Sunday, 5 February 2012

The unintelligent intelligentsia


One would have thought that with the proliferation of technology,
internet and its subsequent billions of pages of information, that
Africa would once again find its feet in the global scheme of things.
More information has been created in the last 100 years than in all of
the previous years combined, yet the continent is still neck deep in
the murky waters of ignorance.  Why are there no innovations? The 2011
state of the African Youth Report, published by the AU in partnership
with the UNFPA states that “youth literacy has risen in Africa over
the last two decades, increasing by 18% in North Africa and by 6% in
Sub-Saharan Africa.  Currently 87% and 76% of young people are able to
read and write in the two regions respectively.  Yet, there is no
transmission of what has been learnt in the classroom into the larger
societies.  Though the continent’s intellectual capital is increasing,
its intellectual competence is decreasing.  Africa’s intelligentsia
prefer to hide under titles of “Dr”, “Prof , quoting “ Oh I have a Phd
in ..” rather than prefer or implement any minute solution to the
continent’s unending wave of problems.

A few pundits would be quick to point the social system as being
intellectually hostile.  Government policies, death of infrastructure,
under-paid lecturers et al are pernicious to intellectual growth.  But
the fact these problems exists, depicts a necessity that must be met,
and aren’t necessities the harbingers of inventions?  So how come in
its catalogue of numerous problems, African lecturers, intellectuals,
academicians and what ever revered ‘connotation’ we may use to describe
them, are mere spectators?  Why are they unable to think out of the box
to develop solutions?  Why are African intellectuals, intellectually
lazy, preferring to find the easy way out – joining the brain drain
instead of staying back to develop the land.  Preferring to undress
and redress old theories, rather than enunciating new ones.

The Asians are an exemplification of the roles of the intellegentsia in
propelling the progress of a society.  Through their language, they
were able steal ideas, and technologies from the west.  But they did
not adopt them in totality.  Rather they adapted them to solve indigenous
problems, and now their efforts are paying off.  Asia is a
global fence to reckon with and are even subtly colonizing Africa.  Why
can’t African intellectuals emulate this?  Rather, we prefer to adopt
ready-made theories from foreigners.  Knowledge, and by extension
technology and ideas are forms of (intellectual) property.  Like
tangible property, or even more so than this, the owner may only give
a borrower or even a buyer just the much he believes may not end up
putting him (the owner) at a disadvantage.  Any society without enough
facts in its indigenous knowledge system, including its technology
cannot make a sustainable progress.

Knowledge has its social functions.  Ideas, beliefs, technologies are
products of particular social conditions.  P. J. Ezeh in his book
“knowledge and society” articulating the social functions of knowledge
states that “society allows only these ideas that it believes could be
salutary to its existence by ensuring that its structure remains
safe”.  For instance, Copemicus’ theory was rejected because it seemed
harmful to the bedrock of belief on which the Christian religious
society of the 16th century was based.  Karl Mannheim in
conceptualizing ‘false consciousness,’ saw knowledge as saving class
interest.  In Marxian formulations, knowledge is distorted and
directed to serve the purpose of classes and the conflicts between
them.  To Marx, the only ideas of an epoch, are the ideas of the ruling
class”.  At this juncture, one may ask, perhaps the laziness of
African’s intellectuals serves a social function, which is the
maintenance of the existing class statue.  The dearth of innovations,
inventions and indigenous solutions creates a false consciousness
amongst Africans that they are incapable of providing situations to
the problems.

Whatever may be the case, and whatever the conditions that Africans
are found with, it is the failure of the intelligentsia to charter a
way forward.  It is the failure of the intelligentsia to finding
alternative means to fund education rather than depending on
government.  Today, the internet has opened up new vistas for
education and innovations vital class worms, online libraries, and
social media are used to bridge educational gaps.  But Alas, the
African’s ignorant intelligentsia are blind to see the opportunities
technology provides.  Peer review mechanism amongst its Universities
is dead.  Perhaps, if African academicians prove their relevance,
policy makers and politicians would take them serious.

Knowledge has social factors, but it seems messaging of egos and
oppression of the lower classes, are the only functions which
knowledge serves on the continent.  Why are we quick to tell the next
man how ‘educated’ or knowledgeable we are, only in paper, NOT in
terms of solving problems in society.  That is why there is an
over-dependence on certificates, not productivity.  In my country,
Nigeria, the average educated person has an MSc, yet there is
unemployment, no visible change in the perception of society,
overwhelming poverty and dependence on government.  What then is the
essence of education, if not to better our lot?  Why do we have brains, if
we can’t think with it?

Unless Africa increases its intellectual competence, not capacity,
then the contact would remain irrelevant to its natives.  African
needs innovators, producers of knowledge and people who can discover,
propose and then implement progressive ideas.  This to me, should be
the basis to award Doctorates and Professorships, not one’s ability to
reproduce published texts and quotes in exam settings.  Africa’s fate
lies in the hands of Africans, and its solution must come from its
people.

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