Interrogating a cosmopolitanism of African higher education

C.H. Manthalu, Y. Waghid


The immensity and inevitability of global interconnectedness have necessitated higher education to be cosmopolitan in its epistemological, and skills and attitudes development scope. Much has been written about the urgency, necessity and proposed modes of cosmopolitan higher education in Africa responsive to modern day demands and challenges. However, there is an outstanding need to interrogate the ontological assumptions and subsequent normative implications of the cosmopolitanism that informs African higher education. This paper argues that the globally predominant cosmopolitanism that also informs and is being pursued by African higher education is normatively problematic because it is exclusively grounded only in commonalities of the diverse people of the world, regarding their individuating differences as morally arbitrary and inhibitive of a realisation of cosmopolitan aspirations. Using Seyla Benhabib’s (1992) difference-grounded moral universalism, the paper argues that difference is constitutive of being a concrete individual or collectivity. As such African higher education ought to, as a matter of normative necessity, centre the subjectivities of the African experience. The central claims of this paper have implications on endeavors of re-imagining curriculum design, curriculum content selection and pedagogy in African higher education.

Full Text:



Appiah, K.A. 2005. The ethics of identity. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Arneson, R.J. 2016. Extreme cosmopolitanisms defended. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. 19(5):555–573.

Benhabib, S. 1992. Situating the self: gender, community and postmodernism in contemporary ethics. Cambridge: Polity.

Blunt, S. V. 2005. Critical thinking education. South African Journal of Higher Education. 19(Special Issue):1368–1378.

Chancellor College. 2019a. African Languages and Linguistics. [Online], Available: [2019, February 02].

Chancellor College. 2019b. English Department. [Online], Available: [2019, February 26].

Code, L. 2012. Taking subjectivity into account. In C.W. Ruitenberg & D.C. Phillips (eds.). Dordrecht: Springer Education, culture and epistemological diversity: mapping a disputed terrain. 85–100.

Elliott-Cooper, A. 2017. ‘Free, decolonised education’: a lesson from the South African student struggle. Area. 49(3):332–334.

Etieyibo, E. 2016. Why ought the philosophy curriculum in universities in Africa be africanised? South African Journal of Philosophy. 35(4):404–417.

Habermas, J. 1994. Citizenship and national identity. In B. Steenbergen (ed.). London: SAGE Publications Limited The Condition of citizenship. 20–35.

Habermas, J. 2001. The postnational constellation and the future of democracy. In M. Pensky (ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press The postnational constellation: political essays. 58–112.

Habermas, J. 2003. Toward a cosmopolitan europe. Journal of Democracy. 14(4):86–100.

Held, V. 2006. The ethics of care: personal, political, and global. New York: Oxford University Press.

MacIntyre, A. 2002. Dependent rational animals: why human beings need the virtues. Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company.

Malawi Government. 2013. Education Act. Malawi.

Masina, L. 2014. Malawi schools to teach in English. [Online], Available: [2018, January 01].

Meyers, D.T. 2005. Decentralizing autonomy: five faces of selfhood. In J. Christman & J. Anderson (eds.). New York: Cambridge University Press Autonomy and the challenges to liberalism: new essays. 27–55.

Miller, D. 1995. On nationality. New York: Oxford University Press.

Miller, D. 2007. National responsibility and global justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moyo, T. 2001. The changing language policies and reversing language roles in Malawi: from colonial times (1891-1964) to the present. Per Linguam. 17(2):1–11.

Mungwini, P. 2017. “African know thyself”: epistemic injustice and the quest for liberative knowledge. International Journal of African Renaissance Studies - Multi-, Inter- and Transdisciplinarity. 12(2):5–18.

National Statistics Office of Malawi. 1998. 1998 population and housing census analytical report. Zomba. [Online], Available: [2018, February 13].

National Statistics Office of Malawi. 2006. Social demographic data. [Online], Available: [2016, June 23].

National Statistics Office of Malawi. 2008. 2008 population and housing census results. [Online], Available: [2016, June 23].

Ndlovu-Gatsheni, S.J. 2015. Decoloniality as the Future of Africa. History Compass. 13(10):485–496.

Nili, S. 2015. Who’s afraid of a world state? A global sovereign and the statist-cosmopolitan debate. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. 18(3):241–263.

Nussbaum, M. 2002. Patritotism and cosmopolitanism. In M.C. Nussbaum & J. Cohen (eds.). Boston: Beacon Press For love of country? 2–20.

Pettersen, T. 2011. The ethics of care: normative structures, and empirical implications. Health Care Analysis : An International Journal of Health Care Philosophy and Policy. 19(1):51–64.

Ramose, M.B. 2016. Teacher and student with a critical pan-epistemic orientation: An ethical necessity for Africanising the educational curriculum in Africa. South African Journal of Philosophy. 35(4):546–555.

Taylor, C. 2003. The ethics of authenticity. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Zeleza, P.T. 2009. African Studies and Universities since Independence. Transition. (101):110–135.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

eISSN: 1753-5913

Copyright © 2016 South African Journal of Higher Education

Hosted by Stellenbosch University Library and Information Service since 2016.

Creative Commons License -CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

This journal is hosted by the SU LIS on request of the journal owner/editor. The SU LIS takes no responsibility for the content published within this journal, and disclaim all liability arising out of the use of or inability to use the information contained herein. We assume no responsibility, and shall not be liable for any breaches of agreement with other publishers/hosts.