Category Archives: Development

We Need An Education System Overhaul In Kenya – Part 1

I cannot remember a lot from my primary school Science and Agriculture class. One of the few things that I remember from Arts and Craft class is dovetail joints. The only reason I remember this is because it was the answer to a question on a quiz that I failed. It was also the first time that I was beaten by a teacher using a bamboo stick for getting an answer wrong. You can imagine the shock horror of being beaten during your first week in boarding school. Nothing stings like a bamboo stick, I can tell you that for sure. I did well in the two subjects in the final exams though. All hail the power of cramming.

Fast forward to high school where we had some mandatory subjects and others that we could choose. Now, in my high school the choice was between Art and Home Science. There was no way I was going to choose Art. I barely got the Craft portion of it right in primary and Lord knows I can’t draw to save my life. Home Science was the safer option and I was glad to ditch it after the first two years of high school. I forged on with Biology, Geography, German, History and the mandatory Chemistry, English, Math and Kiswahili. Of the 8 subjects, I was only genuinely interested in 4.5. I don’t particularly consider myself a science-oriented individual so balancing chemical equations was pure frustration. I loved the human part of Geography. As for the physical bit -let’s just say I can only name less than a handful of rocks. We all know the parts of Biology that were cool, everything else just made time move slower. Working with numbers is always fun, until they start throwing the alphabet in there and it all goes left. Passing the exam in some of the subjects was again due to the sheer power of cramming.

Cramming was a key strategy to doing well on exams. Understanding the content didn’t necessarily matter as long as you could regurgitate the information when tested. That’s how a lot of us ended up not retaining the things we learnt. It certainly didn’t help that there was more emphasis on excelling tests than there was on acquiring knowledge. As a result, students ended up being pushed through the system so that they could get to the next stage and become another educator’s concern. This continued singular focus on passing exams is not beneficial especially to students. The problem with this structure is that those who do not get certain marks or grades in the national exam at every level of the education system end up being written off. If you don’t get at least X marks at the primary level national exams then you can’t get into high school. If you don’t get a certain grade or above at the secondary level national exams then you can’t get into public university as a regular student.

Another issue is that the opportunities for students to discover their innate talents and explore their interests are not maximized. A student is in class from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., moving from one subject to the next with short breaks every few hours. After that, one is focused on doing homework and preparing for continuous assessment tests and exams – whether that entails actually studying or cramming. Getting good grades is emphasized as the main goal – the be-all and end-all of one’s academic experience. Pursuing one’s other interests is not even presented as an option. As a result, you end up feeling like a failure every time you don’t pass an exam. You start thinking that you are not intelligent and will probably not succeed in life.

Thanks to social media, I see classmates, who stood next to me as we were being caned for getting some question or other wrong on a GHC test in primary school, all prospering in unconventional ways. One of them, for example, paints beautiful pieces of art that make you want to reach into your screen and grab one to hang in your house. Another one is a blossoming entrepreneur. There is one who is a musician and a guitar instructor. The same applies to my high school classmates. Those remedial sessions on Sunday had us believing that we were doomed for not acing Chemistry or Geography or whichever subject we were not excelling in. Turns out getting a question wrong on a test or “failing” Biology is not the end of the world.

The primary and high school academic experience really should include the space for students to explore their other capabilities. Instead of packing every single minute with subjects that do not play up to everyone’s strengths and natural inclinations. It is unfortunate that this cram and pass education structure continues even today when Kenya is awash with proof that one can follow unconventional paths and be successful. I am in no way implying that education is not important because it is. I am simply advocating for a switch to a wholesome multidimensional academic experience.

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For the love of God, STOP: On stereotypes, the church and Africa

It is too early in the year for the type of ignorance being peddled about Africa by some church affiliated folk in the name of missionary work. In this era of Google and social media, why do people insist on clinging to that false image of Africa? You know, the country ravaged by disease, poverty and war where people live in anything but buildings? In a time when information is literally at people’s fingertips, is it that difficult for one to educate themselves about African countries? Sure, you don’t have to know everything about all 54 of them but knowing that Africa is NOT a country is a solid first step. It’s not a hard concept to grasp guys.

I came across an article titled “First Presbyterian Church recreates rural African town.” The church, which is in Gainsville, Georgia, was scheduled to have a “Life in an African Village,” event this past weekend. According to the article, the event was geared towards teaching children in the area about daily life in a foreign country and missionary work. Because life is the same in each and every village across the continent…ha! The children would “build makeshift huts, listen to African drumming and sing African tunes…” How would they build the huts, you ask? Well, when I initially read the article, there were pictures of cardboard boxes open on the side with hay on top. I think that is how they were planning on doing it. The pictures have since been taken down. I wonder if it’s because they finally did some research and realized that that is not how huts look. Or maybe not. A girl can hope.

If that’s how they think huts look, you can only imagine what they told the children about living in a village. Only heaven knows what they said about the African culture that people love to define in ways that align with their personal interests. The guest speaker and performer at the event was a Zambian man who was also in attendance at the same event last year. Ala! Didn’t this depiction of Africa bother him!? Or did he say something about it last year and the organizers just didn’t listen? But then again, there is always that one African patting these we-will-misrepresent-Africa-because-we-have-decided-that-our-version-of-Africa-is-more-accurate-than-reality types on the back.

Then there is an American woman who went to Kenya on a mission trip and didn’t fall in love with the country. Why? Because she didn’t see poverty nor encounter people who don’t speak English, as she had expected. Yes, this happened, as written on her blog. Her entire post is condescending and made me question the motives of her mission trip. I guess we now know what happens when savior complex and superiority complex thrive in an individual.

The woman’s post will make you believe that people go on mission trips to delight in seeing poverty and feel good about waving their invisible alleviate-the-suffering-of-the-locals magic wand.  Seriously, how else can you explain this excerpt from her blog post?
My heart was prepared for dirt floors.
For dirty laundry hanging everywhere.
For kids that were half naked and covered in bug bites.
People who couldn’t speak English.

not this.

Eh!? You would think that when someone plans to go on a trip to a country they have never been to before they would do research on said country. Isn’t that just the common sense thing to do? Clearly she couldn’t be bothered with all that. She had created this image of Kenya in her mind and that is much more important than the reality on the ground.

Who gets discouraged by not seeing poverty!? Shouldn’t that, I don’t know, ENCOURAGE  you!? Shouldn’t it make you realize that the images you see in movies and commercials are completely distorted to push a certain agenda? Shouldn’t it make you want to change that and present accurate images of the country? That could become your mission, no?

It seems that this lady was so set on jetting in, tiling the dirt floors, washing the dirty laundry, clothing the half naked kids, putting balm on their bug bites and of course teaching Kenyans English.  While we are at it, why would dirty laundry be hanging anywhere? Because cleanliness is only reserved for wealthy folk and those from the West or? Oh, where would we be without her blessed heart and those of others like her?

Why spend all the time, money and effort to go to a country if you are hell-bent on forcing it to fulfill your stereotypes? How much good can you do for people if you are struggling to accept the fact that their circumstances are not as you expected? Is it not possible to spread His message where dirt floors and half naked children are not involved?

That blog post is both ridiculous and disturbing. This had been said before and evidently, we need to keep saying it. Kenya, and Africa as a whole, doesn’t need to be saved. What we need is non predatory partnerships, among others, to fuel our socio-economic growth and political development.

So, if you are going to teach children about mission work and Africa, please present the continent accurately. It’s the least you can do given all the resources available at your fingertips. Perpetrating stereotypes is lazy and a disservice to all involved. Avoid the reenactments too. There are plenty of pictures of huts online…no need for hay and cardboard box tricks. If you are going on a mission trip, research on the country you are going to. Leave your ignorance, prejudice and pre-determined uninformed solutions at your house. Interact with people, find out what their community needs and how you can be of help.

Highlights 2014 (Celebrating Kenyan Women)

(This list is not in any particular order and neither is it exhaustive…just 10 (-ish) moments that came to mind today)

1. Lupita Nyong’o’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar win…
Lupita Nyong'o Win

…and her acceptance speech…

…and her recent speech at the Massachusetts Conference for Women…

…and the numerous times she owned the red carpet, the pavement, the airport entrance/exit and social media.

2. Okwiri Oduor’s Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “My Father’s Head,” and her interview with Arise News.

Okwiri Oduor has also written a novella “The Dream Chasers,” that was highly commended by the Commonwealth Book Prize in 2012. She is currently working on her debut novel…I’m over here waiting for it with a cup of chai masala!

Side note: Two other Kenyans have won the Caine Prize. Binyavanga Wainaina in 2002 for “Discovering Home,” and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor in 2003 for “Weight of Whispers.” Oh, book recommendations alert -> Binyavanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s Dust.

3.

my dress my choice

#MyDressMyChoice was started as a response to the stripping of women in the name of “decency.” Active and passive perpetrators of this form of violence against women claimed that stripping women teaches us not to be “indecent” and to dress “respectfully” while upholding our “African values.” Seriously!? How much stupidity does one’s brain have to be cloaked in in order to even think like this!? Please, we all know violence against women is about power, control and intimidation, among others. Enough is enough. It’s time to put an end to violence against women.  Salute to all the women who organized and participated in the protest against these heinous acts.

4. Diana Opoti celebrating 100 Days of African Fashion was amazing. She showed all of us just how fabulous African fashion is and the phenomenal level of talent designers across the continent have.
Follow her on Instagram @dianaopoti for pictures of her different outfits as well as designer details, you know, in case you decide to rock out 2015 in statement-making African fashion.

Side note: This was my favorite outfit, not that anyone asked…ha!

5. Captain Irene Koki Mutungi became the first African woman Dreamliner Captain. She was also the first female pilot at Kenya Airways. Inspiration is her, for sure.

Irene-Koki-Mutungi

6. This picture of an all-women Kenya Airways flight crew. Definitely using Kenya Airways next time. Well, if I am guaranteed that I will be on their flight…ha ha ha ha #disclaimer.

crew

7. Tegla Loroupe wins the 2014 Billie Jean King Contribution Award. Like many, I heard the name Tegla Loroupe before I fully grasped exactly what running a marathon and breaking records entails. She is not only a marathon legend but also an advocate for peace, women’s rights and education. Not to keep all her winnings to herself, she started the Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation.

8. Evelyn Watta won the Sport Reporting Award in the 2014 CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards. She won for her story “Inside Senegal’s Mythical Wrestling Heritage.” Hmmm…to think that there are people out there who are constantly coming up with ways to pigeonhole women. Meanwhile women are out here broadening your world with their words and award-winning stories.

9. The Wangari Maathai Peace Park is now under construction! Yes, it will be open to the public and according to the Green Belt Movement, they hope to have a library in it one day. I hope this is the start of many more parks with libraries throughout the country.
Also, I love the Google doodle of Wangari Maathai, below. It’s from 2013 but it’s timelessness landed it here.

wangari maathai

10. All the Kenyan warrior women who are constantly fighting/advocating for our rights. You are the reason we will have a better Kenya for women. You are an inspiration to many of us. You are everything and then some!

#MyDressMyChoice : SOME PUBLIC PERSONALITIES AND MEDIA STAY FAILING WOMEN

The past two weeks have really been dark in Kenya. A woman was stripped naked by a gang of matatu touts because they claim she was dressed “indecently.” She was wearing a skirt and a tank top. Someone recorded it and put it online. Another video circulated after that of yet another lady who was stripped naked by another gang of men. They also claimed she was dressed “indecently.” She was wearing pants and a tank top. Just this past Monday, another lady was stripped naked. The gang of men who did it claimed she was dressed “indecently.” One of them used social media to brag about his active participation in violating the woman. This is what our country has come to. This is the kind of hostile society that women have to live in.

Kenyan women have been using #MyDressMyChoice to not only decry these acts but also express their outrage, share their personal experiences, demand better treatment and advocate for the upholding of women’s rights. From this hashtag, women organized a protest that was held this past Monday.

Of course, as with anything that involves women, you know the foot soldiers of patriarchy where ready to march in and blame these violent acts on women.  Because obviously the sole reason that women are violated is women themselves. It has absolutely nothing to do with men and the entitlement they feel towards women. Nothing. Yes, that is the chewed up grass that such people are trying to sell us, and expecting us not to recognize it for the bullshit that it is.

A media personality wrote a blog stating that “…”My Dress, My Choice” Movement, though with it’s heart in the right place, will only be an excuse for some girls to dress skimpily…” Ha…because the only thing that women want is to “dress skimpily.” Never mind that #MyDressMyChoice is about more than just dressing. It’s about fighting for our rights. It’s about demanding the respect that should be accorded to us regardless of our outward appearance. It’s about upholding our presence in this world as human beings and not objects. It’s about putting an end to violence against women. But these are all minor details to this particular media personality.  Plus they don’t quite fit well into her “be a good girl, show self-value by covering up and you won’t be attacked” narrative.

She then claimed that protesting is the wrong approach. She added, “Don’t fix a wrong with a “wrong” & by that I mean taking to the streets will not change much, just today these street hooligans are at it again! the strike could just make these foolish men fight even more.” Fighting for our rights to JUST BE and walk around without fear is apparently wrong. Protesting is an important step in the change that we all want to see. But hey, why should we protest when we can just stay silent and hope that our silence will shield us from assault? That has clearly worked out well for us in the past.

Another personality tweeted, “…scan your environment and dress accordingly.” Basically, you are to blame if anything happens to you and the perpetrators use the way you are dressed as an excuse. Why didn’t you scan your environment? Why didn’t you dress according to it? Ha…you better get familiar with the handbook on dress as per your environment, woman! Better yet, consult the men in your environment about what you should wear.  The truth is, a woman might scan her environment, and decide to wear jeans and a t shirt to be safe, and still get stripped because they will say “her jeans were too tight,” or “she was enticing us with her walk.”

A gospel artiste wrote, “However, am also against women walking around half naked. Let’s not argue with facts well known to us… we are Africans, where nakedness is shameful.” What is half naked? Is it when our legs can be seen? Or our knees? Or our arms? Maybe our shoulders? She doesn’t clearly define what it is. That second statement is funny in the ignorance-is-real type of way. “…we are Africans, where nakedness is shameful,” is a fact!? How so, when there is numerous evidence, pictorial and otherwise, showing that our African ancestors did in fact walk around in various states of nakedness!? They really must have been steeped in shame then, huh!? Good thing the missionaries and colonialists threw some clothes on them and reminded them that as Africans, nakedness is shameful.

She then adds, ” No matter how much we may argue about this, exposing your body is not right,” and “If all of us women dress in a respectful manner, chances of being stripped are very very low.” Exposing your body is wrong!? According to who? What counts as exposing? Showing your toes? Or maybe palms? What is a “respectful manner” of dress? Who determines this? So our chances of being stripped are diminished based on how we “dress in a respectful manner”? Oh wow…how come we didn’t think of this before? Obviously all that women need to do is “dress in a respectful manner” and all the violence we face will magically disappear.  Of course she had to end her comments with #YourDressYourCharacter. You hear that all you dress-in-a-disrespectful-manner types!? Your character is defined by nothing else but your choice of dress. Ah ah…please spare us.

It really is a problem when your opinion puts others in danger. The above personalities say they are against the stripping of women. However, they proceed, in the same breath, to make statements that uphold the very same systems that have for years harassed, assaulted, violated, trampled upon and silenced women. To say that women should dress “decently,” “in a respectful manner,” “according to their environment” is to say that we, women, call the violence upon ourselves. It is to tell women that we have no right to personal choice. It is telling us that our choices must be tweaked and reworked until men find them acceptable. It is to say that our bodies do not belong to us and therefore we have no agency over them. It is to shift the blame from men, where it belongs, and place it squarely on  women. It is to shame and blame the victims.  It is to explain away the assault. It is to preserve rape culture. It is to deny what the stripping really is about – power, control and patriarchy.

The media also seems to be invested in this blame game.  K24,  hosted Robert Alai, a person who tweeted that he would strip or sponsor the stripping of anyone dressed “indecently,” on a panel to discuss dress code. Really!? Because there is a discussion to be had about this? Because his tweets about endorsing violence against women weren’t harmful enough? Because his views and those of people like him need to be amplified on a national stage? K24, to host such a person and air his views is basically you saying that you in one way or the other support them.

Not to be left behind, Nation FM had a discussion on one of their shows. The question, “Is it right to undress a person in public for dressing “indecently”?” They had a number for people to call and chime in. Seriously, that this is even a question is a problem. Is there really a debate to be had over this? I know media houses are all for the “two sides to every story” but when it comes to violence against women there are no two sides about it. It’s not debatable. You can’t rationalize violence against women. The choice of pictures that Nation FM chose to use in reporting the protest on Monday was also quite telling of their stance on the matter.

The media houses are clearly more interested in ratings than using their platforms to advocate for an end to violence against women. What do they care though? As long as they get their paycheck at the end of the day.