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Mr. Lovemore Fuyane laments the corosive impact of pervasive illiteracy in Africa

Peter Smith



For publication:

The roots of Africa ceaselessly lagging behind persist – teach the young generation to read and write

Hoping to attract some unusual level of attention I have decided to start with the article then end with its introduction. You know, shake things around a little. If I could I would have also played music complete with a dance to accompany the article and so spark an interest in as many Africans as possible in what I wish to speak about today but the skeletal frame won’t concur any longer. Maybe I should climb up the first tree top I see and shout this out from there 😀.

Academics and other historical experts have over time established not only that Africa is the cradle of humankind but that the continent has historically been home to some of the most amazing and oldest civilisations. It also naturally contains by far the widest varieties of human genetics. It’s as close as it gets to genetic ‘factory settings’ as it gets.

The Great pyramids of Egypt were built somewhere around 2550 B.C., safely well before the time of Jesus when Rome then ruled half the earth. But even those great pyramids weren’t the first ones, they are predated by smaller but numerous ones in modern day Sudan which most likely served as prototypes for the ones now located in Egypt. Credit for the construction of those pyramids has in fact since been usurped by other people, recent immigrants to the northern part of Africa. These are a people that only started migrating into North Africa in the 7th century.

The often cited great Ancient Greek civilisation only saw the light of day 800 years before Christ. Yes that whole list of great philosophers from Plato, Socrates and Hippocrates and many more who lay the foundations of modern science and medicine appear on the scene that far behind Africa. It’s not even close, it’s no contest at all. The precision with which those pyramids were built would present major challenges even to modern science and engineering yet they were built, before Ancient Greece and all its glory.

Many other civilisations would follow including the cluster that encompasses the ruins found at place like Mapungubwe (South Africa), the Great Zimbabwe and Khami ruins in Zimbabwe to name but a few. Sub Saharan Africans had indeed developed fixed settlements or what would eventually be referred to as cities. They discovered so much science whose signs you can clearly see at these and many other monuments. Astronomy and some elements of Mathematics in all likelihood also started in Africa. Without maths there are no pyramids, it’s that simple.

Indeed the list of sub Saharan African achievements is as long as one’s arm but somewhere along the line, the region was overtaken by the rest of the world and by miles. It is my contention that Africa made the fatal error of not discovering and embracing organised writing as soon as the rest of mankind did. The oldest known forms of writing were invented in what would then have been ancient Sumer in the Persian Gulf region around 3400 B.C. Yes the Khoisan drew rock paintings in their cave dwellings as did the builders of the pyramids but this is as wholly inadequate to capture the full extent of knowledge Africans had accumulated over time.

When you speak to academics and ask them just how it is knowledge is accumulated they will clearly tell you that it is sought out, recorded, codified or written down and all that future generations do thereafter is refer to and incrementally add onto it. And so Africa, without adopting writing to its fullest extent would start over and over again to try and acquire and re-acquire knowledge. All the advancements our ancestors made in the fields of medicine were sadly passed down from generation to generation mostly by word of mouth and no human brain can store as much as there is out there. It must live in recorded history.

Everything else that comes thereafter from slavery, colonisation and the solid belief that sub Saharan’s aren’t advanced at all and never discovered or invented much or anything at all can be traced back to this lack of written records. Africans fished along the coastlines and built boats some which could I imagine be scaled up to embark on massive voyages of discovery. We could have “discovered” (LOL) America had we kept drawings and detailed descriptions of the different boat types we built and improved on them over time. The Victoria Falls would never have been “discovered” by David Livingstone (another LOL for good measure) had we been recording everything we knew about the world around us.

The question now is, have we recognised this existential threat to our very identity and source of self affirmation as a people and thus rectified it. The resounding answer is a massive “no” for me. Africans or shall I say blacks in general still do not read and write and largely only do so to obtain a certificate. Very little about our traditional medical practices is documented today. We have no African chemistry text book that I am aware of. We don’t even manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients, a key component of most modern medicines. Nigeria claim they might soon finally commission one such facility but it remains to be seen.

Even in the political arena this is a huge challenge. As each African country gained “independence” the pattern of mistakes made by each one had become so predictable from the onset. Right from the attitudes of the new rulers, how they interacted with each other and the populace, what they did or did not do leading to coups, famine, experiments with communism, repeated attempts at democracy right down to failed states just became synonymous with us as Africans. Even the Africans who landed up in far flung places off the continent like Haiti followed the exact same script.

We don’t even know what system of government has historically served us best so that we can either return to it or infuse it’s good parts into modern systems like democracy. It is not even well documented how our various systems of succession worked where we had kings, a very real problem right now for the tribe I belong to.

Granted some of these trends were subsequently then recorded but, alas the general population never get to read them. The quality of leadership in any situation is just as important as that of its followership. Without the followers reading and picking up the lessons of the past, how do they hold their leaders to account?

And so finally, by way of introduction this article aimed at Africans, whether on the continent or the wider diaspora is, let us teach the children well. They MUST read and write.

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