Wanted: A Cadre of Kamikazes
In his column for the UK Guardian on January 29, George Monbiot raised some interesting insights into how the elite in the West view their societies and the rest of the world.
Monbiot’s focus was largely on how the elite in Britain relate to the not-so-well-to do in Britain, with his founding premise being that “the way we are governed is inexplicable – until you understand the upbringing of the elite”.
He then goes on to paint a picture of how the traditional schooling system made the British Empire what it was (or shall we say what it is?): “… the role of such schools was clear: they broke boys’ attachment to their families and re-attached them to the institutions – the colonial service, the government, the armed forces – through which the British ruling class projected its power.
Every year they released into the world a cadre of kamikazes, young men fanatically devoted to their caste and culture.
“By the time I was eight those institutions had either collapsed (in the case of colonial service), fallen into other hands (government), or were no longer a primary means by which British power was asserted (the armed forces). Such schools remained good at breaking attachments, less good at creating them.
But the old forms and the old thinking persisted.”
I am not too concerned with Monbiot’s main thrust, which is to do with how the elite in New York or Tokyo have more in common with the elite in London or Paris.
Rather, what is of interest is not only how the British created institutions that projected its power and generated wealth for the Crown, but also how it created a schooling system to feed into those institutions.
Say what you will about the British, but from the perspective of the coloniser they sure did run a fairly efficient Empire.
And in our opposition to the Empire, we have tended to dismiss the means by which Empire was perpetuated through the inadequate means of merely creating a “post-colonial” state.
I say inadequate because our model of “post-colonial” state building has largely been that of changing the flag, the national anthem and the constitution.
The institutions have not changed and for that reason, the Empire still largely exists (we were, after all, told that Rhodesians will never die!).
In particular, education remains more or less still in service of Empire in much of Africa.
Why is it that we have a dearth of “a cadre of kamikazes” a la Monbiot who are prepared to give their all in service of our aspirations as Africans? Is it not this deficit in such “kamikazes” that creates room for creation of a comprador bourgeoisie and ruling class that is more in service of Empire than of Africa?
Education needs to be deconstructed, and this is not new territory that Africa has to chart: others have done it before and are still doing it.
Just look at Cuba.
After the overthrow of Batista, Castro and company did not merely change flags, anthems and laws. They went further and crated an education system that feeds the institutions that defeated the puppet dictatorship.
To paraphrase, Castro’s motto has been that without education – and health – the revolution is dead.
Much has been written about the need to decolonise education so that it starts serving our needs as Africa rather than the needs of the metropoles in the West.
Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator, trail-blazed this path back in the 1960s with his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.
He argued that the art and science of teaching young (and older) minds could not be left to the devices of the traditional model of education that treats the pupil as an empty vessel that needs to be filled by the omniscient teacher.
It is this model (which he calls the “banking model”, in reference to an empty bank account that needs Providence to make it respectable) that Empire used in Africa to produce the cadre of uninspiring leaders who today fall over themselves in thanking France for sending bombs to Mali.
The centrality importance of education and decolonisation to our development has been underscored by Maori scholar, Linda Tuhiwai Smith, who says there can be no real forward movement for our peoples if we cannot centre our own interests in education.
The traditional art and science of teaching in Africa has contributed to ensuring that the continent remains just about where it was at the time of Independence, because our economists, lawyers, bankers, teachers, journalists, politicians and philosophers have had their heads filled by an education that better serves Empire than us.
Africa needs its own “cadre of kamikazes” of young men and women who place our interests first in all that they do.
And only education can produce that for Africa.