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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Can Africans write their own story?

While contributing to the discussion - “De-risking Africa”, during the just concluded World Economic Forum in Davos, President Paul Kagame said: “The major problem I see is that Africa’s story is written from somewhere else and not by Africans themselves. That is why the rest of the world looks at Africa and Africans and wants to define us. They want to shape the perception about Africa. The best thing we can do for ourselves is own our problems, own our solutions and write our own story.” The deliberate misrepresentation of Africa has been going on for decades. Ask our generation where civilisation started and you will most likely be told it is Europe. Few know that the Nile Valley was the intellectual, spiritual, educational and industrial center for the ancient world. The areas of science, medicine, mathematics, engineering, philosophy and religion, and so many other human activity areas were created there and were distributed throughout the world by various conquerors and travellers. Most of what is written about Africa has been written by non Africans from their own perspective which is often clouded with neo-colonialism mentality and not in line with the African point of view. A clear example for us in Rwanda is the story of the Rwandan genocide. Numerous books by Western authors have been written some with clear distortions and inaccuracies of what actually happened. Understanding that this is done by purposeful design is the beginning of developing counter measures. In this era of globalisation it is critical that we write our own stories to suite our interests. This is what happens elsewhere. There are many reasons – economic, political, and not least, our own dignity, that should drive us to write our own stories. If not for our economic and social development, writing our own stories frees us from being portrayed in someone else’s perspective and it gives us a sense of liberation. As President Kagame has pointed out, this can only be reversed by Africans taking charge and telling their own story, and unless this is done now, we will continue to be disrespected and preyed upon. Are Africans capable of writing their own stories? Yes, they can. Do they have the intellectual capacity to do so? Of course they do. What then, is preventing us from writing our own stories? Knowledge is not the exclusive preserve of one race. Scientists in the Human Genome Project have proved that 99.9 percent of the human DNA is exactly the same in all races. Africa has great thinkers, academics, scientists, artists and writers. Some have done great things and their achievements have been recognized by honouring them with the prestigious Nobel prize. So, why is it that with such a wealth of knowledge and abundance of intellectuals, the African story continues to be told by non Africans? The solution to the problem of writing our own story is not a difficult one. The requirements are: talent, writing skills and time. These we have in abundance. The rest is organisation and some resources, which we also have. I have been impressed by the number of talented contributors to The New Times. I am especially thrilled by the increasing number of young contributors like Nathalie (Munyampenda), Alline (Akintore), Diana (Mpyisi) and others who are writing interesting articles on various subjects. Then there are seasoned writers like Pan (Butamire), Joseph (Rwagatare), Sunny (Ntayombya), Arthur (Asiimwe) and others. We are not short of talent and writing skills. In order to support our President so that a couple of years from today his message at Davos is that of hope and self-assurance, a few things must be put in place. Firstly, a strong association of writers and potential writers (I believe there are many) must be created. If I recall well, a few years ago Dr. James Vuningoma, while at KIE (Kigali Institute of Education), started a writers association. Without reinventing the wheel, this association could be revived. The association should be a forum for members to share experiences, provide guidance, mentorship and resource mobilisation. Writing is time and energy consuming and often not financially rewarding. Many writers write for personal fulfillment. To write researched articles needs resources. If we are going to be serious about writing our own stories, we should be ready to invest in our people, motivate them, recognise and reward their achievements. This could be achieved through a public-private-partnership. In the West, writers make a living out of writing. Publishers pay writers well and also provide incentives to encourage them to write more. This would be a good thing to emulate. A critical element that is often ignored in Africa is the role of think tanks in development. Empowered think tanks in addition to coming up with creative and innovative ideas, also carry out research and development (R&D) work. We need to create and empower think tanks. The think tanks become the source of what to write on including positive propaganda. The West understands the critical role of think tanks and R&D and has been using them for centuries. Here, I would like to challenge our academic institutions to take the lead. The R&D within our institutions of higher education should produce ideas that can be turned into practical solutions to benefit the citizens. Telling our own stories has a ripple effect in that it recognises achievement, motivates and creates heroes. We need to create heroes and idols for our children to have something to look up to with pride. Success stories motivate the young and lift the spirit. While there are many answers to the question as to why we do not write our own stories, my take is that we have not yet completely overcome some of the neo-colonialism mentality. We need to completely liberate ourselves from mental enslavement. There is need to redefine our lifestyles, our priorities and our goals. In essence, a mindset change. By Gerald Mpyisi

Parents, children and sex education

THE head teacher of Groupe Scolaire (GS) Nsinda in Rwamagana district has been suspended following reports that 26 of his students were found to be pregnant. The teens were either found to be pregnant or recently gave birth while at school. Some of the pregnancies were linked to teachers who are supposed to be the custodians of these girls. This unfortunate incident is a wakeup call. Parents should not burry their heads and assume there is nothing their teens are up to while in school. They need to focus on the reality that some teens are involved in relationships while at school or might be lured into relationships. However, such relationships may be damaging. For them, it may mean sexual intercourse and yet this isn’t the principle of relationships at this level. Relationships for students should be for academic purposes and extra co-curricular activities. When they engage in romantic relationships, this has negative effects on students, like falling grades. In some cases (sexual), it may lead to contraction of HIV/Aids, other sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. Schools should prohibit intimate relationships. Schools should develop guidance and counseling services, conducted on a regular basis, to equip students with life skills like abstinence and handling volatile relationships. Parents should give schools a helping hand. They should create a bond with their teenage children. Once this bond is created they will be in position to know what their children are up to and will be in position to know what is happening to them and advise them on the dangers of involving in relationships while in school. School administrators, too, must take full responsibility for the safety and well-being of children while at school. The consequences of not doing their job as expected of them are dire. Above all, those responsible for luring teens, particularly girls, into such irresponsible and dangerous behaviours should be held accountable. The New Times

Education Times a timely intervention

As every student studies, a stage reaches when they are called candidates. In secondary schools, this is at the end of the third and sixth year when students have to sit for national examinations that determine their next academic step. As a candidate, you need to make a lot of preparations for the exams. And this is not an easy task. It requires seriousness; you have to be disciplined and follow instructions to the book. Candidates should be well-informed about examination malpractices, which can affect other students, parents and school administration. Examinations require a lot of courage, reasoning, and understanding. To read your books as a candidate does not mean just reading the books you are currently using to study. It means revising each and every thing you have learnt, which is a lot of information. But when you take your time and start reading as early as possible, during exams, you just need to go through and recall what you read. Doing this will not only help you to pass, but also help you reduce stress-related problems. You also need to maintain good health. That means you should also do some extra-curricular activities like sports. Candidates must also avoid getting nervous or scared to the extent that they even refuse or skip meals. This is unhealthy as it hampers the brain’s ability to think. To all candidates, work hard, do your best and trust God to do the rest. The New Times