Zimbabweans place a high value on a good education. The country used regularly to be reported as the most literate in Africa. Education supposedly translates into upward social mobility: access to a good job, car, house, salary and, most importantly, prestige. The colonial era put a lot of stress on Zimbabwean society.
Land dispossession, discriminatory legislation and the burden of colonial taxes were highly disruptive to the traditional way of life. A crucial way to advance was offered by the missionary schools – education literally became the key to success. The educated African, with the benefit of literacy in the English language, could leap from a life of subsistence agriculture into any one of a number of well-paying occupations and, by tapping into the colonial economy, advance himself and his kin upwards (within the limits imposed by racially discriminatory laws) . The benefits of an education were self-evident.
Fast-forward to the 21st century and Zimbabwe has one of the most educated governments anywhere in the world. The president holds seven degrees (some acquired in prison, (an option no longer available to inmates today), his wife holds a “PhD”, as does the governor of the Reserve Bank and a host of other ministers.
Before she was deposed, former vice-president Joyce Mujuru had also found it worthwhile to acquire a “PhD”, which, very importantly, comes with the title, “Doctor”. The parastatals are headed by educated men like Cuthbert Dube and others, who are paid phenomenally high salaries, yet are unable to provide the most basic services their institutions are designed for.
If academic qualifications are an indicator of intelligence and leadership qualities, why then does the Zimbabwean economy teeter, companies shut down and civil servants go unpaid amid a worsening liquidity crunch? Surely an educated leadership should have the strategies in place to prevent such disasters, and the ability to manage the country in a sound, rational manner.
Zimbabwe’s situation demonstrates the limits of higher education as an indicator for capability in the realm of leadership. Degrees, doctorates and other symbols like the flag, constitution, and various institutions in the state armoury represent a hollow understanding of what it actually takes to lead and govern a modern state successfully.
Let me step back and make it very clear that I am not Boko Haram; I am not by any means suggesting that education has no value. My argument is that mere academic qualifications cannot be a substitute for common sense, nor can they replace moral and ethical virtues such as integrity, sincere commitment, dependability, justice, wisdom and humility – the essential qualities which are sorely lacking in Zimbabwean statecraft today. Embracing a moral and ethical philosophy creates a decision-making framework far more likely to be of benefit to the nation.
Surely it is unethical to seek expensive medical treatment overseas exclusively for oneself, when money from the state coffers could be put to better use by training competent doctors and nurses, acquiring essential medicines and upgrading local hospitals for the common good.
Surely it is more essential to pay teachers decent salaries and buy text books for pupils than it is to purchase the latest luxury vehicles for government ministers and other privileged departmental heads. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, leaders with integrity would put the interests of the nation and its citizens above personal considerations.
A good education is an excellent thing to have, but the pursuit of degrees and certificates for self-gratification becomes a meaningless academic paper chase, which has little to do with governing a country wisely, guided by moral and ethical principles.Post published in: Opinions