HomeStandard StyleWhose problems are Africa’s reseachers solving?

Whose problems are Africa’s reseachers solving?

I come from a huge extended family. My relatives, especially from the Moyo side, used to be staunch Catholics and I suspect they thought God was talking particularly to them and only them when He said “reproduce and be many”. My cousins are many and we are all quite close. It must be because growing up, we all used to be shipped together to our rural home for the school holidays. I vividly remember how my grandfather would come to collect us and take us all with him on the bus. I wonder how he coped because in my age group only, we were about eight. On the way he would buy us bread and Cokes, wild fruits, sweets, biscuits and many other goodies.

environment By Thandekile Moyo

There is need for Zimbabweans to use education solve the country’s problems

The road home is a dirt road with lots of ditches and several shallow streams. Many a time, we would spend hours under some shade after the bus had broken down. We all loved my grandfather and he showered us with love and affection. I find myself missing him dearly as I write this. He taught us all to love each other and to be each other’s support base and his values live on long after him. Being a teacher, he was passionate about education and told us repeatedly that to make it in life, we had to take school seriously.

I remember how we used to take turns to ride in the wheelbarrow on our way to get water from the communal borehole, which is quite a distance from our home. My father banned us from the practice after I fell and got a huge cut on my leg and had to be rushed to the nearest clinic about 20km, but two hours away because of the terrible road.

I did not mind the wheelbarrow ban too much to care though because the real adventure was when grandpa sent the big boys to fetch water from the dam using the donkey-drawn scotchcart. Riding in that rusty zinc box set on a crooked wooden axle as the donkeys dangerously shot through the dense Mopani woods was one of the highlights of my holidays.

I have always been a risk taker, so I was the happiest (read naughtiest) and most daring of us girls. (My brother took the cup on the boys’ side). One day when all the adults went for a funeral I convinced “my girls” to steal our grandfather’s plastic tub and bathe in the toilet and not outside as instructed.

We took the tub and placed it over the hole of the pit latrine and as we were singing and splashing around, I stepped into the tub and it cracked and I fell halfway through it and found myself dangling helplessly over menacingly close mounds of fresh and old stools.

I wailed bitterly as I clung onto my petrified cousins for dear life. My aunt, who had been left in charge of us, came and dragged me out just in the nick of time. I owe her for saving me from forever being remembered for falling into a toilet!

Why, though, are we still using wheelbarrows, scotchcarts and pit latrines, when our continent churns out tens of thousands (or more) of graduates and thus research projects from the numerous universities? How come then, none of the problems we face in our day-to-day lives are being solved?

Exactly what are our fundis researching on, if simple, everyday struggles like the water problems, lighting and long distances walked to schools and clinics in the rural areas are still there? In a country like Zimbabwe, where almost every family has a graduate, why are we not inventing anything?
The main purpose of conducting research is to solve a problem so this makes me wonder, exactly whose problems have African graduates been addressing for all these years? I am struck by the futility of churning out graduates whose education does absolutely nothing for their people.

Zimbabwe brags to anyone who cares to listen that she has the highest literacy rates in Africa with a 90% (or even higher) literacy rate. Of what use is literacy, if not to raise the standard of living for the literate and their communities? Are we boasting about the ability to just read and write or are we saying we are learned?

In Zimbabwe, most rural areas in Mashonaland provinces have wells at every homestead. What my mind can’t understand is that our esteemed engineers with mothers and homes in the rural areas, when they visit home each Christmas, see no problem in throwing a bucket into the well and dragging it back up with a rope. An old, laborious method used by our ancestors in the 19th century.

Is it not embarrassing, that one graduated with a first class degree in Engineering, but cannot devise or create a simple machine to help his family draw water in the rural areas? We are busy praying to get jobs laying pipes to improve agriculture in foreign nations, but we cannot think of ways to pump water from our grandmother’s wells into their small gardens and install taps in their homes.

There is a serious disconnect between what we learn at school and go on to apply at work and how we live our lives at home. We seem to leave our school and work brains behind the moment we go home.

I always wonder what goes through the mind of an engineer or a doctor or a professor of rural development, when they are sitting on a blair toilet or squatting on a pit latrine. Does it not click that their vast education must bring development back home? Basics, like flush toilets and showers, can be built in African rural areas. Why should we accept that standard of life?

Education in Africa seems to be a ticket out of the rural areas or resident country and once educated, it’s as if we leave our poor lifestyles behind for “greener pastures” instead of upgrading and developing our home areas. Years after Independence, our reserves remain exactly that, reserves, with the “educated” black Zimbabweans safely ensconced in the suburbs leaving their parents and siblings suffering in the reserves.

Is it not pathetic that while you and your wife are dining in luxury and style on meals cooked on your glass cooker, your mother/grandmother is teary-eyed in a smoke filled kitchen boiling kapenta in a dimly candlelit kitchen? Something is wrong somewhere if we have African architecture students winning awards for designing state-of-the-art skyscrapers yet on holiday they sleep in tumbling-down, cracked huts with leaking roofs. Instead of designing simple, affordable, comfortable housing for the African environment, our graduates design igloos and skyscrapers. Again I ask: Whose problems are we solving with the billions spent on education each year in Africa?

There is a serious disassociation between the things that we train for at school and the way we live our lives. Universities need to stop accepting superficial and irrelevant research topics that do nothing to develop our continents. Students must be forced to submit topics on issues affecting them or their communities directly.

One’s research must be able to employ them or occupy them years after one graduates. I used to feel sorry for myself for being an unemployed graduate. I am filled with despair as I realise our graduates are not just unemployed, but that their useless degrees and researches render them unemployable. If you carried out a research study and you are unemployed, ask yourself this: Do I need a job or to re-do my dissertation?

For those who are still studying, before you submit your topics such as “An analysis on the Facebook debate over the Zodwa Wabantu ban”, just ask yourself this: Whose problem am I solving?

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