How much education should Africans be given? I think this is an important question we must deal with. We know education is very important. Through education we acquire knowledge and with it we are able to transform ourselves and our communities. Every human being needs to be educated. That is why of all human pursuits education is the most enduring. People can fight over religion. They can fight over resources. They can fight over power. They can even fight over sex, but with education there seems to be agreement that it is part and parcel of our existence. Of course, with education there are various levels. We have basic education where one learns how to count and read simple things like love letters. We then have a higher form of education which requires an individual to learn long words. Then there is the highest level where the most intelligent in society have to introduce new concepts and discover previously unexplored frontiers. This is education.
Back then before people could read and write the law of the jungle ruled supreme. For one to exercise power they had to be adept at hunting. If not, they had to be able to light a fire. Otherwise they had to be fearless. All this earned people fame and respect. But with the advent of formal education one did not have to be good at hunting or fishing. Nor did one have to kill others to be considered worthy of respect. Education allowed the physically weak to use their brains to earn recognition in their communities. In the olden days if you were born with a disability you were simply put to death because you were a waste of food and space.
But nowadays even the disabled can contribute to our general welfare by using their brains. They don’t have to hunt or kill some one from the next tribe to become heroes. So education has been useful for all of us. Take your uncle. Even with basic education he can get a job as a night watchman. In this job he is not expected to understand abstract concepts. He must simply be able to read a few words and most importantly be able to count to less than a hundred. With his basic skills he is able to provide for his family. And when he decides the life of a night watchman is unbearable, he can scrawl a note in shaky hand writing explaining why he hanged himself.
The barely decipherable writing also allows him to bequeath a will. Quite clearly, if a man has only his grey overcoat, woollen hat, tough boots and whip as his earthly possessions, he is entitled to determine which of his equally impoverished relatives get what. Don’t think only rich people write a will. Poor people have to do it in order to avert their relatives fighting over a woollen hat or a heavy winter coat. The ability to scrawl also puts matters in perspective. It allows the night watchman to inform his relatives who is responsible for his suicide. As you know we Africans don’t believe in death from natural causes. As far as we know people are not supposed to die.
Anyway why should people die? So, in our belief system when people die it can only be because of witchcraft. That is why semi literate people, like your uncle the night watchman, who take their own lives always leave a note behind. Because they were bewitched they have to leave behind a suicide note for their relatives to know who drove them to commit the deed, so that, in turn, the murderer too can be bewitched in revenge. But my point about education is very simple. I am now convinced that notwithstanding its virtues, some Africans do not deserve education. I reached this conclusion after travelling around. I have been to many places in this country.
I attend funerals and weddings. I attend civic events such as public floggings of local miscreants. That is why I have certain questions about the value of education to my kinfolk. My biggest problem is that education drives Africans crazy. Or rather Africans blame education for making them mad. First of all, every educated African must, after a drink or two, speak English. Mostly, this happens during arguments. For some weird reason, when inebriated we have to argue in English. As they say no race of people loves English more than Africans. The longer the words, the better. We don’t argue in English using simple words. We have to go for the big words. When an argument is underway, the spectators who did not receive much education nod their heads in agreement with the one who uses the most difficult words. And if he speaks his English through the nose, the greater the admiration.
He is the hero, regardless of the fact that his is a weak argument. He will get nods of approval and glances of admiration if he deploys his big words. Now there are a lot of chaps in the villages who once upon a time lived the high life in town. For some reason or the other things didn’t work out and they had to go back home. They while away time walking around the village speaking English. That they were irresponsible and got fired from their jobs in town is not an issue. They are admired because they speak English. More than that, their admirers mitigate for them pointing out that they are mad because of education. It is common for lunatics in the village who can string together a few English words to be held in awe. The explanation always is that the guy went mad because of too much education. That is why he speaks English. Next time you go to your village look out for the English speaking chap who is admired because education has driven him crazy. The day I get fired for sleeping on the job I will retreat to my home village as a hero. There, I will jabber away and draw an admiring following of people speaking in hushed tones of how education made me crazy, causing me to speak English through the nose just like the English themselves!