ONCE EVERY year the
And so, important guests descended on
More importantly, these dignitaries didn't come to simply exchange pleasantries. Serious matters of
The topics discussed ranged from energy, trade, investment, markets, infrastructure, natural resources, to accountability and transparency, and to peace and security.
By and large, this was a successful conference. It was helped by the caliber of speakers and panel discussants most of whom were seasoned veterans with enough practical experience in their various endeavors to cause transformation in their respective capacities.
That they had failed or succeeded during their tenure was a matter of secondary importance to the experience they were sharing.
Thus, when former presidents Thabo Mbeki of
A keen observer would have left with two impressions. First, the plethora of priorities discussed points to the fact that our continent still faces enormous challenges in efforts geared at social transformation.
To place this enormity in its proper perspective is to appreciate that in a week dedicated to social transformation, the subjects of education and health could not find themselves on the agenda.
The fact of the matter remains that we shall need a healthy and educated population in order to achieve meaningful transformation. Lest we forget, development is about people.
Which brings me to something that ought to cause concern for all of us: Our children can neither read nor count. According to a study conducted by two East African organizations working in the area of education, only 30 percent and 60 percent of primary three students can read or count at primary two level, respectively.
During the launch of the report, a member of the team that conducted the research had an even more alarming declaration: "By the time they reach the last year of primary school, one out of five East African children still have not acquired these skills."
Our university students aren't fairing any better, either: At least half of the graduates in
For those lucky enough to get employed, they lack confidence and can't take initiative while on the job, the same study observes.
More importantly, shortages in creativity and ingenuity have consequences for development. Indeed, education, in its real sense, is supposed to produce a thinking person capable of responding to a changing environment.
It is such a person who may be facilitated with 'common good' things to act as a runway for their ingenuity. This is how education can be differentiated from credentialism (possession of degrees, certificates, and diplomas). As things stand, however, one would expect serious impediments in transforming a youth which can neither read nor count.
To be sure, the
It is true that we face a reality of competing priorities. It is a chicken-egg paradox. However, just because something is difficult doesn't mean it can't be done.
East Africans know that our region has often found the will to do things that previously we could only dream about. Take the inter-east African railway. What resource pooling has done for the railway system can be replicated in other areas of strategic intervention.
In the area of education, for instance, resource pooling could create world class universities capable of birthing graduates with abilities to serve as catalysts for meaningful socioeconomic transformation.
Thereafter would be details of matching academic centers of excellence with the consensus area identified from the conference. In this regard would be centers of excellence in ICT, agriculture, investment and commerce. Also important would be a center of excellence in Leadership and Public Service.
Finally, it is worth reminding that in matters of development the golden rule ought to be to "seek ye first the kingdom of human development, and all the rest shall be added onto you."
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