Silencing minds by the state is dangerous to society’s health

Friday December 03 2021
A play.

A play in Kenya. Every society has a particular definition of the characteristics that go into producing such a wonderful and useful member of society. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


I am lucky to live in a society that is naturally brimming with beauty, art, innovation and sophistication. I simultaneously live in a society that can be incredibly tacky, base and brutish and superstitious.

We co-exist peacefully with this natural human contradiction except for when the one side — our base and brutish side — decides to try and get rid of all that is naturally good within us, usually by starting with the free thinkers and open media and ultimately ending with the makers of song and dance and performance. And this is what prompted this piece.

In the last couple of months, a wandering minstrel was arrested in Bagamoyo for singing truths. A cartoonist was arrested in Dar es Salaam for drawing the funnies. A veteran journalist was threatened by the Speaker of the House. Those are only a few examples of a trend that is deeply dangerous to us all. This discussion of anti-intellectualism? Is not a self-indulgence.

In the last article, I brought up public education to address the issue of 'education for what?' and made an unfair comparison between the much-admired Norwegian system and the slightly less appreciated Tanzanian system. Really the point was the student experience and what that does to unlock the potential of human intellect or suppress it.

How we mass-produce that elusive pinnacle of a healthy and functional society: the well-rounded, healthy and capable individual. Preferably long-lived and devoid of 'troublesome' behaviour.

As you can imagine, every society has a particular definition of the characteristics that go into producing such a wonderful and useful member of society. Which is why I ended with a question about how education systems factor in practices like physical training, arts and culture and the concept of community service especially through voluntarism and other acts of selfless work.


I guess this is where I give my perspective away: I haven't really talked about people as labour have I. It's really more about developing people as well. If there is one thing that we do well as humans, the actual thing perhaps that gives us this alleged “dominion over all things” it has been creativity in all its forms, aided by knowledge passed down the ages. Which is why creatives, with some special regard to those who scribe should be some of the most valued and well-remunerated members of any self-respecting society. Footballers, though? Meh.

The thing is, human intellect and especially creativity is too broad to be confined to the categories that we create, like say the sciences as opposed to the arts. How laughable.

There is literally no one without the other, no science without imagination, no art without method. There is no health without sports and diet, and no body politic without the concepts of debate, freedom, service to community. And there is no life without respect for nature.

None of these are mutually exclusive, we all have a bit of each in ourselves and those bits make up the whole. One of the great realisations that we are grappling with, especially in this century, is realising that people — not buildings, not things, not accumulation — are at the centre of it all and our power to create might just be our raison-d'etre and our salvation. Oops.

A healthy society is multiplicitous enough to adapt to changes and withstand shocks. As I watch us grapple with the challenges of a post-Covid world in the Age of Information it has come as a surprise to me that Tanzania is not doing more to resist and combat anti-intellectualism especially if we're actually intent on thriving.

Development speak doesn't make sense to me in a country where it is alright to gag creatives, where none of our politicians can prove on their curriculum vitae that they have pursued and performed unpaid work in their broke formative years, where girls are discouraged from sports paving the way for an obese future, where children are shouted at for spending time daydreaming and playing and making their own toys. All the ATC Boeings in the world won't solve the kinds of problems we're creating with this attitude.

Since development speak is by its nature comparative, let me leave you with this cautionary tale about a country considered great: America. Present-day America.

One cannot judge an entire country by a fringe movement, but just this month there was a rally in Texas set to wait for the miraculous return of John F. Kennedy Junior at the site where his father President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This by the same grouping of people who just at the beginning of the year staged an assault upon their own Capitol.

The only thread of cohesion that runs strong through the Qanon phenomenon and its weird partners is a frighteningly virulent anti-intellectualism. And maybe too much Ivermectin.

As with any subject, this exploration of anti-intellectualism is has been covered and better by others.

In his 2003 essay titled Fascism, Anyone? Laurence W. Britt offers 14 'common threads' that can be used to identify its encroachment on a polity. Whereas all of them are important, points numbers five and 11 are particularly poignant and under-discussed in our societies. Let me leave it at that.

Read to your children. Undermine injustice where you can. Stay safe from Covid.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]