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Thursday, 2 February 2012

Is Zambia Intellectually Blind?

Apparently so, according to George Chisanga :
"The intellectuals in this country have gone to sleep. Some of the problems that we are facing now would have been avoided had our intellectuals stepped up to help the country. There is need for people who have been educated using taxpayers money to step up and plough back to the governance of the country"
These attacks are not new and were recently echoed by a clever (fictional?) article by Field Ruwe.  In 2008, Nkwanzi Mahongo made similar arguments where he argued 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. The problem with the "intellectual bystander" argument as espoused by Chisanga and others is two-fold.


First, it presumes the existence of high quality intellectual debate among Zambians. Sceptics would say that the problem is not that intellectuals are not helping, but rather their existence is falsely presumed! A question here must surely be asked what we mean by intellectuals and how we go about verifying their existence. There's a general presumption that intellectuals equals more degrees. But that is a poor metric. Surely the nature of the intellect is found in the tangible ideas it produces. In Zambia sadly, we have a deficit of ideas - potentially suggesting an equal deficit of intellectual capacity in many areas. Rather than assume that we have intellectuals, perhaps the question should turn to how we can produce such?

Secondly, the Chisanga critique is based on a political vacuum. The reality of life is that development and governance arrangements are an outworking of power relations in society. Those that hold power shape debate. In our country we have on one side the majority - helpless and poor. On the other side are the minority - rich and corrupt Zambians that hold the nation in the palm of their hand. Intellectual power alone will not shift the dynamics. Many nations have produced intellectuals and continued to wallow in poverty. Producing ideas is meaningless unless a policy space exists to debate them freely and incorporate them in national policy making. It follows that eliminating poverty will  only come about once the majority secure sufficient power to shift the policy direction in their favour. It wont arrive with intellectual blows, or any shaking off of non-existent, but erroneously presumed intellectual laziness.

So once again we find that the question of development and the role of the intellectuals (if they exist) is a rather complex one, like many of he challenges we are facing. 

11 comments:

  1. There is not much point (and its frustrating) debating issues when those with the power to change things will not listen or act. The current government seems to be listening so far.Of course if far more people were willing to engage in open debate the government mights take the issues more seriously. Its a numbers thing.

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    Replies
    1. I would agree that the current govt appears to be listening. The difficulty though is WHEN it listens. It seems to me it is BETTER to listen BEFORE. you act. That unfortunately is not what is happening.

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  2. I have long said that your preoccupation with debating Christianity and religion takes time and energy away from real intellectual development and problem solving

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    Replies
    1. I don't know what God has ever done to you, but it is not relevant to the topic at hand!

      Delete
  3. 1) Most good innovative ideas come from professionals/crafts people.

    Most innovative ideas in a bicycle shop come from the people who work on bicycles every day, just to give an example. This was incorporated in the Japanese theory of 'continuous improvement' or Kaizen. Most companies following that principle have an 'idea bin'. Those ideas get followed up on and don't disappear because they are a threat to management or office politics.

    2) Education

    When the educational system produces children with inquisitive minds, rather than experts in rote learning, that would make a difference. This was brought up on the ZambiaBlogtalkRadio show - children are still faced with a curriculum and mindset that was intended to produce colonial clerks, not engineers, scientists, etc.

    Problem solving can be taught and is not some kind of special gift.

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    Replies
    1. I would agree with that. An education that produces "critical thinking" fosters a culture of intellectual inquiry. But then again this becomes a chicken and egg because who is going to bring about such an education revolution?

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  4. 3) There could be an 'idea magazine', that highlights and awards the most innovative ideas around the country, that could be distributed among professionals, students, graduates, etc.

    4) Financing

    We all know that money is crucial to set up small businesses that would put those ideas into practice. With a continuing liquidity gap (low savings rates and double digit lending rates), and the state borrowing on the domestic market instead of taxing the country's biggest industry (mining), there isn't enough money available for a thriving middle class to develop.

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  5. 5) Ideas come from the middle class, most of the time

    Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Sam Walton, didn't come out of grinding poverty and succeeded in life because of the brilliance of their minds only. They were the product of generations of asset accumulation. This gave them the start in life that exposed them to books, high quality teachers, leasure time, health and all the other benefits that come from having a middle class.

    The problem in Africa is not that there is no middle class, it is that it is 20% of the population, as opposed to 90% or more of the population.

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  6. R. Henson,

    " There is not much point (and its frustrating) debating issues when those with the power to change things will not listen or act. "

    Decentralisation of budgets to local government level would make the state much more accountable and responsive to local concerns.

    For instance, if 50% of national revenues were paid directly to local councils, it would increase their provision of basic services (healthcare, education, policing, adminstrative issues like licenses, and utilities).

    If local councillors were democratically elected and could be recalled, they would start listening to local people.

    Also, all elections must be publicly paid for, and it must be illegal to make campaign contributions from other sources. Who pays the piper calls the tune, and a big reason for non-responsivenss among politicians is that they are serving their donors, not their electorate.

    ReplyDelete
  7. R. Henson,

    " There is not much point (and its frustrating) debating issues when those with the power to change things will not listen or act. "

    Decentralisation of budgets to local government level would make the state much more accountable and responsive to local concerns.

    For instance, if 50% of national revenues were paid directly to local councils, it would increase their provision of basic services (healthcare, education, policing, adminstrative issues like licenses, and utilities).

    If local councillors were democratically elected and could be recalled, they would start listening to local people.

    Also, all elections must be publicly paid for, and it must be illegal to make campaign contributions from other sources. Who pays the piper calls the tune, and a big reason for non-responsivenss among politicians is that they are serving their donors, not their electorate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elected local mayors mayors may be tricky! Elected provincial governors might work - but then again Nigeria shows that corruption is rife in decentralised structures.

      Delete

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