African Focus Tafataona Mahoso
The Zimbabwe Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Development (Zim Asset) is at risk of being detached from its revolutionary origins and objectives by an exclusive elite of civil servants and certain cliques within the higher education establishment. Reasons for the risk have been known for a long time.
According to former South African President Thabo Mbeki’s intervention in New African magazine for April 2005:
“The challenge for an African university should be viewed as a call that insists that critical and transformative educators in Africa embrace an indigenous African world view and root their nation’s educational paradigms in an indigenous socio-cultural and epistemological framework. Among others, this implies that all educational curricula in Africa should have Africa as their focus, and as a result, be indigenous-grounded or oriented.”
However, eight years after Mbeki’s call, one of the key advisors for the United Kingdom’s government, Richard Dowden, had this to say (The Herald, October 8 2013) about African higher education for Zimbabwe:
“We cannot compete with the Chinese in manufacturing (tangible goods), but the one thing Britain has (manufactured) that Africa needs is education. As African economies go on growing (British-sponsored) education would not only be a good earner in the short term but, in the long term, would create relationships (with future African leaders) far into the future.
“Generations of Africans have mortgaged their futures on getting to college in Britain…Tertiary education in most of Africa is dire. Distance education is now possible but I do not know many Africans who went to university in Britain and did not enjoy the experience.”
This revealing article was a response to the electoral victory of the liberation movement in the Zimbabwe African Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) against a British project called the Movement for Democratic Change, founded by the British and the Rhodesians in 1999.
Zim Asset was part of the Zanu-PF manifesto in the 2013 elections.
The cited passage by Dowden is loaded, but one striking thing about it is the claim by this advisor of a white imperial establishment that the way to compromise African sovereignty and independence and to secure Western interests is through sponsorship of higher education.
Dowden’s claim dovetails with yet another recent article from Nigeria where Chibundu Onuzo wrote to say, among other things, that many Africans still overvalue university degrees obtained in the West over those obtained locally not because of any superiority in the Western degree content or the actual performance of graduates but because of propaganda and elitist perceptions which in fact harm the African interest:
“When IJGBs (I have just got back) arrive on African soil, many come with a set of Victorian-era assumptions. The natives are backward. By natives I mean those who have not lived, worked or studied abroad. The native, with his questionable degree from a rundown local university, does (allegedly) not have the skills needed for a modern (neoliberal) business world.
Thus the best jobs should go to the IJGBs. They have not flown South and crossed the Atlantic (Ocean) to be (just) clerks and graduate trainees. They are here to be district officers and bank managers and live in the best sequestered accommodation. …Where possible, they found (white-like) clubs of (only) IJGBs and limit their contact with the natives to a minimum. And often a foreign accent, preferably British or American, clings to their speech long after they have graduated from the IJGB status to I have been back for a while now.” According to the magazine East Africa and Rhodesia for December 20 1951, there was a British House of Commons debate on Higher Education for Africans during which Irene White, a Labour MP, said: “It is only through (higher) education that we (the British) shall be able to solve the difficulties in the multi-racial communities. Until we have an equivalent in Africa of the British middle classes we shall not have the leaders (we need) from the African people.” What the MP meant by multiracial societies were colonies where there were significant white settler minorities controlling African majorities, such as in Kenya, Rhodesia and South Africa. The slow decline of the west since the 1970s has actually intensified attempts by the empire to use the soft power of education, culture and religion to control Africa.
Because of the long tradition of Western influence in Zimbabwe through colonial and post-colonial education, the 2013 Zanu-PF victory over Britain and its MDC project was only one dramatic event in a long history of slow global Anglo-Saxon decline.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Anglo-Saxon ruling elites used NATO, the Pentagon and rapid expansion of the European Union to encircle both China and Russia. The war against Yugoslavia was followed by the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Libya was added in 2011. It was not until Syria and Ukraine, in 2013 and 2014 respectively, that the continuing economic decline of Anglo-Saxon hegemony began to show also on the geo-political front. Up to that time, it appeared as if Anglo-Saxon imperialism could brush aside effects of the decline in its economic base and rely on political and military aggression to compensate for declining economic power. Dowden in fact advised Britain that increasing intervention via education could compensate for lost military, economic and political clout.
In Development Theory and the three Worlds, Bjorn Hettne put the challenge for the West and opportunities for the rest in a neutral way.
“As Geoffrey Barraclough put it (in his 1980 paper called ‘Worlds apart: untimely thoughts on development and development strategies’), ‘The sources of Western predominance dry up’. That the preconditions for predominance are in a process of change will have a deep impact on the power structure within the ‘centre’. First of all the centre (of capitalist economic power) itself is moving eastward, thus loosening the historical association between ‘capitalism’ and ‘the West.’ Secondly… the new political alignments and conflicts indicate the disintegration of the west itself.
Thus, rather than being a temporary recession, the economic crisis in the West to many countries signalled something more fundamental: a development predicament, including problems such as marginalisation, deindustrialisation and permanent unemployment (in the West itself).”
Madzimbahwe had an immense interest in these developments because it was Russia, China and South Africa who in 2008 prevented the UK and US from abusing Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter and from invading Zimbabwe the way they later invaded Libya in 2011.
But even more important to Zimbabwe in the long term are the implications of Western economic decline, a decline which makes it clear to interested observers that, by occupying Afghanistan and invading Iraq while seeking to encircle both Russia and China, the West has bitten more than it can chew. The real threat of economic decline has led to the intensification of exploitation within and among Western countries themselves.
These problems are now quite pronounced in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland and parts of Britain and some areas of the United States.
The “Washington Consensus” is dead. The parading of the Western model as universal or international best practice has lost credibility.
Ironically, it is precisely because the model has lost credibility that the IMF and the World Bank have become more rigid in their attempts to enforce old rules on small countries such as Zimbabwe.
In this global situation of massive economic shifts, opportunities for Zimbabwe and its Zim Asset become obvious. According to Hettne, again:
“The fact that the ‘three worlds’ are disintegrating and development is becoming a global and universal problem makes it probably too important to be left to a special discipline (such as economics or development studies) with low academic status and — on top of that — under fire from all sides. Without a special (Third World) case there is no need for a special discipline. The ‘development problem’ comes closer as world space and national space interweave. It will therefore be a concern for all the social sciences and draw them to each other, if not merge them into one social science.”
This is the meaning of our call on Zimbabwean intellectuals to return to the African model, to come back to the pungwe model for mobilising ideas into practice.
The opportunities the current situation has presented Zimbabwe fall into at least two tightly linked categories. On the socio-economic front this is the time to dismantle the elitist silo approach to development and set aside forever the endless imitation of the West as representing “international best practice.” On the education front this is the time to create a revolutionary curriculum synchronised and sequenced from Grade zero to university.
The specific problems which prevent us from coming home to the pungwe approach include the following:
- Fist the majority of Madzimbahwe remain blind to the glaring global realisation that economics it too important to be left to a Eurocentric elite calling itself economists. The damage this elitist enclave has caused can be seen in the relics of recent hoaxes and disasters such as the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (Esap), New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), African Peer Review Mechanism, African Capacity Building Foundation and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
- Second, President Robert Mugabe’s call for a new science and technology curriculum has been misunderstood and misinterpreted to mean the mere escalation and intensification of the monistic silo approach to science and technology which has spawned the current failures. This monistic approach is based on wrong definitions of science and technology which confuse scientism with science and insist on creating a monistic science stream of pupils who are encouraged to separate themselves from students in other disciplines too early in the education process. Such early separation and isolation creates a separated and alienated stream of youngsters who are technicist and clearly incompetent in relation to the macro-economy and the macro-society and culture in which they must serve and prove themselves. The value chain linking the experimental laboratory to the workshop, farm or factory is neither determined nor controlled by the researcher or experimental scientist. That is why under capitalism most scientists and technicians are paid employees or consultants for conglomerate companies. The incorporation of scientific break-throughs into particular production lines is organised by entrepreneurs with money to take risks in trying new concepts and new technologies. This is a social and historical process involving many cooperating players other than the scientist or technician.
- Third, Zim Asset as already fallen victim of bureaucrats who use their control on State coffers to organise selective and exclusive workshops to intensify the silo approach to science and technology education which has been inherited from the British and has been pursued here religiously for the last 34 years.
- The question Madzimbahwe have to ask is this: What can these bureaucrats teach society about productivity when they themselves have been spending 70 to 90 percent of the Government’s budget on salaries which have to be paid in foreign currency and have accumulated massive unpaid arrears? As far as what is needed for the emergence of a new African-owned and controlled economy in Zimbabwe, economics for Zim Asset cannot be defined as what is known by persons certified with degrees in economics; science for Zim Asset cannot be limited to what is known be persons certified with higher degrees in science; technology cannot be limited to what is known by persons certified with B-Tech and M-Tech diplomas. These are important and even critical but only as catalysts for a much broader and more popular movement and mobilisation in science and technology. Scientism is not science. Technicism is not technology. Legalism is not living law.
A look at the new Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe shows not only that it will prove to be one of the key obstacles of Zim Asset but also that the drafters returned to their legalistic silos soon after the Constitutional outreach which had been meant to base our supreme law upon the pungwe foundation. The lawyers forgot the original purpose of the outreach. They also ignored the significance of research already done on the matter of living African law as demonstrated, for instance by the authors of Pursuing Grounded Theory in Law: South-North Experiences in Developing Women’s Law, 1998.
There the authors pointed out, among other things, that: “It has to be appreciated that approaches that suggest that law can be explored and captured from among the people, based on evidence of consistent and recognised practices, (remain) foreign to the Western-trained legal mind. Thus the gateways that permit the leading evidence of changing customs and practices and how that evidence must be led, have to be very carefully researched if such arguments are to have any chance of success.”
The pungwe concept of education would conceive of a policy in pursuit of the same objective(s) through many disciplines, therefore making it necessary to establish exactly where and how students in chemistry, biology, civil engineering, computer science and industrial manufacturing engineering are supposed to value and share the same national objectives as students in history, politics, business, accountancy, law, anthropology, theology and sociology. As far back as late November 1998, the government of Zimbabwe and the British Council organised and funded a national symposium on higher education in the 21st century at which the so-called experts stated the objective of the gathering as the creation of a “new curriculum to suit the requirements of the labour market in the 21st century.”
In a typical linear and silo fashion, Mr Eric Bloch featured in both The Herald and ZBC TV reports on the gathering, with The Herald headline to the story declaring “No need for more political scientists – Bloch.”
Bloch was quoted as saying:
“We don’t need several hundred additional political scientists, socio-economists, linguists, holders of general degrees in the arts and the like. There are increasingly enormous numbers of unemployed university graduates.”
The huge imbalances between students qualifying to study science and technology subjects and those qualifying to study social sciences and arts were not placed within the context of real society and history.
There is a yawning gap between the proposed abolition of further admissions to social science and arts courses on one hand and the presumed increase in admissions to science and technical subjects which is supposed to follow.
Stopping admissions to social science and arts degrees cannot automatically result in the popularisation of science and technical subjects. An abrupt and arbitrary change in admissions policy will not make science and technical subjects suddenly feasible, available, accessible and popular throughout the country.
There is need for the following:
- Development and articulation of a national philosophy and objectives for the entire education system regardless of whether the graduates will be physicists, chemists and engineers or historians, geographers and film makers.
- Development of an interdisciplinary course or courses to serve as the pungwe area where students from all areas of specialisation learn common values for the entire system and the entire nation.
- Investment in the infrastructure, equipment and teaching staff to make all the agreed courses and subjects feasible, available, accessible, relevant and understood.
In this context, it becomes easy to understand why Eric Bloch misrepresented his proposed abolition of social science and arts subjects as the way to boost admissions to science, business and technical subjects.
The Rhodesian grievance is that social science and arts subjects to-date have been the main vehicles for attempts to develop a revolutionary African ethos to underpin and drive African education.
Therefore, abolishing social science and arts admissions would suit the Rhodesians and their Anglo-Saxon sponsors, since that would leave African graduates completely open to western intellectual and ideological direction and domination.
African graduates would remain superior border jumpers from whom the West would pick and employ the brightest.
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