Does Speaking English fluently measure someone's intelligence in Uganda?
Some Ugandans have been criticizing Vice president,Dr.Bukenya's fluency in the English language, particularly when he appeared to be struggling with English at a business forum in India as indicated in the youtube video:.
The same group have called for president Museveni's press secretary,Tamare Mirundi's head, because he cannot also express himself properly in English during press conferences. Others have also been mistakenly praising the president of one of the DP factions, Norbert Mao's oratory skills for intelligence. Some have even, out of ignorance, said that Mao is more intelligent than the Mayor of Kampala, 'illiterate' Sebagala . But what is the truth in whole this?
Normally a person growing up just hearing a language will not speak it as a native speaker or someone that language is a mother tongue. However, if one begins speaking a language on a regular basis, one usually keeps an accent all their life. For instance, some of us have developed funny accents because of the regions where we live in Britain but does it mean that we can express ourselves better than Bukenya or Tamare Mirundi(presedential Press Secretary)? The answer is 'no'.
For all practical purposes, a person speaking a language at mother tongue level is a native speaker. Therefore, Dr.Bukenya cannot speak English in the same way as an English man or like some Ugandans who have been abroad for ages. A native speaker may once have meant "native" in the original sense of the word, i.e. born in that country, but now it just means a person who grew up speaking that language - which is the only way to get perfect in one language.
Indeed, a lot of people that pass through educational institutions in Uganda can express themselves in English, but are not (and may never be) as good at English as a "native speaker” or someone who has lived abroad for years. So when Tamare Mirundi speaks English, he represents a large group of elites in Uganda, and this is ok as long as people understand what he is trying to say.
Again, it is not just about grammar. Understanding the various regional differences of English or American English can be quite challenging as well. For instance, I can bet several Ugandans would not understand a thing when they hear an English man from Yorkshire or Liverpool(UK) addressing them because of the accent. In the UK itself they accept people that know how to express themselves in good English but they don't demand them to be from Anglophone countries, or speak English fluently. This means that Dr.Bukenya or Tamare Mirundi can get any job they want in the UK with their level of expression in English.
I am no expert on all these matters, but my personal experience is that there are really big differences between individual people. There are those who live in a country for more than 20 years and still speak the local language with a heavy accent while others are really hard to identify as non-native speakers after only three or four years. I don't know what the reason for this is.
But of course it does not often happen that people have to be perfect in the language, and I don't really think this is necessary. If we want an open society in Uganda, we have to be more tolerant against people not perfectly speaking our languages or any foreign language such as English. For instance, there are many people who are native Luganda speakers by birth, like me, but who speak a highly ungrammatical language that is not really rich on vocabulary. Many non-baganda beat their level of language.
It can also be proven that even a native speaker's fluency is his/her own language can diminish given enough time in another linguistic environment. There has been several notable Ugandans example of this, but I won't go into it.
Is Ssebagala Illiterate?
Let me also correct people one thing: Ssebagala Nasser is not an illiterate man as he can read and write. He can read and write Luganda fluently. He can read English but cannot speak it fluently. So their use of the word 'illiterate' is totally misplaced. But then again, history has shown that illiteracy is not in any way a measure of one's intelligence. For instance, according to Islamic scriptures, prophet Muhammad (SAW) never knew how to read and write but he managed to spread Islam under very difficult conditions, and Islam today has got second biggest following after Christianity.
Wealth and intelligence
It is true that wealthy people are generally more intelligent than average all over the world. But this is not the same as saying that the current Mayor of Kampala,Hajji Sebagala, is more intelligent than Mao, but it is very possible. I don't know, but it's very possible, since intelligence is very difficult to quantify.My argument here all hinges on the word "generally,' and I hope some people don't equivocate on the meaning of that word. Yes, there is a distinct subset of wealthy people that are less intelligent than average but overall the rich tend to be smarter. That is a fact!
Alhajji Ssebagala, James Mulwana and most rich Kampala men are more street smart than the likes of Mao, and they are probably more intelligent than the likes of Mao. Probably, if Ssebagala had decided to invest more of his time in first acquiring more degrees before business, 'theoretical' elites would now be calling him so intelligent, because their definition of intelligence is on how much qualifications someone has got.
Look, Uganda, unlike USA or UK, people just don't become rich through stockbrokers and mutual funds. One has to be 'OMUYIYA'(creative) to make it to the top. Those who make it through straightforward means: acquiring education, getting a job, and becoming rich, are not many. But Pessimists are people who believe in elites and governments. They believe that famous college professors are smarter than ordinary men and women, which is totally wrong.
Education and intelligence
There is this false idea that education = intelligence. Education may lead to understanding of intelligence, but it can just as easily lead one away from their real abilities. We must not confuse education and intelligence with cult of education and intelligence. In many ways, an illiterate Ugandan peasant knows more about human nature, economics, and moral values than some highly educated Uganda bureaucrat steeped in Marxist theory, dialectical materialism, and historicist mumbo jumbo. A person can be highly educated with all the false ideas and idiocies. Only the CULT of education says that a person is more intelligent simply because he's read more books, has earned a Ph.D. and given lectures.
For instance, I know a lot of uneducated men in Bugerere at Kisega Village, including my grandfather, who act more intelligent than this crop we have now got from Makerere university. For 1000s of years, the most highly educated Chinese believed that business was dirty and exploitative, and so China did not make economic progress like the West.
One can study for years and years, but if the ideas are false or misleading the educated can be more stupid, naive, and ignorant that those who learned of reality through everyday experience. Norbert Mao saw Ssebagala losing the trust of Ugandans by leaning himself more towards president Museveni and NRM, but the 'intelligent' Mao has been publicly praising president Museveni several times. The 'intelligent' Mao thinks that a fragmented opposition can stop NRM from leading Uganda for more 30 years.
That's why I discourage people to go for postgraduate studies for the sake of beautifying their CV. One needs to find himself before going for further studies. We have all got abilities which we never exploit just because we are rushing to impress the society and those around us.
Is Mao more intelligent than Ssebagala?
Intelligence can't even be quantified, let alone measured - and I see zero evidence anywhere that Mao is more intelligent than Ssebagala. If we define intelligence in terms of "success," then Ssebagala has done well for himself than Mao.Speaking English fluently does not make Mao more intelligent.For instance,the computer with an NLP software understands plain English -but it is only as intelligent as its rules & database allow it to. It cannot acquire intelligence or use common sense.
Overall, we should all respect each other and never to make a mistake of measuring one's intelligence, perfection or literacy depending on their fluency in a language. Yes, English is very important and we should all strive to learn it because the prevalence of English as a language of commerce and of technical communication easily connects us to the global village and global opportunities. It's one of the reasons why I have been advocating for its promotion in East Africa at the expense of Swahilli.
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba
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