Is it Right to Academicize the Environment, its Leadership, and Management?

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By Oweyegha-Afunaduula

The word “academic” means “unreal”. Therefore, when one is called an academic, one is unreal and what he or she engages in is unreal. When one academicizes something, one makes it unreal. Therefore, when one academicizes the environment one turns it into an academic concern, which does not necessarily benefit the environment in terms of effective conservation and management.

In fact, it introduces academic elitism in what was a social and cultural enterprise. Elitism is a vice not, a virtue or value. This can explain why many men and women with academic knowledge have failed to conserve and manage the environment effectively when they have been assigned the responsibility to do so. They are not men and women of reality but unreality, yet the environment is real. When you put the real and the unreal together (whether animate or inanimate) unreality is the result. It is like (+) + (-) = (-).

Unreal environments, resulting from the academicization of thinking and action (conserving and managing), end up being artificial environments, not greatly different from urban environments or plantations whose problems and solutions continue to be academicized. When this happens it results in even more problems that were not anticipated, thereby making a given situation even more complex and intractable. This is frequently what happens when an academic is assigned to manage. It is worse if that academic is averse to teamwork, arrogant, and despises ordinary people, who may know better about the whole problem and have befitting solutions that they may have practiced over time.

Academics are bureaucrats of theory, not practice. They are supposed to belong to academic institutions and work from within, and only go out to do research to gather data to help them generate information that could aid in providing answers to the problems they formulate to address aspects of an existing problem, not the whole problem. The whole problem may be a wicked problem (i.e., a problem that is not amenable to a simple solution because it is complex requiring more than one solution). The academic puts forward a theory to explain only part of the complex problem by addressing the problem he or she formulated toward understanding the whole problem.

He or she then suggests a solution or solutions to the problem, not the whole problem, but part of it. He or she may not be the one to apply the solution he or she suggests to an existing problem, but a practitioner who may instead use intuition to solve a problem. The environment is a complex living system with complex structure and function, with numerous complex problems that may be of structural or functional nature or imposed from outside by factors beyond its control. Frequently the most dangerous factor has been humanity, especially industrial humanity who takes the environment just as a thing to be exploited. This has been the case usually unconsciously and guided by the stupid belief that nature can be conquered by humanity but it cannot conquer humanity.

Strictly speaking, the environment is a social and cultural concern and resource. Cultural groups that conserved the environment before the white man arrived in this area called Uganda were integrated with wildlife areas ethically, morally, spiritually, ecologically, biotically, and environmentally. Environment and people gained from each other through webs and chains of food that interconnected them.

However, when the white man occupied our country, he separated cultural groups from wildlife areas and established national parks in which human activities were disallowed and game and forest reserves in which minimum human activities were allowed by law and went on to decimate wildlife, leading some to become extinct.

A good example is the wild dog, which was wiped out in most parts of Uganda and beyond because the white people were angered by the way the animal ate its prey, however big, in a few seconds. The wild dog hunted and fed in a park, and when prey was felled, the wild dogs fiercely fed from all parts of the prey even before it fell down and died. I was lucky to work in some national parks, game reserves, and forest reserves in Tanzania Kenya, and Uganda. I saw how animals and people were suffering because they were separated. On the one animals would invade the cultivated areas for food because the ranges left for them were not enough for them to get adequate food. On the other hand, people would invade the conserved and reserved areas for meat or other resources.

Because the people were breaking the law, they were characterized as poachers yet they were doing what they had done for centuries. Those who herded animals would benefit the wild animals by grazing their animals in the periphery of the wild areas, which are called ecotones. The wild animals benefited by being naturally immunized when they mixed and interacted with partially sick diseases such as sleeping sickness. The converse was also true. The people gained in other ways.

For example, birds that associate with buffaloes and elephants would make noise and fly thereby indicating to the people that there was danger in the vicinity. Or else birds of prey would hover above to indicate to the people that some big predators such as lions, leopards, and cheaters were in the vicinity. Other birds coming from the wildlife areas would indicate to the people that either the rainy season or dry season was about to set in. The people would tune their activities immediately.

Unfortunately, because the environment has been academicized and put in the hands of academics, it has degraded so much that these useful relationships have either disappeared or are on their way to disappearing. This has been exacerbated by environmentally- unconscious rulers deciding to undertake certain economic activities in life areas, helped by either the silence or the support of academics in charge of the conservation and management of wildlife areas.

The rulers have mined in national parks and game reserves, felled trees in game reserves and forest reserves to establish plantations of oil palm and sugarcane; removed natural vegetation and replaced it with foreign species of Eucalyptus and Cypress; and erected huge dams in national parks or elsewhere along the Nile, thereby erasing endemic species of plants. In all cases, academics in charge of government institutions in charge of management and conservation of wildlife and/or natural areas have approved publicly by saying that the actions will not seriously harm the environment, or silently by looking on with naked eyes as the government destroys our wildlife and the total environment in the name of development. This confirms that on the whole academics in charge of conserving and managing our wildlife and the total environment are suffering from imposed environmental ignorance.

The blame should go to the practice of academicization of conservation of the environment, thereby producing managers and conservators who are basically academics, and hence unreal. They need to be retrained especially in view of the fact that we are in a century of new and different knowledge production, that emphasizes knowledge integration and reintegration and produces more holistic knowledge workers and users. In one sentence, “It is wrong to academicize the environment and clog its Leadership and Management with academic elite, or even military elite “.

It does not lead to conserving and managing the environment wisely. As I wrote in my article “The sociology of Uganda’s elite and the necessary crusade for mind liberation” of 10th July 2023, ” One distinguishing feature of our elites is that they are greedy and selfish and believe only today and now matters. They are not so futuristic in their thinking; meaning that they do not factor future generations in their equation, and are more oriented towards exploiting (environmental) goods and services, conquering nature, and the anti- conservation attitude is almost universally developed amongst them is the attitude that they are modern. They tend to be Westernized and both despise and have rural roots.

They are almost completely urbanized, with extremely few of them having homes in the rural areas where their ancestral homes persisted for centuries. As such they are outward-looking, with wandering minds that are more comfortable externally than internally. They need mind liberation”. I may add that so disoriented, they are unlikely to be curious enough about nature to conserve and manage it for posterity as our ancestors did. They are likely to work in the interests of environmentally destructive forces.
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