African Education and its Say in Democracy

Ghana has been admired by the international community this year for her recent election that granted a peaceful win for an opposition leader. In the African political scenario, Ghana’s case not only deserves applaud, but also should be followed by other African countries as a model. African elections rarely demonstrate transparency and barely end up with peace, but rather usually are characterized by political parties in each others throats. For Africans, the kind of crisis that followed the recent Iranian election is not an extraordinary phenomenon. The violence that erupted following the re-election of President Mahmoud Amhadinejad for another term in office resonates with the election experience of most African counties.  This is bound to be the case as the mode of governance of any nation should be a summation of her culture and tradition. This is not to say that democracy is alien to Africa.

In fact it is arguable that Africa’s democracy precedes that of Europe and North America since democracy in some form was in effect in pre-colonial Africa. An example could be the Yoruba’s of Ife, who had their own way of electing a chief. Few African countries attempted to examine democracy in line with already existing systems and practices. Botswana is exemplary in retaining an indigenous democratic system called ‘kgotla’, that is a communal system used to consult the general public before setting and implementing polices. This system that discourages violence and unlawfulness has helped Botswana to achieve successful and peaceful political practices. Ghana also is cited as a pillar in implementing traditional systems of participation, discussion and recognition of authority. This hasn’t been the case in other African nations, where the destruction of traditional methods of governance that is highly blamed on Africa’s colonial powers, could be a factor in the failing of governance systems.

Africa’s lack of good governance is well demonstrated in the lack interest that most African leaders show to share and pass down power. Although many factors contribute to Africa’s woes in poor governance, there exists one major factor that is considered to have a major say to the crises in Africa: low level of education. The low level of literacy and education has been one point of note for failing to change desperate conditions and promoting democracy in most black countries such as Sierra Leone and Haiti with an illiteracy rate of 64.9 and 47.1 percent respectively. Education has been grossly neglected by African leaders, the chief reason being that when people know their rights they become a major opposition to government and its ill qualities. Various governments appear to be occupied either with solidifying their hold on power or embezzling funds, laying down a pretentious plan to improve education, which always remains unimplemented under the disguise of programs like that of the Millennium Development Goals. It is alarming that countries such as Niger have their illiteracy level hitting the roof at 71.3 percent. It is heart-rending that even wealthy African countries such as Nigeria have a high illiteracy rate of 32 percent. With a human population exceeding 140 million, that makes at least 44 million people. How is money being spent by our leaders? Poorer countries such as Trinidad have a higher literacy level of 98.6 percent.

It must be clearly understood that there exist on earth two sets of human beings. One set that moves out of reason and the other that moves out of instinct. The difference between the two could be explained by the difference between literacy and education. The more educated a person is the less likely he is to react out of instinct as the reasoning capacity becomes more prominent in the person’s mind. Hence, violence is denounced or delayed as careful thinking and planning is employed in achieving the desired goals. It follows that one way of controlling the populace is through proper education, so education could be used as controlling tool. Debatable? Yes. Many might argue that some countries with a high literacy level such as Zimbabwe (90.7percent) are yet an embarrassment to Africa when it comes to democratic practices. Some countries also might have high literacy rate, but might be short in producing citizens that meet the requirement to higher learning.  Quality of education versus the quantity of learners should also be taken into consideration.

There is a difference between literacy and Education. The former signifying ones ability to read and write while the later signifies a condition were one acquires knowledge in order to enhance his/her ability to make sound judgement. There is a positive correlation between education and peace, and vice-versa. In fact the majority of peaceful countries can be grouped under the category of educationally advanced countries. One major attribute of such countries is the high level of literacy. Examples are Canada and Great Britain with a literacy level of 99 percent.  When citizens and government officials have high educational level, democratic power transition (like election) is more likely to be smoother. This thus explains why even though a winner might emerge with two thirds of the votes, there is still a peaceful transition in the educationally advanced countries. The contrary being the case in Africa as even though one might have a two thirds victory, the remaining one third still make up a large chunk of the population and hence their opposition to election results might appear to outsiders as valid. This may have been the case in Iran where pre election polls showed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would win with a high margin. Another example is the case in Zimbabwe.

We might ponder that if high literacy rate is correlated with peace and development, why has Zimbabwe remained a chaotic political arena in the past many years. The kind and quality of education is even much more important to determine education’s influence on stability and peace. Hence, Zimbabwe’s high literacy rate should not be used as a yardstick in arguing against the positive influence of education on peace in Africa. When the education we provide is not in touch with the realities of people, their culture and traditions, it poses a big challenge. The educational system being implemented in most African countries is mostly Westernized, tailored in brainwashing the learners mind and diminishing African indigenous knowledge and contribution. In colonial times, education was used to justify the superiority of European values and in post colonial Africa, education is being used to support ideologies that respective countries follow. For example, in Kenya text books promote capitalist ways of thinking, while in Ethiopia and Tanzania, the focus was in preaching Socialism.  In elucidating this point, Harber in his book ‘Education, Democracy and Political Development in Africa’ argues that in Africa, education has been contributing ‘more on the possession of ‘modern’ bureaucratic attitudes and behaviours than the democratic ones.’ The impact of quality/type of education could also be exemplified through the cases of North and South Korea.  Though both countries achieved high literacy rate (99%), the former practices an authoritarian administration while the later exercises democratic governance system.

It is about time that Africans re-evaluate their current educational system especially in bringing indigenous African thought and practices and democratic ways of thinking. The challenge, therefore, is not only that of lack of fund, teachers and schools, but also dependency on exclusive Western culture curricula, mode of thought and language.   The same applies for the concept of democracy that doesn’t consider the unique cultural and traditional settings. If education has to contribute for good governance, therefore, these issues must be considered. This is of course based on the belief that a learned mind would better manage crisis and opt for diplomatic solutions rather than violent protests, which, if not handled properly, end up in war. The ability to accept defeat is what makes the difference between the developed and the underdeveloped world. Without a high level of literacy, democracy would always result in violent protest and if not handled properly, war. Gone are the days were peacekeeping forces were the solution to conflicts. Sanctions have been shown to be toothless.

The only way forward for African countries is to invest in education that is designed to fight violence, corruption, poverty, elitism, greediness, and unwillingness to share power.

Jovi Otite

Jovi Otite (Ph.d) is the co-founder of BornBlack. He is an Animal Science Expert in Animal Reproduction, agriculture and alternative renewable energy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *