this would be a
fruitful avenue for further research. However, the development of time
geography as a pedagogical tool for multidisciplinary analysis has been
illustrated, as has the potential for international academic collaboration to
help deepen understandings of such global issues through a local lens.
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The two authors of this chapter have collaborated for almost 15 years in the
fields of web-based learning and the internationalisation of higher education
(see Fox and Assmo; 2004). Associate Professor Assmo is based at Linköping
University, Sweden and is a visiting professor at Rhodes University in South
Africa; Professor Fox is based at Rhodes University in South Africa and is a
guest professor at Högskolan Väst in Sweden.
The percentages for black and white participants were roughly the inverse of
those for the university as a whole. This is probably related to the inequalities
that persist in South Africa, including in the schooling system, which mean that
the teaching of science subjects, including geography, at schools in low-income
areas is often weak.
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students pay fees, and many are supported by their parents while they study.
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Stats SA (Statistics South Africa) (2012) Population Census 2011. Pretoria.
Thrift N (2005) ‘Torsten Hägerstrand and social theory’, Progress in Human
Geography. 29: 337–340.
Tomlinson R, R Beauregard, L Bremner and X Mangcu (eds) (2003) Emerging
Johannesburg: Perspectives on the Postapartheid City. New York: Routledge.
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Chapter 12
Rethinking access to higher education in Malawi:
Lessons from the Malawi Institute of Management’s
collaborations with universities in the United Kingdom
Rebecca Ward and Ida Mbendera
The Malawi Institute of Management (MIM) has successfully
developed a number of partnerships with universities in the UK to deliver
higher education in Malawi. This chapter describes the collaborative approach
adopted between MIM and the University of Bolton to widen access to
higher education, maximise capacity development and contribute to the
economic development of Malawi. The model is both financially sustainable
and founded on a robust blended learning pedagogy – a combination that
rewards collaborating institutions and students alike.
By adopting an approach designed to share good practice and develop local
capacity in Malawi’s higher education sector, the model contributes to the
eighth Millennium Development Goal (MDG), namely to develop a global
partnership for development.1 Beyond this, contributions to the MDGs are
indirect, but significant. The partnership provides an additional pathway to
higher education, enhancing the management and IT skills of professionals in
Malawi, and better equipping them to make their own contributions towards
the achievement of the MDGs. This aligns well with the Paris Declaration and
the Accra Agenda, which established the importance of country ownership
in the design and implementation of development initiatives (OECD 2008).
The approach is also in line with Malawi’s National Education Sector Plan
2008–2017, which seeks to increase access to higher education (Ministry of
Education Science and Technology 2008).
In this chapter, we introduce the partners and the delivery model before
discussing the benefits that have arisen from the collaborative approach, namely:
the provision of a pedagogically robust learning experience for students, the use
of local resources and the development of local capacities, as well as the reduced
costs of access to international education. Some of the challenges that faced the
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programme and have been overcome are discussed. Finally some conclusions
are drawn about possible avenues for further research.
The expansion of Malawi’s higher education sector forms part of the country’s
strategic plan, Vision 2020 (Government of Malawi 2003). Accordingly, the
government has maintained per student funding of higher education in a
way that sets Malawi apart from its neighbouring countries. The portion of
public resources allocated to higher education has broadly kept pace with the
growth in student numbers, and the sector absorbs more than 25 per cent of
the country’s recurrent expenditure on education which in the 2007/2008
fiscal year totalled MK22.3 billion (US$48.6 million), a 16 per cent increase
from 2001/2002 (World Bank 2010a). Government expenditure per tertiary
student grew from US$4 069 in 2000 to US$6 306 in 2011 (UNESCO
2015). This compares favourably with the general trend in the poorest African
nations, where the number of university students quadrupled between 1991
and 2006, yet the provision of public resources to higher education increased
by a maximum of 75 per cent, effectively leading to significant reductions in
per student spend (World Bank 2010a).
While the maintenance of per student spend in Malawi is admirable, it
makes higher education in the country comparatively costly, and the sector
has been under scrutiny due to perceived inefficiencies. In 2006, Malawi had
a student to staff ratio of 11:1 compared to the average of 20:1 in OECD
countries (World Bank 2010b). Given Malawi’s finances, if the sector is to
grow, efficiencies will need to be improved. In 2010, the World Bank estimated
a US$16 million funding gap if the growth trend in student enrolment rates
continued into 2015 (World Bank 2010a).
There is also a serious undersupply of higher education in Malawi.
Only 1 per cent of the population enrols in tertiary education, compared
to 61 per cent in the United Kingdom, a global average of 30 per cent,
and a low-income-country average of 9 per cent (World Bank 2014).
Projections done in 2013 suggest that Malawi will be one of only three
countries in the Southern African Development Community to still have a
tertiary education enrolment rate of less than 10 per cent by 2050 (SARUA
2012a). In 2008, 38 per cent of school pupils who successfully completed
the Malawi Schools Certificate of Education enrolled in public higher
education institutions (SARUA 2012b), but university places are heavily
oversubscribed. For example, Mzuzu University received 6 000 applicants for
800 available places in 2007 (World Bank, 2010b). Access to postgraduate
degrees is even more limited; at the University of Malawi, which is the
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largest university in the country and has four constituent colleges, only 332
students successfully completed postgraduate study between 2000 and 2008
(World Bank 2010b).
Malawi’s public universities also suffer from frequent closures resulting
from disputes between the authorities, staff and students (Malawi Voice 2013;
Malawi Nation 2012). In 2011, two of the University of Malawi’s campuses,
Chancellor College and The Malawi Polytechnic, were closed for nearly
nine months for this reason. Six months later, another conflict between the
authorities and students erupted over student allowances. The campuses were
again closed and students were sent home for nearly two months.
In stark contrast, MIM is productive and financially stable: between 2000
and 2014, the institution helped over 700 master’s students to graduate, many
of whom were self-sponsored and completed their studies within the expected
timeframe. These results have been achieved by using a collaborative approach
to the delivery of education which is commercially viable for all partners, and
maintains academic standards through a robust blended-learning pedagogy.
The collaborating partners
MIM was established through an Act of parliament in 1989, with a
remit to provide training programmes and consulting services for private
companies, government agencies, parastatals and civil-society organisations.2
The institution therefore has a strong in-service focus. The institute was
initially supported by World Bank funding, but this came to an end in 2000,
necessitating new and more sustainable business strategies. The move into
higher education formed part of this strategic shift with the first highereducation programme delivered in collaboration with the UK’s University of
Derby in 2000. Partnerships were subsequently developed with the University
of Bolton and Leeds Metropolitan University, which are also UK universities.
In line with its mandate, MIM initially focused on delivering postgraduate
qualifications in management development, but undergraduate qualifications
have since been added to its portfolio.
The University of Bolton3 is a higher education institution in the UK that
was granted university status in 2004. In 2014, the university had approximately
13 000 registered students across a wide range of academic disciplines who
were studying from foundation to doctorate level. The Off-Campus Division
was established in October 2011 to consolidate significant and expanding offcampus activity both in the UK and overseas.4 The division has a dedicated
team who, at the time of writing, delivered or managed University of Bolton
programmes in Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Germany, Malaysia, Sri
Lanka, Zambia, Malawi and Botswana. The university management has
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endorsed a strong emphasis on widening participation, with off-campus
activities driving this effort.
The university’s partnership with MIM was established in 2007, with
the development of an MSc in Supply Chain Management. In 2014, this
programme enrolled its eighth student cohort. A PhD programme in the
same field commenced in 2010, and a Master of Public Administration and
an MSc in Project Management were introduced in 2012.
The delivery model
The University of Bolton’s Off-Campus Division has primarily delivered
overseas programmes with a shared-delivery ‘flying faculty’ model that
combines face-to-face teaching by academics from Bolton (who fly to Malawi
for short periods) with additional teaching and support from local tutors. This
is supplemented by a virtual learning environment, which uses a Moodle-based
platform to provide resources and a digital forum, via which student activities
and assignments can be guided and submitted. The combination of these three
course-design pillars enables the two institutions to deliver a programme that,
as shown below, is both financially sustainable and pedagogically robust.
Typical delivery of a single 12-week module within a degree programme
includes a two-day block of teaching from the University of Bolton tutor at
the beginning of the module, and another two-day teaching block mid-way
through the 12-week period by a local tutor. For the remainder of the time,
students are directed to the online platform, and instructed to complete a
series of scheduled guided but independent learning tasks that are designed
to help them navigate through the material, develop their academic skills, and
prepare them for summative assessments. Many of the tasks have interactive
elements that require students to collaborate and provide peer-review-type
feedback to their fellow students via the Moodle forum. Remote support is also
available from both tutors during the weeks in which no face-to-face delivery
is provided. Students and staff all have access to the University of Bolton’s
e-resources which include a substantial body of e-books and e-journals. All
study programmes are subject to the university’s standard quality assurance
and enhancement processes which are, in turn, stipulated by the UK’s Quality
Assurance Agency for Higher Education.
The partnership between MIM and the University of Bolton has been
developed on a commercial basis with sustainable financial rewards for both
partners derived from the student fees. No direct public funding is used to
support the partnership, although the public sector in Malawi sponsors a
significant number of their own employees who register as students. The
share of the student tuition fee allocated to each of the partners reflects the
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Figure 12.1 Outline of a typical off-campus education programme delivered jointly by
the University of Bolton and MIM
Wk 2
Wk 3
UoB delivery
Wk 4
Wk 5
Wk 6
Wk 7
Wk 8
Wk 9
Wk 10
Wk 11
MIM delivery
Wk 12
> > > > > > > > > > >
Workshop 2
Workshop 1
Wk 1
Virtual learning environment
Guided independent learning tasks (GILTs)
Additional resources
relative contribution they each make to the partnership, and this may change
over time. Roles and responsibilities are clearly outlined in a contractually
binding partnership agreement and an accompanying operational manual.
The agreements are reviewed annually, and there is scope to negotiate and
adjust the financial allocation as contributions shift. The delivery model is
therefore designed to be financially sustainable.
The benefits of collaboration
The delivery model described above has delivered benefits both to students
and the collaborating institutions. For MIM, 13 years of working with UK
partners has unlocked capacity, provided access to resources and delivered
efficiency gains that would probably not have been achievable otherwise. For
students, the model has provided the benefits of an international education
without removing them from Malawi or the context in which they work and
need to apply the management skills they learn about. We have identified
three key benefits of collaboration: the provision of a pedagogically robust
learning experience for students, the use of local resources and development
of local capacity, and access to an international education institution at a
reduced cost. Each of these points is explained in a little more detail below.
Pedagogically robust learning experiences for students
The use of a block-release delivery model, where the face-to-face element of
teaching is concentrated into two workshops for each module, was initially
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driven by the logistical challenges of delivering off-campus. It is simply not
possible for a UK-based institution to deliver a ‘traditional’ programme with
weekly face-to-face teaching sessions in Malawi. More recently, however,
the model has also been shaped by best practices identified in pedagogical
literature on blended learning (see, for example, Garrison and Vaughn 2008).
Using innovative technologies, face-to-face delivery is now combined with
extensive use of virtual learning. That is, both education institutions have
sought to organically integrate the ‘thoughtfully selected and complementary
face-to-face and online approaches and technologies’, that characterise the
best blended-learning designs (Garrison and Vaughn 2008: 148). In 2012,
informed by the extensive literature on blended learning, some of which is
discussed below, the programme significantly increased and formalised the
role played by Moodle in course design and delivery.
This approach is in tune with global trends. Many universities have
reported an increase in delivery of programmes with online elements,
driven by strong evidence of improved learner outcomes (Vaughn and
Garrison, 2010). A cross-disciplinary analysis conducted by the US
Department of Education found statistically stronger learning outcomes
from blended approaches than either face-to-face or online delivery alone
(US Department of Education 2009). Online course elements afford
students flexibility in terms of time, as well as improved student-teacher
and peer-to-peer interaction. Online delivery can also allow for continuous
improvement of course materials, constantly widening access to educational
resources, and reduced operating costs (Vaughn 2007). The blendedlearning approach thus solves many of the logistical problems related to
learning at a geographic distance, and helps to improve the quality of the
education being delivered.
The blended-learning approach also provides an ideal platform
for learning in the social constructivist tradition, which contends that
knowledge is constructed by engaging students in real-life, problem-solving
situations (Bransford et al. 1990) and that learners actively construct new
ideas through collaborative activities and dialogue (Dewey 1959; Vygotsky
cited in Chew et al. 2008). Blended-learning approaches, which mix
periodic face-to-face contact with constant online interaction, thus aim
to create ‘environments…that bring students to discover and construct
knowledge for themselves’ (Barr and Tagg 1995: 5). In practical terms, this
means providing:
Interactive environments for knowledge building.
Activities that encourage collaboration and shared expression of ideas.
Support for reflection, peer review and evaluation ( Jisc 2004).
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All of these elements are built into the curriculum and delivery mode used by
the University of Bolton and MIM. While facilitating geographic flexibility
for students, the use of Moodle also enables the programme team to develop
a ‘community of enquiry’ as conceived by Garrison et al. (2000). Built into this
notion is an acknowledgement that learning is not an individual pursuit, and
that individual cognition is usually more effective when complemented with
social interaction. An effective learning environment therefore should include
the following three elements:
A social presence, in which students can identify with their learning
community, communicate within a trustworthy environment, and develop
interpersonal relationships that support learning.
A cognitive presence, in which students are able to construct and confirm
meaning through sustained reflection and discourse.
A teaching presence in which teachers design, facilitate and direct various
cognitive and social processes (Garrison et al. 2000).
All three elements begin in the classroom but are then extended to the online
environment through the use of carefully designed interactive tasks. Students
are required to use the Moodle forums extensively to share work, provide
and receive feedback, and engage in dialogue with their tutors and peers.
Tasks are scheduled so that students can draw upon what they have learned
though reviewing and being reviewed when preparing their final summative
assessments. In one 12-week module delivered in 2013 and 2014,5 a class
of 22 students created 632 student posts, and 7 255 views were recorded.
In addition to the official forums created by the tutors for specific course
activities, 23 additional threads were created by students to ask questions,
arrange study-group meetings, or to share resources and ideas.
This delivery model also accommodates work-based learners. This is
obviously important from the perspective of widening access to education,
but it also has a strong influence on the teaching and learning approaches
adopted by the programme teams. It facilitates a highly reflective, applied
and personalised approach to learning, where concepts discussed in class
can immediately be practised and considered in the student’s work context.
The emphasis is on self-direction and learning from experience, as per the
Open University’s hugely successful approach (Harvey and Norman 2005).
With core concepts introduced face-to-face, the use of online forums
means that dialogue related to students’ own personal learning can continue
outside the classroom. With personalisation and work-integration at its
heart, this approach has proven to result in positive learning outcomes
(Powell et al. 2008).
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The extensive use of an interactive virtual learning environment, and
reliance on electronic resources (e-books, e-journals and open source
materials), also means that graduates of these programmes develop the
confidence and skills in using interactive information technology that are
essential in today’s increasingly globalised workplaces.
Using local resources and developing financially sustainable capacity
At the heart of this institutional collaboration are two keystone principles,
namely: that both parties add value to the partnership, and that local teaching
staff will be included. Indeed, shared delivery arrangements that require UKbased staff to travel internationally are costly, and the long-term sustainability
of the partnership depends on teaching and programme management being
run increasingly by MIM.
With this goal in mind, the University of Bolton has provided continuous
professional development to MIM tutors. The aim has been to strengthen and
update their professional skills, familiarise them with established practices
in relation to quality assurance and enhancement, and give them the skills
to use Moodle effectively. Initially MIM tutors often work alongside a UKbased tutor to co-develop and deliver modules, thus learning about materials
development, as well as about the course-delivery, assessment and moderation
processes required by the UK system. As a result, all MIM tutors working
on the programmes develop hands-on experience of teaching and learning
within a highly regulated system, and master up-to-date technologies and
teaching practices. Since 2015, MIM tutors have been given the opportunity
to register for an online Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning
in Higher Education to further enhance their professional skills and status.
This is a first in Malawi, since, as far as we have been able to ascertain, none of
the other universities run professional training programmes for their tutors.
In addition to offering opportunities for enhanced staff training and
development, the University of Bolton was also able to provide efficient
processes and systems for managing student data, as well as programme
administration, quality, and enhancement. MIM has been able to adapt and
transfer these processes and structures to the delivery and management of
its own growing portfolio. Similarly, MIM tutors who teach on the Bolton
programmes have been able to apply the skills they have acquired to other
activities, such as short-term training programmes and consulting activities.
MIM’s human resource and organisational capacities have therefore increased
significantly since its partnerships with UK universities began in 2000.
To deal with its expanding partnerships, MIM has increased the size of
its faculty considerably: in 2000 MIM had 10 staff qualified to master’s level
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and one with a PhD; in 2015, it had 18 staff with master’s degrees and 6
with PhDs. As a result, MIM is taking increasing control of the University
of Bolton programme portfolio as a franchisee and, with the three existing
master’s programmes to be delivered on a part-franchise basis and three new
programmes validated to be run as full franchises from 2015, MIM staff will
be delivering 8 postgraduate and 18 undergraduate modules, with no teaching
input from Bolton at all.
MIM’s management and delivery of UK-regulated programmes has also
prepared MIM for the emerging regulatory regime for higher education in
Malawi. In 2011 Malawi’s parliament passed legislation enabling establishment
of the National Council of Higher Education (NCHE). This means that to
be an accredited tuition offering body, MIM’s quality systems now have to be
internally audited. MIM is also applying to the National Council for degreeawarding powers. The experience MIM has gained through its partnership
with the University of Bolton in relation to programme approval, validation
and day-to-day quality assurance, as shaped by the UK’s Quality Assurance
Agency, means that MIM is well placed to meet these requirements.
Experience obtained through international collaboration has also provided a
solid foundation from which MIM can develop its own portfolio of courses.
This outcome of the partnership is nicely aligned to MDG 8: developing
global partnerships for development.
Access to international education at reduced cost
Sherry et al. (2010) identify financial problems as one of the main challenges
facing international students. The delivery model also facilitates a reduced-cost
route to gaining an international postgraduate qualification. The University of
Bolton master’s programmes delivered in Malawi cost US$ 9 000 in total
(18 months of study). By comparison, students wishing to travel to the UK
to study identical postgraduate programmes would be subject to tuition fees
of £9 900 (US$ 15 430) plus estimated annual living costs of approximately
£7 200 (US$ 11 220), excluding the costs of a visa and flights to and from the
UK. In contrast, this shared-delivery model offers students the opportunity
to gain the same qualification at just over half the price, and to avoid the
difficulties of relocating. While the Bolton-accredited courses seem expensive
when compared to the cost of Malawian qualifications, the collaborative model
offers students an international qualification, while enabling them to remain
in full-time employment and to stay with their families throughout. This is
significant considering that Malawi’s universities offer limited postgraduate
courses, thus forcing many individuals to travel internationally to pursue an
education beyond their undergraduate degree.
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The logistical benefits are matched by the academic value of the
multicultural approach adopted by the two institutions. Student learning is
facilitated by both UK and Malawian tutors, resulting in a truly international
curriculum that equips students for employment in Malawi and beyond.
Internationalisation is widely acknowledged to enhance student experience
at higher education level, enabling students to develop ‘global perspectives
and cross-cultural capability in order to be able to perform, professionally
and socially, in a multicultural environment’ (Clifford and Joseph 2005;
see also Leask and Carroll 2011; Sweeney 2012). Ordinarily, Malawians
would need to leave the country to reap these benefits. However, it is also
acknowledged that students travelling away from their home country to study
face significant challenges. Rienties et al. (2012) identify challenges arising
from both academic and social adjustment, whilst Gu et al. (2010) argue that
personal, pedagogical, psychological, organisational and socio-cultural factors
can also provide challenges to international students. The model described
here enables students to access an international curriculum without exposure
to these challenges.
Overcoming challenges linked to virtual learning environments
The model clearly provides benefits for students as well as both delivery
partners. However, successfully delivering programmes with such a heavy
reliance on online resources was not achieved without first addressing a
number of challenges. In particular, a central question was how best to secure
quality student and staff engagement.
Providing a technological platform does not automatically lead to student
engagement. Precel et al. (2009) note that even when students recognise
the value of collaborative online activities, they often regard the activities
as too challenging and are reluctant to get involved. In addition, research
by Capdeferro and Romero (2012) shows that students involved in online
collaborative learning often report frustration, mostly about perceived
unevenness in effort. More relevant to the Malawian context, Porcaro and AlMusawi (2011) found that students engaged in limited ways because they were
unaccustomed to using the internet, found online discussions cumbersome
and had slow internet connections. If online collaborative approaches are to
be embedded, these barriers must be overcome.
Several steps had to be taken to ensure student engagement with the virtual
learning environment, which, for many students, was quite alien. Observations
from student induction programmes provided several indicators of this lack
of familiarity, highlighting, for example, that not all students intuitively scroll
down a screen to view a whole webpage; some students tried to type web
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addresses into search engines; some students were unfamiliar with the ‘back’
button; others were unfamiliar with case sensitivity of passwords; and several
students were fearful of making irreversible errors.
To ensure that students are able to engage with the Moodle platform, and
to emphasise to students that online work is a core part of the delivery model,
Moodle is introduced during a comprehensive two-day student induction
programme, which includes interactive sessions where students log on and
interact with the online environment. Significant ‘instructional’ information
and signposting is also provided on the course website. Extrinsic motivation
is also important and the integration of online interactive and collaborative
activity into summative assessment has been identified as an effective way
of securing student engagement ( Jisc 2004; MacDonald 2006). This also
helps to integrate the online work into the course and ensures that students
do not perceive online learning as an optional extra (Race 2006). Reflecting
these factors, the programme team integrated the following features into
programme design and delivery:
Students create their own Moodle profile (including a photograph and
an introductory post) as part of the scheduled induction process. This
helps to ensure that the virtual learning environment is integrated with
classroom activities and that all student interaction that occurs via Moodle
has a human face.
To overcome resistance to collaborative work, students self-select the
study groups they wish to join. Study groups have both a physical and
online presence to create familiarity and position online collaboration as a
value-adding and non-optional activity.
Resource sharing and peer-review processes are built into a series of
scheduled formative online activities that are linked to the students’
summative assessments. The pace and structure of online activities is fully
integrated into the course design, with logical progression of activities
before, during and after face-to-face delivery and a small portion (10 per
cent) of the final summative assessment mark allocated to participation in
and contributions to online activities.6
A generic ‘Moodle template’ has been developed that uses standard
formats and icons. This helps to ensure that students’ interactions with the
online environment quickly feel consistent and familiar.
The results have been impressive, with the majority of students engaging with
the online elements, and giving very positive feedback on the value of the
collaborative activities. In a Student–Staff Liaison Committee meeting, the
student representative reported that, although students continue to experience
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periodic challenges when using Moodle, the online forums have proven to be
one of the most useful elements of the programme; they are used for resource
sharing, arranging study group meetings and asking questions.
Tutor engagement with the online element of the course has been
another challenge. The virtual learning environment is effectively an
additional ‘resource’ that needs to be created and maintained, and this has
been a challenge for already busy programme staff. At Student– Staff Liaison
Committee meetings in 2013 and 2014, student representatives raised two
concerns relating to tutors’ use of Moodle: the first was a lack of engagement
from MIM tutors, and the second was that dates and/or information
provided on Moodle occasionally conflicted with dates on the published
timetable and module guide. Continuous training of both MIM and Bolton
tutors is therefore essential to the sustainability of the delivery model. The
ability of MIM tutors to interact with Moodle is relatively limited and they
have been given intensive support from Bolton. Two individuals at MIM
have been identified as proficient in (and enthusiastic about) Moodle, and
have therefore been given extended course-creation rights. Over time, it is
anticipated that these individuals will become the main source of support to
their other colleagues at MIM.
Finally, reliance on an online platform is challenging in an environment
where internet connectivity is unreliable and slow (broadband download
speed in Malawi averages 1.70 Mbps compared to 29.2 Mbps in the UK),
limited coverage (only 5.4 per cent of Malawi’s population have internet
access) (Net Index 2014). These problems have been mitigated by providing
all module materials on a CD so that they can be viewed off-line. In addition,
students without reliable internet access at home or at work are given access
to MIM’s campus-wide Wi-Fi. In class, internet connectivity challenges
have been dealt with by making sure that alternative connection devices are
available on standby.
This chapter has provided an initial exploration of collaborative higher
education provision in Malawi by presenting the delivery model successfully
adopted by MIM and the University of Bolton in the UK. Importantly, this
model is financially sustainable and run on a commercial basis; no public
funding is required.
The approach has widened access, and developed local capacity to deliver
higher education in Malawi, as evidenced by MIM’s application for degreeawarding powers and its increasing responsibility for programme delivery
and management. This is most recently shown by the validation of three
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programmes on a full franchise basis. MIM’s various partnerships with UK and
international universities have played a major role in developing the institution’s
own capacity, and assisted the organisation in contributing to MDG 8.
The use of two-day face-to-face teaching blocks supported by online
learning and activities has widened access to working individuals who do not
have to take time out from work to study. The online component also seems to
show clear pedagogical benefits, but further research is required to investigate
the positive learning outcomes of this blended approach for students.
Research is also required to establish if this delivery model could be scaled
to further widen access to higher education in Malawi with the collaboration
of other international universities. Perhaps more significantly, the model
could also be applied nationally so that established Malawian institutions,
such as MIM, partner with newer or smaller institutions inside the country.
This shared-delivery approach has been shown to develop capacity in the
partnering institution and, with a clear framework for shadowing and transfer
of responsibilities, it has the potential to be used to extend provision and
spread good practice across the sector.
More information on the MDGs is available at:
The course was Public Policy and Administration (EBU4023) and was taught by
one of the co-authors of this chapter.
This is not without its challenges. During a pilot run, feedback from both the
student representative and the programme’s external examiner indicated that too
many online activities had been included in the module and the overall workload
was too high. In subsequent course delivery, the number of activities has been
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About the contributors
Per Assmo is an associate professor at Linköping University in Sweden and at
Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa.
Ludo Badlangana is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the
University of Botswana in Gaborone.
Celso Belo is dean of the School of Medicine at the Universidade Lurio in
Nampula, Mozambique.
Lars Bergström is a senior lecturer at Karlstad University in Sweden.
Kasonde Bowa is dean and professor at the School of Medicine at the
Copperbelt University in Ndola, Zambia.
Berith Nyqvist Cech is a senior lecturer at Karlstad University in Sweden.
Dan Darkey is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography, Geoinformatics and Meteorology at the University of Pretoria in South Africa.
Quentin Eichbaum is associate professor of pathology, microbiology and
immunology, associate professor of medical education and administration,
director of Global Health Electives and a clinical fellowship programme
director at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, USA.
Henri-Count Evans is a master’s student at the Centre for Communication,
Media and Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban South
Roderick Fox is a professor at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South
Africa and at Högskolan Väst in Sweden.
Tor Halvorsen is a senior researcher at the University of Bergen Global
(UiBGlobal) and an associate professor in the Department of Administration
and Organization Science at the University of Bergen in Norway.
Marius Hedimbi is a senior lecturer at the School of Medicine at the University
of Namibia in Windhoek.
Hilde Ibsen is an associate professor of history at the Department of the
Environment and Life Sciences at Karlstad University in Sweden.
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2015/11/23 11:26 AM
Elizabeth Kamchedzera is a lecturer in special needs and inclusive education
in the Faculty of Education at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College
in Zomba.
Keikantse Matlhagela is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at the
University of Botswana in Gaborone, Botswana.
Ida Mbendera is a lecturer at the University of Malawi’s Kamuzu College
of Nursing in Lilongwe prior to which she was the director of Long-Term
Programmes at the Malawi Institute of Management.
Victor Mgomezulu is senior lecturer in the Department of Geography and
Earth Sciences at Mzuzu University, Malawi.
Vyvienne M’kumbuzi is a senior lecturer in the Physiotherapy Department at
the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine in Blantyre, Malawi.
Pedzani Perci Monyatsi is a teaching practice co-ordinator in the Faculty of
Education at the University of Botswana in Gaborone.
Luke Mwale is a lecturer in the Department of Library and Information
Science at Mzuzu University in Malawi.
Hellen Myezwa is an associate professor in public health and community
physiotherapy in the Physiotherapy Department at the University of the
Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Alice Namanja is an assistant lecturer in the Physiotherapy Department at the
University of Malawi’s College of Medicine in Blantyre, Malawi.
Peter Nyarango is dean and a professor in the School of Medicine at the
University of Namibia in Windhoek.
OS Phibion is a senior lecturer in the Department of Primary Education at the
University of Botswana in Gaberone.
Tonderai Shumba is a national programme manager at the Community-Based
Rehabilitation Directorate in the Ministry of Health and Social Services,
Windhoek, Namibia.
About the contributors
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Miroslaw Staron is an associate professor in the Department of Computer
Science and Engineering at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.
Olli Vainio is a professor in the Biomedicine Research Unit in the Department
of Medical Microbiology and Immunology as well as programme director in
medicine at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Oulu in Finland.
Rebecca Ward is the technical adviser on Higher Education for IREX in
Washington DC, United States of America. Formerly, she was Academic
Partnership Manager at the University of Bolton, UK.
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