In a vacuum of ideas, we have been held hostage by leaders
Posted Wednesday, October 16 2013 at 01:18
In our churches, the people in pews say “amen” even if the man at the pulpit spews out garbage, for they have been told that to disbelieve the pastor is to “touch the Lord’s anointed”... Ideas and logic are denied space in meetings, and the members begin to nod to whatever the chairman says, however ridiculous it might be.
Monitor columnist David Mpanga made this interesting observation in his last article: “For a while now, it has been trendy to be anti-intellectual in Uganda. People look down on those who spend time reading, researching, thinking, asking awkward questions or floating odd ideas. In meetings, bold and innovative ideas are often brushed aside for being ‘too academic’.
Conceptual thinking and writing is generally discouraged for lacking practicality and being out of touch with the facts “on the ground.’”
It is ideas that have propelled and propped civilisation over the centuries, but in a society like ours, with its poor reading culture, there will be a vacuum of ideas. As Mr Mpanga observed, we have gone a step further: We don’t only lack ideas, but we resist them whenever anybody floats them.
Ask our graduates for the last book (textbooks excepted) they read, and over 90 in 100 will mention some nursery school storybook.
When the word intellectual is used in many Ugandan contexts, these are the people being referred to. People to whom it has never occurred that books have any value beyond examinations are the “intellectuals” of our country. When they read newspapers, they flip to the pages with the latest celebrity gossip or the sports sections. Anything that requires them to think, they avoid like the plague. After all, they have come this far in life without having had to think seriously. Their school experience was a repetitive cycle of saving on the head disk until the examinations day, and then deleting. And the cycle worked for them, hence the multiple degree certificates they have accumulated.
But ask them to critically analyse a real life situation, and you may be asking them to communicate in a language that has been obsolete for centuries. Try to make them roll over an idea, even within their supposed area of expertise, and you might as well draw water out of a rock.
And where are these people? Some of them are on the streets, but others occupy offices of all levels, both in the private and the public sector. Some indeed hold very high offices, where they make decisions that impact on thousands of lives. They are the ones that preside over meetings where innovative ideas are brushed aside as “too academic”, where conceptual thinking is discouraged as “out of touch”.
It is so easy to blame the President and the ruling party for the snail progress of our country, but I doubt any other president and party would fare better in a country where indifference or open aversion to ideas is so widespread.
Of course, when there is a vacuum, there will also be attempts to fill it. In our society, the vacuum of ideas has birthed sycophancy. The media often draws attention to the sycophancy in political circles, but there is also sycophancy in workplaces, in churches, and in just about every context in our society. In our churches, the people in pews say “amen” even if the man at the pulpit spews out garbage, for they have been told that to disbelieve the pastor is to “touch the Lord’s anointed”.
It’s roughly the same thing in many organisations. Ideas and logic are denied space in meetings, and the members begin to nod to whatever the chairman says, however ridiculous it might be. Besides sycophancy, there is stagnation. In the absence of ideas, there can be no improvement of methods and systems. People just keep doing the same old things the same old way; making the same errors over and over.
The end result may appear to be that organisations, parties and the country are led by men, rather than ideas. But when you look closely, you realise that the apparent leaders themselves are driven by private interests, and that the organisations, etc., are not actually moving but stagnating. The truth, then, is that the culture of repelling ideas has resulted in a situation whereby organisations, parties and the country are held hostage by the private interests of the men at the helm.
Mr Twinamatsiko is a civil engineer and novelist. firstname.lastname@example.org