In The Land of Smart Africans

27

We tell ourselves over and over: Africans, we are smart people. How many days go by before you hear some African person tell another how smart we all are?

The compliment is accompanied by a slight, confident curl of the lips or a chip on one’s shoulder. So smug, we feel. The smart label satisfies our egos. It gives us a high. It’s as if we are in desperate need for some constant reassurance that we are intellectually sound.

But what is this smart of which we speak? Who says we are quick-witted or clever? How do we measure either variable?

We speak of smart as excelling all over the world—an excellence that is purely based upon a comparison of test scores. Hardly do we notice what an illusion it is to calculate international excellence by school grades.

To say that Africans are the most highly educated immigrant group in a country means what? Perhaps that we spend countless hours nestled next to our books, that we are utterly devoted to committing their contents to memory. Mind you, these books are usually written by foreigners.

When we regurgitate their contents successfully, we win the ultimate prizes: good grades, straight A’s, crucifixions of exams, gold starred stickers! Congratulations, you smart Africans, for you have truly succeeded!

Of course these prizes have no real meaning but to bolster our self-esteem. They possess no actual value in the real world.

Sadly we have all the A’s the universe can muster but cannot find a cadre of honest men to lay concrete for roads, or to safeguard homes from being built in flood zones. With all our perfect WASSCE scores, we have failed at designing a society where our youth are gainfully occupied in bettering our local communities. We have yet to effectively unite the city dwellers with the villagers to find some compromise between the modern and the traditional. Smart Africans indeed.

Even worse, many Africans look to the western world to give us this smart label. We covet recognition from across the Atlantic. We reserve the most affectionate embrace for our youth who have traversed through foreign educational school systems.

Our misguided elders send us subliminal signals as if to say: it’s ivy league or nothing! To be accepted into ivy league schools is the ultimate mark of intelligence.

When we get accepted into some minuscule pay-for-play master’s program, the whole family jubilates. Have we before seen a state of rapture as this? Is there a festival with weeks of jollof and waakye or did someone just receive a piece of paper in the mail that commits them to forking over hundreds of thousands of US dollars? What celebration for a hefty sum!

Our elated aunties and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, nieces and nephews have no idea what the curriculum is about. They have no understanding of what we will learn or its connection to everyday life in Africa, nor do they care. It is the title that is important to them.

For some of us, this title eclipses our sense of self-doubt. Without a western degree, we feel hopeless, misunderstood, stupid. We feel despair without validation from the west. That acceptance letter is what keeps us from crumbling to our knees in grief. It is our salvation and our validation. We are lost without it. The comedy is not far from the tragedy.

In reality, smart is not some validation that comes from outside ourselves, from outside Africa. We cannot outsource the smart label and give others the power to define our thinking classes.

We should care little for the self-proclaimed smart people who do nothing to improve their local communities but only post their degrees above their office desks.

Does their smart ensure that crops are ready for the harvest each season? Does their smart mean that Africa can defend herself from outside threats or enemies that boldly occupy African countries? Does their smart mean that our puppet leaders will not sign agreements—that they neither read nor understand—that sell our nations, peoples, animals, and natures to the highest bidder?

Clearly, smart has no utility unless applied to real world problems. For every African who has told me how smart we all are, I ask: why then, with all these smarts, do simple solutions evade us?

Maybe we should re-evaluate this smart label and use it sparingly. It would be better served for a time when we have truly reclaimed our educational systems and re-cultivated our writing cultures.

27 COMMENTS

  1. That is Afrikan smartness, Nefertiti, as it ought to be: being courageous in refusing to join in the Big Self-Deception of our Euro-certified and stupefied Elite and, as taught by Amilcar Cabral, claiming no easy victories; but rather recognising the strengths we now lack and yet could honestly bring out of our own Afrikan selves by just being human enough to be truly Afrikan! Thanks a great deal, beloved Sister for thinking out loud and writing it as a true Afrikan Gbeto-Ohemaa!

  2. In the land of smart Africans that is exactly where intelligence goes and dies a terrible death. Africa, and in particular Ghana, has had many degreed students, yet the country has nothing to show for it in terms of a sustainable economy and a relevant educational system. Even the place of Ghana under the Sun has yet to be defined. Nefetiti brings us her formidable introspection. Africa needs to take a painful look at herself. A really honest look. And be frank. Until African nations become the geopolitical players that they once were, we cannot claim that our degreed elite deserve respect. They don’t!

  3. Very aptly said. I used to be in that same mental frame of mind until I freed myself from that. You cannot allow someone to define what smartness means for you and to put a lable on your forehead certifying you as smart. It is like being given an award at a dog show as a high breed dog. Now I when I am asked where I went to school, I say University of Ghana and my home where I recieved an education in my ghanaian culture.

  4. Audu Salisu, Kwadwo Nyamba, Narmer Amenuti, I find it difficult to read stuff like this. I wish I could edit this for Juliet Asante. Myjoyonline.com does a bad job. That is an online publication without a mission. This is a nightmare. This essay could have been stellar. But few misguided world-views keep is laboring for air to breath.

    Juliet Asante keeps referring to a bunch of barbarians, stooped in crass violence and utter dehumanization, as our “[colonial] masters.” That they did a great job here or there. That they are good at certain things. My dear friends, the day we stop calling a bunch of nincompoops who came to occupy our lands violently as anything even close to “masters” that will be the day education would have liberated the African mind!

    For me this is what the Editors at Grandmother Africa do so brilliantly. Don’t humanize violence. Don’t humanize colonial occupation. Do not humanize barbarians! Jesus! Please, let us stop acknowledging anyone who’s brutalized us for three hundred years! Let’s call them for what they are – violent nincompoops! Next time, I will suggest Juliet sends her essay to Grandmother! Jesus!

    • Here is the essay. I post it here for reference:

      Why education prepares us to fail by Juliet Asante.

      About five years ago, I made a decision to spend more time outside my home country. A number of things had culminated into this decision. Feeling burnt out and alarmed, I packed my bags and with my daughter, took a sabbatical so to speak.

      My predominant feeling at the time was despair. I was a misfit. I felt misunderstood and targeted; and then something monumental happened. On my last night in my home, an email from the Harvard Kennedy School informed me of my acceptance. Unable to carry my suddenly dead weight, my knees crumbled, as warm, salty tasting drops trickled down to trembling lips. I whispered again and again ‘Lord, I am not stupid, lord, I am not stupid’… for by this time, circumstances had conspired to have me questioning my sanity.

      A strong believer in the value of a good education, my daughter attended a prestigious school. She and myself interacted with the upwardly mobile of society and we were no strangers to the occasional red-eye flight that took us half way across the world. As an open-minded parent, I did my best to be progressive in my parenting.

      Hardly had we settled into our new home, when the first shock of my daughter’s school report hit. The bottom line – my daughter was relatively timid, lacking in sufficient independent thought, initiative and generally lacked a firm grasp of critical educational principles. In a state of shock, I took a very quick, but painful decision to repeat her school year, allowing her the space she needed to adapt and catch up. My decision paid off as she flourished within months.

      My own year at school was no trip in the park; I struggled to break free, both from a mindset and a clear gap in my education on many levels. As my elasticity was tested, I experienced sensory overload, sometimes manifesting in extreme physical discomfort.

      I come from a country and continent that was once colonized. The colonial masters did leave, but not with everything. Key; was structured education, as we know it. As dutiful servants, we have carried on the culture in relative purity. Indeed, I dare say that the masters would be surprised at our demonstrated faithfulness, for even they have veered off track, recognizing the need to, in some cases, move on. The Educational institutions of our ‘masters’ welcome and encourage change; cherishing the past, but understanding that it only exist to give us grounding into the future. For as there cannot be a future without a past, a past without a future will ultimately lead to extinction. Therein lays the secrets to man’s progress.

      The British are particularly great at preserving traditions. Within this tradition is a class system, beautifully represented by her majesty the queen, who we deservedly pay homage to. Let me here hasten to add that I was recently delighted when her majesty supposedly sent out her first tweet!

      Colonization was built on the bedrock of the class system; so intricately crafted, that it has the ability to perpetuate itself, even in the absence of the master. Ghana has been ‘independent’ since 1957.

      The British had one goal when they colonized; to keep the colonized, colonized. They have done a very good job. We have therefore faithfully failed to think independently. Failing to adapt our education, in a very fast changing world. Subsequently, the education in almost all African countries, lack attributes of independent thought, creativity etc., things that ultimately lead to inventions, the sciences, entrepreneurship; the confidence to explore and question, and the permission to fail honorably. Our colonial masters left a long time ago, but the proxy masters… Alas! Those who benefit from the status-quo, the stand-in masters, prefer to keep it just the way it is. Victims higher up the food chain.

      In 2015, the universities will not adapt what they teach to the job market; insisting on teaching outdated curricula, and in some instances, using books that are no longer in print. The resulting gaps in what the job market wants and the skills sets of graduates is alarming, inflaming the already testy job market. My country suffers from a youth unemployment rate of over 60%, social structures are breaking down, leadership is confused, corruption is rapt; Work ethic and attitude is at its worst and inventions are relatively non-existent.

      I just recently sat down with two same-aged nephews in different parts of the globe. Both aged 5. It was all I could do not to cry. We absolutely will continue to be slaves, for the next generation is already doomed. The chasm seems so insurmountable, Words fail me… words fail me

      Ghanaians are smart people. Ghanaians continue to excel all over the world, even under the most trying conditions and with the worst of starts. Recently a gentleman of Ghanaian decent, preparing to go to college, was accepted in all the major ivy leagues schools in the United States. Such a feat it was, that it was covered on prime-time television. This and other cases, continue to prove, that indeed, this may be a case of nurture and not nature.

      In the meantime, in the land of the purposeless, a new threat looms. Groups like ISIS have sniffed the hopelessness that engulfs our youth, and like vultures that feed on carcass, they circle our shores, licking lips shimmering with spit…

  5. First you want to bash colonialism, and you refer to Ghana educational system as a colonial vestige, and then in the same breathe you hail your admission to Harvard Kennedy School of Government. If this is not utter confusion, then it is silly! Jesus. Grow up, will ya?

  6. Hehehehe…. I chorke, but my blood boils too much. The confusion of our elite is beyond repair. This saddens me paaa!

  7. “Hehehehe…. I chorke, but my blood boils too much. The confusion of our elite is beyond repair. This saddens me paaa!” Shared feeling!!!!!!!!!!

  8. The issue remains that most are taught to comprehend issues from a “white gaze,” from a “colonial gaze,” except their own — that is from the fulcrum of their African existence. We are still unsure what to think of our British Occupation. We call it “Colonialism” to divulge our minds from its brutality. It’s entirely our fault. Few can think. But it starts with an education. It begins with an idea. I believe that idea has begun morphing its way into the consciousness of many.

    • What’s sad about melinated people attending these schools is that they don’t even teach the tactics that they use against African countries and peoples in any school. What African people don’t consider is the ill-fit of Western economics for their countries. Western economics are based on the lack of resources in Western countries and the need to capture the resources from elsewhere. As an African country especially one with the resources in question your economics would have to be different because you actually possess the resource the West need. Translation: you are supposed to be the power and the driver in the relationship yet by practicing economics that’s basically been dictated to you by the West, you will have neither. The other things is if African countries created sanctions regimes and treaties with other African countries they could protect all of Africa. African people have yet to embrace the concept of bargaining and trade with the intent on developing and maintaining power. We are still trying to get Western countries to recognize us as equals. Ef that, working to establish power is a whole other thing. Earlier this year look how Nigeria was trumpeting their economy just as all of the BRICS economies were looking up. Not anymore because while they may have had the oil they had no power over the oil economy so guess what all that look at our economy ish was little more than wasted print at this point.

  9. But there is the problem: A Harvard degree cannot teach you practical intelligence. You need to look inside. But they refuse to look. Looking inside scares them. They are afraid that they might be wrong. Because they are taught in school that there’s correct answers and wrong answers to every question. Very bad!

  10. My greatest concern is about the fact that most of our eurocentrically miseducated Elite pride themselves with the shit of poisonous garbage they are filled with and the ridiculous titles and badges of European Coloniality with which they are decorated; and they use their stupefaction as license to oppress and discriminate against our underprivileged folks, and open Ghana and Afrika to worsening crimes of the Genocide/Ecocide of White Supremacy racist Maldevelopment, the sadistic criminality for which they are profitably rewarded, while the suffering masses of our Afrikan people and non-White peoples all over the World are dying from such crimes! Please, visit not only primary and secondary schools but also colleges and universities in Ghana today to see the crimes going on right now! One of my own sisters in Ghana owns what is officially recognised in the country as a school up to secondary level, where the atrocious destruction of young minds and their Afrikan Personality is unspeakably appalling! The real question is why are we, those of us who recognise such crimes, including myself, aiding and abetting it with our acts of omission and commission even in Ghana today? Why are we not more boldly challenging the governmental authorities with our collective Pan-Afrikan Internationalist strengthWhere are our alternatives? Where are our Grandmother Africa programmes of Pan-Afrikan Popular Education?

  11. We believe in action Kofi Mawuli Klu. We totally agree with all you’ve said. The biggest issue we contend with today, is that some of our eurocentrically miseducated Elite cannot commit to a cause without renumeration even if they wanted to. And by this I mean the collection of money. What has been accomplished through colonialism, we must undo. To undo it, I think we must be cultural workers. This, I feel, is Grandmother Africa’s part. But I agree that without a translation of what we speak of into action, there will be no progress. Our committment is to reach our folks in every village, on every farm, in every canoe. We will, one day, bring our people the framework and the perspective for refuting dangerous foreign ideals.

    • I wholeheartedly believe and share your honest convictions, Sister Akosua Abeka! Count me and my free mental, physical and spiritual labour as part of everything useful Grandmother Africa will do in moving things in this direction! And there are a few but good number of like-minded eager Pan-Afrikan Compatriots of mine at home and abroad who will readily join us in freely doing such very necessary work in and outside Ghana. Ready when you are!

    • Thanks Kofi Mawuli Klu. As of now, we invite all capable writers who understand how to engage on African issues with their unique Afrikan perspectives. The other kind of manpower we would like to embrace are folks who can translate articles into Ewe, Hausa, Twi, Ga, Dangme, Dagbani, Kasem, Gonja, etc. and French Folks can reach out to us at thegrandmotherafrica@gmail.com. The next steps will be to produce online magazines on Grandmother Africa articles in the languages for easy download and distribution for free. When I say we are communal labor, we are communal labor!

  12. Dade I know anytime you’re outraged, someone has hurt not just you but Africa and blackness. I contemplated as to whether I should read it or not. But for the sake of this debate, I did. Now you see why I’m sometimes scared, and I can’t help but to think we are probably doomed.

  13. I tell you Audu Salisu, it scares me greatly. If this is the future of Ghana, we are doomed. But I am encouraged by what I am seeing at Grandmother Africa. It’s perfect for me and safe too to hope! Hope is all we’ve got!

  14. Our people want to be colonised and we have an obligation to free them. She is so deeply caught up in her wana-be-liberal-afropolitan to the extent that it smells wrong

  15. Dade Afre Akufu Sometimes I just keep quiet on the importance of @Grandmotherafrica because I don’t want us to be complacent and relax on this important work.

  16. Thanks to you all, to Grandmother Africa and especially Narmer Amenuti for cultivating me into this family. I have never stopped reading from all of you great minds of Africa. I have been here for less than two months, but trust me, I should have spent my entire educational life here. This is more than enlightenment. Thanks to Dade Afre Akufu , Solomon Azumah-Gomez and the mother of introduction Akosua M. Abeka , for your unceasing efforts in making me a thinker though a beginner. I just love reading you all.

  17. I see it as a question of consciousness. Consciousness to your being, your environment, country and continent and its place in the world. Consciousness precedes action. So for me it is what she does with the Harvard education that matters. The most hardline Panafricanists received their education in the West. People like Samora Machel, Amilcar Carbral, Mugabe, Nkrumah, Nyere. Some of these people raised armies to fight wars. Lumumba spent time in a catholic seminary. I think Cheik Anti Diop has links with Boston, Yale or Cornel. I can’t remember exactly. On the other hand some of our university departments are just 1970s or earlier versions of western university departments. So in theory, Dade Afre Akufu , in my view acquiring a Harvard degree is not bad or good depending on whether or not the experience sparks a certain way of thinking and acting. I always say reflection precedes and must follow every form of education and in any location, east, west, north, south.

  18. Johnson Ayoka I completely agree with the earlier part of your comment. But we have to be careful of how we encourage the latter part of your comment. Why? simply because its not everyone that can receive Harvard education and remain sane. As you said, a certain dose of consciousness is, and I add ALWAYS, required before one goes to join an institution like that.
    Any African person who goes out there without that minimum dose of consciousness is going to come back super fly but very detrimental to the continent, to country and even render Africa captive to outsiders, often with an extreme dose of narcissistic slave mentality attached to it.
    As for Ghanaian Universities di33, we can leave them out for now.

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