Knowledge is an ideal that is difficult to define. However, the attainment of education does expose the achiever to understand the reality of societies, which is not based on utopian idealism, or from the lens of fiction and with uncommon currency. Educated illiterates are a group of elites that have the tendency to conceptualize what they consider as normal and acceptable to be what every other person should embrace; and that it is their duty to force such concepts or state of affairs to be the norms in our societies. This group is often times far removed from the average man and woman’s everyday experience, beliefs, values, and what these people term as normal and sacrosanct.
In the context of the Gambia, this group of educated illiterates are normally arrogant, aloof and indifferent to how the common person views the world. They intend to force their concept of civilization, normality and petty bourgeoisie’s everyday world view down the throats of society. This is normally met with resentment in society where average people still have certain firmed-held beliefs, traditions, concepts and cultures, be they music, dance, religion, food, clothing, relationships and norms, which is imperative and necessary to these average people to make a meaning and value what they practice and see in their daily social interactions.
If the Gambian society is free, and media practitioners and commentators have the freedom to educate, discuss and debate the social transformation and transition, the ‘petty bourgeoisie’s work and their world view would be at liberty to trade in open oceans of ideas and in platforms of open debates. Under such condition, the myth of knowledge and education be proved to society and counter arguments forthcoming in much more healthy ways.
What are the elements the educated illiterates of the Gambia are getting wrong?
Since the Gambia gained its independence in 1965, the gap between the poor and rich have largely narrowed due to the migration to Europe, America, Asia, Arab countries and other African countries for greener pasture. Consequently, non-conventional secular school leavers have attained material advancement.
Moreover, many civil servants have bagged PhDs, MSC, MA, MBA, Undergraduate degrees, diplomas, and other academic qualifications. Despite this, they remained at mercy of home-owners most who are ‘uneducated Gambians. Many landlords in the Gambia collect rent from these graduates; none-the-less the graduate will assume they are more enlighten than the ‘semi-illiterate’ landlords or rent collector. What an irony!
The gap between educated Gambians and the society remains wider.
The educated Gambian miss the social reality; their understanding of the Gambian society is based on perspectives drawn from foreign or western countries. This is problematic as this so-called educated or elites see it imperative or as their moral responsibility and social duty to analyze and comment on the social realities of the country from the alien perspectives. How can one accurately analyze a society and then suggest the solutions to the social problems when you remained geographically distanced from them and the way you perceive their social issues and the remedies to these issues are insular, meaning mirroring your particular worldview?
People are the products of the society they were born, raised and socialized. The values and norms of these societies are the most important parameters that inform them about what is wrong and right. To these, modernity and its suggested values are selective and universal to all. Therefore, you see many of people driving expensive cars yet they will be with conviction that polygamy or the marrying of a 16 girl as social norms should be accepted. People can own wealthy properties yet their belief corresponds to social norms that his wife should cook for him to basic household works that are ascribed to women. Likewise, the average women in the Gambia are in support of such socially held belief regardless of their social and economic status.
If the educated illiterate feels that the Gambian society has to move, accept his/her concept of modernity and advancement and that everybody will be ready to accept his/her ideas, they are doing nothing but to compound the social problems they have tasked themselves to remove in the first place. The norm in the Gambia is for the few social campaigners to view their outlook as the best and there should be no compromise eliminating what they term as ‘backwardness’.
The larger majority of people that demonstrate resistance to such ideas will quietly unveil their resentment against the ‘educated illiterate elite’. This anger, resentment, and bitterness towards the educated illiterate elite will be inevitably manifest in a scenario that one of these educated illiterate aims to get the endorsement, support or vote of this ordinary man and woman. What do we expect from an average man should he or she is asked to support a person who resents and contempt him/her social norms and what she or he deemed as necessary for his or her social fulfillment?
The problems of educated illiteracy are difficult to solve. The irony rest in the fact that they perceive themselves to be social curer of the social problems whilst the society is boiling with rage against them. This is the result of the fact that African elites have always mirrored the European world view and perspectives in order to understand their own people; this has culminated in creating more gap between them and the society. Therefore, attaining academic qualification should not be meant to parade the title or showcase how you are living a good life principally. The benefit of education should hinge in applying the attained knowledge to improve the thinking capacity of a society in ways that will create less tension.
As the Mandinkas would say ‘Sotoo keta, feren manke’ there is affluence but the scarcity is still lingering. One has to know when the time is right to request something higher from society. If one’s profession evolves around creating social tension in the society without the right environment to engage the people, then it is a waste of time to seek endorsement from them when they will quietly let you down.
The failure of the educated illiterates is in their over self-confidence and pomposity. Whilst society despised them, they parade themselves as if everything is alright. It isn’t because the time is not right for people like them. Timing is everything.
Unless we reach at such a time where media is truly free, television programs are mature and educative, social thinkers imbue with less pomposity and condescending tendencies, students free to critic and ask questions, debates on all issues a regular staple diet, educated illiteracy will be a constant feature in our Gambian society.
We need political and academic freedom for the public space to be invaded and ideas battle it out. Sadly, you will hear the semi-authoritative condescending voices of educated illiterates on online radios waves or FM stations, talking at the average person without realizing they are talking to themselves.