Our politics have long been a domain of scoundrels. The most compelling personalities that lay hands on power are mostly clueless or merely louder. We major in the minors due to the lack of education. Even in a democracy, we cast our votes having considered nothing but the emotional appeal of non-issues that contribute nothing to our well-being or the well-being of the nation. In the elections after President Sata died, the votes were between a church elder as a suspected Mason (“The Satanist”), and the humble unchurched man before the elections (“The Drunkard”). Even in my few weeks muli bukatukumene in the Catholic Church as a preteen we knew that both drunkards and those in occult will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But in a non-thinking, low-information Zambia, the nation supposedly chose the lesser of two evils. But some, if not most, people I know are already in regret mode. As we continue the discourse of understanding why Zambia is broke, the problem to be addressed in this article is the impact of low information or lack of proper education as an explanatory factor for the nation’s current economic conditions.
Simply, we are a low-information society, that promotes low-information people, to run the country on low information. For instance, this past week the nation was treated to a new exposé: President Lungu is not a Zambian and is a felon of identity theft. Seriously? How does such discourse lead to the improvement in the conditions of life for our poor majority? In asking this, the goal is not to excuse the President and his disciples of their duty to defend the inconsistencies in the President’s official background that they have sold to the public. You cannot start recounting a person’s background only from high school or secondary school as we called it in those days, and either be silent on or hide their prior years. But whether or not President Lungu is an “indigenous” Zambian is, I think, immaterial at this point. We must make a different choice to frame our politics on the substance on which the current administration offers NOTHING! The substance, in this case, is finding solutions to the nation’s most important problems.
Zambia is a nation where the GDP per individual is $4,000 and the average family size is seven (7) people, therefore the average income per family in Zambia is about $28,000 per year. But our people are merely scraping around. Sixty percent (60%) of the families in Zambia live on less than $365 a year. That means, in comparison to average earnings per year, almost two-thirds of Zambian families are only accessing 1.3% of what is due to them. The question we must address is where is the 98.7% going? How can we move our poor majority into a position where they can access more of the $27,635 per year per family? We must seriously wise up and frame our politics around this devastating problem. In this article, I examine low-information decision making by highlighting the purpose of education, the role of academic research, and the deficits therein.
Purpose of Education
Our forefathers were certainly wiser than our later leaders in identifying the correct role of education. At the founding of the Republic of Zambia on October 24th, 1964, we are told that the nation of nearly 3.5 million people had less than 100 people who held a bachelor’s degree. Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda, the founding father of our nation, and his generation of our enlightened forefathers, determined that to aspire towards nationhood we needed multiple generations of educated Zambians with a sophisticated understanding of modern life in the 20th century. They wanted to give Zambian citizens and their children access to a better life where no child, whether in Chadiza, Choma, Chinsali or Chizela, was left behind. The free education system from grade one to a first degree was instituted. Citizens were later empowered to aspire for positions and upward mobility in their own land. There was clear policy and purpose in the role of education during the 27 years rule of KK.
Unfortunately, from the dawn of the third republic to this very day, subsequent administrations have not prioritized the role or purpose of education in Zambia in the same way, save to donate books, build new schools, fight with unions over teacher salaries, and open a few more colleges offering some of the same courses as pre-existing ones with photocopied curriculums. KK and his team needed a workforce for the post-independence economy of Zambia and they made investments across the country to educate our fathers and in part some of us for free. Chiluba, Mwanawasa, Banda, Sata and now Lungu have not defined the purpose of education and access thereto for the workforce of the 21st Century Zambia. The result is that there are serious mismatches in the quality of education, the number of graduates and employment opportunities in the country.
For example, in the 15-20 years leading up to the year 2006, Zambia graduated accountants at more than twice the number of accountancy jobs available in the country. Inevitably the nation bled this critical talent into the diaspora, mostly South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, UK and Australia. This pattern was also common among Zambian trained teachers and nurses. A significant pool of the best talent in Zambia now lives and works abroad. But the real consequence of subsequent administrations not resolving the purpose of education is a majority low-information population and deficits in academic research to inform public policy.
The Role of Academic Research
Most, if not all, of the current education in Zambia since the founding of the Republic is devoid of research and only ends at “scholarship”. We are an under-researched society, that places no value on research and crafts public policy without the appropriate input of rigorous homegrown research. We are comfortable with the World Bank doing research for us and when they tell us what we don’t like, we simply assert sovereignty to justify our lack of critical knowledge. Perhaps, it’s imperative here to distinguish “scholarship” from “research” and underscore why this is connected to understanding why Zambia is broke. According to Dictionary.com, “scholarship” is defined as “learning; knowledge acquired by study”, whereas research is defined as “diligent and systematic inquiry or investigation into a subject in order to discover or revise facts, theories, applications.” Most of the education in Zambia, since the founding of the Republic, has been invested in scholarship, and almost nothing in conducting research, even though a few in the process have written research papers. This includes all of us, with our forebears, who studied from primary school up to master’s degrees at academic institutions in Zambia.
In academia, papers written at bachelors and master’s degree level are scholarly works. In most of these, students study a topic and then they make a summary of what they found. They do not provide new knowledge nor undertake original inquiry. While this type of activity is necessary, it is only a part of the academic research process. Academic research that changes the fortunes of a country demands careful methodologies of investigation that are used to unearth previously unknown information. It goes beyond recycling, memorizing and reproducing the findings of others. It involves coming up with a research design, implementing it to collect novel data, analyzing the data, and presenting results to fellow researchers for recommendation to inform public policy. This is what my friends and I on both sides of the aisle every Saturday on Zambia Blog Talk Radio are talking about when are advocating for research-based solutions to the problems of the Republic.
The value of research has been well articulated by the wise in the largest and most enduring economy in the history of mankind. The Regents of the University of Michigan in the United States of America posited that:
“University research generates new knowledge and leads to new products and processes that improve the well-being of all citizens. Research offers the promise that problems facing society today may someday be resolved.
In business, research serves a variety of roles, including the following:
· It assists in improving the quality of business, managerial practices and leadership at all levels.
· It enhances the education of undergraduate students and helps retain underrepresented students.
· It plays an integral role in the education and training of graduate students, our nation’s future managers, and CEOs.”
This is the role and value of research in the countries we are trying to be like, using academic brilliance to resolve the problems of the country. For my former friends in the pastorate, I would also like to insist that this is also the biblical way of developing a country, by consulting experts and those with exceptional ability in their field. When the young Israelites, the brightest were taken captive to Babylon around 500 BC, they were put in academic institutions to study to the highest level to make them useful in resolving national problems when called upon. One pagan observer called this learned brilliance, an excellent spirit:
“Because an excellent spirit, and knowledge, and understanding, interpreting of dreams and solving of riddles, and explaining of problems, were found in the same Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar: now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.” [Daniel 5:12 KJ2000B]
In summary, Zambia is broke today because we live on low information in a world where those with more information and the tools to access it have inherited the earth. Our current education strategy is outdated and based on merely producing graduates with an apprentice degree or lower in order to be employable in an economy that has not been creating jobs at the same level as graduation rates for the last 30 years. Zambia is also broke because, whereas we are keen to copy developed nations in opulence and infrastructure, we want to take a shortcut by building such assets on borrowed money without creating conditions within the economy for our people to access a credible education, economic resources, and other tools for upward mobility at personal, and firm levels.
Lest we are accused of being disparaging without offering solutions, we are confident that there are potential solutions to this problem beyond overnight prayer meetings or national prayer days. Within statecraft, funding for academic research on the recurrent problems of Zambia should be made available as a matter of priority. Interdisciplinatinary university research departments must be constituted or promoted, if already available. They should be appropriately staffed and granted direct access to the Central Statistics Office and its infrastructure under the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development. The output of these institutions should be used to inform public policy and decision making. This is where the President and the cabinet should be collecting wisdom, not from drinking buddies and party cadres.
For example, this past rainy season, we had a cholera outbreak in the most important city in the country. A government of wise people should not be caught unawares every year. We have had this problem year in, year out. Instead of firefighting and always treating this as an emergency every year, we can use academic research in health sciences at our local universities to help us isolate the recurrent factors that impact on hygiene. Where prevention is better than cure, investment must be made ahead of time to consign this problem to history. Such specific investment is a more constructive use of public resources than borrowing money to go and build a gigantic hospital in Chifubu and call it “massive development”. That’s idiosyncratic. Which study indicated Chifubu is in acute need of such a hospital? Are the existing hospitals in Ndola, both private and public, well-funded and operating at maximum capacity? Which experts conducted this research, and what are the findings? If there are no answers to these questions, yet onerous public debt is contracted for such projects, then we are within our rights as citizens to begin taking a different direction and making choices that will save the Republic from this bankruptcy of governing ideas.
Thank you for taking your precious time to read. Please drop a comment so I can also learn from your feedback. In the next article I address the crisis of worldview as an explanatory factor in the financial position of Zambian families.
By Jones Kasonso
The author is a Zambian, An Author, A Consultant and Accounting Professor in Washington DC and holds Ph.D., CPA, CGMA, MBA, BSc., NATech qualifications.