The fight against the colonial mentality is not yet won


A cross section of delegates at a meeting of academics and researchers in Kigali on June 2, 2015. (File)


RE: “How are African scholars helping the continent develop?” (The New Times, November 24).

Those who question the central theme in Lonzen Rugira's opinion piece fail to understand the extent to which many among our African elites have been socialized right from their earliest school years to see the West and its “civilization” as the ideal they should aspire to and their African culture as something coarse and backward they should escape.

Education does not start only at university—it begins right from your first day in primary school (more recently for the bourgeois city-dwellers in nurseries and kindergartens).

The education system, and the syllabi are all western in orientation and many well-off parents or well-connected parents (both of whom can rightfully be considered part of our local elites) plan very early on ensuring their children have the best chances to accede to good western universities.

Because an intimate knowledge of the language of the colonial power was considered essential for students from the colonies to gain entrance to the universities of their colonisers (former or continuing under its neo-colonisation), no matter the discipline of study, many parents (and teachers) in many African countries discouraged their children/ students to use any other language other than that of the colonialists.

In some cases children were punished for using their own mother tongue (denigratingly called a dialect) at any time.

The current crop of teachers and senior officials, including no doubt in our own country are likely to be products of that kind of self-alienating system of education.

A particular example of a young Rwandan student pursuing a masters' programme in conflict prevention and resolution in a well-known European university comes to mind.

Her thesis focused on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She believed she had sufficient material from researchers and scholars supporting her view about the roles of different actors, countries and institutions in the genesis of the cataclysm and its execution. But her thesis director rejected if she failed to include the perspectives of the likes of Filip Reyntjens, Gérard Prunier and various others with similar views for what he said was a more balanced scholarship.

This instruction reminded me that a lot of citations in scholarly works about our history, including by African writers, is from non-Africans pushing a narrative about us.

How many young African students do you think end up considering such works the gospel, especially after their biased theories have been 'whitewashed' through African scholars citing those non-Africans' work?

And remember, we still have some Africans in senior positions, including in presidential palaces, who behave almost as if they believe in 'leurs ancestres les Gaulois!'

Mwene Kalinda