Ousmane Oumar Kane


On his book Beyond Timbuktu: An Intellectual History of Muslim West Africa

Cover Interview of February 14, 2017


In 1964, Nigerien intellectual Abdou Moumouni, after whom the first university of independent Niger was named, published a state-of-the-art study of education in Africa, identifying its strengths and weaknesses. He argued forcefully that the reform of the educational system of Africa was a priority. Five decades after the publication of Moumouni’s work, knowledge production is still fragmented, and the current educational system is still not fully capable of integrating the different intellectual traditions. The problem with this knowledge divide is of course not specific to West Africa. The issue of knowledge divides in the world was the subject of the first World Social Science Report (ISSC-UNESCO 2010). Of the problems posing an obstacle to the accumulation, transmission, and use of knowledge in different societies, the report cites inequalities and asymmetries as the paramount factors. These are no doubt questions confronting West Africa in particular. The divide between intellectuals educated in European languages and in intellectuals in African languages and in particular Arabophones—needs to be bridged in order to make the intellectual legacy of the African continent legible and to build a solid foundation for education in the new millennium.

The implications of this book are potentially vast. First and foremost, my hope is that many people in Africa and beyond will come to be aware and proud of the fact that Africa is home to the world’s oldest university and a truly impressive intellectual tradition that is underappreciated. I hope that by showcasing the history, rigor, and vitality of this tradition, that others will come to appreciate everything it has offered the world in the past and still has to offer. Additionally, I hope that this work will help to bridge the considerable gap left by a skewed Eurocentric perspective on Africa and African intellectual history and allow a greater collaboration between the vibrant Islamic and Western intellectual traditions that have taken root in Africa and that have benefitted me personally.