But we take comfort in the universal fact that â€˜the
boys are playing wellâ€™ though we are not quite
resigned to the English consolation psychology of
its not the winning that counts but participating which makes them turn â€˜glorious losersâ€™ into celebrities.
Like other peoples
across the world for the next one month, work can only
be partial unless you are in a football-related
industry. FIFA is our employer for now!
Hence it was with a great sense of sacrifice, personal and political loyalty that I found myself abandoning Togoâ€™s match against South Korea on Tuesday evening to go and listen to Professor Okello Oculi, speak at the Unfungomano Hall at Nairobi University. It was part
of the Public Debate Series of the African Research
and Resource Forum (ARRF) for 2006.
Two reasons forced my hands. One, Okello was one of the radical Pan- Africanist scholars who had influenced my intellectual and political outlook as an undergraduate student. He was one of those refugee scholars from Idi Aminâ€™s Uganda lost to
Uganda but gains to many generations of African
students in other countries.
many of the Ugandans of that era headed for other African
countries and rebuilt their lives, some of them
becoming adopted citizens of those countries. Two other Ugandans had direct impact on me, Prof. Yolamu Barongo who was both a mentor and intellectual father to me. Another one was the literary icon, Okot pâ€™ Bitek who did not teach me directly but was an intellectual and political influence through writings
and electrifying presence at seminars, workshops and
conference across Nigeria. Okello never returned to Uganda and is more Nigerian than many of us whose only claim is that we were born there.
Our lives later became interchanged when I became permanently resident in Uganda as General-Secretary of the Pan- African Movement. So
whenever we meet we have to talk shop with him sharing
with me what is going on in the rough and tumble of
Nigerian politics and I feeding him on my takes on the
up and downs, the zigzags and sometimes motions without movement in Ugandaâ€™s politics! So I could not refuse to go and listen to Okello.
The other reason was the topic of discussion: Interrogating the Conditions of The African
Universities. It is a topic that should interest anyone concerned about not just the survival of Africa and Africans but in us controlling our destiny. If we cannot own the
thinking process of our society we cannot control or
exercise autonomy over those societies. And our
universities are very central to this. They are much
neglected, abused, maligned and marginalised but we
cannot use other peopleâ€™s universities as the engine
of our development.
So many sins have been committed against our universities but they have also been perpetrating many sins against themselves.
The mad rush for private universities mushrooming
across the continent in the name of privatisation and
liberalisation in education may produce more people
with degrees but cannot produce many educated citizens.
Even within the public sector universities a two-tier
system is in place offering apartheid discrimination
based on financial resources. Okello called this FTDs
(Financially Transmitted Degrees). He also looked at
some of the internal weaknesses in the university
systems including the process of recruitment,
philosophical values underpinning the establishment of
the universities during colonial and post-colonial
societies, the pressures of SAP, the ideological
hegemony of elitism and reactionary values.
He identified the central problems for our universities as basically ideological: what is the purpose of a university? He identified lack of creativity and creative thinking and creative interaction between our
technicians of knowledge and the society. We study as
if our societies do not exist and our societies and
governments, businesses, make policies as if we do not
have local thinkers and qualified professionals.
In plain language our universities are not organically
linked to our societies. There were oases of excellence in the past like Dar-es-Salaam, Ahmadu
Bello university and even the conservative bent older
universities like Makerere, Ibadan, Legon, used to be
real centres of learning in their heyday. South
African universities, especially the ones for Whites have
always been more integrated into the power structure,
thinking and shaping the future of their societies.
The discussions, especially the robust interventions by
the students (a modest turnout given that Togo was
playing) were both nostalgic and sad for me. Inspiring
because I felt that the tradition of debate is not
dead though sadly not fashionable anymore as students
are taught by rote method and give back to the lecturers
the half-baked ideas copied from their commercialised handouts.
I was also sad that though many of them are angry and believe they can and deserve better they are no longer reading or having
access to books that could make them turn their anger
into a positive force for creativity and social
transformation. They also reveal a very crude way in
which the university has become integrated into the
vulgarity that is dominating our societies â€”
corruption, STDs (not Sexually Transmitted Diseases but what Okello calls Sexually Transmitted Degrees), dictatorship by administrators, authoritarianism by lecturers and discouraging alternative thought.
When universities merely reflect the vulgar side of society instead of providing original refection on the society, they cease to be a universe
of ideas and are doomed to become irrelevant. Hence
the current attitude in many countries if you say I am
a graduate and people retort: â€œand so what?â€
â€˜Financially transmitted degreesâ€™ are a menace!