Friday, July 14, 2006

Why have your head ‘permanently damaged’?

There is much taunting and cajoling for those who ‘out of their ‘wildest’ thoughts’ decide to embark on a doctoral program. They are definitely in for a ‘permanent head damage’ (PhD), as the snide goes. The image of a rugged dressing, untidy and unkempt hair and some dilapidated, dirty bags full of books is clearly etched on the minds of those who dismiss them who have undertaken the eternal ruin of the head (sic). From more positive thinking, a PhD is supposed to compensate financially for the amount of time and energy spent in school. There are always dreams and prospects of a good salary with a good life to go with it; nice car, spacious villa … you know, all that goes with a happily-ever-after ending, like a romantic movie or book. With the revered title, Dr. respect comes your way with the people just imagining the good that is to come from your endeavors. We hardly take cognizance of the cognitive fact of further studies. I have always, however, respected a humble gesture I received almost a decade ago from humble people. I had just finished my high school education and had qualified for the university. In my country then, one had to wait for an agonizing one and a half years before joining varsity. Having spent a significant amount of time away from my village, I chose this time to bond more with my roots. As a bright son of the village, a number of parents who had their sons and daughters in high school approached me to tutor their sons and daughters during the holidays. They utterly disregarded the fact that art subjects were my strong points. I have to admit in this public space that I really struggled in Chemistry, and to a lesser extent, Maths and Physics in high school. This is the main reason I was admitted to a BA degree at varsity. The parents would however not hear any of this; I continued tutoring the high school students during my undergraduate days, and as the parents insisted, on these subjects normally regarded as tough. Interesting enough, as I progressed at varsity, the easier it became for me to proficiently tutor and teach them chemistry, Biology (which I never undertook in high school), and mathematics, as I easily coped with my literature modules at varsity. Two of my high school ‘holiday student’s’ have recently completed degrees in engineering, having passed well in sciences in their matrix examinations. Their parents have forever being thankful to date for my assistance to their children. I am a fresh PhD graduate, and I am equally thankful to the parents for trusting in me. I have realized that undertaking further studies not only makes you competent in your area of specialization, but also makes it easier for you to grasp new and concepts and ideas you have not encountered before. I have had of late to do some exciting environmental research in natural disaster management, and the professor I was working with was full of plaudits for a job well done. While studying for my Masters, I had a chance to tutor in information technology to undergraduate students. Don’t forget that all my university studies (both undergraduate and postgraduate) are in Literature!! I have been at the receiving end from sources that believe that with literature, all I can do is write novels, poetry and plays, hence I will die a pauper since there is no money in publishing. I hardly bother answering to their comments, since I believe I am capable of anything at this level. I am sure I can survive any Engineering course, anytime. So if one asks, why a PhD, I think I have all the answers; it is not that hard to become a jack-of-all-trades and a master of all. It all takes positive thinking! I think it pays to have your head permanently damaged. It widens your scope of thinking and enables one to see the larger picture of life.


Whenever I feel disoriented, a game of chess brings me back to my usual senses. As I pondered over my next move after a two game thrashing by my teenage nephew, I remembered the therapeutic session we had with Tracy Rowe of Investec before she gave us very useful tips on professionalism. This was a day after an enlightening and brilliant talk from robust Kuseni Dlamini. Telling one’s story, what they call narrative therapy, is crucial in expunging pent up emotions. Colleagues went on about imprisonment, working as barmen, sad childhoods, exciting moments in life as well as embarrassing moments, shattered dreams and faded hopes(Joseph, I still hope that one day, I will be as prolific a striker as Samuel Eto’o). However, an aura of optimism amidst a dark past was enveloping throughout. What struck me most was Pascalia’s story, which was my story, this time not in Zimbabwe but in Kenya. Interestingly though, these two countries share a common colonial legacy… settler colonies, armed resistance and suffered the direct rule under Her Majesty. It is no coincidence that both countries have produced leaders who leave a lot to be desired; Uncle Bob (Robert Mugabe) and Uncle Dan (Daniel arap Moi). The two leaders’ difference is only in academic qualifications with one being a man of letters while the other should have stuck to his initial calling…. goat herding (guys I have nothing against goats; the meat is quite tasty!!). Sticking to the narrative therapy, I remember my other job (colleagues, forget about the barman story for now) as an intern when I was in my 2nd year at varsity at the premier human rights organization in Kenya. Brilliant boy, from the university, my first task was to type a letter. Had I seen computers…yes. Did I know how to use them…? Never. It took me a whole day to type a one page letter on MS Word (holy heavens, and here I am blogging!! Or is it bragging?!). Sounds more like Pascalia’s story, not so? Over the three months, I was able to overcome challenges and when our university acquired Internet facilities, I was in the forefront of utilizing to the maximum the facility. Three years down the line, I was teaching Information Technology for the Humanities to undergraduate students at Wits University (yes, Wits, Johannesburg). Cutting a long story short, I think the computer challenges we faced just show how education systems can be inadequate, but again, computer facilities only held sway in Africa less than a decade ago (we were born at the wrong time?!). It is encouraging that today’s kids are computer whiz- kids (I still learn a few computer tricks from my 14yr old nephew in Kenya). Given the life stories of the Zimbabwean and the Kenyan, (I’m sure there are worse stories we can get from both countries), we have endeavoured to overcome all these challenges, ranging from bad governance, to economic mismanagement, low levels of technological developments, etc. Surely, there is hope for Africa. What is expected of us, as Kuseni Dlamini aptly puts it, is to transform from being consumers of knowledge to producers of knowledge. Experiencing life outside our depressing domains is a step towards embracing globalisation, a modern day reality; realizing the malfunctional systems which are our origins, embracing the fastidious life of more industrialized nations and producing knowledge which will uplift the horrible living conditions of our people is the important cycle of globalisation; local to regional to global to local…ad infinitum. We should think and act local, regional and global simultaneously. … and I made my next move, but was checkmated by the accomplished chess player, my young nephew (whom I had taught the game less than one year ago). I was to avenge for the defeat in a three game-win in a row the next day against some anonymous chess player (we are living in a global village, aren’t we?) on The player might have been Garry Kasparov…who knows!!!

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

WILD THOUGHT Stuck in traffic jam the other day, a wild thought crossed my mind after several questions rang in my head; why do people choose to travel always at the same time in the morning and in the evening? What can be done to ease the traffic congestion? Well, I’m damn sure that traffic departments allover the country have given this a thought, if we are to justify taxpayers’ money year in year out. If not, hard luck to pedestrians and motorists alike. Back to my wild thought. Hillbrow is not the perfect tourist destination for South Africa. In fact we might want to forget for a moment that it is part of our Johannesburg. An important fact however is that Hillbrow never stops happening (sic). It is a 24-hour 365-days part of town. 24 is an interesting figure, but forget about 24 cans in a case of beer. What if we chose to make this part of Africa a working nation? Suppose we decided to introduce day and night shifts in all sectors; public and private? Work for at least 20 hours a day. Let’s talk Company X, which has 240 employees. 120 of them to work during the day 8am to 5pm and knock off. Then the other half to start at 8pm till 5 in the morning; wild thought, ne? Implications: we will have the work done eventually, but more to this. 240 tired legs, hands and brains at the end of day will definitely not increase productions. 120 Fresh legs, hands and brains for the night shift in my view will increase the outcome at the end of a financial year and eventually boost our GDP. This way, we can afford to ease the perennial problem of unemployment in this country. More crucial is that the traffic congestion will ease up, both during mornings and evenings. Cleaners who tidy up our city at night and a night construction work going on along M1 North triggered this thought again A similar idea to all sectors would help the country move to insurmountable heights economically. After all, we have nightclubs, which run the whole night through, why not night working places? If only whatever happens in Hillbrow for 24 hours is legal, regulated and abides by tax requirements, it would provide a brilliant model to my wild thought. But something needs to be done about easing the traffic congestions. Just a thought, wild one though!
BURDEN OF HISTORY The visit to the Constitutional Hill elicited questions more than solutions as I battled with the issue of history in my mind. How should we relate to the past as we live the present and look forward to the future? For instance, should the 2010 World Cup be a futuristic celebration or a stark reminder of how dark our past was (despite all that happened to us, we have risen from the ashes to this far!)? You can aye both questions or otherwise. But yes, being the first African country to host the glamorous soccer event is a fact, so is the British invasion and apartheid! It is also a fact that Con Hill is a great heritage site and a historical monument. Forgive and forget then, or what do we chose to remember? Renowned African scholar, Ali Mazrui, suggests that perhaps part of the pervasive transformation of independence is that there should be a revision of the nation's martyrology. The traditional pattern of the immaculate hero and damned villain must be replaced by a process of "selective memory" wherein the independent citizen attempts to honour his past without condemning any of the countrymen with whom he must build a new nation'. Freedom, according to Mazrui must rest on a sympathetic understanding among all citizens and that understanding can only emerge through a balanced examination of the past and present. A concise reading of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat can be a useful reference especially when considering the character, Mugo. A revision of martyrdom is also very necessary, and that yesterday’s heroes can be today’s villains and vice versa. Maintaining the Old Fort and Number 4 buildings as national monuments and heritage sites though is crucial, but we should never over rely on the burden of our history. We should instead appreciate prison as a school, which has produced great leaders like Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Kenyatta of Kenya etc. The location of the Constitutional Court, the highest in the land at the center of site where atrocities to the people of the land happened is a novel idea. History has played its role, and has its place in this country; what about us, the citizens? We should not be prisoners to our history at all. After all, our present will be history tomorrow. The past can be viewed as a source of inspiration but more importantly a pointer to the challenges of nation building and an indication that we can learn from the mistakes and forge ahead to build a better nation.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Maina Mutonya Having always avoided the Business pages of newspapers for the sake of Sports, the seminar on Corporate Citizenship by Paul Kapelus, and subsequent business-related seminars have helped me recover what I have missed for all those years. The interactive nature of the presentations coupled with lucid interpretations and analyses of facts in the business and financial arena have always left me yearning for more. I can't wait to devour the business pages of the newspapers every morning. I hope the rest of the group with Humanities backgrounds is enjoying the presentations as I do. Good luck.
Maina Mutonya Why the ultimate team is within you. Team work, teams, team players are buzzwords in the world of business and corporate territory. Having heard variations of the essence of team work from various speakers during the Internship Programme, it has dawned unto me that there is more than meets the eye in teamwork. The best examples that crosses one’s mind is the team work spirit in sports; a number of them to be precise. Of course you won’t need team work in weightlifting; it’s you against the 200pound heavy weight and how you do your clean and jerk etc. (this is not my favorite sport anyway!!). Teamwork is necessary in hockey (not so Celeste?); in doubles of lawn tennis or table tennis; in cricket, in soccer, etc. Let’s think of cricket; For a convincing win, a team needs runs and wickets from batsmen and bowlersand immense contribution from the fielders as well as the wicket keeper. But when Gibbs strikes 175 in an ODI, helping Proteas to a victory, and wins man of the series award, what does this tell us? Or Ntini takes 6-22 and sets a personal record! Let’s talk soccer; Barcelona is a great team, but it surely needs the wizardly of the ever-smiling Ronaldinho. Arsenal too, but they lose the spark when Henry is having a bad day! This brings me to the conflict of individual and team when talking teamwork. For one to fit in the team, the individual integrity is crucial. There is an argument that in a team all our capabilities are aggregated for the good of the team. This might not necessarily be true. But when Team SA performs excellently in Melbourne Commonwealth 2006, it is collective glory for the team, but a sense of individual pride to the medalists. All I’m saying is that for teamwork to be effective, individuals have to perform to their best. My view is that for an individual to be a valuable resource in a team, it is crucial to be readily prepared. This is what I am calling individual team spirit. Sounds contradictory, okay, but I mean that the spirit, the mind and the body of the individual in a team have to work in harmony. This for me is the most important example of a ‘team within a team’. My thesis is that the ultimate team is the consolidation of all individual talents into one, for a group to succeed. Is the team in you ‘the team?’