Fahamu (Oxford)

29 November 2012

Africa: A Continent of Chained Form Fives

analysis

The power of knowledge in Africa is immeasurable. To emancipate themselves from oppressive political rulers and to achieve advancement, the people should seek education.

We, Form Fives, a.k.a. Grade 12s, are a people chained, facing the lit walls in the darkness of our own country. On the walls we watch our fantasies and desires.

We see ourselves with a lot of money, one day living in luxury - in a mansion. We see ourselves fulfilling our dreams of becoming a doctor, lawyer, economist, entrepreneur, but the images on the wall are the closest we get to reality.

We are in millions - all chained, facing the walls of our country. The light on which our fantasies and desires are projected comes from behind - from our captors, the rulers; the men who have chained us for years.

They are living their dreams - real dreams. They eat, drink and laugh. We can hear them, but we can't turn our heads, lest we are chastened. So, we keep watching the images on the wall, and keep thinking what we see is real.

Callous political rulers are the ones flashing the light on the wall in which we are perceiving reality; they are casting imperfect images in our minds so that we see ourselves for what we are not.

One of us breaks the chains. He looks back and realises the images on the wall that dictated our perception of reality are non-realistic.

After his eyes adjust to the light he begins to see who we really are: slaves of rulers. When he looks carefully in the light he can see rulers casting images on the wall and recognises them as the source of the falsehoods. Now he is aware of reality and truth, and is conscious of its goodness.

What then is this newfound reality and truth? It is the awareness of his lack of knowledge and understanding. He now knows that when he was chained facing the wall the power of knowledge eluded him; that he was ignorant of the Forms of Goodness behind him; that his human mind was not entirely enlightened; that he was semi-literate and therefore did not know what was happening in the world.

He sneaks out and follows the light. We, his fellow Form Fives, in our millions, laugh at him for discarding the images on the wall. We ridicule him. Some of us hope the captors severely punish him and send him back in chains. We do not want to share his enlightenment because we are content with the images on the wall, cast by politicians.

He continues to follow the light. He stops and looks back at us, millions of form fives, facing the wall. He now knows we do not know what he is seeing. We lack the power of the knowledge he has just attained because political rulers keep flashing imperfect images on the wall.

As he walks past the rulers he can over hear them:

"Keep them chained and in the dark," one voice says.

"Yes, keep them dumb," another says. "They like what they are seeing. Show them the future - pockets full, houses great, food plenty - show them paradise. They will believe it is real and it is theirs."

He stops and listens.

"As long as they are ignorant, we're fine."

The above allegory represents the power of knowledge. It shows a path to complete awareness that for many years has dodged our country. It illustrates a unique way by which knowledge plays an important part in our own existence, and how a learned people can become a force to reckon with in this world of advancement.

The Form Five who broke the chains and escaped became thoroughly educated and more capable of playing his part as man of thought and a man of action. With a college education he was able to see the real light and reach the ultimate stage of thought, that of 'understanding.'

He now understood why Africa had come this far and gone nowhere. Why Africa was at the totem pole of advancement, hopelessly watching her people die of hunger and disease. Why people were still living in huts and drawing water from the river in the rural areas.

He understood why the economies, on a continent with abundant mineral and natural resources, was in scraps and why the IMF, World Bank, Chinese government, and foreign investors continued to hold Africa hostage. He now saw why the country's wealth was the advantage of the same few, the same corrupt, and the same unjust.

He understood why: It was because Africa was full of chained form fives - chained by deceitful rulers who were masters of fiction. They had chained millions of form fives and made them watch the dazzling images of illusion. They used images as products of propaganda and tools of oppression.

When he understood all this, he saw why and how he had lived in the darkness of our country for years, and felt sorry for those he had left behind, the millions of Form Fives.

He recalled the experience he had shared with them and now understood that when he and other Form Fives showed how enlightened they were; when they spoke fairly 'good' Form V English, became rulers, worked in established institutions, pretended to be journalists, radio and TV hosts, accountants, salesmen, lied they were lawyers, doctors, and rubbed shoulders with academics and those in the corridors of power, they were aping the imperfect images on the wall.

He stood in the middle of the African street and watched as thousands of Form Fives hit the pavement with torn files and battered briefcases in search of jobs. He watched them enter buildings and walk out frustrated, and understood why many were prone to political manipulation, bribery, corruption, and why some became dangerous criminals, merchandise peddlers, drug addicts and traffickers.

Because education had turned him into a thinker, he was able to examine the negative effects of little education. He was able to draw on his enriched logic to convince the chained Form Fives to break free. He was going to go back and tell them that education is the key to freedom; that without education they shall remain ever splendid prisoners of the rulers.

He was going to tell them to turn their heads and look at their captors in the eye and tell them to stop flashing falsehoods. But because he understood the source of the problem, he chose to go after the rulers; one ruler in particular--the African president. The African president bares total responsibility for running a country with millions of chained Form Fives.

He has lamentably failed to make education a number one priority of his presidency. He has failed to understand that education is the cause of advancement and the source of prosperity; that it is the ultimate object of happiness; that it is the only effective strategy in poverty and disease reduction.

He has failed to devise an education policy that enables a larger chunk of Form Fives and those below them to reach the highest stage of cognition.

Africa today is a third world continent not because it is poor, but because it is uneducated, unenlightened - dull. Yes, an African president presides over a continent with some of the worst academic achievement levels in the world; the worst mathematical and reading skills, according to recent United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO) statistics. He is fully aware of such appalling and shameful statistics and yet he chooses to do absolutely nothing about it.

He, like his predecessors, has failed to resuscitate an education system that has been dipping since independence. He would rather cling to a system inherited from the colonialist, one designed for the formal sector and public administration; an archaic system that has left Africa with millions of Form Fives.

Most of the Form Fives have low achievement levels and therefore low core competencies. They can't communicate effectively; organise, analyse, and evaluate information. They can't use science and technology responsibly and effectively, and yet some of them are cabinet ministers, members of parliament, ambassadors and high commissioners, board members, project leaders, and managing directors, most of who are appointed by the president.

In the boardroom with local and international experts they contribute diddlysquat - zero. The IMF, the World Bank, and foreign diplomats and investors love dealing with them because they make their work easier. Behind our backs there are often whispers of low IQs.

What the African president fails to understand is that today's leadership is a combination of traits, qualities and abilities backed by a good education. The engagement of such academically impoverished leaders is one of the major reasons we are not going anywhere as a continent - we take one step forward and ten steps backward.

With millions of Form Fives, Africa is doomed to failure. It will remain stuck in the illusion stage of development. The African president must find ways of making Africans acquire knowledge beyond Form Fives.

Training of the human mind beyond secondary education is important because it opens one to the rest of the world, and helps one find solutions to many of the world's problems; it is the fount for human excellence.

The African president must know that there is no real genetic difference between blacks, whites, and Asians. The Human Genome Project has determined unequivocally that there is the same amount of genetic variation among the peoples of the world.

With this in mind, he needs to take a hard look at the country's low grade education system, transform and reposition it in such a way that a new generation of well-educated Form Fives is allowed to develop its potential to the fullest; that a greater number of Form Fives have a college education.

It must be a system that promotes creative thinking and lifelong learning; one that encourages Africans to 'see the big picture' and become scientifically, technically, technologically, economically, and politically savvy.

The African Ministry of Education must design a high-achieving curriculum centered on problem-solving, decision-making skills, and the improvement of metacognition. It must give mathematics and the sciences a higher priority and help students to master the principles of scientific and technological inquiry.

I know I am flogging a dead horse. The African president is least interested in pouring effort, money, and resources into an education system responsible for economic, social, and political growth and development; one that leads to innovation, research, and discoveries; yes, one that puts us on the same footing with the rest of the world.

If the president fails to unchain Form Fives we must not vote for him next time around. Power may be strong, but education is more powerful still.

- Field Ruwe is a US-based Zambian media practitioner, historian and author. He is a doctoral candidate and serves as an adjunct professor.

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