May 262008

I recently came upon an interesting item on It had to do with an unusual step the Kenyan president had taken. Parliament had voted a $12,000 increase in his salary of $36,000 a month; he declined the raise, stating that the nation had “other priorities.” Perhaps the parliamentarians had it in mind to follow up this increase by giving themselves a similar hefty raise, never mind that most Kenyans, like the inhabitants of much of sub-Saharan Africa, are mired in poverty.

I have seen the widespread poverty across Kenya. Nairobi, once a jewel of a city, is a study in glaring contrasts: a small segment of society lives in grand style, while the bulk of the citizens eke out a miserable living as best they can. The infrastructure is crumbling under the weight of the population explosion, and, except for a few of them, the roads are dotted with enormous potholes. The slums and the poverty-driven violence and crimes defy description.

If the average per-capita income of Kenya were to be factored in, the president would probably be drawing a salary several times more than that of the president of the USA. The same would be true of most notoriously poor countries of Africa.

This brought to mind how, not too long ago, our own parliamentarians voted themselves a hefty pay and perks package, on the logic that Parliament was a supreme body, and could do as it pleases; this was one issue on which all its members, religious party-types included, were wholly united. Provincial Assembly members followed suit in short order. It is all a question of priorities.

Amongst the priorities of successive governments of all shades and hues, education has always remained very low, with the result that much of the population has, perforce, to take recourse to sending their children to expensive private schools, colleges and universities which are better known for enriching the owners rather than imparting quality education. The rest have no choice but to either stay illiterate or end up in madrasas, where at least there are no fees, while free board and lodging may also be thrown in; never mind that many of the alumni of the madrasas are only fit to become village maulvis at best, or join the numerous jihadis outfits.

Government-run schools have gone to the dogs, the infrastructure has collapsed, the number of ghost schools, students, and even teachers, knows no limits, and as openly admitted by a Punjab education minister on a television talk show, the internal monitoring system has totally collapsed, forcing the provincial government to employ serving and retired army personnel to carry out external monitoring.

But what did the Parwaiz Elahi government do to redress the situation and improve the crumbled infrastructure and faculties in its existing schools? It put all these crying needs on the backburner and embarked on a multibillion “Parha Likkha Punjab” project, which ended up becoming a personal projection scheme for the chief minister. Nobody wants to tackle the big issues when lucrative and juicy ventures can be launched.

He was not alone; all politicians clamour to get a publicly-funded cadet college established in their constituencies, at tremendous cost, so that their own kith and kin, and those of the privileged elite, can get exclusive quality education at a nominal price at public expense. At the cost of establishing one cadet college, the infrastructure of an entire district could easily be revamped. Not long ago, it was announced that no less than seven more cadet colleges would be funded by the federal government in various districts of Balochistan, which lags far behind the rest of the country in literacy levels, especially amongst girls.

Bear in mind that all cadet colleges in the country, whatever their usefulness, are exclusively for boys. For all the good intentions that politicians and government leaders spout ad nauseam ad infinitum, education, particularly for girls, remains a very low priority, for obvious reasons: the stranglehold on the population would be lost, and so would their privileged positions if there were widespread literacy, so why encourage it?

Enter former soldier-cum-spook-turned-federal-education-minister; he returns from a yatra to the USA, and announces that English will be taught throughout the country right from primary school, instead of in the secondary classes as hitherto. Where are the teachers, the books and the resources going to come from? A more harebrained scheme was difficult to conceive, let alone implement, unless it was announced solely to please the US, in the belief that imparting English-language training to students of open-air, shelterless taat schools is synonymous with enlightened moderation and will stem the production of jihadis.

One lesson that I should have learnt during my military service was that there are no rewards for doing one’s own work honestly and diligently; these are to be reaped by embarking on airy-fairy projects that attract the attention of one’s superiors. Some, it seems, are better, faster and more evergreen learners than others! (No offence meant to a former military contemporary.)

Life, then, is all a question of priorities. What would you rather have, widespread, universal education or a big fleet of F-16 fighter planes? You can’t always have your cake and eat it too, so take your pick.

Endnote: Another example from a renowned African leader: “The President feels that he has been given all these gifts in a representative capacity and they are not his. In his own words, he said that some of these gifts you could retire on.” A spokesman for former South African president Nelson Mandela, who announced that he was donating gifts he had received since his release from prison to his country. Compare this with how our leaders have plundered the tosha khana by “buying” their gifts at nominal prices.

A quote from the first president of the Republic of Kenya: “When the Whites came to Africa, we had the land and they had the Bible. Very soon they had the land and we had the Bible!”

The writer is a retired army brigadier. Email:

Courtesy: The News, 26/5/2008



Courtesy: The News, 26/5/2008

 Posted by at 6:47 am

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