By Phoebe Nadupoi
Rebecca Ng’ang’a, a lecturer of communication at Daystar University, at whose feet I was privileged to sit, identifies one of the challenges inhibiting development in Africa as “prescribing individualised solutions for corporate problems”. In other words, because you are able to find an alternative, you do so and move on but the problem in the larger community, where the majority has no means, persists. For example, you have a water problem because the relevant authority is not ensuring continuous supply and so you buy a water-tank to ensure you have supply even when the taps run dry. Or buying a four-wheel drive vehicle because the road is bad and inaccessible to a saloon car, or taking your children to a high-cost private school because the standards in public schools are unsatisfactory. Or going for treatment at a private hospital because you have insurance, or can afford it, because the public ones don’t meet your standards. The degree of selfishness in society is staggering.
So deep-rooted is this problem that we are socialised to think we simply exist for our own sake. We are educated (and I will be talking about this later) to secure our future – I mean mine and maybe my family’s. Because of this, when many land positions that present opportunities to serve the citizenry, they perform dismally because the orientation is to get as much as they can from that position for their own advancement, but to the detriment of entire populaces. Is this not partly the reason corruption is rampant? I mean, how does a right-thinking person steal from his or her countrymen just to amass wealth they do not need?
A story is told of a herder, who at the height of the 2007/’08 post-election violence was taking care of his livestock, along Ngong’ Road. On the same road was a camp hosting hundreds of internally displaced persons (IDPs). It was not long before the hungry IDPs pounced on one of his cows with pangas and secured themselves a meal. The lesson to draw from this ordeal is that we must be mindful of each other’s welfare for we are only safe and secure when everyone else around us is.
Back to matters education, US-based media practitioner Field Ruwe writes a provocative article titled “You Lazy (Intellectual) African Scum!” The essay is a scathing attack on the African intellectual who is depicted as lazy, and the reason that Africa is in such a sorry state.
One major justification for this attack is failure – real or perceived, depending on where you stand – of the African intellectual to come up with innovations to address Africa’s problems. There are debatable issues in the article, for instance, the notion that Africans feel inferior to other races. I, however, think it hits the nail on the head in reference to the roles of the intellectual, and their failure to take to those roles. Walter, the protagonist in the story, observes:
“Poor and uneducated Africans are the most hardworking people on earth. I saw them in the Lusaka markets and on the street selling merchandise. I saw them in villages toiling away. I saw women on Kafue Road crushing stones for sale and I wept. I said to myself, where are the Zambian intellectuals? Are the Zambian engineers so imperceptive they cannot invent a simple stone crusher, or a simple water filter to purify well water for those poor villagers? Are you telling me that after thirty-seven years of independence your university school of engineering has not produced a scientist or an engineer who can make simple small machines for mass use? What is school there for?”
The article also points to the need for the right political environment for a nation to thrive.
The late Nobel Laureate Prof Wangari Maathai once aptly captured the essence of education. She said: “The privilege of a higher education, especially outside Africa, broadened my original horizon and encouraged me to focus on the environment, women and development in order to improve the quality of life of people in my country in particular and in the African region in general.” It is a sad thing that Maathais are rare in our times, as our public offices are congested with people obsessed with personal agenda. I do recognise that it is not easy to meet the standards demanded by the laws of the land but nothing less should be acceptable.
Francis Nyamnjoh, in “’Politics na Njangi: You Scratch My Back, I Scratch Your Back’: Socio-Cultural Understanding of Politics in Cameroon”, postulates that politics is a game of interest, and this makes it difficult for anyone to be independent as they are a product of “convergence of many actions on the actions of others”. He further observes that “to recognise this is to provide for independence in accommodation of the paradox that any radical pursuit of independence invariably occasions dependence.”
You ask so what? This is where values, principles and laws come in. Those exercising delegated authority must be cautious not to betray public trust, period. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 provides an elaborate framework to guide this. There are also several enabling legislations key among them, the Public Officer Ethics Act (2003) and the Leadership and Integrity Act (2012).
—Writer is a communications and advocacy practitioner