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Feature Article of Friday, 5 October 2012

Columnist: Saka, Dr

The African Paradox: Plenty “Intellectuals”, Yet No Physical Solutions

Africa, our beloved continent, is currently becoming dominated by a generation of noise makers: a people who can talk, talk and talk almost all the time, yet with no physical action. In fact, it is very annoying when you tune into your radio or television set in the morning and all you can hear are some “experts” giving speeches to the audience, whiles reserving the real action to some inexperienced folks out there.

There are 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. Yet every year such slogans are shamefully echoed to the masses.

From the scientific researchers, through the religious leaders, the academicians, our scholars and most annoyingly, the politicians- when in opposition, almost everyone could perfectly demonstrate exactly what ought to be done in any given circumstance; yet once in power, such ideas will 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 rather 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, whiles the majority of the other professions especially those in the manufacturing fields remain to be seen. Meanwhile the media which ought to bring such topics for discussion has always been focusing on politicians and their frustrations whiles ignoring the lack of action from the professionals groups out there.

From Total Illiteracy to Incompetent Intellectualism Many years ago, there were only a few “scholars” in Africa. At that time, the mass majority of the people had not received “formal education” as we often call it. Many had not 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 soaps, shoes, body cream, they were producing different kinds of cooking oil and their local African medicines were very effective and powerful. They cured almost every major disease by relying on their local medication and eating organic food which was very rich in vitamins and nutrients. In fact, they ate good quality food. As a result, many of them lived long, averagely beyond the age of 90 years.

“It was very 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”, we eat “balanced diet” and use “modern medication”.

“Yet, many of us are dying below age of 40! Today, millions of children at age 10 are wearing glasses”!

As if that is not enough, there are several hundreds of incurable diseases that currently threaten 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 our modern Africa than it was 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.

Currently even though Africa can boast of several millions of scholars, professionals, professors and several others with PhDs, one can always wonder the whereabouts of these experts as almost everything we used in Africa is imported from elsewhere, despite having all the raw materials here at home.

For instance, 40 years ago, Africa was importing a sizeable amount of matches, sugar, cooking oil, roofing sheets, steal, cars, bicycles, shoes, wristwatches, typewriters and others. This was due to the fact that during that time, Africa did not have the needed 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 anytime 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 researcher are actively engaging with their students in the production of mobile phones, digital tablets, computers, cars, and all sorts of 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, the system is rather 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. Of course one can perfectly describe how to move a car. But it takes continues practise 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 over populated with more than 60% of political and the social sciences. The last time I checked, the technical schools and the polytechnics were still reserved for students with poor academic backgrounds, whiles the brilliant and most intelligent ones were those allowed entry to the universities.

In fact, it is a common phenomenon that many of our real electrical engineers, the mechanics and all the real technicians out there did not learn their profession from schools. Rather many of them were school drop-outs who learnt their profession as a “trade” and by the “road-side technicians”. Therefore 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. To me, the most interesting thing about these local technicians is that, many of them 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? Today our universities are increasingly producing intellectuals who can talk too much but lack the skills to personally contribute to problem-solving.

It is increasingly becoming annoying that many of our intellectuals, who continue to hold themselves as such, can only make noise and give plenty of lectures while pushing their real responsibilities to the man on the street. Such acts of negligence must stop if Africa is determined to make any progress in the near future. African intellectuals must live up to their responsibilities. It is time for our these experts to demonstrate their profession by physically being part of the solution to our many challenges rather than merely dominating the airwaves with empty speeches that often lead to no physical results. It is time to be proactive. We must demonstrate our desire to contribute to problem solving by leading the charge on the battlefield. This is the way forward.

Real leadership is to be demonstrated; not lectured. We’re getting tired of those talks, seminars and the workshops which have become the hallmark of our current batch of intellectuals who ought to bear the responsibility of taking the action. If those tasked with the responsibility to make things happen are rather doing the talks, whose duty will it be to take action? As long as our intellectuals continue to look up to the layman to take up his 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!

Honourable Saka The writer is a Pan-African analyst and a well-known social commentator in Africa. He’s the founder of the Project Pan-Africa (PPA), an organisation that seeks to create a mental revolution across Africa. PPA’s website is available at: www.projectpanafrica.org. He is highly grateful to Itech Plus, and all the media which supports his vision for the African people.

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