Why can’t we have better intellectuals ?

February 16, 2008

In the same week, two of Africa’s leading intellectuals have managed to publish pieces on the Kenya Crisis that I wouldn’t have saved, let alone published on this uniformed and amateur blog.

Ali Mazrui, takes a break from defending sharia in Northern Nigeria and discussing identity to ask “Which prince charming will revive democracy in Africa ?“. The list of “murderers” of democracy in Africa is problematic but the conclusion that implies that South Africa can give it a “kiss of life” is even worse both because of the choice of “prince charming” and because of the idea that democracy can somehow be imposed in a top-down way by some benevolent foreign intervention.

George Ayittey, take a break from talking about corruption to say, with a profusion of caps and exclamation points that “Kenya does not have to re-invent the wheel” since there is an African solution to solving the crisis: holding a national conference. In this case too, there are all sorts of problems with the arguments and the analysis of past events. But this sentence, taken from the piece, says in a succinct way how I felt while reading it:

We need an intelligent opposition to make democracy work in Africa – not the rah-rah noisy opposition

This is all very disappointing. If our respected intellectuals are too lazy to make well-thought and patient analysis and can’t write it soberly, how do we expect our politicans and our voters to somehow show restrain and not behave in a reckless manner ?

I will probably write more about the arguments later but for now, read them yourself and just for fun, try to guess which arguments disturbed me so much.

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10 Responses to “Why can’t we have better intellectuals ?”


  1. Kinda sad, I’m rather surprised too. Maybe they (being those 2 writers) feel their words would fall on deaf ears or maybe they have no actual solution. Kenya’s situation is pretty easy to solve on paper though, I suggest the intellectuals aren’t so intellectual.

    Sharia or Die!

  2. Mbelolo Says:

    I didn’t see Mazrui suggesting that democracy can be imposed “by some benevolent foreign intervention”. Where are you getting this from?

    As for respected intellectuals being lazy — perhaps you should contact the author of the post on Global Voices and Mozambique and discuss his confessed laziness. Ahem!

  3. aflakete Says:

    ” Is African democracy capable of resuscitation? If so, who is the miracle worker who is to do it? Who is Prince Charming with the kiss of life? Is this South Africa’s bigger challenge?”

    As far as my laziness, well, i’m not a respected intellectual, am i ?

  4. Mbelolo Says:

    If you want to claim that that implies “foreign intervention”, you’re going to have to do more than cut and paste.

  5. omodudu Says:

    Oh come on..@Random I know you are anti Ayitteh (me too)..but he had a valid point with the rah rah opposition.

  6. aflakete Says:

    omodudu:

    Yes he does have a valid point with the rah rah opposition. My issue is that he’s equally rah rah.

    Mbelolo:

    I’m not sure why you don’t see “foreign intervention” is Mazrui saying “giving the kiss of life to democracy in Africa could be South Africa’s biggest challenge”. Isn’t that “intervention”, no matter how they do it ?

  7. Mbelolo Says:

    You have not given any explanation of how Mazrui’s throwaway remark about SA counts as “the idea that democracy can somehow be imposed in a top-down way by some benevolent foreign intervention”. Where is imposed, where is intervention?

    Of course it isn’t intervention “no matter how they do it” — being a notable success is one way of giving a “kiss of life” which is not an “intervention” “imposed” “top-down”. You make a grave charge against Mazrui and when questioned, you do no more than repeat his words without feelng obligation to make an argument. It’s not a good look.

    I’m no fan of Ali Mazrui, but his comment that “We need an intelligent opposition to make democracy work” is rather apropos.

  8. Mbelolo Says:

    Correction, I meant Ayittey.

  9. Bubbles Says:

    IMO “We need an intellingent opposition to make democracy work” should actually have been “We need an opposition willing to dirty their hands and hopefully emerge victorious in a system where intellingence alone doesn’t put you in power”

    I have read both articles, my major disagreement is the assertion that the solution lies in embracing our African heritage. Being that most countries are a conglomerate of tribes and ethnic groups, exactly how does one democratically decide which group holds sway? They are not the first intellectuals to suggest we go back to our roots for a solution.

    Interesting blog, :)

  10. Cho Says:

    The problem might be in the assumption of “our respected intellectuals”…..lol!

    I would say that much of the problem we face is the very notion of “democracy” as an end in itself….getting our people to the level of seeing “development”, as locally defined within the Sen model, as the goal perhaps should be the challenge….


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