By Fidelity Chauke
This article first appeared on thisgnac.wordpress.com
I won’t claim to have seen much in my life time, but from the little I have seen, a lot has left me with questions. Take the following contradiction. Literacy rates in the world are shown in the following info-graphic. Take special note of Zimbabwe:
The high rank Zimbabwe enjoys can be attributed to a good system of schools with a dedicated and hard working pool of teachers. Also, education is held in high regard by many Zimbabweans. It appears so many of us have a fetish for academic and professional qualifications, stacking them until they seem taller than anyone else’s.
So the contradiction… One would think that Zimbabwe would be regarded as a place of new things on the continent, but alas, it is not. Zimbabwe is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as innovation and technology. Yes, we have Econet wireless and Liquid Telecom. Both are award winning technology companies on the continent and they are doing us proud. My bone of contention is how very little of the innovation/technology is coming from our own soil.
South Africa, Ghana and Kenya are leading the way in Africa. It seems they are making what education they have count for their nations.
Zimbabweans are as bright as any folk here on the African continent and even the world. We have a good number of us leading successful companies abroad and doing many noteworthy things so I don’t believe it is because we lack the intellect.
It is common knowledge that Zimbabwe recently had an economic recession of comical proportions and that could be the source of all our woes. I do not deny that the recession stunted our progress but i believe problem goes further back than that.
I have noticed a “Simon says” mentality among many Zimbabweans. If Simon did not say, then I will not do. I remember a particular place I once worked we had a problem with one of our circuit boards, I remember suggesting to the engineer that we could design a replacement. What struck me was his horror at the idea, the ridicule that followed was built on the premise that “others” are the only ones that can design new systems. These “others” could come from anywhere that was not the place we where, South Africa, Germany, the United Kingdom etc. The reasons why they could design and not us varied from being more qualified, having resources to being favoured of God.
In the space of a few months, I found myself on the other side of the fence, working for a consultancy I was now one of the “others”. While I was there I learnt that consultancies profit less from the privilege of education, rather from a mindset that places invention as a necessity instead of a last resort.
We need to be less timid about having new ideas. Often when someone has an idea he is asked “Where did you read that?” If Simon did not say then why are you doing that? We too can be originators of our own ideas and not just be reflectors of other peoples ideas.
I suppose part of this mentality holding us back can be traced back to colonial times; when the “Simons” of the day wanted to make sure they will remain Simons and not become an ordinary Joe. While they practised being Simon the ordinary Joe would go to school to learn that winning the game entailed listening to Simon. Years would now follow learning how to best listen to Simon. Even now, after “indeginisation” and “Black Economic Empowerment”, we find ourselves at a loss of ideas, asking what would have Simon said if he was still here, forgetting that we are now Simon and we can be Simon just as well as the Simons before us.
Engineer Ernest Bhero changed my mindset during one of his lectures. He enthused of how the internet offered an opportunity to change Africa’s fortune. A major handicap that Africans faced when venturing into business was that of capital. We can learn how to make computers or cars but we don’t have the capital to compete with Dell or General Motors. However, computer programming, web development, mobile development etc. aren’t so capital intensive.
The Eclipse used by NASA to program the Mars Rover is the same available to to us. The books they use in America and Europe are available to us as well here in Africa. All we need to do is work hard, and work smart as well.
I am not against education. The mind is the true measure of a man, not just how much man has put in it but how much emanates from it as well.