The African Intellectual Paradox

Published on 13th October 2012

Our beloved continent, is currently dominated by a generation of noise makers: a people who can talk almost all the time, but don’t act. It is very annoying to hear some “experts” giving speeches over the radio, while reserving the real action to some inexperienced folks out there.

Africa has many scholars with PhDs and master’s degrees in Agricultural Science, yet many of them will never set foot on the farm. Many of our scientists are probably very good at teaching but never good at inventions and innovations. I have always wondered where our mechanical engineers have been hiding, as we continue to import motorbikes and even bicycles from abroad every year. The taxpayer is often told: “plans are far-advanced for the implementation of this project”; the other project is “in the pipeline,” the implementation phase comes “in 4 years,” and so on. Many of such proposals have always remained a pipedream.

Our scientific researchers, religious leaders, academicians, scholars and politicians can perfectly demonstrate exactly what ought to be done in any given circumstance; yet once in power, such ideas always remain either on paper or at best be held “in the pipeline.” Instead of taking action and making things happen in a swift and decisive manner for the benefit of our people, it is rather very sad that even those tasked with such responsibilities are good at making speeches, while pushing the actual action onto the future generations.

So far, it appears a few of those in the built environment are physically making impact, while the majority of the other professions especially those in the manufacturing fields remain to be seen. The media, which ought to bring such topics for discussion, has always been focusing on politicians and their frustrations while ignoring the lack of action from the professional groups out there.

From Total Illiteracy to Incompetent Intellectualism

Many years ago, there were only a few “scholars” in Africa. At that time, majority of the people had not received “formal education” as we often call it. Many had neither been to engineering schools, polytechnics nor the university. There were only a few tens of people who had the benefit of receiving “formal education.”

In spite of this, Africans were producing soap, shoes, body cream, different kinds of cooking oil and their very effective and powerful local African medicines. They cured almost every major disease by relying on their local medication and eating organic food which was very rich in vitamins and nutrients. As a result, many of them lived long, averagely beyond the age of 90 years.

It was common to see many of our parents living beyond the age of 120 years with good eyesight. Most importantly, many of our grandparents never wore glasses. Ironically, today we call ourselves “intellectuals.” We live in “hygienic environments,” eat “balanced diet” and use “modern medication.” Yet, many of us are dying below the age of 40 years! Today, millions of children at age 10 are wearing glasses! As if that is not enough, several hundreds of incurable diseases are currently threatening our very survival. What an irony!

How many of our forefathers died of malaria fever? How many of our grandmothers were infertile? In fact, there are many reproductive health-related diseases in modern Africa than there were in the pre-colonial era despite the so-called advancement in medical research. Isn’t it time we took a critical look at the quality of our food today? But of course, many will consider this to be some “conspiracy theory.” After all, once you successfully discredit legitimate concerns such as the above, it becomes easy to ignore the need to take action.

Even though Africa boasts of millions of scholars and other professionals, one wonders the whereabouts of these experts as almost everything we use in Africa is imported from elsewhere, despite having all the raw materials here at home.

Forty years ago, Africa was importing a sizeable amount of matches, sugar, cooking oil, roofing sheets, steel, cars, bicycles, shoes, wristwatches, typewriters and others. Africa did not have the expertise to mass-produce some of these items here at home. Unfortunately, after 40 years, nothing has changed despite the fact that mother Africa has millions of intellectuals who currently hold the relevant qualifications in the production of these items.

After many years of importing mobile phones, computers, electric generators, sound systems, radio and television sets, fluorescent lamps, electric cables and many other electronic gadgets, there is no indication that this trend will change any time soon, though there are millions of African experts who have studied the production of these things. Isn’t it a shame that our scholars take pride in their numerous academic qualifications and titles, yet such credentials often do not make any practical contributions to the development of our continent?

Elsewhere in the Middle East and Asia, ordinary students are sending satellites into space. University researchers are actively engaging with their students in the production of mobile phones, digital tablets, computers and cars. Their physical results can be seen everywhere.

Unfortunately, here in Africa, our studies are characterized by reading theories, looking at diagrams and observing images with little or no practical demonstrations. The educational system, instead of teaching our people “how to think” and solve problems, is teaching young ones “what to think.” Today, one can write over a thousand pages of research, yet this research may not have a single practical input. One can perfectly describe how to move a car but it takes continuous practice to be able to practically drive the car. Is it a wonder that many of our mechanical engineers therefore cannot even fix a faulty car engine? Our universities are overpopulated with political and social sciences courses. The technical schools and polytechnics are still reserved for students with poor academic backgrounds.

Many of our real electrical engineers, mechanics and technicians out there did not learn their profession from schools. Many of them were school drop-outs who learnt their profession as a “trade” and by the “road-side technicians.” When the scholar’s car suffers a mechanical breakdown, the individual will rather look for a road-side mechanic to fix the problem despite him having a degree in the field. Many of these local technicians do not have any academic qualifications at all, yet they’re better at solving real-life problems than many of our so-called professionals who have acquired a number of degrees. Isn’t this a shame?

Our universities are increasingly producing intellectuals who talk too much but lack the skills to personally contribute to problem-solving. Many of our intellectuals only make noise but push their real responsibilities to the man on the street. Such acts of negligence must stop if Africa is determined to make any progress. African intellectuals must live up to their responsibilities. They must be part of the solution to our many challenges. It is time to be proactive.

Real leadership is demonstrated; not lectured. We’re tired of talks, seminars and workshops which have become the hallmark of our current batch of intellectuals who ought to bear the responsibility of taking the action. As long as our intellectuals continue to look up to the layman to take up their responsibilities, Africa will never make any meaningful progress. I challenge all African experts, the intellectuals and all those with meaningful qualifications in their various portfolios to make their presence felt as the continent begs for solutions. Our destinies must be in our own hands.

Long live the African intellectual. Long live mama Africa!

By Honourable Saka

Honourable SAKA [email protected]  is a regular writer and a political analyst on African affairs, and a well-known social commentator in Africa. He is the editor of “The Doctor’s Report.”

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