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AFRICA: “Collective imbecilisation,” process of rendering a whole society imbecile

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After turning all of us into imbeciles, what, pray, will you do with a nation of loonies?

It is a sorry state of affairs when we are assailed by advertisements on the FM radio stations and billboards all over town about sangomas (traditional healers) who have a cure for everything, from passing exams, to raising libido and succeeding in business.


THE EAST AFRICAN – What is not used atrophies, we were told as kids. That humans lost their tails because when they evolved into homo erectus — or something like that — and started grabbing things like tree branches with their hands, they lost the need for the tail. It’s all too involved for me and I lack authority on the matter.

But I can say with certainty that if you do not use your brain for long periods of time, it will become, slower, lazier and less agile. A friend of mine advises people to try and memorise as many telephone numbers as possible instead of relying on the “contacts” stored on our “mobiles.”

The fact that many schools do not use the “times” table anymore may account for declining abilities to engage the minds of many young people, although one may also argue that the computerised apps enable us to think much faster and to multitask more easily.

In the day-to-day societal interactions, we witness all sorts of happenings, including declarations and directions issued by individuals who perform certain functions that place them in a privileged position vis-a-vis the rest of society. And we realise that these individuals are taking us for a ride, but we remain silent.

In Dodoma, still the fictional capital of Tanzania, a man who calls himself a “prophet” has finally been questioned by the police after he had spent many months holding prayer meetings at which worshippers were encouraged to drink alcohol and engage in lewd behaviour in public. It now emerges that the man apparently has psychiatric issues. Where was everyone all this time?

It is a sorry state of affairs when we are assailed by advertisements on the FM radio stations and billboards all over town about sangomas (traditional healers) who have a cure for everything, from passing exams, to raising libido and succeeding in business.

While we have ridiculous laws clamping down on social media, and laws that punish newspapers by shutting them down for the slightest press misdemeanours, these sangoma ads are allowed to run on our radios and pasted on street corners, without anyone worrying much about pollution of the mind.

It reminds me of the late Prof Seithy Chachage’s lament about “collective imbecilisation,” which is a process by which a whole society can be rendered imbecile.

When phenomena like the “prophet” in Dodoma take place and people do not know that they should be outraged, then you know “imbecilisation” is taking effect. It was evidenced by that man in Loliondo who made people go to him “to drink from the cup” which was said to be a panacea for all our ailments. At that time I asked, if this man can cure everything, why do we still have all these hospitals?

We are being conditioned by our rulers to take orders and directions without questions. That when the president gives an order, he should not be questioned, even if constitutionally he does not have the power to do so. Idem with the prime minister, the ministers, the regional and district governors, all the way down to the head of the household.

Every official thinks he can give orders and they must be obeyed. The other day a police commander issued an order banning miniskirts, I suppose because this has become a law and order matter. Just what are the police doing with miniskirts, and how are they going to judge which length is legit, above which there will be trouble for the wearer?

It is becoming generalised, this habit of issuing orders that do not have a leg to stand on, and the people laugh it off and go on with their business. They even give rounds of drinks and toast each new invention.

But it is scary in certain instances. Like the official from the National Electoral Commission who wrote an article published in the daily papers saying that there will be campaign meetings which will be addressed by the political parties and their candidates, but, but, (wait for this)…. these will not be political meetings. In other words, you can have campaign activities at which candidates will ask voters to elect them, but they should not turn these meetings into political forums.

I swear, there is a conspiracy to make us mad, although I do not know to what use one could put a whole nation of loonies.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail:

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