Accepted paper:

"Only the best is good enough for Africa": the African American Institute and the making of the new Nigerian elite (1960-1975)


Ngozi Edeagu (Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies, University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will explore the role of the scholarship initiatives of the African-American Institute in the training of Nigeria's post-colonial elite class. Focus will not only be placed on short-term global connections and local disruptions but also on the long-term effects of this elite training.

Paper long abstract:

Higher education promised great economic advantage to graduates and newly independent Nigeria. However, with limited spaces within, many percipient Nigerians traveled to the US having accurately judged the shift in global power from Britain to the US since 1945 and taking advantage of the latter's international scholarships during the 1960s and 1970s. Yet, while ASPAU recipients acted as cultural ambassadors in the US, they served as conduits for American interests back home as these international education programmes were integral to US soft power initiatives to shape hearts and minds favourable to their growing world dominance. Notably, the African American Institute (AAI) administered African Scholarships Program at American Universities (ASPAU), culled the cream of Nigeria's finest (previously educated at colonial and missionary secondary schools) between 1961 and 1970. The AAI now has 15,000 alumni worldwide. However, this expansive relationship, involving the global movement of people and ideas, created disruptions in Nigeria's post-independence development as return rates were discouraging and many eventual returnees turned to private sector employment pushing Western models of development.

The academic literature on US higher education support in Africa focuses on Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller philanthropic private initiatives. Therefore, I will examine AAI's role, as a contractor to the US government Agency for International Development, in the training Nigeria's post-colonial elites and how this peculiar training served growing US interests and stymied Nigeria's post-independence development. It will also illuminate how elite training contributed to the subsequent mass exodus of Nigerian intellectual elite class since then.

panel His16
Shaping hearts and mindsĀ : African elites' training from the colonial era to the present