How to Become a True African Intellectual

Travel. And talk about it. You have not traveled until you have referenced this travel somewhere. You can mention it in a lecture you are giving to admirers, or in an article about whatever topic you are given. Or even your public Facebook page. Do not make a mistake of not traveling or traveling and keeping quiet about it. As a true African intellectual, your musings on your travels are important. Extremely important. They are ideas in themselves.

Use big words when you are talking to ordinary mortals. A true African intellectual does not say that an idea is not reasoned. It is primeval. Instinctual. Thanks to Google, I can also come close to locating the real words a true African Intellectual uses. We, the hoi polloi, will clap louder when we hear such words. Didn’t we blame Obi Okonkwo, of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease, when he returned to our Umuofia without the big words? Do not turn into an Obi Okonkwo.

ELMONT, NY - April 4, 2015: This is a picture of Harold Ekeh 17 at his house a 459 Parkway Dr. holding 7 Ivy League College Pamphlets. Mr. Ekeh was accepted to 8 Ivy League colleges. Photo by Victor Alcorn/Victoral Corn

Reference rare books and articles that we the ordinary folks, unfamiliar with the subject you are talking about, can’t relate to at all. It is not your problem that we can’t understand what you are saying. It is what makes you a true African intellectual. We can just as well sit through your brilliant analyses of current events on television and radio without understanding what you are saying. This is why it is you who is invited to analyse phenomena on television, not any of us. Earn your pay. We will admire you the more. When you start becoming understandable, you know that you are no longer true.

Drop names. Tell us how you met Bill Gates last year at that summit in some place so exotic that even our Geography teacher omitted the thing when we were learning about the world. Tell us something that Steve Jobs whispered in your ear before anyone was paying attention to the Apple guru. He is no longer on earth to corroborate your claim. We shall clap. We shall go and tell our friends, relatives and everyone else how true you are, how deeply intellectual you are, how you are our African star. How Africa has a bright future with true intellectuals like you.


Marry wisely, if you are still single. Do not marry a nobody; if you can find a fellow true African intellectual, then you are on your way to staying up, there, where you deserve to be. If you can’t find a single true African intellectual to marry, try the child of some famous true African intellectual from an older generation. They carry a name. It is important. If that fails, stay single, and turn singlehood into a deeply African intellectual idea. You won’t fail to find something in a single pre-colonial African community that privileges singlehood over marital life. Don’t miss a step.

You do not have to think to bring new ideas to the table. It is most likely that your audience does not know about the old ideas, the ideas that have been here for decades. Just rehashing these is enough. You can attribute them, but no one will begrudge you if you plagiarise. Have you forgotten that we, your audience, never read? True African intellectuals do not plagiarise. There is another word for it, I, who am not one of these true African intellectuals, do not know. We, your audience, won’t tell. Tell us that you have discovered through your painstaking research that Greek and Roman civilisations actually sprung from Egypt. You may have read a blurb of Black Athena online, or peeped at Cheikh Anta Diop’s page on Wikipedia, but it is okay, we will accept what you are saying, we will even start introducing our friends to your work in the mass media, online, on radio, on television. Do not write a book. We do not care about those. No one does anymore. We read Facebook.

Photo: Morris Kaunda Michael

Know what to say, to whom. If you are talking to some donors, the American Support Alliance for African Youth Entrepreneurs bla bla bla, learn the right vocabulary. Revisit the summaries about the age of the Washington consensus. You do not have to believe it. People call you a true African intellectual because you preach what they already believe in. When talking to corporates who have been recruited by new investors on the continent, tell them how the African middle class is widening. They won’t invite you again if you tell a real estate company, listed on the London Stock Exchange and new to Uganda, that the property bubble will burst soon because much of the money making it look real is actually from political bribes. Are you talking to the youth? Measure the mood first. Are they hopeful, or resigned? If they are the latter, tell them how unemployment is the reason the Robert Mugabe government will collapse. If they are hopeful, tell them how Zimbabwe tops the world in literacy and they should be proud of this because it means that they will all get good jobs. They won’t ask you for details. If anyone dares to ask you a question, promise to follow up the conversation by email, but do you even care to ask for his email address? That you hinted on having a private conversation with the young person is important enough.

Photo: IVY League

Have I talked about quoting dead White men? Always use Greek mythology to explain everything. Sometimes, but this is rare, you will be invited to talk to some people who want you to quote old Nyanja proverbs. Do your homework. You know that a Zulu, Yoruba, or any other African language proverb will do miracles for your reputation among those African-culture-is-dying types. Always know who to quote depending on your audience. It will pay in large amounts. Quote the Bible when talking to the gay-hating Pentecostal demon-chasing congregations.

Study from an Ivy League school, or date someone who has, or send your child there, or associate with someone who has studied there. Always remind people that you did. Always mention your connection to the Ivy League school. Whenever you encounter someone saying interesting things, ask them where they studied. If you find out that they studied from Moi University and even have a Doctorate from there, dismiss them. A true African Intellectual is connected to the Ivy League. Even if you visited Boston once on an American tourist tour, you went to Harvard my friend. And MIT, even.

Unless it really pays in terms of reputation, and cash even, do not credit so-called uneducated, the so called peasants, the rural dwelling people, the masses, for any idea. They are the people true African intellectuals like yourself are working hard to develop. To modernize. To civilize. When you hear that some people following Marcus Garvey’s grassroots reclamation gospel even allow these ‘peasants’ to teach otherwise well educated and adjusted people, do not pay attention to such crap – unless you are hearing it from a donor, or someone who will determine if you will be listed among Africa’s Top Ten True Intellectuals. Only people like you can think. Peasants? You ate the Godsend to them. Not the other way round.

At this stage, allow me to congratulate you on becoming a True African Intellectual. I am also in the struggle to join you. Soon. By the way, just for the road, no one else but you is doing innovative, amazing things. Remember this. Some kids are trying to make a car out of wood? They are jokers. They do not know anything like econometrics to make anything useful. They are young and confused. They want to steal money from the ruling party.


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