When Socrates made the statement that ‘it is better to be unborn than to be untaught for ignorance is the root of all misfortune’, little did he realise how true this will apply in the 21stcentury. By many shades it has applied to the African and most third world countries where it is arguably a fact that the high levels of illiteracy could account for the backwardness and lack of development of the regions – resulting in the misfortunes of high infant mortalities, prevalence of diseases and famine etc. But is there is direct relationship between education and development? Are the most educated people the most developed?
Most people will consider this a naive question – and indeed I deed think so myself. For example, Pope Paul VI in On The Development Of Peoples of 1967 held the view that “…economic growth depends in the very first place upon social progress: thus basic education is the primary object of any plan of development. Indeed hunger for education is no less debasing than hunger for food: an illiterate is a person with an undernourished mind.” This view may seem a truism until one decides to question what we mean by education.
If I had been asked this question a few years before I started studying western philosophy, I would have thought the most educated persons were those who had reached the apogee of formal education – that is those with Doctors of Philosophy (PhD). However, after four years of rigorous studies, I came to the realisation that most of the theorists of antiquity were mere monuments of intellection – monuments because they were relevant to their particular periods but offered nothing of practical importance to our generation. Some like the most celebrated Hegel to me may not even pass as a monument given that his greatest writings had the assumption that the African had not reached the level of self-consciousness. As theories used to justify slavery, these views were classics at the time but when subjected to critical inquiry in this age, it becomes apparent how, for a great part, Hegel and many western thinkers were simply rhetoricians who triumphed in arm-chair philosophising.
Their ignorance did not constitute a problem as it really did not affect them directly and in fact served a purpose at the time (justified slavery and the colonisation of Africa). The ignorance that calls for serious concern is that which exists in this century where there is so much talk about globalisation and technological evolutions. I know it is stale news that a great part of the world still thinks Africa is a single country. I was shocked to discover I was not surprised when many times in India, intellectuals alluded to Africa as a single country and some asked me if Cameroon were in the West Indies. It is therefore not just a Sarah Palin problem. But is this really an issue? I guess not.
The real issue is the ignorance that I have observed being manifested during the last few months. I did not realise how severe it is till I got to Cameroon and was confronted with the fact that people were more informed, objective and critical about issues than I was. I thought I was more educated but to my chagrin I realised I was not as informed as my African counterparts who had lesser formal education than I did.
Thomas Jefferson had made the point that “ the man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers”, which I have extrapolated to include Robert Brault’s statement that “You don’t realize how little accuracy there is in network TV reporting until they cover a story in your hometown.” Hence while we were being deceived by the mainstream media and kept away from the truth about Libya for example, African media houses were feeding the people with the truth. Little wonder the African Union for the first time unanimously challenged a decision by western powers – they knew the truth which we in the west did not know. I have had time to reflect a little on the whole notion of what I know and do not know and hence I now can boast of the superiority of the African education.
In High School, I studied western history alongside African history and Cameroon History; I did Agriculture in France Fishing in Norway and Agriculture in Nigeria among others; I studied British economics; I studied western philosophy and an apologia of African philosophy though I have been having encounters with the rich flavour of African philosophy in folklores and rich African proverbs all through my life. I studied in Cameroon, (Africa in Miniature) and Nigeria (the giant of Africa) and then studied in a renowned western university. The point here is that I, like all African students studied all what western Education offers but western students do not study anything that African education offers. An African who has not travelled out of Africa therefore, ends up knowing more about the world after high school than a PhD holder who studied all through in western institutions.
Do you have any doubts, then tell me – who can better understand the problem of hunger – the African who has experience it or the European who read about it? I recall with a fit of mild irritation how a mate from South Africa who got a fail in an exam that he wrote about the apartheid only got an ‘A’ after he openly challenged the lecturer with facts. He lived it and the lecturer read about it. He had firsthand knowledge and what the lecturer knew was at least three times removed from reality. He had knowledge of apartheid but the lecturer had an opinion about apartheid.
It is in the light of this that I cannot understand how it is that many institutions in the West have departments dealing with African studies where Africans go to learn about Africa. What illogicality! The truth is that Africans go for the certificates and not the knowledge. Hence, all what these renowned centres of African studies do is merely celebrate retardation in intellectualism. It is high time we stop deceiving ourselves. No one can teach Africans about Africa.
Isn’t it all so glaring with the stories emanating from the recent invasion of Libya? Of course it is logical that a good reason has to be given to taxpayers for every invasion. Unfortunately these reasons blur the truth and hence knowledge. Ask many in the West today what Libya was in 2010 and all they know is that Gaddafi had stayed in power for 42 years and that Libyans wanted democracy. Ask an African and he will tell you that Libya was a poor Kingdom under King Idris when Gaddafi seized power in 1969, expelled the British and US military bases that ensured Idris’ stay in power, and that Libya according to the UNDP Human Development Index of 2010 had a life expectancy of 74 and that it had free education, and enviable healthcare system and that it was a welfare system with unemployment benefits. How many people in the West today know the real reasons why there have been tensions between Gaddafi and the West?
- That Gaddafi resisted joining a US/NATO-sponsored military alliance in the region.
- That Gaddafi also refused to join the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM)
- That Gaddafi put $300 million of the $400 million to fund Africa’s first communications satellite in 2007. (A project that made western countries to loose a net income from Africa of over $500 million a year)
- That Gaddafi maintained public ownership of Libya’s own central bank, and the authority to create its own national money
- That Gaddafi worked assiduously to establish an African Monetary Fund, an African Central Bank, and an African Investment Bank, which will curb the high levels of capital flight from Africa, make African governments more responsible and unfortunately render the IMF and the World Bank visibly useless.
- That Gaddafi refused the request of Western powers to be part of these projects, especially France and the UK.
Of course many will not know all these. I have read many articles discussion the Post-Gaddafi era. Unfortunately, they are so filled with misinformation that I pity the western generation that will know nothing but what these tell them. I am in no way down-playing the high standards of western education in western institutions. When it comes to the empirical sciences and technological sciences, there is no doubt that these institutions are of the most premium quality. But talk about the social sciences, the bottom line then is that if anyone wants to be educated in the world today, let them do their primary to high school education in Africa and then go to the Western institutions for University education. That way they will be able to discern fact from fiction and will not end up living a life of deceit.
In the final analysis, it is clear that the era is long gone when a few individuals or countries will continue to present their ideologies and selfish interests as international creed, thereby eroding the powers of the African people. This is clearly a period for a philosophical re-articulation of the African reality; a re-articulation because of the history of bastardisation of the intrinsic realities of African continent. It should be a philosophy of “existential hermeneutics” of self-rediscovery of the past, for an adequate re-integration and possible synthesis for a new way of being, doing and saying. In this sense, it should not be a mere mental or metaphysical outlook on life: not a mere ideological, and not even only an existential construct; but something that involves all of the above – a holistic vision and attitude to life. But most important one that can only be done by those most informed to do it – AFRICANS.