I’ve always wondered about the relationship between foreign education and political leadership. Did Bill Clinton infuse the knowledge gained and experience from his Oxford University days while in the White House? Surely.
Ultimately, in a well-functioning country, the president – and his top officials – has leadership over that country’s development. (I admit that this is rather idyllic, but let’s go with it for now.) Therefore, I propose that a president’s decisions could be a result of higher education’s impact on national development.
My brain was chewing on this connection after reading two posts on Sahel Blog, Malian elections and French Educations and Senegalese Politicans and French Educations. Alex Thurston points out that all major candidates for Mali’s 2012 elections studied in France, as did the current and 3 former Presidents of Senegal.
These presidents and candidates have longstanding careers in politics, government, academia, and non-governmental organizations. Here are two examples. Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is the former prime minister and former president of the National Assembly of Mali. Before his political career took off, he put together Mali’s first small-scale European Union aid program. Keita holds graduate degrees in history, political science, and international relations. Abdoulaye Wade was President of Senegal from 2000 to 2012, and before this was the Dean of the Law and Economics Faculty at the University of Dakar. He earned a doctorate in both law and economy, as well as taught in France.
Here is a list of French degrees earned by these gentlemen (incomplete and in no particular order): history, political science, international relations, software engineering, criminology, French grammar, law, economics, and geological engineering.
Isn’t it interesting to ponder how these courses and time in France influence the policies they’re crafting? As a student, did they have a hospital stay which led them to want better health care at home? Did they learn from young activists who were fighting for equal rights? Did they learn to avoid plagiarism and fight corruption?
My cynical self says that these “bright young things” seek a foreign degree primarily to enhance their profile. A foreign degree commands respect, proves one’s intelligence, and seemingly paves the way for presidency. My optimistic self believes that the young men sought quality education abroad to improve themselves and their countries. I hope that these international education experiences have and will translate into wise development decisions in Mali and Senegal.