Independence—Meandering questions


It is a long independence weekend in Lesotho. We are three years shy from celebrating 50 years of independence, but given that we are far from experiencing “nala” (prosperity) as a nation, I am not sure whether this is something to delight in or cry for.

Actually, I lie! If it were to help in any way I would most certainly cry for my beloved country, Lesotho fats’e la bo-ntat’a rona.

Despite conferring degrees by the masses—like we did last weekend—our education system is plummeting.

Education, the cornerstone of development, is now largely regarded as a matter of personal achievement, or, to put it more bluntly, a means to upward mobility. We use the likes of Michael Schumacher as crowning examples to cement this idea. And, of course, to inadvertently reinforce this growing outward-looking culture, where anything good can only come from the outside and necessarily imbues a Western (capitalist/neoliberal) feel of success to it.

Fundamentally, we seem to forget that education is deemed a right because it is a venture of social justice and a means to creating a society of equals. I would argue based on last Saturday’s graduation speeches that this view to education is only partially remembered because of some unspoken agreement that a hearty speech should, at a minimum, be peppered with “public service” rhetoric.

But what if we had gained independence from the bonds of political correctness and unspoken accords of what qualifiers as a hearty speech? What would be our truth when it came to education and the general state of affairs? Would we see ourselves as plummeting into a failed state or a nation on a prosperous track?

Truthfully, I am not sure of the answers, but I think it is time that we revisited the three core questions of the 1960s when we were a nation in search of its identity:

  1. Re bo mang? —who are we?
  2. Re tsoa kae?—where do we come from?
  3. Re ea kae?—where are we heading?

Otherwise, how do we ever hope to be self-sufficient again? Or rekindle that industrious spirit that made us breed our own sure-footed ponies at a time when horses were a mere novelty?

Growing a University

My life in Gown practically consists of being surrounded by academicians. However, last Sunday things were a bit different. I was in a social setting with them, enjoying good food and wine while talking about everything and nothing. And no, it wasn’t one of those organised departmental functions, where some people are present to keep up appearances! It was a true social setting and it was absolutely exhilarating.

I learnt a lot — acquired new knowledge and got sensitised to the little details that certainly attest to the saying:”the devil lies in details”! I am not going to go into these details. Instead, I shall focus on one interesting conversation about the future of any university.

Apparently, the future of a university lies in the plans it makes to assure its existence in the 25 years yet to come. Selfishly, I shall only talk to the points that resonated a lot with the growth of my own university at home, National University of Lesotho (NUL). And everything will be in context of how its future may or may not affect me, a future lecturer of the institution.

Housing. As a young person, possibly with no prospects of getting married, will I be able to own my own house? This is an important question because shelter is a basic need and if at all a university is to survive, it needs to have plans for making this a reality. At the moment, the housing scheme seems to have collapsed at NUL, the question is: will it be resurrected or will it be replaced by something else? For example, will it go into ‘real estate’: build and sell houses to its staff members at, say, an interest rate of 1% above prime? Of course, it would only be prudent if the university were to demand a preferential right to buy the property should one want to sell. The finer details at this point are not the issue. The issue is simply the ability to own a home.

Income generation. As they say: “money makes the world go around”! The issue of generating income is therefore of paramount importance. Yet, this is by no means an easy issue to deal with. It requires a lot of creativity and as many brains as possible working together for a solution. Personally, I am more for a solution that will see us increasing our postgraduate profile. In my mind, this may mean reducing the actual intake of undergraduate students but this is not in itself a bad thing because NUL is no longer the only university. What is important is to take the long view on things. With increased postgraduate offering, we can begin to initiate projects that use students as a resource. The objective would then be to develop a model that would enable us to refine those projects for the benefit of community or even commercial interests.

A conducive environment. This means different things to different people. For me, it is about the little things. The ambiance of the seminar room during coffee time and the rigorous debates with colleagues. For example, as a junior colleague, I enjoyed immensely engaging with the likes of ntate Mphaka about why for instance some students benefited from top-down approach to programming whilst others benefited from bottom-up. We engaged in that and many other issues as though we were on a quest to end the world’s problems.

There are many other things that I could have included but the above are the three that I thought were crucial to the growth of my university or at the very least crucial for making me ponder in the next few years the question: to be or not to be in the employ of NUL?