If it doesn’t make us better human beings, it’s no education

Tuesday November 26 2019


We don’t have to hold degrees all of us. Some will excel in academics, some will apply what the academics have propounded, and some will ignore all of that and go on to do their thing quite well. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By The EastAfrican

A smartly dressed gentleman strides over to the check-in counter at the airport, takes out his ticket and demands some service that the girl behind the desk says she cannot grant because the flight is fully booked, or something like that.

The man, with “Mr Important” written all over his nose and face, argues with the hostess for some time, and then shouts at the poor girl, ‘Do you know who I am?’ several times.

The girl switches on the public address system and calmly announces, “There is a gentleman here who does not know who he is. Could someone please come over and help him discover his identity?”

Sheepishly, the man walks away quietly, hoping no one will recognize him as the a**h***.

You must have witnessed this kind of man or woman who thinks the whole world must know who they are because they are the most intelligent, the richest, the most important … Their sense of entitlement can be nauseating.

Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the legendary Nigerian crooner had a name for them: “Shakara” in his song of the same title. When you have a small quarrel with him, he asks you, “Do you know who I am. I go beat you, you go look like you get accident. Wait till I comot dis dress. Na shakara man. He no fit do notin. Na shakara logic.”


It has become fashionable to be “shakara” in our neck of the woods, especially with people with some semblance of power or what they call “education.” You will hear people talk loudly about the “education” they possess, usually meaning they have a number of university degrees. This lack of humility frequently attacks people who are in the midst of losing an argument and who look to get out of defeat by using “shakara” tactics.

So, in recent days an honourable minister who I know to be very capable otherwise gets irked by a musician who sings political songs against President John Magufuli’s government. The minister thinks the little man should stick to singing, otherwise he should start a political party and “do politics.” Somewhere along the line, the “shakara” thing comes out.

“I have so many degrees, I can’t argue with a grade seven boy. What can he tell me?”

I am sure in my mind that the minister knows the importance of giving all citizens the space within which to engage public thinking, including on political, economic and cultural issues without necessarily being politicians, that is without having to be paid salaries for being politicians, such as ministers are paid. It is called civil society, that space within which politics gets civilised, at some remove from the putrid waters of our politicians’ politics.

As for being highly educated, that must denote culture, a moulding of the body, mind and spirit of the person so that they become better human beings, and they recognise everyone’s place in societal and national discourses.

We don’t have to hold degrees all of us. Some will excel in academics, some will apply what the academics have propounded, and some will ignore all of that and go on to do their thing quite well. Such is the truth of the likes of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs ….

A few years ago I rhetorically asked a group of youngsters about a Didier Drogba and a fictitious mathematics professor. If a Drogba can run as fast as Usain Bolt toward the opposing goal, all the while glancing back at his central defender with the ball he expects to be passed to him, and all the time he is watching the defence wall he must breach, and still retains the composure to “amortise” the ball with his left foot, bring it down to his right boot and get the angle at which to take it past the monkeylike goalkeeper to score … who is the mathematics savant between this Ivory Coast man and the Harvard professor of trigonometry?

How does academic intelligence deny the place and role of the psychomotor intelligence of a well-tuned body, or the emotional intelligence of someone who has learnt to deal with a wounded society that needs healing, a branch of intelligence which has been denied so many of our bookish brothers and sisters?

Most of all, education is humanity; it’s different from skilling. A dog can be taught all sorts of skills, but I have never heard of an educated dog.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: jenerali@gmail.com