Wednesday, December 19, 2007


At the bottom of this blogspot, there is a photo of the Kampala mayor, Al hajj Nasser Ssebagala and me. For starters, this man lacks basic education (the school type I mean). Listening to him make a speech in English, one is reminded of Mulili, the comic character in Francis Imbuga’s play, Betrayal in the City. The one who talks of a ‘breathing corpse’ and ‘being a professional soldier by profession’. Ssebagala’s use of tenses—if at all--- will leave one pitying the authors of semantic and lexical rules.
But that said, the man commands a more than fanatical following among city voters. In 2006, he swept aside the flamboyant, American-accented Pastor Sematimba to take the seat that he had lost in 1998 after being convicted in Boston, USA over possession of counterfeit dollars---and inadvertently bringing into Ugandan lingua, a new term ‘bichupuli’.
You may be wondering why I am dwelling on the past and fortunes of this mayor but recent events around this continent are compelling me to think. Look, early this week, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in South Africa met to elect a leader. This followed the expiry of the term of current President Thabo Mbeki. When the ballot is finally cast, Jacob Zuma, a political nemesis of Mbeki, emerges victorious.
I need not repeat here the story of Zuma, but allow me point out that Mbeki fired him as the country’s vice-president when his (Zuma’s) aide was implicated in a corruption scandal that saw an arms-procurement deal influenced. Naturally, we tend to be bitter with people we think are using undue influence to gain wealth, but to the contrary, Zuma’s popularity seemed to have hit fever-pitch high.
Of course, we can not pay a blind eye to the rape trial he was subjected to---and which to the majority of South African ordinaries was a ploy by Mbeki to damage (perhaps irreparably) Zuma’s image.
What is more telling about Zuma and what I want to focus on here is his apparent lack of academic papers. The types we call degrees and diplomas. Whereas Mbeki has a Masters in Economics from the UK, Zuma, who floored him, does not even have basic primary school education. So, why would a politician without formal schooling (like Ssebagala and Zuma), command such fanatical support among voters?
This, from close scrutiny is not just about the politics---it is about the disillusionment we the schooled people have subjected our lesser ‘educated’ brothers to. After independence, there was a surge of political and material optimism in most of Africa. The thought of our own sons and daughters managing our state of affairs was so promising that many at the time saw a great future ahead of them. In countries like Kenya, the ascension of the black man to power had come with a lot of blood sacrifice in from of the Mau Mau movement.
Not long after, the majority of the African masses painfully learnt that even their own sons, who had taken over reigns of power from the imperialists were not any different. And mark you; many of these were graduates of African and British universities. Their education and assumption of power had given the masses false confidence. It was not long before they were instituting tribalism and primitive drive for wealth. In Uganda for example the tribal bug caused the elitist regime of Obote to crumble under the P4 ‘graduate’ Amin. It was obvious that people were getting disillusioned with the educated.
With that phase gone and after sampling misery under the illiterate rulers like Mobutu, Bokassa and Amin, it looked like the return of educated leaders was inevitable.
But look, the wheel is coming full-circle. In South Africa for example, Mbeki is seen to have lost the ANC leadership because he had cemented a society of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Few had become billionaires under him but majority had slid into poverty. In Kenya, Kibaki (now fighting for his political life—but left with a few days), is losing the grip to Raila, who though trained in a Communist German university, has packaged himself as the advocate of the riff-ruff of Kenya; the hoi-polloi.
So ladies and gentlemen, why are people perceived to be less educated or closer to the uneducated assuming leadership now across this continent? One thing explains it; education damages us---especially we Africans. Believe me or not but possession of a degree builds a certain level of pride in you. Makes you think you belong to an exclusive class of society and rubbing shoulders with the lower citizens is beyond you. In company of these less educated, you propound your theories of Malthusian unemployment and GDP, when what all these guys want to hear is simple explanation of why they cannot afford sugar or why their coffee is fetching less money this year than it did last year.
You assume sophiscation as the mark of your education and consequently isolate yourself from the simple, majority peasantry masses. And politics being the art of proximity coupled with numbers, you suffer Mbeki’s fate—rejection.
I will end with a tale about Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle Group and one time second richest man in the world. At a graduation at Yale one time, he told the graduands that they had made the mistake of their lives by gaining degrees. Those papers, he reasoned, would make them develop sophiscations, e.g. on only seeking for white-collar jobs and in the process would lose out on the more paying, though more demanding blue-collar jobs. He was hinting on the reasoning like ‘because I am a graduate, I can not work in a garage or hawk merchandise’. How right he was, because in this city for example, the top most millionaires are those who have risen from hawking to global retailing.
And now, Ellison’s fear is catching up in politics too. Degrees, rather than become an asset are becoming alienating. That is why people like Zuma, with no clear economic policy for Africa’s biggest economy and no degree, will become its President in 2009, as the majority uneducated, cast a protest vote against ‘we’ the educated. Be very afraid!!!!

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