Africa Writes 2016: Nawal el Saadawi

I don’t listen to podcasts usually but I enjoyed this one too much. It is great. Saadawi is awesomeness personified.

I like her comments on middle east, on identity politics, on academia, on post modernism, on being a doctor and an author. In short, I am, for lack of a better word, in love. I am going to look for her work.

This podcast comes highly recommended.


in this day and age when there is so much information

I find a comment such as

The terrifying truth is that all living writing systems in the world come from TWO inventions, one in Mesopotamia and one in China. Of course people have customized and extended and fiddled with these systems to produce Japanese, Arabic, Ge’ez, and many others but the truth is that to develop writing from scratch is an incredibly rare event — and even then it doesn’t always stick.

the question itself has racist undertones.

why the Medu-Netchher- Hieroglyphics have never been deciphered

I am no student of ancient writings or symbols of Egypt.

Walter Williams makes the above claim and gives the following as his reasons

  • in order for the Medu-Netcher or hieroglyphs to have been deciphered, one would have had to ask the ancient Egyptians who drew the symbols what he/she meant for them to be
  • no one can put a phonetic alphabetical value to symbols
  • you cannot apply a language or languages to symbols that one does not know the meaning of
  • it is impossible to reduce the 400 or more symbols of the hieroglyphs to 26 letters of the alphabetical system

HE argues further that pioneers in Egyptology (sic) as Barthelemy, Count Silvestre de Sacy and Champillion arbitrarily assigned letters to symbols and these were then accepted by Western academia.

Quoting Carol Andrews writing for the British Museum on the Rosetta Stone who wrote

it is not possible, strictly speaking, to compile an alphabet of hieroglyphic signs. For practical purposes, however, certain unilateral hieroglyphics have been selected to form a kind of alphabet which is universally used for the organization of dictionaries, word lists, index and for general reference purposes,

he makes the point that one can not use the Rosetta Stone to decipher the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Historians and linguists, what say you?

Who are the people?

In his defence following the first attempt to overthrow the government in Cuba, Fidel Castro, while talking about the people limits his definition to those who, for lack of a better word, are oppressed, the lowly paid and in a way those who believe they have nothing to lose but everything to gain if the regime should be changed.

Michelet and other French historians while talking of the revolution, refer only to the revolutionaries. They exclude the rich classes.

The same thing is seen in the case of Kenya. When the people are talked about, a certain group are excluded.

My question then is, who are the people?

The mission of university and a reconceptualization of my scholarship

This will be the last summary of the reflections of Dr. Bethwell A. Ogot. It is my hope that you did find the first installments here, here, here, and  here and that they were worth your time.

The origin of and idea of the modern university is, Ogot, informs us a product of the European Middle ages. He notes, however, that these universities could have borrowed from schools of antiquity such as Plato’s Academy or the mosque at al-Azhar where Islamic and Arabic studies were taught.

The universities that began in Europe were established as theology and philosophy schools. Oxford was established to train for church and state, Harvard’s oldest chair was that of Divinity.

The key feature of the idea of the university was a scientific interest, that is, a thirst for knowledge. It was conceived as a creative intellectual community of scholars and students, whose main task was seeking the truth. A definite line of study was marked out by authority and a definite period of years assigned to a student’s course , examinations administered at the end and a title of honour awarded at the end. Our universities, therefore, Ogot notes, are a direct inheritance from the Middle Ages.

The universities were mainly autonomous, elected its chief representative, deans, had the right of examination and graduation. Free movement of scholars from one university to another allowed knowledge to expand. This autonomy was undermined, from the 14th Century by the establishment of State or Church universities. From this moment on, the university was subjected to political and ideological aims. This can be seen, for example, in the words of Francis 1 of Austria to the professors of Ljubljana

we do not need scholars, but good citizens. Educate the youth accordingly. Who takes his pay from me, must teach what I order him to do. Who cannot do so, or will come up with new ideas can go, or I will have him removed.

Several minds were influential in the transformation of the medieval university into the modern university. Among them we have Wilhelm von Humbdolt in Germany, J, Henry Newman in Britain and the French model conceived by Napoleon. The British model had the most influence.

In Africa, the universities started as importations of our colonizers.

On his reflections on the socio-economic environments that universities operate in, he argues, they must appear to have a sure and well defined contribution to return to the societies which support them. This contribution will be determined by a combination of factors; who they educate, and at what cost, the structures of the institutions themselves and their relationship with the government, ease of access for potential students, level of fees charged, nature of research undertaken among others.

It is in this context that we must consider the neo-liberal proposal that the university should become market driven. The question to ask is

what would a market-driven university be like?

To the neo-liberal, the students should be the primary funders of university teaching. The role of the government should be as a lender to the students and a supporter of ‘useful’ research. Ogot fears that were this to be the case, the freedom of the professors to determine the content of their teaching and direction of research, the expansion of knowledge, provision of disinterested analysis of phenomena and evens will be some of the unhappy implications.

In reconceptualization of scholarship, he says we must expand the usage of the word from the narrow daily usage of research and publication to four independent components; the scholarship of discovery, of application, teaching and integration.

On university reforms, his focus is directed mainly to the state of university education in Kenya. He mentions the several reports, beginning with the Ominde Report coming after independence and focusing on education for manpower needs, the second report, the Gacathi Report concentrated on equity and relevance, the Makay Report focused on the need for a second university, with the 8-4-4 system of education as its by-product and the Kamunge Report whose basic thrust was the provision of quality education and training in a context of tight fiscal constraints.

From 1991, Ogot writes, the government resolved that undergraduate admission to public universities shouldn’t exceed 10,000 and a subsequent annual increase of 3%. It was also agreed that there should be a gradual move towards a 50:50 Arts: Science enrollment. Commission for Higher Education, established in 1985, though envisaged in paper to be a powerful body, was indeed useless, that is, staffing inadequacies, parallel functions with those in the legal instruments that established universities among others.

On staff management, he writes our universities employed unnecessarily large numbers of non-teaching staff. He says in some cases, they even out numbered the students. In an environment of rapid pauperization of the academic staff, working conditions have deteriorated, real salaries have declined in value, dignity and influence has also been conceded by the academics.

On quality assessment of higher education, he says we are ill prepared for this function. CHE cannot do this for public universities. He says Vice chancellors, who only have power to appoint visitation panels, only do this when there is a crisis and at the time of publication, he says this had only happened once in the University of Nairobi following a closure of about 14 months. He concludes that it is essential to develop a higher education monitoring and evaluation system.

On his reflections on the enterprise university, he says there has been a departure from university as a public good to a commercial enterprise. He says there is need to redefine the idea of the university. We have education companies, some calling themselves universities, sells skills and training awarding degrees or certificates to customers students. One of this companies is the Apollo Group (University of Phoenix) out of the US and is listed on the NYSE whose features include reduction in lecture and contact time, small classes, group work and target state of the art business practices. To be a teacher, you have to be willing to accept the new model and receive two weeks of training in content and methods.

Over reliance on part-time faculty, having self sponsored students, as happens in our universities, is part of the commercialization of education necessitated by failure of government to adequately fund higher education. To meet financing challenges, universities instituted commercial enterprises like bakeries, printing press, and for my alma mater, UNES.

I have omitted in my summaries, reflections on the internationalization of universities where he looks at the case of Australia and Britain with both their international students and branches/ franchise of their universities around the world.



asking for a favour

Actually two.

But some background first.

You may or may not know the distinction between global south and north. It has nothing to do with the cardinal points of the compass not has it to do with the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. In development circles, and I am not going to be asked to define development, the north refers to the developed and industrialized nations of North America and western Europe while the south refers to the rest.

Cities in the south face many management challenges. These include social problems like poverty and infrastructure problems like traffic, poor water quality and quantity, solid waste management to name just a few.

Many of you know I have been in school. I have come to that point in my semester where I am to come up with a research topic. Here is where you come in. I have several topics, which I will briefly mention. I would like to hear your thoughts on each and the one that I finally agree on, I will dedicate it to those who felt it was a good topic and send you, as pdf, the final document.

Before I list the topics, you can, if you are feeling philanthropic go out of your way to sponsor the research. You know this is good for humanity 🙂

  • social housing as a poverty alleviation strategy- looking at incomes and household expenditure in housing, among the urban poor and whether social housing would help in lifting them out of poverty
  • solid waste management as a sustainable source of energy
  • infrastructure as a means of poverty alleviation: – water provision
  • water quality study- the case for Nairobi- here, the study will look at water as an urban management issue, what can be done to the water quality, is it polluted in the same way

Your comments should include what you think are the possible research questions under each heading and finally, you can suggest a topic of your own for my consideration.

Don’t fear to comment because you don’t have a post graduate degree or didn’t go to school at all. All contributions are welcome.

Fire away

the decline of a nation

This post is in response to Kerby Anderson’s post by the same title.

I would like to say at this point, that this post, unlike my regular posts, is halfway between a blog post and a scholarly article. Towards being scholarly, I would like at this very early stage to refer anyone interested in pursuing the matter further to look at the following works.

  1. Acemoglu D and Robinson J.A, Why Nations fail: the origins of power, prosperity and poverty (2012) Crown Publishers. Newyork
  2. Gibbon E, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1970)
  3. Gellner E, Nations and nationalism
  4. Ogot B, Kenyans, who are we
  5. Ohmae K and Guehenno J.M, The end of nation states

With that behind us, we can now look at the claims of Anderson. But before we do that, we need to agree on a few definitions.

In his work, Kenyans, who are we? Bethwell Ogot argues the state is a political term while the nation is a sociological concept. He goes further and notes that the model of the nation state developed in Europe in the C18 and C19. He identifies five theories of nations and nationalim

a. nationalism as a primordial phenomena based on rational or objectively valid criteria on the basis of which the world can be divided up into different national communities

b. nationalism as a subjective consciousness of the members of the community

c. nationalism as a functional requirement of the modern state

d. nationalism as a specific form of politics that groups use under certain historical circumstances in opposition to state; and finally

e. the Marxist interpretation of nationalim.

To these definitions and theories, I include civilization which defines as

an advanced state of human society, in which a high level of culture, science, industry and government has been reached

Anderson writing about the US, argues the prognosis about the future of the state being bleak is correct but the causes he writes

The decline of this nation (just as the decline of every other nation) is due to spiritual factors

his central argument being

The political, economic, and social problems we encounter are the symptoms of the spiritual deterioration of a nation.

While he argues this thesis is supported by history, I am unconvinced this is the case. If we take for example the case of the Roman Empire, the fall did not come about as a spiritual matter. The Romans did not stop praying to their gods or offering sacrifices, but we see internal strife, over taxation and let’s just call it, bad leaders that exposed the empire to external attacks from the Arabs, Mongols and finally the rise of the Ottoman Turks that saw the fall of Constantinople.

He is right when he writes we simply don’t learn from history. When a just a few people continue to amass wealth while the rest of the mass wallow in poverty, there is bound to reach a critical point where the state, as a political entity, can no longer hold and revolution happens. This may not necessarily lead to the fragmentation of the nation but rather, a reordering of the nation state. For example the French Republic.

I am a little confused when he writes

History has shown that the average age of the great civilizations is around two hundred years.

is he treating the nation as a civilization? Can we logically talk about an American Civilization? Does it make sense to talk about American civilization in isolation of the milieu to which it belongs? Would the collapse of the US of A also mean the collapse of the civilization in which it is a part?

Anderson, without giving examples, argues civilizations go through ten stages in the life cycle, which funny enough, he says begin with bondage and end with bondage. Since details are scanty on the great African civilizations, I am not sure this argument can be fully demonstrated to be the case.

From here on, Anderson has left the purview of history and has become a preacher. We will indulge him either way. He writes

Christians can point to unusual times when revival has redirected the inexorable decline of a civilization. In the Old Testament, Jonah saw revival postpone God’s judgment of Nineveh. In the sixteenth century, Martin Luther and John Calvin saw a Protestant Reformation transform Europe.

Two things need to be said here; it is common knowledge for the patrons of this great site that I am without the idea of god, god’ is to me a sound conveying no clear or distinct affirmation. With this in mind, I will ask further the theist, having said the bible stories cannot be treated of literally, what I am to make of the story of Jonah. Was in a fish? Is this story of Jonah an eyewitness account or divine inspiration? Can god inspire the scribes to write what didn’t happen? As for Martin Luther, we know from his thesis, among other things, he was tired of the corruption of the clergy among other things but that he was anti-Semitic as the come and Calvin killed Severus among other his great deeds. Whether this counts as revival, I know not.

When our interlocutor writes

But apart from God’s intervention, nations will decline and eventually pass off the scene. Much of the Old Testament records the history of the nation of Israel. It passed through these same stages and so will every country in the world.

I think he is being economical with the truth. When men were very religious, they killed witches, the children crusade of 1212. For this and other stories of great religious periods and what they did, read Norman Cohn’s The Pursuit of the Millenium. 

When he writes

 Only God’s Word endures forever. We should not put our trust in the things of this world for they are destined for destruction. Instead, we should put our faith in God and His word.

I am tempted to ask which god? The Vedas are older than the bible and as of this post, they are still in existence. The Muslim makes the same claim of his book and even goes further to insist the bible has been corrupted over the ages that it is no longer possible to separate the work of god or man. I will charitably ask Anderson to become a Muslim. He may find himself in Muslim hell.

While it is true that the place of the family in the nation or nation-state cannot be gainsaid, it would, in my view be a stretch to claim not praying is one of the reasons why nations collapse. If, as we defined above, the nation is a sociological construction, the fall of that nation cannot be in any good sense be claimed to have been brought about by secularism. History is short of examples, in fact, I think history has no examples of a period when the general population was atheistic. If there is information to the contrary, I am open to consider it.

I don’t know about you, but I have no idea where this

 Soon they revolted to gain access to material wealth and also freedom for sex outside marriage. Women also began to minimize having sex relations to conceive children, and the emphasis became sex for pleasure. Marriage laws were changed to make divorce easy.

happened in the distant past. In my country, divorce is not easy. To Anderson, if I am reading him correctly, women should not have sex if they intend to have pleasure. The woman is a breeder and that is all. Seeking wealth and economic independence is a forbidden. Engaging in any of these is bound to lead to the death of civilization. Women, now you know.

Since I am a patient man, I would like anyone to give evidence or links that I can look at where

Many children were unwanted, aborted, abandoned, molested, and undisciplined. The more undisciplined children became, the more social pressure there was not to have children. The breakdown of the home produced anarchy.

this was common place in the past and led to a collapse of a civilization. Or of a nation.

And while you are it, evidence for this too

Finally, unbelief in God became more complete, parental authority diminished, and ethical and moral principles disappeared, affecting the economy and government. Thus, by internal weakness and fragmentation the societies came apart. There was no way to save them except by a dictator who arose from within or by barbarians who invaded from without.

Anderson identifies ideas as being critical in the fall of nations. He says

But another potent but less perceptible force is the power of ideas.

what ideas are these, you may ask?

Today we live in a world where biblical absolutes are ignored, and unless we return to these biblical truths, our nation will continue to decline.


As you may have noticed, Anderson began his post by giving reasons why nations fail or collapse. The bible was codified in the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the current era. In that time, the Sumerian empire had declined, Rome was in decline, whatever was left of the Greek empire must have been patches, the great Persian empire, Egyptian civilizations and many know that I don’t know were either ended or in last days of decline and no bible was involved. Beyond that, though, when he talks of bible absolutes, is he talking about not boiling a goat in its milk, killing your child for disobedience, burning witches or cheating your father in-law of his livestock? I am confused. Besides, when Europe was under the church, we had crusades, inquisitions and pogroms.

How did we arrive at the point where biblical absolutes are ignored? You must be wondering too. Wonder no more, he tells us

The first person is Charles Darwin (1809-1882). In 1859 he published The Origin of Species and later published The Descent of Man. His writings blurred the distinction between humans and animals since he taught that we are merely part of an evolutionary progression from lower forms of life. Darwinism, as it came to be called, not only affected the field of biology, but became the foundation for the fields of anthropology, sociology, and psychology.

the next person in this line of offenders

The second person is Karl Marx (1818-1883). He and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto around 1850, and Marx devoted his life to writing about the demise of capitalism and coming of communism. He understood the importance of ideas.

also making an appearance is

The third person is Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918)

also starring

The fourth person is Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

and finally

A fifth person is John Dewey (1859-1952).

And what did these men do?

Ideas have consequences, and false ideas can bring down a nation. The theories of these five men are having devastating consequences in our nation and world. Unless we return to biblical absolutes, our nation will continue its decline.

I am very disappointed with this list. Before Darwin, there was Democritus a naturalist, Messlier who wrote against the gods, Spinoza who wrote on freedom of thought, Thomas Paine whose polemic, The Age Reason, must have contributed to the scholarship on the old testament, Marcion the heresiarch, Celsus among others whose works have been key to advancing free-thought and rights of wo/men.

Anderson’s final cause is spiritual. He argues that it is spiritual decline that made Rome susceptible to external attack. If this is the case, we would say it’s Christianizing of Rome where the blame should lay. As long as Rome was polytheistic, each person praying to their family gods and recognizing the state gods on feast days, things seem to have been well.

In conclusion, I am not sure whether Anderson set out to write on fall of nations or on decline of Christianity. In his world of thought, no other religion matters or is even mentioned. Anyone who is not a christian, per Anderson’s thesis, seems to be contributing to the decline of the nation. It matters little whether this person is fighting for a just world. That doesn’t count. To avert the decline, you must all be Christians. You cannot for a second think evolution may be true, that we are animals, just a different specie of animal. To be a humanist is criminal. To entertain for a moment that Moses, if he existed, could not have written the first five or is it four books of the Old Testament is to tempt fate. To think of a different economic system, is to demand that the gates of hell be kept open throughout awaiting your arrival and finally to argue, as Freud did, that we need to know ourselves is a sure way of hastening the decline and final collapse of the nation.

It is my last contention that Anderson is not happy with secularism nor with education. It does seem, if he had the say so, any education that doesn’t end in Christian indoctrination would be abolished. Which Christian cult will be in charge is a question for another day.