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By not reading, we accept to remain behind

Two weeks ago, I went to one of my Makerere University classes with Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks.

Both are old and considerably popular books you would expect any curious university student in their third year to have at least glanced at or scanned through – more so at a university with such a vast library.

Of the over one hundred students, not even one had read or perused through any of the two books. Actually, when I raised Long Walk to Freedom to ask if any had ever read it, looking at its volume, they laughed sardonically even before they could see its title!

I wasn’t really shocked, but was gravely disturbed by this side of our ‘leaders of tomorrow’. I know quite well this bibliophobia (fear of books) cuts across our society. Otherwise, why would we have lecturers giving the same ‘hand-outs’ (notes) year after year and course outlines with unchanging references – even for relatively dynamic subjects?!

Some teachers have hardly read any book ever since they finished school, and their teaching simply rotates around what they were taught.

In such an environment, one easily understands the inclinations of the products we roll out. Nevertheless, I went into a lengthy talk in counsel and rebuke.

The students listened in a mixture of guilt, victimhood, and uneasiness. Several minutes into my monologue, some hands were up, raising some critical observations both in admission and self-defence.

Many felt they are victims of Uganda’s education system where there is so much emphasis on pumping students with stuff they must memorise and reproduce. There is little room for independent thinking, creativity, and research. This way, they are trained to read to pass exams, nothing more!

Ironically, in this system, ideas beyond or critical of those of the teacher often attract penalty! For this is to challenge the teacher’s knowledge and authority (being a wiseacre). As such, there is no incentive for going beyond class content. The ‘points’ are known and numbered!

This is how our schools and universities kill imagination and produce ‘information banks’ (or humanoid robots, as I called them earlier). Little wonder then that, even at university, students will still reproduce what the ‘lecturer’ says, including the very examples.

In many of our tertiary institutions, we are still stuck to the archaic methods of the ‘lecturer’ as a know-it-all that has to stand before the class to engage in a monologue where the student is relegated to the role of listening and taking notes, not a co-creator of knowledge or active party in search for answers.

It is thus common that even when you find students in the library, they are often reading their ‘hand-outs’ and ‘the textbook/s’.

One student candidly retorted: “For most of our time at university, we are fed on theories from Europe. We also want to read theories and ideas from our lecturers.”

This is a strong call in response to which there should be no excuse. Yet even the lecturer, apart from often being a product of the same crippling system, is engrossed in a web of challenges that only makes things more complicated.

With all their existential insecurities and workloads, do academics have time for reading and writing? Besides, the general reading culture of our public is such that, as Jenerali Ulimwengu once wrote, the African writer is condemned to a life of poverty. Who buys books? You publish, yet perish still.

Even with the relative ease of access on internet, largely because of the above reasons, serious readership is hard to come by in our society. Entertainment seems to take precedence in our reasons for reading the little we do.

It is mainly celebrity gossip, soccer updates and player profiles, lyrics, fashion, movie updates, and jokes. It has also been argued that, given the livelihood problems our people are faced with, reading can only be a luxury.

You can’t read when you are not sure of food. But this doesn’t explain it all. Mostly, for a number of reasons, we are not adequately socialised into reading.

Yet the price we pay for not reading is through our nose. There will always be a deficit in our mental stimulation, because our learning is limited to syllabus stuff, hearsay, work experience, news reports, and other random sources.

We easily get comfortable with too little and set our bar so low. Or else, someone will have to think for us, as often happens in imported policies.

Because we mainly learn by experience, we tend to equate old age with wisdom – wisdom acquired after making so many otherwise avoidable mistakes. Experience, though important, is sometimes more like a comb you get when already bald-headed.

How much do our ministers, MPs, local government leaders and other policymakers/implementers read about issues in their dockets to inform their decisions?

Sometimes, the depth of ignorance that comes out when some of those officials speak makes one freeze in shock and wonder as to whether they will get us anywhere.

Societies that are advancing so fast are in constant search for new ideas through building on what already exists. But many of us here are comfortably not curious even about what already exists in our own domains!


The author heads the Centre for African Studies at Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.


0 #11 Akot 2018-04-13 19:56
Miki, agreed!

Blacks are dying trying to reach Europe for better life & have not read how Europeans built their countries - through UN ITY for common purpose & they still hang on to UNITY as & when is needed to bring change, make it better, come together socially in times of trouble/peace...!

Well, migrants running away from shitholes are making life so easy/comfortable for Europeans by doing dirty jobs while Europeans settle down for social benefits!

We can't blame Europeans, can we?

Today everybody is informed through radio-tv-internet, but Ugandans are the only ones who do not know what it takes/what to do to get good leadership!

Will Ugandans know what they want in 30 years from now, because museveni is going no where as things are?

But of course tribal leaders will be served, if they will still have their posts!
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0 #12 Akot 2018-04-13 20:15
{Sometimes, the depth of ignorance that comes out when some of those officials speak makes one freeze in shock and wonder as to whether they will get us anywhere.}

Don't Uganda mps go abroad to learn how their counterparts do their jobs?

Why did Uganda mps run for the posts they don't know what/how to handle?

Europeans learn how go govern in public institutions then start practical experience by working way up from lawest level in small communities!

African rulers come mainly from the bush & now Ugandans are locked up with museveni without hope of change any time soon!

Why would Ugandans with brains elect mps again when all they do is take care of their priviledges & debate museveni's age/continuity?

Tribal leaders are as power/money thirsty as museveni who is their due to our tribalism, even without books to tell us how tribal leaders should work!
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0 #13 Akot 2018-04-13 20:19
Lakwena, agreed!

It will be even more difficult for Ugandans as books are now being loaded on computors, pads that are more expensive & you need good hosing-electricity...!

Ugandans must really wake up!
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0 #14 juwait kali 2018-04-13 20:23
If you read you immediately stop relying on your own brain and instead rely on some writer's brain who will exploit your ignorance for bags of cash.
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0 #15 Jama 2018-04-14 02:48
This lack of consulting the books has made our academic institutions produce alienated intelectuals.

A good example is our Parliament, which has some legislatures who, like goats tied with a rope, follows to any destination it's carried,without questioning.

These greedy elites became a man' slave because they are slaves of money .And when you become a slave of money you may be the enemy of your own conscience.

That's how we got our (317 -1)historicals. Most of whom have become persona non agrata in their constituencys.

Our educational system in general, needs a profound reform in order to produce progressive minded elites.Otherwise if it remains as it is ,more slaves will be at the disposal of a demagogic dictator.
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+2 #16 Stewart 2018-04-15 20:39
Quoting juwait kali:
If you read you immediately stop relying on your own brain and instead rely on some writer's brain who will exploit your ignorance for bags of cash.

No Sir, reading extensively exposes you to different line of thoughts and opinions which provides you with a balanced view points and enables you to make better decisions, and there is no short cut to that please.Thanks
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0 #17 juwait kali 2018-04-15 22:06
Not a bad response Stewart but why do people tend buy books from people who have written good books in the past?
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0 #18 Alozious Louis 2018-04-16 12:11
This really the bitter truth majority of us have to put up with; we barely take reading any serious!

One thing I hated while doing my undergrad at MUK was the fact that almost every lecturer required a student to reproduce what they gave in a handout so as to celebrate an A+ for any course unit!

Never did they have attention on how much extra knowledge and understanding one had about a subject but rather how much one could memorize from the notice in a particular handout; for this reason, I must admit, I don't have an A anywhere on my transcript!

I was actually mesmerized the other day when I had a quite length conversion with two of my friends from Canada.

These guys told me their system and curriculum are updated every year to the extent that a student in second year of a specific course/subject at any level can never give notes to fellow in first year!

We actually need to wake-up, otherwise we are far from civilization!
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0 #19 Lysol 2018-04-17 21:41
The Last Words:
Always question everything you read or whatever your teacher tells you even from handouts notes or the news.

In this era of the social media every topic or news is opened for discussion and can be disputed.

Never go with the flow and just believe whatever someone writes because he/she has a title (PhD, or Dr.) on his/her name. There are always many sides of any story.
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0 #20 Jama 2018-04-18 14:57
Your right guys not all books are worth reading.

Like :Sowing the mustard seed .A propaganda which one idolatry wished to be introduced as a text book in schools.
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