African capacity building was first identified as a major development problem during the transition to independence in the 1950s. After billions of dollars of investment in education over the past three decades, capacity building has been identified as one of Africa's most serious development problem of the 1990s. This paper analyzes African capacity building experiences over the last four decades. It focuses on the treatment of African capacity building by colonial powers, African governments, donors, and international agencies during the transition to independence in the 1950s and the post independence period since 1960. Nigeria and Kenya are used as case studies to highlight some of the key issues and draw some lessons for South Africa. Capacity building in this study focuses on the development and strengthening of education and decision-making skills required for sustainable economic development. Attention is focused on both the supply and demand sides of capacity building, namely education expansion and absorptive capacity of the economy (i.e employment creation). Key findings include the following: Uncompromising political and economic demands for education at independence in the 1960s led to a massive expansion of education at all levels, beginning with universal free primary education in the 1960s, followed by the expansion of secondary and university education in the 1970s. Manpower training programs focused on the urgent Africanization of the civil service. However, after a major expansion of education from 1960 to 1980, problems emerged in the 1980s, including an intolerable level of government expenditure on education, declining education quality and relevance, and inability to absorb school leavers and curb the brain drain. Donors and international agencies have increasingly come under fire for paying insufficient attention to African capacity building while overemphasizing the provision of physical infrastructure which they assumed to be the "missing factor". These projects promised quick, visible, and measurable results but required crisis management. Technical assistance has also come under scrutiny. The new African Capacity Building Initiative was established to redress capacity problems in Africa. Six lessons flow from this analysis for South Africa: (1) The hard trade-offs between elimination of illiteracy (i.e primary education expansion) and university education expansion, (2) The burden of financing the expansion of education, (3) The high cost of education per student, (4) Absorptive capacity of the economy, (5) Effects of education expansion on quality and relevance of education , and (6) The selective borrowing of skills from the international community in nation building.


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