Crippled By Illiteracy

by Charles U. Ofoefule

Mankind has seen many decades and centuries; the precedence of events show that while the nations of the west are advancing in all ramifications, Africa is receding with great zest. For ages, colonialism, poverty, conflict, religious intolerance, anarchy, tribalism and unstable political system have so labeled the Black continent that any mention of these terms quickly aligns ones thoughts to Africa- indeed, many are the afflictions of the Black continent.

Illiteracy has become a pandemic plaguing many parts of the world today. There are no sterile grounds; even the most technologically and educationally advanced nations, highly rated intellectual societies often have traces of several cases of the illiteracy syndrome.
Poverty provides the fuel factor for the rapid spread and acculturation of illiteracy. It is the singular reason many surveys and studies by different international organizations like UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, UNRISD, FIRE Inc. etc have unanimously shown that Africa has the highest occurrences of illiteracy.

Illiteracy, although not literarily a disease, has more ravaging effects than many known diseases. It renders its victims mentally and intellectually unfit, it feed their minds with the wrong perceptions and ideologies and it exposes, through its victims of today, how life was during the dark ages. In this age of information and communication technology, there is little or no chance of survival for those comfortably housed in the Palace of illiteracy.

Many African men and women of high intellectual and educational status have successfully put their names on the global mat of achievement and honour. However, a greater number of Africans would never in their life time have or see such opportunity because of illiteracy.
It is futile to doubt the fact that a larger fraction of the African continental population lacks any basic form of education. It would not be wrong to say that in Africa, illiteracy and population grow in geometric proportion. In some cultures especially in Mali, Somalia, Niger, Gambia, Senegal, Benin Republic, Angola, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia etc, there is still much resistance to the full acceptance of western education; while some completely reject this life changing gift, others partially accept it. Gender discrimination especially in these afore-mentioned countries has denied the girl child the opportunity of obtaining basic and quality education.

Pause for a while and then imagine a society in which over 65% of the people can neither read nor write. Though fluent in speaking their native languages, illiteracy denies them the ability to write the simplest of word.

Suffix to say, a good number of these illiterates men and women own houses, fleets of cars and command a good work force in their various businesses. They are usually humbled and painfully reminded of the inestimable value of education each time they encounter situations in which their reading and writing disabilities are exposed. Filling of forms in public places, Understanding average and figurative lingua-Franca expressions and speaking the correct tenses of English are always an impossible and herculean task. At such times, their wealth is not even worth half a coin.

Illiteracy mentally ostracizes you to a different world while you physically exist in this one. Although not funny in any respect, it often appears as comedy when you see a full grown individual who cannot spell his or her name correctly let alone writing it.
You can imagine the kind of vague and puzzling pictorial patterns that written words and spoken grammar would produce in the minds of these people. Necessity’s birthing of invention is well evident as many of these individuals cunningly rely on younger relatives or extremely close friends to help out when faced by challenges in which their literacy disability would definitely surface.

It is quite understandable that unchangeable circumstances kept some of these people as illiterates. This however cannot subdue the facts about the glaring and crippling effects that illiteracy implants in the lives of these individuals and society at large.

Illiteracy and poverty reign supreme in sub-Saharan Africa – a good reason the Human Immune Deficiency Virus (HIV) spreads with dogged determination in that region. Studies by UNAIDS and WHO in Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe showed that over 70% of recorded HIV infections among the people resulted from false beliefs, ignorance and illiteracy. Some writers have rated illiteracy as an ally of HIV/AIDS especially in Africa.

A report by UNAIDS/WHO in 2008 on Global AIDS epidemic revealed that 22 million adults and children were living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, 1.5 million Africans died from AIDs that year and over 11.6 million African children were orphaned by the epidemic.
Indeed, illiteracy is a gradual, silent but brutal killer; it has claimed its bulk share of many generations in Africa and it is still very much active in the business of claiming more African lives.

The scourge of illiteracy is like a turbulent storm that only quality education and awareness can provide a lasting shield against.
The children and youths of this generation are the compulsory leaders and rulers that must emerge when this generation fades away. Can we defend and uphold societies, nations and a continent whose work force would have a greater percentage of illiterates or partially educated literates? Would we be proud when future survey results still show that illiteracy is still on the rise? What would be the fate of Africa in the nearest future if the illiteracy trend prevails? Most times, the bluntest statements and questions convey the purest and innermost truths.

Africa is like a child suffering from so many diseases at same time and illiteracy is the pathogen that cripples this black continent. Shaping the future for Africa is a magnanimous task of no exemption that must start at no other time but now. Africans must redefine their value system and understand that information is power and knowledge is Light; we must begin to live beyond the shackles of gender discrimination, acculturated false beliefs, poor governance, corruption and nepotism if genuine changes must occur.

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