There is no money in the professions, save perhaps for the individual. Prosperity lies with the basic sciences. From mathematics to semiotics, that all is to being rich as a country, as a community. The rest is fluff, is humour.
The fact of this, one has to admit, is vision-blurring to many development practitioners in Africa. This default setting of the African development commentators issues simply from their eye disease or lack of perspectives. These gurus brandish 20-20 vision, but not perspectives. That is, their sights [immediate impressions] possess little or no connections with their brains [storehouse and workshop of knowledge].
We shall illustrate. Among Nigerians, especially the Igbo, a WhatsApp message went viral. The gist is as follows. Two cousins went separate ways. One, say Okey, to apprentice as a trader, and the other, say Obi, went all the way through the university system. In the story, Obi passed out in flying colors, etc.
However, as is typical of the average Nigerian diploma-holding charge, he never got a job, seven years counting. Today, in Nigeria, you need a senator sponsor, etc, to be qualified for employment, even in the so-called [organised] private sector. To avoid the embarrassment of having to wake up without job, without schedule, in his parent’s home, Obi fled to hole up with his cousin Okey – a soul mate.
By the way, his cousin had spent his usual seven-year apprenticeship and “settled.” As with such settlement, he was entitled to a little freebie startup capital and, if served diligently, showed trustworthiness, considerable trade credit from his former master.
Now, for the African development commentator, that is proof that all these fancy university diplomas are essentially economic wastes. This has misguided many into taking themselves too seriously. And this motley crowd includes even university administrators. Today, it is common to sight vice-chancellors canvass that university students should be taught be employers of labour once they graduate. By the way, how can a university administrator and his faculty who queue quite prudently to draw their salaries and allowances be hands-on instructors, not just theoreticians of enterprise? But that is another subject matter altogether.
Next, the other details are as follows. The university system is almost exclusively a centre of speculative science. And nothing, repeat, nothing, can be as practical as speculation. We shall explain. Speculation is imagining what is not but can be. Of course, speculation in itself is not foolproof. Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, it fails and the propositioner crashes out of the way. However, others, more gifted or blessed, or both, continue in the journey. If, as they sometimes succeed, even enlightened reactionaries like Thomas Malthus are forced to turn in their graves.
Now, history affirms the following. The greatest wealth creation follows, counterintuitively, from the founding of new ideas. In other words, new worlds, both metaphorically and otherwise. Without making excuses for colonialism, the following is on the cards. Britain, Spain, Portugal, Islamic Arabia grew wealthy as a consequence of prising open “new worlds” as sources for unbelievable wealth.
The Latin American poet, Pablo Neruda, has put it better than one could: “If New York glitters like gold… let me leave it written that … the banana plantation is a green inferno/so that in New York they may drink and dance.”
While one is sympathetic of the fate of Latin America and much of the world under the yoke of [American] imperialisms, one thing has to be understood. It is that imperialisms consider the rest of the us, new worlds, free farmlands for new fortunes. And they prosper by it.
As unfair as that expropriation of other lands by Arabian and Western imperialists, there are even greater new and newer worlds. This one is virtually created off the thin air. And it is created by mind, not political or military power. It is created by scholars via the basic sciences.
This following is an illustration. Often, many mistake Bill Gates as a rainmaker in the ICT industry. Is he really? Yes, but only derivatively. The more basic and underlying fact is that, way before Gates, there were mathematicians who laid the foundation and framework that primed the basis of the technological wealth of the Gates of this world. Without such luminaries as Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, etc., a Gates would certainly have been poorer, perhaps as poor as Dangote is rich. Even more, while it is agreed that a Gates is replaceable, Shannon and Turing are, if you will allow, singularities.
Now, the primary, not incidental, purpose of the university, and we don’t mean the ill-formed types you have locally, is to make the Shannons and the Turings possible. In other words, Harvard would be happier to produce one Shannon than 1,000 Gates. However, given human greed, she won’t mind producing the two. Thus, for the indigenous peoples of Biafra or Nigeria, one thing is important. It is to come to knowledge that there is order to things. And if you miss this order, you probably have missed your destination Molue.
Perhaps, we can tie this up with an anecdote. A lady acquaintance who is a professor in Europe had a discussion with me. She said, having been in Europe and taught in their great universities, she has come to the conclusion that there is nothing different from the white man/scholar and the black equivalent.
But was she correct? Yes and no. Much of Europeans are just like me and you. And this is true, whether in the faculty or the factory floor. However, Europeans come with one distinguishing feature. And this is especially at the faculty. The European mind knows that there are Buddha, Einstein, etc., and the rest of us. It is these Buddhas who create the new worlds that empower beyond measure the rest of the Europeans. And the prolific production of Buddhas is essentially a miracle of their university system.
But the African scholar feels that, immediately you have possession of the grammar of a science, immediately you are an orator, you are Buddha. And, worse of all, the African mind, even if they are as faculty, measure out their worth by how rich they are. That explains why journalists mostly speak to only professors, etc., who have worked in government and made their riches through sources known and unknown. Out in Europe, a scholar is of no particular moment because of his bank balances. He is called to speak on an issue only if he is at the cutting edge.
To summarise, we are poor because our scholars have failed to generate new knowledge, new worlds. It is this new knowledge that would have created new industries and niches. With these new industry and niches, our society would be richer for it. Our society, not her individuals or professionals. The professions may enrich the individual, but the basic sciences are creators of community wealth.
In fact, any society in which only her professionals are rich, that is sign enough that her scholars have failed in their primary tasks, which is creating new worlds. It is this lack of the creation of new worlds that will make poor diploma-wielding cousin, Obi, go back to his rich trader cousin, Okey, to hide his sin and shame. Sin and shame?
Yes, the university he went to is of no use to himself, he and his lecturers created no new worlds. And he can’t just come back to the old one he spurned. The world is not his inheritance. In other worlds, reading and interpreting Obi’s dilemma, as if the university is a waste, is dud. The truth is that we are suffering the consequences of a failed university system. Meanwhile, the university system works in Europe, etc.
Europe, etc., are high on the GDP, with low levels of employment to match, not because they got great leaders. It is because they got great thinkers. These thinkers fashion out new worlds in which poor, poor, pitiful cousins find jobs. Just imagine what job numbers ICT, etc., has created for Westerners.