Opinion
Africans: our time will come if . . .
Publish Date: Jan 08, 2014
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Part 1: Science leads to self-pride

By Eng. Kant Ateenyi

As a Science and Maths-crazy school kid, I never liked History and Religious Education (RE), though I loved Geography and admired people who decently worked hard to make wealth for themselves. I loved to question everything and detested taking things at face value.

From primary, the two subjects were taught to me as if I had to simply cram and accept so called facts without thinking. In fact for RE, it was – and still is - taboo to question even the existence or whereabouts of that almighty God. We were told: “Blessed are those who believe without seeing” – and I couldn’t take that.

To add insult to injury, the Sunday school teacher called us his ‘lambs’. At home we kept chicken, goats, sheep, cows, and had a dog. Sheep were the dumbest of animals – and the Runyakitara word for them, entaama literary means mentally retarded or ‘cretin’.

Later, that was to form the genesis of the name Kant, acquired in Senior two from schoolmates at Nyakasura and accepted by all including my ‘white’ teachers and ‘black’ peasant parents.

In adulthood, however, as this questioning probed the inequalities and chaos so rampant on the globe, I came to appreciate the place of History in our curriculum and the curse of religious misinterpretation in the global mess.

This Christmas caused reflections on these two after a great lunch re union with about 30 Ugandan professionals at a generous friend’s home in Cape Town. We talked and debated about home and on African tragedies; some wondered whether, as a people, black Africans were not destined to be perpetual consumers of other people’s products and efforts.

It was pointed out that we are after all, a minority group – accounting for just about 10% of the world population. As if in conspiracy, on Boxing Day, DSTV’s Discovery channel ran a long documentary titled “Empire” about Britain’s past colonial prowess.

The next day, December 27, China announced how it was opening her own improved and most accurate global navigation system, ‘BeiDou’ to the rest of the world to compete with USA’s GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, Europe’s Galileo and Japan’s QZSS.

This was after safely and most cost-effectively landing a rover on the moon to ‘peep’ deeper (100 m) than anyone else into the surface.

As if to demonstrate the ‘feel good’ effect, and/or prepare the nation for a possible future faceoff with US, here or in space, the Chinese government also declared a relaxation of their one child per couple policy.

Remember, Obama had earlier, at a UN meeting boasted – to the disdain of others - of how ‘special’ Americans were because of their ability to ‘hit anywhere on the globe’ yet restrain themselves out of good conscience.

Earlier in November, India, another populous rising giant had managed to sling a satellite into a 300 day, 400 million km journey to Mars at a cost of a mere $72m compared to the US’s 2013 $671m launch.

True, the US satellite was twice as heavy, had a payload just over four times as big and might take a shorter time to arrive (normally takes about six months when well timed).

In July, work begun on India’s regional navigation satellite system, IRNSS. To show what self confidence in science can mean, when one lady Indian diplomat was handled undiplomatically in New York mid-December, India’s reaction at home was quick, sharp and decisive: they stripped the US ambassador Nancy Powell and her group of their diplomatic IDs and removed the security barricades at the US embassy in New Delhi. Just like de-hoofing (not dehorning) an aggrieved Cape buffalo without a tranquiliser!

Lest I forget, at my present university, we in Africa had in November also sent a 10 cm little cube into earth orbit, 600 km above ground.  I do not know whether South Africa’s gods and ‘Sangomas’ were annoyed by this: a month later, they decided to call the country’s celebrated son, Mandela for ‘consultations’.

The ‘feel good’ about Mandela’s earthly achievements made our compatriots in the republic mourn his calling with open jubilations everywhere.

 These developments mainly serve to show that Scientific ‘Knowledge’ and ‘progress’ cannot – and should not - be a preserve of a select few for all time. But this is not my point today. Rather, back to our lunch debates: what is it that causes people to be proud of themselves? What is it that will make Ugandans feel more of Ugandan than of the Bakiga/Baganda/Acholi etc? And this business of Ugandan-ness, Chadian-ness, Nigerian-ness and Zimbabwean-ness, where is it leading the black man to?

We hear that once upon a time, all humans were here in Africa, meaning the proportion of our kind on the globe was 100%.

Then, some moved northward. The further they went out of the tropics and with time and diet changes, the more melanin (or blackness, in simple terms) they lost, the more they multiplied and the farther they aspired to explore and settle (with some returning to base within the last three to four centuries).

Any surprise why they are reaching for outer space? It is simply not like what mountaineer George Mallory said: “because it is there”. No, both the moon and Mars are likely to have been colonised by the turn of this century.

Anyone with doubts should refer to the 2012 World Wildlife Fund report: “Living Planet”. It computes we will need “two earths” to sustain our consumption habits by 2030. As to efforts in that direction, refer to the website http://www.planetaryresources.com/ to remove any remaining doubts. As you read this, preparations for a manned fight scheduled for 2018 according to the figure below are in high gear.

Meanwhile, we the ‘stayees’, are barely 10% in our same old place. Even some of our kind’s ways of life are now literary being ‘conserved’ as ‘tourist attractions’ for those who left eons back (e.g. Read Merriman’s Desert Doctor).

From extensive readings and a few global travels, I’ll try to raise debate on these issues and what we can do about them in a series of articles. Our first issue in the next article is patriotism.

Ateenyi is a pan-Africanist Solar Engineer, a member of American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers and of South African Society of Engineering Education

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