Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Professor Ayittey on Africa's governance problems

PBS documentary on Zimbabwean refugees in Botswana

Shown on PBS stations Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I missed most of this documentary, titled Border Jumpers and available online, but I managed to catch the interview which followed the program, with Professor George Ayittey, formerly of Ghana, and now Professor of economics at the American University, Washington, DC. Professor Ayittey is widely known for suggesting that African leaders and curruption are the root causes of everything that's wrong in Africa. Needless to say, he has his supporters, and he has his detractors.

My brief comments here are restricted to what Professor Ayittey said are the main causes of the Zimbabwean crisis in particular, and of African problems in general. I also take issue with Professor Ayittey's claims, made in the interview, that upon independence, most African countries rejected capitalism and democracy, which they saw as Western, and instead followed Marxist-Leninist ideology.

Many who follow African affairs will agree with Professor Ayittey that there is an extent to which President Mugabe can be held responsible for the crisis in Zimbabwe. Ordinary Zimbabweans are having to live in fear of party youths who are paid to antagonize citizens believed to be sympathetic to the opposition. The clamp down on press freedom has had worse affects on the local Zimbabwean media.

Professor Ayittey also makes an excellent point when he points to Botswana's economic and political stability as being rooted in the indigenous governance system that Botswana champions, ensuring the maximum participation of ordinary people in the running of the country.

Everyone agrees that corruption is a pernicious problem, and the professor makes a really insightful remark when he says corruption can never be completely eliminated anywhere; it can only be minimized. Equally astute are his observations on the problems with the decisions made around the G8 summit at the beginning of this month in Gleneagles, Scotland.

But completely missing from Professor's Ayittey's analyses of the Zimbabwe crisis is the role the West has played by wilfully and actively sabotaging Zimbabwe's economy, stopping all trade and monetary transactions with the country. Given the interdependency of all countries on the global economic system, sanctions against Zimbabwe by the global North are the single biggest factor in the collapse of the Zimbabwean economy. Unfortunately, it is the energies and vitality of the Zimbabwean people that have been most affected, while President Mugabe sits comfortably in his mansion. It is erroneous however to lay all the blame for Zimbabwe's problems on President Mugabe, given the actions the West has taken, mostly based on concern for the white farmers who were forced off the land.

Professor Ayittey goes on to argue that the main cause of Africa's leasdership and corruption problems is the rejection by post-independent African states of capitalism and democracy, seeing these as Western and therefore undesirable for Africa. He says most African governments, upon attaining independence, opted for Marxism-Leninism instead of free markets and democracy.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to take into account the fact that most African countries were colonized by the West, and not the East. Upon attaining independence, these countries continued with the structures left by the colonialists. Thus most African countries still use the languages of the colonialists as official languages. The entire structure of most African governments continues with the education system left by the colonialists. Judicial, economic and parliamentary systems are entirely Western, and very little of socialist or even indigenous systems can be seen, with the exception, as mentioned by Professor Ayittey, of Botswana.

Even for those countries which attempted Marxist-Leninist systems, or African socialism as in the case of Tanzania, the West never allowed these countries to succeed. Thus the West and apartheid South Africa encouraged military coups in countries such as Ghana and Zaire, supported armed rebellions as in Angola and Mocambique, and isolated countries like Tanzania. The problems seen in these countries can not be blamed on the rejection of capitalism and democracy, when in fact most of these countries continued with the systems left in place by Western colonial powers.

Professor Ayittey laments the fact that when things have gone wrong in Africa, African governments have blamed external factors instead of accepting their own incompetence. Without suggesting that self-blame is undesirable, Professor Ayittey makes African governments appear strange and unusual, as if the West has set an example where governments blame themselves when things go wrong.

When African governments are criticized outside the global and historical context of Africa's problems, there's an implicit impression thus created that pits the West as the model that African countries should follow. Professor Ayittey may praise Botswana's Kgotla system which mandates Cabinet ministers to attend weekly meetings in their villages, but his real model for Africa remains the West. This can be seen in his failure to contextualize the causes of Africa's leadership and corruption problems, which he solely blames on African leaders and elites.

I would have hoped that Bill Moyers, who acknowledges to have visited Africa several times, would have sought alternative views on the causes of Africa's problems to fill the gaps created by Professor Ayittey's one-dimensional views. It appears that even to left-minded journalists like Mr. Moyers, establishment views like those of Professor Ayittey are still far more preferrable than those critical of the global order.

The African rebirth is going to require a bold effort to expose the historical injustices that have come to shape global inequality. This will mean seeking out more and more views outside the mainstream.
Guns, germs & steel and the Place of Africa

When I first read Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond (1997) in 2000 or thereabouts, I felt he was asking questions I had myself been asking, but which I feared nobody else found important. I found the book eye-opening in its historical and geographical sweep, going back more than 10,000 years ago, and covering each continent. Although I had an eerie sense that Diamond was working with a hypothesis that used material products and military prowess as the ultimate measure of societal progress, I was reassured by his unequivocal thesis that inequality amongst the regions and races of the world can not be due to racial differences in intellect.

Now that I have watched the PBS video documentary series of Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, based on the book, the third and last episode of which aired on Monday July 25th, I find the omissions even eerier.

The third and final episode focuses on how guns, germs and steel come to Africa and collide with civilizations Diamond says were perfectly adapted to the geographical environment of Africa. But his focus on the 1838 Battle of Blood River in what is now South Africa is 3oo years late. The European plunder of Africa had already been underway since the 1500s when Africans were captured and taken away to the so-called new world as slaves. "They seize numbers of our free or freed black subjects, and even nobles, sons of nobles, even the members of our own family," Affonso, King of the Congo is reported to have written to Joao III, King of Portugal, on October 18, 1526 (See The BBC online series The Story of Africa). Diamond's argument might be that his concern is with the factors that made it possible for Europeans to have this military might in the first place. Fair enough.

But missing from the entire series is the scholarship surrounding the debate on ancient Egypt, which some scholars argue to have been an African civilization, 3,000 years BC. Scholars such as the late Senegalese nuclear physicist Cheikh Anta Diop, George James, Martin Bernal and several others have dealt with these issues in considerable depth. What was happening in Europe at this time?

We get a glimpse of the pyramids, but there's nothing in the commentary to explain the historical place of the pyramids and the ancient African civilizations they are believed to have been part of.

Another problem with the guns, germs, and steel theory is that is assumes that Europeans have been technologically ahead of everyone else for much longer than they really have. Stentor Danielson points out on his blog that "China and India were the world's leaders until very recently. Whatever caused Europe's rise must have delayed effects, or become relevant only with the emergence of industrialization."

Thus this selectivity to show only the period when Europeans arrived at the southern tip of the continent of Africa leaves out much that would complicate the linear, inevitable narrative Diamond employs. One such casualty of Diamond's approach is economic analysis, according to commentators such as Louis Proyect and Kerim Friedman. Friedman argues that rather than asking why it is that societies such as the US are so rich and societies such as Papua New Guinea so poor, the real question is: "Why is cargo distributed so unequally both within and between our societies?" In that way, we are forced to consider the role inequality within societies also plays, noting that there are individuals in Papua New Guinea who are much richer than average Americans.

Despite the reservations expressed above, this is an important debate, and Professor Diamond makes an important contribution to a growing body of research looking at global inequality in a geographical, global and historical context. The rebirth of Africa will to a large extent depend on bringing debates such as these to a wider audience, both in Africa and in other parts of the world, and on effectively critiquing some of the erroneous conceptions that have become conventional wisdom in the discourse on world civilizations.

It is therefore significant that the Guns, Germs and Steel series has triggered a scholarly debate on questions that have lately taken center stage, as did the recent media focus on the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, and the announcement that the G8 countries have forgiven $40 billion of debt for 18 of the world's poorest countries, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

For sober appraisals of the truth being hidden behind the media blitz, and the justice, rather than charity that Africa really needs, topics that Diamond does not dare touch, see Ken Wiwa, George Monbiot's article in the Guardian of June 14, 2005, and the Greenleft Weekly.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Teacher Education in Malawi: A Twenty First Century Agenda

[I originally wrote this and posted it to the Malawi internet listservs Nyasanet and Malawitalk . I got some feedback from a few people, and will be revising it soon.]

July 20, 2005

The decision by the Ministry of Education and Human Resources to fire "temporary teachers," as reported by Peter Gwazayani (The Sunday Times, July 10, courtesy MSN) raises a number of issues.

These teachers are reported to have served as temporary teachers for as long as 11 years, beginning in 1994 with the introduction of FPE. In this news item, they are reported to have failed "entrance exams" to go to the TTCs for a new teacher training program beginning soon. I'm probably getting mixed messages, because I have just been informed that all the teachers who were hired in 1994, aphunzitsi a povate, or aphunzitsi a bakili, as they were referred to, have all been trained by MIITEP (Malawi Integrated In-service Teacher Education Program). It is possible that these teachers failed to qualify during the 10 years MIITEP ran for, were offered the opportunity to enroll into the new program starting this year, and have also failed that entrance exam, I don't really know.

If they failed to qualify during MIITEP, and have also failed the new entrance exam, then it makes sense to let them go. They have probably done enough damage to the children they have been handling these past ten years.

Many of them are reported to have interviewed and qualified for MIITEP using fake JC and MSCE certificates. Some of them, I was told, loudly wept upon being told they would teach upper classes (5-8), pleading to be given lower classes. The issue of fake certificates has plagued even the secondary schools. I heard from one inspector of schools how somebody used a bachelors' degree certificate belonging to his late relative. He was discovered when a group of inspectors heard him making a mistake, in front of students, that they did not expect to come from a university-trained teacher. The matter went to the police, and he was fired. There were several cases of this type, I was told.

It's well and good to have measures that help determine who has the aptitude to go through the teacher training regimen, and who doesn't. However it is also necessary to put the issue of ineptitude into a bigger, broader context. If we currently have untrained secondary school teachers who used fake degrees to enter the profession, and given the general degeneration that has visited upon secondary schools in recent years, there's all the likelihood that a great number of secondary school graduates in Malawi have been denied a proper education. Because of the huge numbers of teachers FPE required, many of these poorly educated graduates ended up in primary school, teaching, with no training.

The problem is complicated by the thousands whose secondary education was done through MCDEs, some, not all, of which did not provide students a good education. It is important to note here that some MCDEs did such a marvelous job they produced Malawians who went on to achieve national greatness. I have in mind people like the late poet and hansard editor Ken Kalonde, and Hon. Lucius Banda, one of Malawians greatest musicians. But we also know that the majority of MCDEs were places one went only as a last resort.

In thinking of how to educate future teachers, we might want to do a number of things. First, begin with the primary and secondary schools. It is obvious that we need good primary schools to produce good secondary school students, but I'm talking about putting special emphasis on teacher education by perhaps introducing programs early in secondary schools, targeting students who might want to become primary school teachers. Second, we need to move beyond the 2-year teacher training program. It's time came, and it went.

Malawi today, and the world at large for that matter, is such a complex place it no longer makes sense to train a teacher only for two years, especially when the majority of the trainees are coming from secondary school backgrounds that deprive them of intellectual rigor. It is time to elevate primary teacher training in Malawi to the level of higher education, where a qualified primary school teacher has spent a good four to five years engaging with a rigorous academic and professional curriculum, earning a bachelors degree, minimum.

Obviously this entails re-training teacher trainers, many of whom are trained at the diploma level, and cannot be expected to produce bachelor level students. To re-train teacher trainers and prepare them to produce university graduates with bachelors degrees requires new ways of
conceptualizing teacher education in Malawi. New ways of conceptualizing teacher education in Malawi include equipping TTCs to become research centers, where lecturers see themselves as academics, initiating research projects and enhancing the scholarship of teaching and teacher education.

To turn TTCs into research centers where teaching and teacher educational are of focal importance, there's also need to do away with the diploma altogether. Many of the lecturers who hold diplomas were given a rigorous academic training in the University of Malawi, and even if they did only three years, they covered a lot of areas that in all honesty should have qualified them for a full bachelors degree. The same can be said of the diploma that Kamuzu College of Nursing offers. Minus one course or some other simple bereaucratic requirement, many of these students are offered a diploma and denied a full bachelors degree, consigning them to a lower professional status. I suggest that we do away with the diploma in all of the higher education institutions in Malawi.

Thus the changes necessary for the transformation of teacher education in Malawi are not needed at the training level alone; they are also needed at the institutional level, where people should have enough motivation and resources to initiate research projects and professional development programs for teachers in the schools.

One objection to elevating primary teacher education to a bachelors' degree level in Malawi might be that the teacher trainees are coming from a poor secondary school education background; how can they be expected to handle a university curriculum? Genuine though a concern this one is, the solution is what I have already stated above; namely, improving the state of secondary schools to begin early preparing students for primary teaching careers.

Though it did not prepare me enough to enter the University of Malawi, my own secondary school experience was so rich I believe it prepared me well for the academic demands I have had to meet since then. Besides classroom work, my secondary school experience allowed me to read outside class, write journalistically and creatively, and act in school plays. Much of this was because we had remarkable encouragement and support from one particular teacher, who himself went on to distinguish himself in the Malawi Police Service. But the point I'm making is that in rethinking how we train Malawian teachers, let us look at the whole education system as a whole.

The reason why some would fail the entrance examination to TTCs does not wholly lie with them as individuals. Rather, it is symptomatic of a system that is need of repair. The same support and encouragement I am calling for at the secondary level also goes for the TTC level. If my secondary school experience was rich, my teacher training experience was even richer. At Lilongwe TTC I found a group of other young Malawians who were as energetic as I was, and without waiting for the TTC administration, we launched a writers workshop where my identity as a writer was definitively formed. We were also supported by lecturers and administrators who found our initiative fresh and inspiring. The point is that young Malawians are full of ideas and initiatives which need to be recognized and supported, for us to develop a robust, effective teacher education system, which can in turn create an energetic Malawi society ready to tackle pressing problems.

I heard this week from one lecturer that TTCs have been on a long holiday, after the last MIITEP cohort left. Some lecturers have used the months they have been on "holiday" to initiate their own projects, working in schools, and participating in other educational activities. But these are very few. The majority have been happy to be on "holiday" while receiving full government pay. While they can be blamed for lacking initiative, it is also the case that Malawian TTCs are yet to embrace a culture of teacher education scholarship that empowers and emboldens teacher educators.

I hope the new minister of education, Ms. Kate Kainja, will consider teacher education a priority.