We have to follow Japan if we want to escape from our backwardness.
Upon conquering Egypt in 1798, Napoleon went on to establish his colonial regime accompanied by a large body of highly learned Frenchmen from various branches of knowledge.
When his soldiers had done the conquering, it was left to the men of letters to do the rest, which included the comprehensive study of Egypt’s people and geography.
All this work was organised and done in a new think-tank Napoleon introduced when he got to Egypt – the Institut d’Égypte.
This institute had a library full of books about everything Egyptian, including a copy of the Quran translated into French.
The philosophers who accompanied Napoleon weaved all their knowledge into an integrated epistemic instrument to facilitate the smooth subjugation of a whole Egyptian nation by a handful of outnumbered French invaders.
Before and after Napoleon, Europeans appreciated the importance of knowledge as an instrument of power. They conquered the rest of us not because they are God’s chosen people; they simply possessed superior knowledge.
The European secret of using knowledge in the service of political power was later deployed by Japan’s Meiji dynasty in the 19th century.
Thus was Japan turned from a traditionalist backwater into a globally competitive, modern polity.
The Japanese were the first to embrace Western science as an instrument of national progress.
The rest of Asia was ambivalent well into the 20th century.
The reason Africa is the most backward region of the world is not merely because we were colonised; it is because we are ruled by barbarians who have no relationship with knowledge.
Even pretentiously educated fellows like Robert Mugabe are not knowledgeable in an emancipatory sense. The beginning of wisdom is to acknowledge one’s own weakness. Typically, ignorant people are the most energetic in denying their backwardness.
In the 19th century, revered Muslim scholar Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was expelled from one country after another for telling his Muslim brethren they were tormented by the West because of their own “laziness, working too little, and stupidity”.
We humans are egotistic animals. We embrace flatterers more than we welcome those who tell us the truth.
But locking yourself up in a smoky echo chamber will not stop the outside world from evolving.
Here is the unpalatable truth about us black South Africans today: we have installed barbarians in political office who have no appreciation of knowledge.
These are agents of darkness.
If you think this is harsh, look at our cabinet. Some of the people we call ministers were supposed to be gardeners or cleaners.
In a normal country, what do you think Bathabile Dlamini or Mosebenzi Zwane would do?
The sad thing is that our problems as black people today are graver than the imperialist narcissism of Napoleon. Our people are uneducated and unemployable. We have not built factories to prove that we, too, can manufacture things. Alcohol and drug abuse are ravaging our communities.
What we call politics is noise about nothing. We spend sleepless nights fretting about Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma – as if, other than their varying degrees of corruptibility, these intellectually hollow oldies will rejuvenate education in black communities.
It does not matter who takes over power – be it Ramaphosa or Dlamini-Zuma – there are no indications that millions of black people in our townships will, suddenly, live like kings. You who live in a dusty village, what do you think Ramaphosa will do for you that he has not done so far?
Do you believe Dlamini-Zuma is collecting money from cigarette smugglers for your sake?
Wake up from your slumber!
Alas, where is our Napoleon?