Since the establishment of missionary education and its entrenchment under the colonial state, Africa’s education has never been organic. Education was in fact the last frontier in the emasculation of the African given the enormous opportunities that were made available to those who subscribed to it with enthusiasm. Western institutions have remained on the watch over the control of Africa’s education because it means the control of the mind of Africans, how they think and act: what values they espouse. Despite claims to advancing enlightenment in the colonial order and democracy and freedom in the post-colonial setting, western institutions have ensured that African education does not cultivate personhood, self-concept and self-reference, self-worth and dignify, self-assuredness, confidence. Africans are free but everywhere in the chains of the education system that is by design incapable of nurturing a free human being: a people whose mind is occupied territory can only reproduce and express an occupied conscience.
This education system has ensured that Africans do not know what they have achieved in human history, what they are capable of achieving as a result, and how to be self-confident and comfortable in their own skin, and how to be themselves as a result, in a Fanonian sense. It is no wonder that a crisis of confidence and a crisis of leadership emerged as an outcome of this tragedy of historical proportions. Before an assessment of colonial exploitation of material resources, the need to take stock of the distortion of the African reality is essential. However, the way a criminal would cover their trace, the African education system isn’t designed to take stock of this distortion.
An education system is an idea or a theory of society around which a curriculum to express that idea is crafted. This idea is debated and a consensus emerges about certain fundamental ideals of the present and anticipated future society. Consequently, every generation attempts to reflect over the coming 15-20 years and agree on the set of values that should be reproduced systematically rather than emerging on their own and prevents the creation of a society that is at conflict with itself, overtly or subtly anarchic. It is also how to cultivate generations that are not in conflict with each other, that understand the story of their society and are self-aware of their place within that story. It is how social change is institutionalized.
Under normal circumstances, which we are far from, this is the function of society’s intellectuals, who anticipate how society will change or how it needs to change. Today’s education will be different from that of the pre-genocide period and that ought to have been different from the colonial and missionary education. However, change must be kept within some firm parameters to ensure continuity and sustainability.
An education system that is designed this way has to be a mirror to image of society; it has to be history-specific and culture-specific. Post-colonial education in Rwanda was essential to the collapse of society in 1994. This is the failure of a conscientious intellectual and political class to emerge in ways that repurpose education to counter the colonial intent noted in this essay’s opening paragraph. The colonial-missionary education took the Hutu to have animus against the Tutsi and formulated destructive narratives. As was the case during colonial rule, a politico-intellectual class created a system that harboured negative intentions for Rwanda’s society and rewarded those who perpetuated those intentions in their interpretation of society. The 1994 genocide against the Tutsi was a natural outcome of that entire process. Much as the post-genocide order created a system that punished those with negative intentions for society, it didn’t go as far as repurposing the intent of education.
It held national deliberations that set to build an organic political system and from that consensus birthed an organic model to respond to Rwanda’s history-specific and culture-specific challenges. The 1998/99 Urugwiro deliberations grasped Rwanda’s (present) challenges as they were then and anticipated (future) others which it articulated in the constitutional, legal, and policy framework. A national vision for socioeconomic transformation was similarly conceived and executed. I am of the view that the enormity of the challenge required a separate national deliberation for pursuing an organic education system.
This article was aimed at elaborating a Tweet I shared earlier this week, “The education sector needs its own Urugwiro deliberations. Six months of ongoing reflection about what it is that we call education. For a Rwandan to be considered educated, what should they know? That’s a question that would take about six months to answer.” The aim of the deliberations would be to repurpose our education around a set of values it ought to internalize in our young people and thereafter reproduced in society.
I also noted that it would be my hope that after those deliberations, our society will have “defined education as a security concern, it will be placed under the security sector. Not because it understands education better but because it is most organized. A province education officer who reports to a division commander.” On the part of the division commander or regional police commander is about the institutional credibility and clarity of purpose they bring, rather than any notion of coercion, on the part of the army and the police.
I further proposed that “Focus all education resources on building a strong primary school system. Stop secondary school specialization and impart broad knowledge including soft skills like empathy. End glorified high schools masquerading as universities.”
A primary education steeped in an integrity-based curriculum would be complimented with a secondary education introducing key texts. It would introduce basics of research and discovery undergirded by a “foundational curriculum” consisting of courses on key African thinkers, Cheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkrumah, Dani Nabudere, Samir Amin, and the like. University curriculum would therefore branch students into their specialized fields having been appropriately rooted. The final year is mandatory community service in key sectors: agriculture, education, health. Candidate graduates would add to the corps of agriculture extensionists, teachers, community health workers, and demonstrate through reflection – in the form of a thesis – the relationship between the academics and the lived experience in the community.
Where will the funding come from? I noted, “This proposal for our education system overhaul will cut our education sector budget by at least 70%. It means we can actually fund it ourselves if donors say that they won’t fund an education system that’s under the security sector.”
It is without question that the cradle of the post genocide efforts noted above is the country’s security sector. It stopped the genocide and from that moral basis if pursued social change. The army – and later the police – has been the fulcrum of the rebirth of the New Rwanda. The success of the armed forces is that as far back as 1991 they were able to articulate their purpose as the cradle of Rwanda’s progress. A youthful army commander told his fellow youths that they might as well give up on their cause if they are unable to conceive themselves as the cornerstone of the nation “Ili jeshi litakua msingi wa inci yetu!”
If education is about imparting a set of values, then It is as if the army has had its own education. Its philosophy, known as the doctrine, is not written anywhere but all know not to violate it: a doctrinal transgression is the red line in the armed forces.
Similarly, an education system imparts a set of values that guide members of society on what they can expect from each other, how to build trust and reciprocity; it’s how minds of young people are framed and how they internalize systems of self-governance: how they can be themselves in a society and how they conceive relations between the individuals and society; this is the value system that moderates society and expectations get predictable; it is how social change gets institutionalised.
I suspect that the doctrine means having answers to these basic tenets: this is who we are, this is where we are, this is where we want to go, and we are doing it our way. As a result, a soldier who has command of the doctrine is self-aware and is not easily subjected to manipulation. The armed forces are cultivating human beings with a sense of mission in life; a sense of honor; a sense of what they want to accomplish.
This is drastically different from our education systems that are formulating training manuals and referring to them as education, unable to craft a societal doctrine. This is the fatal mistake that post-colonial Africa is yet to overcome. The suggestion is that our education system has much to learn from the armed forces, at least for Rwanda’s context.
Critique of the proposal
Two key critiques for my proposal are the militarization of education and its efficacy for natural sciences. I am of the view that we are more likely to produce an enlightened division commander or regional police commander than we are from the current education system. If Rwanda will only go as far as its security forces will take it, then it follows that the most pressing challenge faced by society gets taken up by that sector. Indeed, if the most efficient and effective sector is the security sector then its reasonable that we ought to leverage that organisational capacity to solve what has been termed as an existential threat: “an educational crisis that leads to a social crisis and ultimately an existential crisis,” as Dr. Donald Kaberuka warned recently. If education is an existential threat, then it is a security threat and therefore it belongs to the security sector. In a counter-intuitive sense, taking education to the security sector may produce a symbiotic relationship that demilitarizes the armed forces, itself a pernicious legacy of colonialism.
A fraudulent education system considers natural sciences as disciplines that have nothing to do with the human spirit. Consequently, the need to craft an education system that cultivates personhood is easily understood when it comes to humanities and social sciences. Consequently, this obsession with compartmentalizing knowledge has struggled with producing self-actualized mathematicians, physicists, chemists, engineers, doctors, and lawyers. In other words, the subject is taught in a vacuum and its interaction with the social world constitutes an unguided missile subject to the kind of manipulation; rather than producing human beings with a sense of mission in life; a sense of honor; a sense of what they want to accomplish for their society.