“Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth - more than ruin - more even than death.... Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. Thought is great and swift and free, the light of the world, and the chief glory of man."
- Bertrand Russell 1872-1970
If today, I stood in the light of him and he asked me why I should walk by his side forevermore. I really do not know what reasons I would advance. But again, need I do that? I thought when I was a child, I was told he keeps a little black book on us.
Anyway, let us say he indeed asks me. Well, perhaps now that on May 30, this year I turned fifty (50), I have enough years of looking back and searching wherein my existence there would be answers justifying my walking by his side forevermore.
Looking back, it has been a tortuous 50 years of existence, a time of dancing with the devils. The salient features of these times are the governance impunity and developmental ineptitude I have witnessed over the years; and of course, the evidenced failings in academia, an environment I have known for half my life time. A disjuncture in the latter can have dire consequences in attempts to correct the former. Hence, the two are interlocked and mutually self reinforcing.
That I have witnessed many of my fellow humans failing to walk with me, and falling before me, is often because many a time our primal behaviours are those of self-absorption and self-aggrandisement. We delude ourselves that we exist as “me” and/or, and “mine”. In our delusions, the boundaries of our existence are most often defined by how I am going to be there with me and mine. And when I arrive there, our minds now shift to how I am going to protect the there for me and mine. Arrival syndrome, I often call it. “I have arrived, it is me, Mbinji Mufalo, and I am not coming down soon. I will fight for where I am.”
Of course, it is you, you have arrived. But did you really get to your there by yourself? The answer is no, as I know when I stand in the light of him, he will remind me that if he really wanted to be only me he would have created only me. But he did not. He created me, you and those multitudes we watch failing to walk with us, and those who have already fallen before us.
On academia, and the witnessed governance impunity and developmental ineptitude, surely, here I know I will be nailed. This is because deep in me, I always doubt that there has been a symphony of beatitude in my life. I really do not think I can claim an existence in a state of supreme happiness. How can that be when I know I have not done enough to mitigate the effects of inertia in academia, and impunity and ineptitude in governance for those who fail to walk with us and indeed those who fell before us?
Academia in my motherland is an affliction. It is an environment of great suffering, distress due to adversity and indeed self-absorption and self-aggrandisement. Criticism and reasoning are mostly conceived as transgressions.
If I may digress. This, however, seems to pervade our everyday existence. Someone does something or presents something that is surely hogwash, we still start by saying “that was very good”. And in rare occasions when we seem to be forthright we are apologetic about it. In such rare times, we again start by saying, “that was very good, but I am sorry…”.
In academia, it is a common occurrence that academic staff think students are dodos, and also think anyone outside their field of study is a dodo, too. Hence, over time the essence of academia as a principle change agent always dissipates in the evening wind.
I work in this environment, and I am culpable of its inability to have changed the circumstances of the majority of our people. The definition of the country we desire and/or the change we need to uplift many of our fellow humans that fail to walk with us is no longer evidenced in academia. Our research agendas and discourses are often driven by being me, and more so being me in the eyes of those who do not exist in our spaces of influence. That is, those who merely use us to understand spaces that they seek to influence tomorrow.
How it be, that fifty (50) years after independence day, our children still do not know why they are citizens of the country we call Zambia? Exactly what are our individual characteristics by which we are recognised as Zambians? I know there are some who will say, we are identified as a people because we are a Christian nation. Lest we forget, when I stand in the light of him, he will definitely ask me, what Christian values have we adhered to? Do our children know these values?
Well, and I also always ask, do these values have any evidenced developmental stewardship?
We have failed, I have failed. Academia has failed.
Identity defines a people. It defines their aspirations and the change they desire. Identity inherently is determined by shared values. Decades ago such attempts were made, much more with the interrogation of humanism as a national ideology and also these values created a national identity. Problem was, the man at centre was not me. It was him. The other him, during those times. I always remember how my lower primary school teacher nearly tore my ears off my head when I once said, “when I grow up, I want to be the president” (With hindsight this still happens today. You cannot aspire to be him without any serious consequences). The man had asked us what we wanted to be when we grow up. He never told us which ones where the don’ts.
Anyway, humanism was not sustainable. After that, what next should have been the question?
Clearly, academia did not and has not answered this question. An example that comes to mind is how with the demise of humanism in our education curricula we have continued to have a void with respect to what values define us. We are teaching our children zilch!
We are not teaching our children that freedom is inviolable; that wealth creation is the pinnacle; and, that the public good (i.e., services and delivery commodities) is sacrosanct.
To which end, whatever research we do or works we do, without any defined identity, these can seldom serve to change the undesirable circumstances the majority of our people find themselves in. Many will still fail to walk with us, and many will still fall before us. We can have some walk with us, we can have a few fall before us, if we introspect and start to define ourselves, and not me, in our academic pursuits.
For many, the witnessed governance impunity and developmental ineptitude is a state that politicians are ultimately responsible. Well, I always agree and disagree.
I agree because a politician is me. He or she is also soaked in self-absorption and self-aggrandisement. To expect anything different is merely sophism. We change me, then we can change the politician’s governance impunity and developmental ineptitude.
If we grew up, the children grew up being taught or knowing that freedom is inviolable, wealth creation is the pinnacle, and the public good is sacrosanct, then surely the politician will not be what he or she is often today. And this is why I also disagree that the politician is responsible for our retrograde state. Perhaps, it is time we accepted that instilling identity and values in our people can intrinsically serve to create a population that provides better oversight on its leaders.
In conclusion, therefore, If today, I stood in the light of him and he asked me why I should walk by his side forevermore, I would simply tell him: “I am sorry, my life has never been a symphony of beatitude. I have failed you, please let me just walk past you and continue dancing with the devils”.
Ora pro nobis.