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Friday, 1 August 2008

Is Africa intellectually blind?

Thats the question posed by the latest piece in the African Executive. The author reckons that the failure of African leaders to write and engage in intelligent debate, even after they leave office is symptomatic of a wider problem facing Africa - a lack of ideas. Excerpt:

....How many current African rulers have ever written a book like the founders? I don’t see any! Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Jomo Kenyatta, Kwame Nkrumah and others wrote books. Others used to comment on papers eminently being Nigeria Obafemi Owolowo. Their books helped us to weigh and measure their intellectuality and vision altogether.

Where are new books written by the authors of this generation including our rulers? Famous and doyen African writers like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Fredinand Oyono and others are now exiting. Isn’t this the end of African Writers’ Series really?

I can see professionals abandoning their professions so as to become politicians. Thus, alas, like tomatoes, make easier and quick fortunes. Who could believe that professors like George Saitoti in Kenya would be used by illiterate Indian Kamlesh Pattni and Daniel arap Moi (former president) to ruin Kenya’s coffers on top of nearing the country to bankruptcy?

....Our rulers neither write nor read. If they do, why haven't they brought changes?Most of the time they’re in banquets and trips abroad doing business. They’re ruling without philosophies and vision. In short, they’re but bluffing and fluffing. Those who ever tried to write have compiled their speeches. Benjamin Mkapa, former president of Tanzania did this.

Western leaders teach at universities when they retire or do work related to academics. I recently witnessed an ex-Chief of Stuff of Canada, Gen. Rick Hillier being appointed the Chancellor of famous university of Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador (MUN). Ask me where the retired chief of staff of Tanzania is.
A separately, but related piece in the same paper calls for an "African Way". Calling on Africans to "develop systems of government that take into account the peculiarities of Africa without throwing away elements of other systems that may be useful to us".

9 comments:

  1. Actually francophone African leaders tend to "write" books (nobody read them). That's of course pure sakism as political books are important in the French culture.


    His criticism is kind of weak, especially considering the poor quality of the intellectual debate among African INTELLECTUALS.

    You get the politicians you deserve.. lol

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  2. "Actually francophone African leaders tend to "write" books (nobody read them). That's of course pure sakism as political books are important in the French culture."

    True!
    Plus writing a book is very straight forward. You can write on anything. Mugabe is probably sitting on several volumes..."the end of British empirialism in Zimbabwe"..."Zimbabwe and the look east policy"..."On the economics of land reform - with a special focus on Zimbabwe"...lol!

    "His criticism is kind of weak, especially considering the poor quality of the intellectual debate among African INTELLECTUALS."

    Thats worrying, because he is leading light!

    By the way, the African Magazine probably highlights the problem among African thinkers. It always has good headlines, but everytime I pick it up, its full of articles by journalists turned political commentators. When they economy and politics its a real shambles. But I keep reading it because it has good historical bits. The other day they had Lumumba's independence day speech. They also do good historical profiles of African cities.

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  3. But I keep reading it because it has good historical bits. The other day they had Lumumba's independence day speech. They also do good historical profiles of African cities.

    Interesting.
    I just checked their website and they have Nigeria's first prime minister's independence speech but I couldn't find any historical profile of African cities. I would be forever grateful if you could tell how to find them. :-)

    You've never read Lumumba's speech before ? It's a weird moment. The speech in itself is great and on point. But both critics and admirers have develloped quite complicated views of Lumumba out of it. As if telling the King od Belgium that "we're nto your monkeys anymore" is a devellopment program by itself or proof that he intended on nationalizing the whole economy or turn into Mao.

    Lumumba is a vaccum that people filled with their own projections.

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  4. Hi Cho, good work with the blog as always. In response to the Nkwazi article, I agree and feel that Africa is becoming intellectually moribund. There’s a real lack of political and economic discourse not just among African leaders but also among the masses and in particular the middle classes (the engines of development) who generally tend to further their own personal agendas in the short term over long term gains.

    If you ask why the level of debate has not been raised on the continent, it is difficult to come to a conclusion that doesn’t either strip African people of their responsibility by placing the blame on external factors or implicitly patronises Africans as a lower people. It’s putting in stark terms but I think this is a debate that needs to be had.

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  5. "His criticism is kind of weak, especially considering the poor quality of the intellectual debate among African INTELLECTUALS."

    "If you ask why the level of debate has not been raised on the continent, it is difficult to come to a conclusion that doesn’t either strip African people of their responsibility by placing the blame on external factors or implicitly patronises Africans as a lower people. It’s putting in stark terms but I think this is a debate that needs to be had."

    Very true, the initial post-independance debat was vivid, colourful and interesting. Sadly enough for us it didnt came up with lasting answers for an african state (of mind).

    The difficulty is that we tend to react very defensive.

    The older generations of independance heroes is still around and makes sure we all hold some grudge against the white oppressors. Thus making a rational debate about their own mistakes, and there were plenty, rather difficult.

    The new generation has to find its spot under the sun in a globalized world. A world in which Africa equals for many corruption, starvation, tribal war...

    We have to come up with a new African morality, something every African can relate to ...

    If not we have to keep on defending the Mugabe's and Kabila's of this world despite of ourselves

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  6. Random,

    "just checked their website and they have Nigeria's first prime minister's independence speech but I couldn't find any historical profile of African cities. I would be forever grateful if you could tell how to find them."

    They are scattered all over the place!
    Here is a couple I found there.
    History of Kano
    History of Kaolack
    History of Zinder
    History of Lusaka

    And many more....but I'll let you tell me whether they do not plagiarise Wikipedia!
    I have not bothered to check!

    lol!


    "You've never read Lumumba's speech before ? "

    No I hadn't. I had heard about it, but I hadn't actually read till now.

    "Lumumba is a vaccum that people filled with their own projections"

    lol!

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  7. but I'll let you tell me whether they do not plagiarise Wikipedia!

    They kinda do.
    I actually found Brazzaville, Kinshasa and Pointe-Noire the other day and it's was painfully obvious. It's less obvious in these cases but the wikipedia articles are more detailed, lol.

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  8. Anonymous,

    “If you ask why the level of debate has not been raised on the continent, it is difficult to come to a conclusion that doesn’t either strip African people of their responsibility by placing the blame on external factors or implicitly patronises Africans as a lower people. It’s putting in stark terms but I think this is a debate that needs to be had.”

    Presumably the truth lies somewhere in between?

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  9. CF,

    ”Very true, the initial post-independance debat was vivid, colourful and interesting. Sadly enough for us it didnt came up with lasting answers for an african state (of mind).”

    Really? In what way?
    In any case it was never going to. Zambia had 100 university graduates at independence.

    ”The difficulty is that we tend to react very defensive. “

    I agree, but that is common with every culture. In Africa we simply have weak incentives to engage in debate. I mean, the political structures are unresponsive to critique and radical thought.

    ReplyDelete

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