I must scream from the top of my lungs about the greatest threat to the Republic of Namibia. This is not a reading society and that must change. Namibia can become a failed state if we do not READ more and learn what is going on around us.
People are losing opportunities, falling prey to scams, using half of their capacity, and smiling as they drown in the ignorance of tribalism, regionalism, sexism, homophobia, and racism. Worse, too many people are partying while they live their lives behind the blinders of ignorance – they don’t even know that they don’t know – because they don’t read.
I was standing in line at NATIS the other day renewing my car registration (I wish that could be done online!) and there were signs all over the walls in different languages about what was needed to complete that process. As I stood there, almost everyone in front of me had some problem that could have been solved had they read the registration renewal documents they carried in their hands or read the wall posters around them.
People will say that there are language issues as some can’t read in English very well. There is truth here - but, I think that is only a small part of the problem. We cannot use the exception to dismiss the rule; we must stop excusing mediocrity. This country is in trouble and we need all hands on deck to make a change.
I submit that the vast majority of people choose to listen to gossip, rumors and hearsay rather than reading information. They choose to have a PhD in Tweets and Instagram and an MA in the Rumour Mill rather than read an article or look something up. They choose to read the headline (but not the story) in a magazine or newspaper and claim that they are ‘in-the-know’ about the latest news.
They choose to blame others for their ignorance on a range of topics rather than seek that information on their own: “the government didn’t tell us” or “The teacher didn’t say that we had to do this.”
Many consultancies and research projects on important topics are redone over the years because no one remembers or reads the original report and recommendations done long ago. We chase our tails, waste resources and reinvent the wheel far too often. Imagine how much data is rendered obsolete because no one acted on it in time.
People only scream and shout about a regulation or law when it touches their lives. However, most of these laws have been on the books for decades and were publicized widely when gazetted and yet, people shout, “I didn’t know about it,” as if that is an acceptable excuse. Ignorance of the law is no defence.
Libraries are the most vacant and desolate places in Namibia. Other than university bibliotheca and resource centres where people are forced to go to finish their assignments, most of the public can’t tell you where a public library is located.
The best way to go bankrupt fast in Namibia is to open a book store. This is partly due to e-books that are readily available (and cheaper) and audiobooks. Even with that reality, printed books are still on the decline because people don’t value reading.
I’ve written before about meetings and conferences I have attended where few people in the room have read the documents about key issues being decided. I wonder if SOE boards making ill-advised decisions, are guilty of this. Perhaps they listen to the pitch of management on spending decisions rather than reading the data right in front of them and asking hard questions.
How many hundreds of millions of projects have been approved for things that make no sense because those making the decisions don’t read!
Across Namibia, I wonder how much paid work time is wasted by repeating things verbally that are already in writing. People get ‘the memo’ but don’t read it. They prefer to ask questions even though the information is already provided. This equates to a financial loss. The time spent telling company employees things they should have read for themselves is time not spent being productive.
We have a society that teaches the necessity to DO, but not to think. We have secondary school kids that cannot name one work of classic African or even Western literature and university students that have never read a newspaper. They graduate with an amazing disinterest in the written word. How many have read books or references about Omugulugwambashe or the countrywide student strike of 1988 or know that Hosea Kutako is more than just the name of the airport? People don’t read and much is being lost right before our eyes. As history is forgotten, we are lost as a nation.
We cannot hope to think our way out of problems, innovate with new ideas, and master the 21st century pulsating with competitive energy when we don’t read!
Here is a hard truth: countries full of people that read are strong and will outpace weaker non-reading people every time. Will we fail our state and sink this nation?