Alagi Yorro Jallow

“President George Weah went back to school.
George Weah went back to books,
George Weah went back to learning”.

“Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is tragedy. Ignorance is devastation. Ignorance creates lack. Ignorance creates disease. Ignorance will shorten your life. Ignorance will empty your life and leave you with the husks, nothing to account for.”— Jim Rohn

My favorite author when discussing the hopelessness of the Gambia is the Ghanaian writer, Ayi Kwei Armah. He warns the black man’s “spring water” against flowing desert wards. The consequence of doing so, he says, is extinction. In the Gambia, we run a system that kills academic excellence; a system that proudly reserves front row seats for failure. It is a system that ignores what you know and rewards where you come from.

The Gambia cannot piss on intellectualism and romanticize ignorance. We cannot now be allowed to start beautification, and theorizing ignorance over intellectualism and knowledge, this can’t be a viable condition of our people.

Fear and ignorance should be the end of so many in this country. Does one laugh or spit in disgust at this stupidity, now a daily occurrence. Or find that difficult undeserved place of compassion. That ignorance virus is potent. Some have openly invoked them as their inspiration when they get this rabid.

A re-infection of sorts, reawakening a dormant prejudice that had been tamed over the years by the more-perfect union of Gambians that defeated darkness. Now this virus is eating up a storm in their minds all over again, acting irrationally in public and against their own best interests. It’s like watching a flesh-eating bacterium up-close consuming its victims one at a time daily.

Professor Niyi Osundare and another scholar A. Pius at Carleton university once published two sarcastic essays on the uses of ignorance and intellectualism. It may be time for both scholars to dust up their essays again for folks in the Gambia arguing and romanticizing of ignorance as the most strategic pathway to politics and disconnect intellectualism as an alienated beast that has and should have nothing to do with the life of the people-especially in the grassroots and in our villages.

We cannot have a long disquisition or discourse on this dangerous argument of those romanticizing ignorance and questioning the place or role of learning in the body politic and the politics. We should not have to make the obvious case that such arguments – which we hear daily these days – are a double tragedy because they come from the presupposition that our people are not producers of knowledge and intellectuals.

The poet disparaged the political leaders of the Gambia, whom, he said, had messed up the country. “The Gambia that created the Professor Lamin Sanneh, Dr. Jeggan Senghor, Dr. Karamo Sonko, Dr. Fatima Sigga Jagne, Dr. Lenrie Peters, Ebou Dibba and the Dr. Tijan Sallah’s have been “dishonored”. Look at what they have produced! Even with their electric literature, look at what they are producing! It is not a generational problem it is a political problem.

“It is not that Gambian scholars and writers are not distinguished; they are underdeveloped. This country is dying. Patients are dying in the hospitals. Schools are teaching children to be redundant. Ignorance is a curable disease; it must be cured. You can’t be a good leader if you don’t read. Illiteracy is killing the Gambia,” he lamented.

The argument in support of ignorance is simple. It erroneously divorces practice from knowledge. Such narratives conclude President George Weah then dragooned into the argument as the icing on the cake.

The only thing those to add are some significant details with those playing make-up artists for ignorance conveniently leave out in the narrative of George Weah. When he first ran for office, he was a near illiterate and could barely string two coherent sentences together. He was not well read. He was derided as ignorant.

“George Weah went back to school.
George Weah went back to books.
George Weah went back to learning”.

He enrolled for degrees and began to voraciously broaden his knowledge base. He hired personal professors who began to instruct him on wide ranging issues in the global knowledge economy. He read voraciously across various fields and disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. One Liberian Professor recently revealed that he was drawing up a monthly reading list for Mr. Weah at some point.

When President George Weah was at the Elysee on his first official trip to France. Go and watch his speeches – especially his unwritten speeches. Evidence of reading. Evidence of learning. Do not allow our emergency romanticizers of ignorance to persuade you that ignorance is what led Weah to the presidency because, in their logic, had he invested in intellectualism, he would have been alienated and disconnected from the people and would have become incompetent in grassroots strategy by “blowing too much grammar”.

Knowledge and politics, grassroots politics, are not mutually exclusive. That they became mutually exclusive in the Gambia is a function of four decades of systemic impoverishment of our people, turning them to the primal instinct of food. Those responsible for this situation cannot turn around and start hawking ignorance as the open sesame to the future of the Gambia.

Through their clever but mischievous separation of knowledge and practice, they romanticize lack of illumination and poverty as the singular condition upon which our people can and should be engaged – the people don’t understand grammar! This is the poverty they induced! Poverty is not romantic. I repeat: poverty is not romantic!

Evidenced has discovered there have been nine United States presidents without college degrees, who never attended college or completed a degree. So how did they make it to the White House? Two things—literacy, knowledge, intellectualism and a healthy dose of curiosity.

Each one of these presidents knew their education had been limited—some of them with as little of one year of formal schooling! Each of them made the decision to own their education and take it beyond the classroom. They filled their libraries with great books. When they wanted to know something, they would go to an expert source. They knew an education could be gained without years in school. They studied law without going to law school. They had tutors and mentors—men that they trusted for information. In time, they became the experts.

The Gambia should not harbor spaces of ignorance and hostility to anti-intellectuals. We must reserve spaces of sophisticated indigenous knowledges and philosophy. The merchants of poverty in the leadership performed the social engineering that drove knowledge away and replaced it with food and unthinking.