Thursday, 26 November 2015

Education is not intelligence

The following five quotes present the themes of this writing:
Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. - Kofi Annan 
Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance. - Confucius 
Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours. - John Locke 
Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom. - Charles Spurgeon 
There's a reason that education sucks. The owners of this country don't want that. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. That's against their interest. They want obedient workers. People who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork and just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits. – George Carlin 
This exquisitely decorated piece of A4 paper, embossed with my school’s emblem, is a reflection of my numerous, sleepless nights, and subsequent mornings characterised by an agitated brain and caffeine-induced shaking of my hands.

Anxiously, I faced another examination paper in which I had to write a minimum of four pages per question in two hours to test my brain’s information retention capacity. For the higher marks, critical analysis, mention of further readings, and well-illustrated and written answers were required. Alas, formal education is essentially a test of what you have been taught.

This paper further signifies the first terrifying days I began at university, the first failed assessments, the first great passes, the many attended and the few missed classes. It’s my three years on paper. The written percentages engraved on accompanying papers are my first time passed assessments and a few capped do-overs. The overall grade on the exquisitely decorated piece of paper is the one I sacrificed so much of myself for, to secure my path to a range of opportunities for further study or good job prospects.

This paper signifies the debt I am carrying. It is also proof that I have been a part of the public educational system, which is generally a chokehold on knowledge and thinking ability. The public educational system in many Western nations, primarily teaches you what they want you to know, not how to critically think. Thus, this paper signifies all that I have read and retained, all that I have been taught and independently researched, and all that I can often not distinctly remember without brief revisitation of my work.

Culturally and socially, this paper is viewed as a ticket out of poverty and our passport to the future. Essentially, this paper is perceived as the be-all and end-all of our future. Collectively, this paper is symbolic of the continuous burden faced by the youth - cuts in budgets, the rising tuition fees, the rising student debt, the increasingly competitive application process and the increasingly low job prospects. However, young people do not remain idle when dissatisfied with educational or political issues. They find strength in numbers, immobilise and put pressure for reform. Thus the desire for affordable and high quality education, often motivates.

Fallaciously, education is often and widely used as an indicator of someone’s intelligence. More disturbingly, field of study or the institution’s prestige is also used as such indicator. Intelligence should not be regarded as one dimensional. By many, the very definition of it has been neglected and solely put down to ‘the ability to acquire knowledge,’ particularly in the case of education.

In reality, it is also the ability to apply knowledge, and judge, reason and comprehend - it's the ability to critically think. Therefore, the measure of intelligence is not solely by retention and subsequent regurgitation of the obtained information – it’s how a presented theory is judged, how the solution materialised, how the problem was solved, and how the conclusion was reached.

What it means to study could be the desire to intellectually progress, to secure a desired job, or to have access to a desired work or field of study. The very essence of wanting to learn and wanting to know with humility and sincerity is never using it as a measure of intellectual superiority or an ego booster which inadvertently belittles others. True intellects come to terms with their own limitations. They comprehend that information changes consistently, they acknowledge that no one will ever know everything, they do not assume superior intellect because of a piece of paper, they are open to learning from others, and they do not believe that formal education is the sole method of learning or display of intelligence.

However, it goes without saying that survival of the higher education system should always be commended. It is not undemanding or uncomplicated, but it also is not one dimensional. I wrote this to illustrate that education has its merits, but also its shortcomings. Primarily, I wrote this to highlight that many educational and intellectual elitists have not clearly considered the definition of either or their relationship with the other. Education and intelligence do not have a linear relationship, rather they do aid one another, but one can always be present without the other.

Intelligence isn’t just obtaining the knowledge, retaining it and regurgitating it. Intelligence is also what you are able to do with your knowledge, your past experiences and learned skills. Most importantly, intelligence requires you to have the capacity to be imaginative and creative, to enable you to formulate solutions to problems. Your education can supplement your intelligence and the right education can teach you all you require to improve your intelligence, however, a direct relationship between education and intelligence often ignores outside factors and the fact that intelligence in itself, is not limiting.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Social Media Depression

Social media is the lifeline of many. Whether it's bloggers, attention-seekers, insta-thots, many rely on social media for their attention-fixes and coins. We have become obsessed with social media. It dominates our lives. Keeping in mind all of that, it really comes to no surprise that studies have surfaced declaring that social media can be a source of depression.

Social media is an easy way to engineer your public persona. You can be a dishonest, untrustworthy and an unkind thug in real life, but online you are an intellectual social activist, your judgment is clear and logical, and you are nice and well-mannered. You are even the most ideal guy to have ever walked the planet, posting relationship goals, and letting the world know that you spoil your girl with flowers every day, even cooking for her from time to time.

You can con catfish people into thinking you are all of these great things you're portraying when in reality you're probably just 0.1% of the image you're portraying. The same goes for appearances - first came the Instagram filters and now many social media users take photos with their DSLRs and doctor them using Photoshop before the photos go up on Instagram. Best believe that the photo they posted is one out of 400 they took in that session.

I admit that I use social media on a regular basis. I also admit that my use of it became unhealthy. But in my defence, with the sort of work that I do (or did) I kind of needed to be on social media, and be up to date with what's happening in the world, and also be there to update the world what was happening in, let's say, South Sudan.

But at risk of exuding a 'holier than thou' vibe in this particular post, I was never really concerned with image, popularity, and getting likes and shares (particularly on photos). Social media was more of a tool for me, to get information, to send information and to connect with people. This year I learned that connecting with people does not require a social media account. I also learned that I don't need to be connected to so many people or be so accessible. I gathered that Facebook was not a necessity in my life so I quit it a few months ago.

With social media you control what you share, and boy do people love to set up a wonderful show about their lives, and how amazing it is, and how much people love them, and how great they and their families are, when often in reality, it's the total opposite.

People see how wonderful things are going in someone else's lives, and therefore grow a little bit resentful, even feeling inadequate. You have to remember that you cannot ever compare your background to someone's front stage - you cannot compare what happens in your real life to what someone else is portraying to the world via social media. It's not only damaging, but it's also an unfair and unnecessary comparison. Unnecessary because your life is independent of theirs - everyone accomplishes things at different stages, and everyone wants different things.

By the same token, photos on social media can be quite deceptive. We may think someone is pretty, has all the right angles, has beautiful hair and skin... until you see their Snapchat where they cannot actually alter photos or videos beyond the basic filters provided. Another interesting thing to note is that many (some have admitted this to me) just take photos and capture anything and everything just for it to be posted to social media. They will write, ''going out!! #nightout #TGIF,'' when in reality that outfit they are wearing will find its way back into the closet after 100's of photos, and he/she will be getting back into their onesie watching Neflix with Ben & Jerry's ice cream. All of this can be easily blamed on the thirst for likes and comments.

Likes and comments have become ways to feel validated. I have seen people delete and repost things because they didn't get enough likes. I have seen people asking others to like and share their things. I have also noticed positive reinforcement. If you are discussing a particular topic, or discussing it in a particular way, depending on the positive responses (comments or likes), you are more likely to repeat that topic or the similar way of discussing it.

So if you are a heavy social media user, use it responsibly. Be careful of who you trust and who you let into your life. Be careful of what you share (the internet never forgets). Lastly, don't forget that social media accounts can go down, while your real life continues to go on. 

Friday, 13 November 2015

South Sudan: Honouring the dead

Dr John Garang de Mabior's tomb
South Sudan is a country that knows hardship. For decades the people were oppressed, deprived of opportunities, taken for slavery and brutally murdered by colonialists and the Khartoum regime.  Though hardship and suffering is still prevalent, it does not mean that the country should neglect remembering, honouring and making peace with the past and even the present.

The country lacks an official memorial or remembrance day to honour the dead of the previous wars.  On July 30th, Martyrs' Day, Dr John Garang is remembered. On May 16th, the formation of the SPLM/A in 1983, is commemorated. 

Besides those days, South Sudan has a myriad of other days it commemorates or celebrates something but no day is dedicated to remembering the veterans and all the service men and women who contributed to the struggle. Countries such as the United Kingdom remember and honour their service men and women every year and many who do not take that two minute silence at 11am, are quickly castigated. If you're a public figure and you're not seen wearing your remembrance poppy, you're quickly castigated for that too. 

Though the UK's Remembrance Day tends to overlook the contribution and efforts of men and women from the former colonies to World War I and II, I still admire the sense of unity this day creates and the level of respect offered to the veterans. Just to add, my passion about the contribution of Blacks and Asians during the previous wars, led me to send out a series of tweets a few years ago. I even tweeted about actor Wendell Pierce's dad, Amos Pierce Junior, who fought in Saipan in World War II. Actor Wendell Pierce saw this, thanked me and retweeted my tweets, and followed me on Twitter ever since. 

Most people still remember South Sudan's Independence Day on July 9th 2011, and how jubilant and ready everyone was to have a fresh new start, after decades and generations of difficulties. However, not much has changed and one could argue that things are even worse for Southerners. 

Kleptocrats who felt entitled to money and power have been leading the country since the CPA was implemented. They are still here. Those who don't have the jobs that they previously had, are now at war with the government. 

These people have unfortunately only helped themselves, their families and their circle of friends. It's all down to entitlement. They view their sacrifice or contribution deems them worthy of endless rewards, even if it is unethical and unfair. Therefore it's not a surprise that many South Sudanese are left on the sidelines, particularly veterans, and widows and orphans of unknown service men. They are left to fend for themselves because they are not getting the support they deserve, whether it be educational, financial, medical and more. 

We have this habit of remembering key figures of the liberation struggle. We also have this habit of attempting to distort the past, and giving some figures more credit and recognition than they really deserve. 

Of course it is important we remember the key figures during the struggle, but the war effort was the effort of many, and not the few. Without that effort, South Sudan would not be here today.

It's important to have a memorial not only out of respect for those who have given for the country, but also because: 
  • it serves as a reminder of the past, so that it is never forgotten, 
  • allows relatives and the community to gather at a place and mourn victims (particularly those who have died and their bodies have never been retrieved for burial at a specific place),
  • allows everyone's contributions to be highlighted, which is another important step in promoting reconciliation, forging a national identity, and a sense of unity.
This is why I am happy to also bring attention to the existence of Remembering Ones We Lost, a site which lists the names of victims of all conflicts in South Sudan since Anyanya I. The site also acknowledges the dead of smaller and more local conflicts. Now this is may not be a memorial where we can lay flowers and pay our respects, but it does allow us to remember the names of those who have died. 

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Polygamy is a personal choice

Last month, South Sudan's first female pilot Aluel Bol Aluenge, got married in a beautiful ceremony in Juba.

Aluel became the country's first woman pilot in 2011. She worked for one of Africa's best airlines, Ethiopian Airlines. She's now a first class pilot at FlyDubai.

Aluel has come a long way in her life, hence her accomplishments are widely celebrated, not just among South Sudanese, but also by anyone who hears her story. Her story gives hope that our past and our struggles do not define our future and our capabilities. She's inspiring to many and her story gives hope to many youngsters in the country that anything is possible with ambition and determination.

Taking into account what she has accomplished, it comes to no surprise that there was an outcry on social media about her marriage to a polygamist. I was personally asked by friends and family, what would possess someone as accomplished, and highflying (no pun intended) as Aluel, to marry a polygamist?

My response to anyone who asks me is that it's her personal choice. This may be regarded as a cop out because I am not condemning or condoning the marriage, which many others have. I choose to not pick a side on the matter of polygamy if the woman has chosen it for herself.

I also believe many South Sudanese have this attitude that they know everything about someone based on rumours, hearsay and gossip. It's imperative for us to be honest with ourselves about the fact that we don't know the ins and outs of anyone's marriage, previous relationships, and personal preferences and beliefs.

As I stated in my review of the Love and Relationship Guide for the Junubin Girl, there are plenty of educated and accomplished women who do not have any reservations on dowry or even polygamy.

Dowry and polygamy are a popular target for criticism by many flying the feminist flag. They often criticise the practices, judge proponents and willing participants, without fully understanding these cultural practices and the various factors that influence these practices, i.e. circumstances and societal changes.

The first mistake we make is condemning or judging without understanding, whether it be Aluel's choice or the cultural practices themselves. A lot of 'progressive thinkers' make untrue assumptions or parallels for the reasons behind dowry or polygamy. For example, some believe dowry is about 'ownership' of the wife so that the husband can do whatever he wants with her. That's not how dowry works and that's not the reason it is practiced. Nor was a man wanting to satisfy his sexual needs by having as many wives as he wants, the reason for polygamy. It's important that the primary reasons for the cultural practices are elucidated because they are often heavily misused for control, financial gain and abuse.

To illustrate, there are South Sudanese men who think playing girls is acceptable because of polygamy. Accordingly, one can deduce that this cultural aspect is clearly being abused for egotistical reasons.

In polygamy, a man has to have the consent of his wife, before he can take on more wives. The dysfunction and abuse of our cultural practices is truly representative of the disintegration of our culture and society. However, we are not all that powerless. Fully understanding our cultural practices and customary law, can empower South Sudanese women in cases where they are being mistreated by their husband etc.

We also have to appreciate the fact that South Sudanese women are treated differently and have different options and circumstances. A South Sudanese woman's level of freedom really depends on family dynamics, wealth, education and how much her family values her and her choices. But I digress.

Anyone is welcome to their opinions and to expressing them, they just shouldn't impose them on others. Aluel can be easily regarded as a role model because of her accomplishments. I feel a lot of the disappointment in her marriage came from the fact that she is a role model, and there's fear that she's sending out 'the wrong message'. Whether people are influenced by her personal life or not, their outcomes is still their personal responsibility.

We don't know Aluel's reasons, but some women in polygamous marriages have expressed that they like the sisterhood that sometimes comes with it, and the security that her husband is able to provide for her and the family.

We cannot impose our opinions on others, even if we personally don't agree with theirs. We should always show people they can do great things in their professional and personal lives, but at the same time respect the choices that they have made, without all the assumptions, judgments and abuse. Call this a cop out, but if she's happy, who are we to get in the way of that?

Further reading on Dinka and Nuer culture can be purchased here.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Are Africans living in the West hypocrites?

Before I quit my Facebook, I used to be a very active writer. I used to discuss many different topics there, offering many of my friends different insights and ideas.

While many responses were approving and encouraging, I would occasionally get a bit of hostility.

This is a message I got in my inbox. I wouldn't say it was a necessarily bad message because the sender made some good points. However, the entire message was full of assumptions.

I chose to respond to each key point and also summarise them as a lot of us are susceptible to a case of TL;DR (too long; didn't read):

You write about Africa being disenfranchised and repressed but your ventures don't coincide with those views.

A lot of the work/ventures I did with regards to South Sudan was addressing some of the issues in the country, and also how the country is perceived and treated by outsiders. 

Africa is a continent and South Sudan is just a country within it, but besides speaking on the issues there, I have also done what I personally could for the country through my work/ventures. 

You live in England in comfort and style with more opportunities than most of my friends - it feels contradictory.

I was born and raised in Europe due to circumstances beyond my control. The mentioned contradiction is invalid in this case. I didn't choose to leave, sit on comfort, and continue to be a social commentator for people back home. 

Being here has afforded me with incredible opportunities, and I have made as much use of them as possible. However, while doing so I have never forgotten why I am here and what I have to do when I do go back home one day. 

I live in a comfort and luxury that my parents and myself have worked for. Drawing attention to the horrendous living conditions of most South Sudanese back home, does not mean I have to pack my bags and join them, especially when my 'mission' here is not yet complete.

Do you think there is value for someone in your position to not constantly show off your things, or are we to accept that you are a typical English college student / writer who just happens to have a deep connection to a very downtrodden people and wants to live both roles?

My 'deep connection' stems from the fact that they are my people. Therefore, it would be a great disservice if I did not speak about them.

Since starting, I suppose my journey of writing for, on and about South Sudan, I have had many appreciations for highlighting the issues within the country and for speaking about it on various platforms. 

Drawing attention does not mean I am attempting to vicariously live through the people I am speaking for. My 'activism' or whatever one would like to call it, did not come about the same time as the wave of keyboard/social justice warrior activism. It is something that has been ingrained in me. It's in my parents. It is in me. Speaking, discussing or writing about people who have been dealt a bad card in life for me is not a past-time or a temporary 'venture', it is permanent. It's not just for anyone to live in a way that is simply preventable.

Do you think the people you write about would be served by materialism, or offended?

My 'display' of materialism doesn't consist of expensive jewelry, clothing and unnecessary purchases. In fact, I rarely show-off anything I have. The type of materialism that offends not just the disadvantaged but me too, is incredibly prevalent in many places in Africa thanks to corruption or oil money. 

Hence, the better question is, how do people back home feel about government officials owning expensive cars and living affluent lifestyles, while most of the population lives under the poverty line? I'm sure they offend everyone more than I ever could. 

There's no excuse for ignorance

We live in an age where information is widely available for free.

We live in the digital age - information is transferred every second. Internet is accessible on various platforms and access is widening worldwide every day.

Books have filled up libraries for centuries and they're now available as eBooks for purchase and even for free.

But people still want to defend ignorance by saying 'I don't know any better.'

And people still try and defend ignorant behaviour by saying 'it's ignorance'. Well we can see that it is ignorance, but that doesn't make it ok.

Ignorance is not ok. There's no excuse for ignorance. Ignorance is one of those things that should have died out as the digital age was growing. Information is so widely available that ignorance about particular cultures, people, topics etc. doesn't make any sense. I don't expect anyone to know the metabolic pathway, but seriously some things you shouldn't be ignorant about. If you continue to be, I guess all of this is down to wilful ignorance (continuing to ignore anything that contradicts your reality). That still isn't ok.

What's even more worrying is that there's people who are so happy to admit that they are ignorant. Being truthful is a wonderful trait at times but admitting ignorance is like admitting you don't care enough to read or learn and you're excusing yourself for not knowing.

Why pride on ignorance? The root of racism, prejudice, sexism, all other inequalities or oppressions of people, can be attributed exclusively or partially to ignorance.

Nevertheless, it is good to admit to your weaknesses or shortcomings, but what exactly are you going to do about it?