Educated Illiterates: Gambian Pseudo Intellectual Class


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. 
Suntou Touray Kairo News political editor


  1. This one is definitely hard to swallow. Sounds like talking to me, to him, them and all. One needs a ‘once again’ go over this.
    Nonetheless, as you summed up in one compact line, ”We need political and academic freedom for the public space to be invaded and ideas battle it out.

    ‘People are the products of the society they were born, raised and socialised’. Suntou. Absolutely agree and for that being the case, I hereby suggest the preservation of cultures and traditions, though it is not a good idea in 2016, to put more importance to flattering cultural and traditional musics, beliefs, fashions etc.,and their dividing and misinforming messages, than our needs to live in planned settlements; with proper and domestically centralised sanitary systems and infrastructures in our urban areas atleast as a priority, the urge and the right mind to see a need for clean pavements, crystalised commercial centres, green parks, the evident need to use, get updated and to advance in software information systems, is backwardness and blantant hypocrisy. I can learn that many of the native indians of the U.s.a, still live in reservations preservating their cultures and traditions but their women don’t still have that laborious methods of making dough and having to smear their naked backs with colours and eagle feathers around their heads or a baby’s skull worn around the chief’s neck. Now they are in the reservation with their kids at the computers and their kids play much better games now than when they have to combat in bloody fights just to prove whose son is fit enough to be the tribe’s brave chief in the future. If we deny the fact that the very process of politics we are engaged in itself is modernisation, then we prove to be obsessed with abstract cultural and traditional values that are obstructions in science and technology advancement.
    Evolutioning of societies is a reality and that is evident in the way we dress now and the way they dress in Gambia a 100yrs ago. Most of Chinese cultures and traditions today are marked by mere annual celebrations or festival in goodwill gesture to other cultures and traditions instead of marking feud between them. I think this is not a question of conceptualising civilisation for Gambians but exposing Gambians to world realities of a scientifically and technologically evolutionising world.

    • I never thought I will ever agree with you, but I do here. Good observation. We can still keep all our cultures that do not conflict with progress, whilst embracing all the good things that Western advancement has blessed humanity, thanks to the “educated elites”.

      • Great to see you got an easy understanding of a comment with unfounded words and disconnections. This is actually what impresses me bro; that one should always try making a bit of sense for himself even where sense is not being made.

        We can still keep our cultures that do not conflict with progress, as i reflected too but, most of ours are sticking hindrances in breeding progressive mindsets in the Gambia, due to obsession and faith in cultural beliefs and thoughts. I don’t make anything out of ‘educated elite’ or ‘educated illiterate’ but if you think I should………, then thanks God to have people like you and Suntou himself for proving yourselves under that category of ‘educate elites’ hah.
        I think Suntou might be a bit exhausted to let off a long piece like this when it doesn’t even worth it.

    • rect. ‘…..still live in reservations preserving their cultures and traditions but…………….’

  2. My understanding of Mr Touray, is that we are demanding either too much modernity for and/or a fast speed adaptation from our society.

    I think we should and must do both at once for the world is not waiting for us. The need to champion modernity and pioneer new ways of doing things and new forms of collaboration to achieve common good across old lines of division, is the fundamental role of enlightenment.

    The “Scottsboro boys” trial came to mind. If the defence around Samuel Leibowizt and the communist party -unlike the NAACP, were to accept the notion that the southern state of the US (Alabama) were intellectually not rife (at the time 1931) to give a black person his due with the excuse that “people are the products of the society they were born, raised and socialised”, the nine black boys wrongly convicted -for a crime that never occurred- would have ended up in the electric chair.

    The simple reasons why we spend, by average 1/3 of our income, on the education of our children, siblings and relatives, are to seek knowledge for meaningful occupation and for general enlightenment.

    We must be careful not to quantify opinions of individuals with their academic achievement. Just like a Imam with full memory of the Quran cannot guarantee good judgement. We have to separate the 2. Anyone can have good judgement regardless of whether he/she sat in a classroom or not.

    The culture of education, anywhere, is about nurturing discipline, methodic, team consciousness and the development of our individual unique creativity.

    It is a dangerous tendency if we start doubting the intentions of our own children -by now adult- who are bringing in new ideas to chart the way forward.

    • Gambia shouldn’t wait for the rest of the world to warm the globe for them. We are a part of this globe and we share the common destiny in its journey!
      Let’s pave the sidewalks and line them with glassed door bakeries, butcheries, groceries and barbershops. Lets make a few factories to make by-products out of raw materials, especially with the Gambia’s very agro-products.
      Most of cultures in the Gambia are knitted with voodoo and myths to an extent that one can think he made a bad day because he didn’t poor water on his doorstep. Or is it perhaps Gambia is got to come out to show a face in the world of sports but they have to be waiting on a marabout or the magician to give them talismans. Yeah its true! our football matches in the Gambia are not won by football skills but by the power of voodoo and this is a clear reason why Gambia cannot get anywhere near neither the African cup nor a world cup because out there in the world now, people believe in facts and substance than superstition and myth.
      I think I have acquiesced with most points in the other arcticle in response to this one by Suntou.I don’t think this one here is a very smart exposition.