By Nelson Ruwa.
AT the 2017 Bulawayo Youth Interface Rally, then Head of State Robert Mugabe explained that he had asked the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) administration the question: “Where are the engineers?” as the Nust graduation ceremony came to closure.
The response was that the engineers had graduated over the years and were now at work in industries all over the country.
Said Mugabe in response: “No, that is not what we mean. We want people who are innovative and can develop airplanes…”.
Having spearheaded the globally outstanding Zimbabwean post-independence education drive, this man must have resigned a disappointed man, and he acknowledged failure to realise the intended gains of the education drive.
The University’s Vice Chancellor could not define who or what an engineer is.
It is very possible that national university vice chancellors and President Emmerson Mnangagwa, now the new Chancellor of all State universities, in the same manner, find it difficult to define who or what an academic is.
The Collins English dictionary defines an academic as a university intellectual who teaches or does research.
Residue of Influence from Ancient African Attitudes During the colonization process, Africans marvelled greatly at the disparity between their indigenous technology and that of the Europeans who had colonised them. They later conceded defeat and had consensus that white men were inherently blessed and hence superior.
Though liberation wars were later fought and were merely political because it seems that even presently, the inferiority complex still grips the black indigenous, with the education system hopelessly failing to catapult them to catch-up with the developed world in terms of attitudes, imagination and expertise.
Many Zimbabweans still question the feasibility of modern civilisation that involves technologies such as bullet trains, numerous airports, world class tourist destinations, a strong currency, road surveillance cameras and others, as reiterated by the young leader of the MDC Alliance, Nelson Chamisa, during his nation-wide campaign trail.
The history of the discovery of fire usage, the Stone Age, the Iron Age, the Cow-horn battle formation and the Short-stabbing spear, among other developments, is enough evidence that Africans inherently had some measure of enquiry and imagination.
When the Vashambadzi came to exchange their clothing items for the African gold and later the Europeans came to introduce a modern civilization through colonisation, it became evident that Africans were far behind in terms of aggression and pace of innovation and development.
Creativity and zeal can also be noticed on the rock paintings by the Khoisan and massive constructions such as the Great Zimbabwe Ruins. However, these developmental approaches lacked scientific substance as they were void of uniformity and symmetrical balance.
These developments could not be replicated as they were not documented because our forefathers did not have writing skills and publication technology like other continents.
The Egyptian hieroglyphics writing and the scientifically built pyramids suggest that the Arab world has been way ahead of sub Saharan Africa over centuries. In terms of time and labour, the construction of the Great Wall of China might have been very inefficient, but later developments such as the Forbidden City depict traits of modern civilisation based on scientific research and development.
Other parts of the world boast of philosophers whose theories still guide their modern systems of governance and economic development. Russians have Karl Max, Chinese have the likes of Confucius, and there are countless European and American inventors that brought about industrialisation.
The Arabic numerals are still indispensable and the whole world has adopted the term algorithm after Abu Ja’far Muhammad ibn Musa al-Chwārizmī, the Arabic mathematician who introduced restoration and balancing in algebra.
On the contrary, Zimbabweans have icons like Chaminuka, Mzilikazi, Lobengula, Mbuya Nehanda, Changamire Dombo and the Munhumutapas who did not even leave a single written script but only oral sentiments such as “Take your gun and become independent”.
Zimbabweans were, therefore, left with no option but to adopt foreign ideologies and technologies that are proving to be incompatible with our traditions and way of life.
There is a great need now to instil values such as attention to detail, creativity, perseverance, time-consciousness and the intrinsic drive in a new wave of patriotism, where everyone is found on the post of duty without fail or excuse. There seems to be need for expatriate teachers in Early Childhood Education to help foster developmental attitudes in the minds of our infants.
The already damaged and unexposed local teachers may find it difficult to cultivate a different approach where our infant academics grow up treasuring the culture of meticulous attention to detail, innovation, development and enquiry.
The Role of Universities
Politicians should not just major on populist policies of university grants and loans for students while failing to acknowledge that, if the academic talents are groomed and promoted, they attract global technological giants such as Google, Facebook, Alibaba and Amazon, who can fund local research projects that can cover a lot of financial needs of university students and professionals.
In the early 80s, countries like Sweden sponsored a lot of secondary school science projects.
The government should facilitate the provision of an environment conducive for innovation, research and development in higher education institutions. Laboratories should be equipped with modern machinery and operate day and night as Zimbabwe races against time to catch up with others. There should be a major shift from the practice of students learning to reproduce knowledge for the purpose of passing examinations and getting employed.
Academics in the Diaspora
To narrow the gap between local academic system and that of the developed world, there is dire need to harness the potential deposited in the Diaspora academics who have studied and worked abroad, where they managed to get exposure to modern technologies. Politicians should come up with policies on how to attract Zimbabwean experts in the Diaspora back into the country to spearhead the aggressive transformation of the economy. It seems that the current Zimbabwean government views these Diaspora citizens as enemies of the State in terms of participation in elections and governance decisions.
Government only like their investment initiatives, but who will be on the ground to champion the modernisation revolution?
Local academics need to do exchange projects with professors in developmental hubs such as the US and Japan. Expatriate professors should flood our universities to complement the investment drive so as to facilitate the provision of local solutions by the locals.
In fast developing countries like South Korea and China, it is the locals that run industrial operations, even though much of the investment comes from the US. This empowers the citizens and minimises unemployment.
The Mnangagwa Administration can therefore spur Economic Growth via Academics
When only the leader has the vision and those around are just opportunists echoing that vision, only for political gains, the visionary might end up being distracted, neutralised and joining his lieutenants in self-aggrandisement, to the detriment of the vision and benefit to the masses.
A vision cannot be transmitted from one person to another by appointment, affiliation or marriage. It is, therefore, wise for the Head of State to identify the progressive academic technocrats who can share, advance and implement the developmental vision, otherwise political manifestos will be a mere repeat of Mugabe’s 38 years of vacuous and sterile rhetoric.
Therefore, President Mnangagwa can spur Economic Growth via Academics
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