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Millions still crave education

While presenting an action plan to meet the UN’s poverty-slashing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 in 2005, economist Profressor Jeffery Sachs said that there are no “magic bullets” to end poverty. Sachs stressed that quality education is the only way out of poverty, especially in Africa. There are others who share his views.
In her autobiography, Unbowed: One Woman’s Story, Nobel peace laureate Profressor Wangari Maathai says: “The Kenyan society idolises education and considers it a panacea for all other problems.” Although Maathai was referring to her formative years in the late 1960s and early 1970s when pursuing higher education, she could have been speaking of Africa in 2006 as well. Education remains the single biggest expenditure by governments and individuals, and millions of Africans still view it as the perfect vehicle out of poverty. About 30% of the annual budget for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania goes to education. Last June, for instance, Kenya’s finance minister allocated a third of the budget, about Sh98 billion, to education. The figure is even likely to grow in 2007 as the government seeks to increase access to education.

This is consistent with the aspirations of many Kenyans, and indeed Africans, according to a research on the most important thing in life conducted in eight commercial towns in Eastern, Southern, and West Africa. At least 24% of the respondents in African countries polled i.e Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somaliland, Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Angola said acquiring knowledge and nourishment of the mind was the most important thing in life. The respondents were also asked about their aspirations, fears and worries.

The importance of education

The survey by market research specialists Consumer Insight ranks education, health and religion as the most important things in the lives of many urban dwellers. In Kenya, 18% of the respondents spontaneously vouched for education, while in Tanzania and Uganda, the figure rose to 31 and 38% respectively. In Mozambique it is 32%, Angola 13%, Ghana 35% and Nigeria 22%. What is most telling here is not the individual preferences, but the fact that investment in education is one of the few areas where government expenditure tallies with nationals’ aspirations. Almost every other day, governments are accused of investing in areas that have little effect or no impact on the lives of their people, but when it comes to education, most governments are spot on.

Success vs. leadership

In all the cities polled, the desire for success, professional and personal, was infectious. The appetite for professional success is higher in Mozambique and Angola where at least six in every 10 people want to make it to the top of their careers. And when it comes to business, look no further than Tanzania, Angola and Uganda, where at least four in every 10 people think the prize is self-employment.

If the founding fathers of Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, Mozambique, Angola, Kenya and Tanzania rose from the dead today, only Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and Nigeria’s Namdi Azikiwe would sit back and agree with the sages that ‘the boy is truly the father of the man’. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah would weep for the dearth of ambition for leadership in their countries. For while the pull of leadership attracts 23% Tanzanians and 22% Nigerians, only 12% Kenyans and Ghanaians, 15% Ugandans, 11% Angolans and 6% Mozambiqueans give a hoot about it. This begs a couple of questions: What is it about leadership that turns off people who are generally ambitious in other aspects of life? Could the stalemate in our politics have taken away the lustre in leadership? Fortunately, the apathy towards leadership and quest for success has not smothered the need for family on the continent.

Family values

Three in every ten respondents said they want to have a family. In East Africa, 27% Tanzanians and Ugandans look forward to starting a family, almost twice the number of Kenyans (15%) aspiring to. But it is Angolans, 62%, Mozambique, 37%, and Somalis, 48%, who take the bouquet for thinking family. But before you flip the page in anger, note that there is no correlation between the desire to start a family and kinship ties. While 32% of the respondents want to start a family, only 8% say it is the most important thing in life. In Kenya, 10% rank the family highly compared to Tanzania, 4%, and Uganda, 7%. In Angola, it is 24%.

Feeling fearful

For a people who are very ambitious it is not surprising that the fear of contracting HIV/Aids is palpable. From Maputo in Mozambique, Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya, Kampala in Uganda, Hargeisa in Somaliland and Luanda in Angola to Accra in Ghana, Aids is the biggest threat to the urbanites. The fear of contracting the virus stalks at least 43% of the respondents. Even in Uganda, which has been hailed as a success and model for fighting the scourge, the fear is real at 69% of the masses, followed by Mozambique 68%, Tanzania 63% and Angola 46%. What is surprising is that in Kenya, which has the highest health conscious population (32%), only 28% live in fear of the scourge.

The biggest fear among the Kenyans polled is failure in life at 40%, which is lower than Uganda where it stands at 44%, Nigeria 47%, Somaliland 53% and Angola 49%. Then there is the question of poverty, the third largest fear after Aids and failure. With the World Bank estimates that almost half-the continent lives in penury, it is not surprising that the threat of poverty is real to 35% of the respondents. The fear is more acute in East Africa — Tanzania 47%, Uganda 46% and Kenya 20%, and West Africa, Nigeria 41% and Ghana 54% — than in the south — Mozambique 16% and Angola 23%.

Research analysis and article done by Consumer Insight. For further information contact Ndirangu wa Maina, email address

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