In the 1960s, young PhD graduates interested in sub-Saharan Africa headed to the continent to teach and engage in academic life there. One of my PhD advisers, David Leonard, taught in Dar Es Salaam for a few years when it was the intellectual hub for emigres and revolutionaries and future Presidents. He went on to become a Professor at Berkeley. Two of my senior colleagues at Yale, David Apter and Bill Foltz, spent time working and teaching in Africa in the early years of Independence before going on to distinguished careers. I tried my best to soak up some of their stories before they passed away early into my time at Yale. It’s hard to imagine their later success without their early unorthodox choice.
When I graduated in 2007, this option was much less attractive. Most African countries were growing, but their universities struggled for a lack of funding, swollen student rolls, and discontent. Few universities seemed to be the sources of intellectual vibrancy in their country.
In Liberia, for example, the President’s office seemed more dynamic. In East Africa it was the newspapers where I thought the more vibrant work was going on. None were paths that fit for me. I figured I could do more good, for others but also for me, by taking a US post-doc and job and spending a few months a year abroad. But I missed my chance to immerse myself in a place. Visiting for weeks or even months was no substitute.
I’m happy to say that I think this is changing. Here is one example:
The African School of Economics (ASE) invites applications for postdoctoral fellowships starting in January and September 2017. Postdoctoral positions are contracted for a duration of 6 months to a year; appointments can be renewed for an additional semester or a year. Successful candidates will be required to teach at least one course and to engage in research activities in ASE’s research institutes (Institute for Research in Political Economy (IERPE) and Institute for Finance and Management (IFM)).
The ASE was started by Princeton political economist Leonard Wantchekon and strikes me as one of the more important educational experiments on the continent. I urge newly minted PhD students to apply.
And if you are a donor organization, I urge you to take a close look and consider fostering what I think will become the training ground for the continent’s 21st century leaders.