Tag Archives: underdevelopment

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.

KENYAN LEADERS = REFUSAL TO PROSPER

Kenyan leaders seem to have a very hostile relationship with the country’s prosperity. They constantly and very determinedly refuse to let us, as a nation, prosper. They have honed their “turn non-issues into issues” skills so well that it’s almost amazing. Almost. They are too busy dodging the country’s pertinent challenges by proposing/passing laws that are so life unchanging it should be a crime.

Last week, members of parliament proposed a law that would result in people being jailed for a year or paying Kshs 2 million for failing to refer to MPs as “Honorable” when addressing them. Yes, you read it correctly…jail time or fine for not referring to an MP as  H.O.N.O.R.A.B.L.E! I understand the title but is it really necessary…especially given the fact that there is very little that is honorable about these MPs!? If you have to threaten Kenyans with punishment/fines so that they can refer to you as “Honorable” then maybe you should question why we are not inclined to refer to you as such to begin with.

According to the MPs, “the principle purpose of this Bill is to promote the good image of the country, foster orderliness, discipline and decorum in the process of governance.” When did having titles promote the image of a country!? If that is the case then we should all get titles. Instant boost to Kenya’s image right there! And orderliness!? Where is this that they are looking for orderliness? If it is at state functions then orderliness will be achieved through proper planning, coordination and execution. Titles are not going to do that for you.  Discipline and decorum in the process of governance!? Say what now!? Titles can make that happen!? Well, we have a president and deputy president that we refer to as such all the time but that hasn’t done anything for us on the governance front, dear MPs. How do you explain that!? Referring to you as member of parliament so and so hasn’t worked out well in that department for us either. MP is a title too no!? Or doesn’t it have the magic that the titles you are proposing have!?

“The Bill also proposes a hierarchy for State officials according to seniority. The ranking of the public officials will see MPs placed higher than governors, Supreme Court judges, former Presidents and Vice-Presidents.” In short, the MPs basically want to feel more superior than other public officials. What is that feeling of superiority going to do for you MPs!? Will it make you better leaders!? Will it ensure that you will play a pivotal role in attainment of the MDGs!? What is this silent fight that you seem to have, especially with governors, all about!? Why are you forcing the rest of us to join your ego trip!?

Dear MPs,

If you really want to foster orderliness, discipline and decorum in the process of governance then simply act right. Be disciplined individually as well as collectively and fulfill the promises that you made to your constituents. It wouldn’t hurt to take your responsibilities seriously instead of making a mockery out of the people who voted you in believing that you would make a difference. There can only be as much order as you want there to be. You are the leaders, you set the pace, you set the tone. Surround yourselves with people, and also be people, who are invested in making a positive impact on Kenyan communities, and all these things will fall into place. You want to be chaotic and then claim that a title will foster orderliness, discipline and decorum!? How now!?

As for promoting the country’s image, well, you can do that by acting right, as mentioned above. Also, tackling the issues that we as a country are facing. Focus your energies on addressing insecurity, corruption, poor education, lack of health care amenities, underdeveloped transport systems, poaching, inconsistent electricity and water supply, among others. If properly addressed, these are some of the things that will boost our country’s image not titles!

Try and get it together quick please.

Sincerely,

A Kenyan.

The case of the anti (Part 1)

So President Museveni signed the anti-homosexuality bill into law the other day. No surprises there. This is after all the same guy who earlier this year said that “homosexuals are “abnormal” beings who can be “rescued” through economic empowerment.” Because obviously homosexuality is both the shield from poverty and avenue to wealth. The president is really trying to tell us that people not only choose to be homosexuals but they do so for economic reasons. Really though!? How exactly does this make sense Mr. President!? And they need to be “rescued”!? What exactly are you rescuing them from? Are they in captivity? How do you rescue a person from their own  truth!?

After signing the bill into law, the president gave a speech and said that homosexuality is a Western import. This a view that is shared by many other Africans unfortunately. How can you import sexual orientation though? Is that even a possibility? The irony is that the people who shout the loudest about homosexuality being a Western import conveniently forget that their anti-homosexual tendencies are fueled by some Western Evangelical groups. So I guess some Western groups can influence our collective opinion but not others huh!? Bag of contradictions much!? So homosexuality is unAfrican but putting our noses in others sexual affairs is not!?

Why can’t we just accept people for who they are!? If you were born a heterosexual good for you. If you were born a homosexual good for you. We each need to live our own truths. Why police and outlaw homosexuality? There are no awards for such acts. It’s not going to improve your life expectancy or iron out one wrinkle from your forehead. It is not going to change the fact that there are pressing development issues that need to be addressed. Politicians, like Museveni, use such hate-filled laws to distract the population from their shortcomings as leaders. While you are busy clapping for such leaders and cosigning their ridiculousness, messes are rapidly occurring and being swept under the rug in the background.

Live and let live folks. What two consenting adults do is between them.

 

Kenya and Elections Lemonade

Kenya held elections recently. The process itself was largely peaceful. There were countable incidents of disturbance, but hey, Rome was not built in a day. Voters turned out in large numbers forming queues of unprecedented lengths. (Although word on the street is that Coop Bank members are used to such…I digress). The patience with which Kenyans waited for the results (elections were held on Monday and results were officially announced on Saturday) is something to write many a journal articles about. The only problem is that the status quo carried they day.

If social media and daily conversations were anything to go by, then Kenya would have a different president- somebody new if you will- or at the very least someone with a SMART plan of moving the country forward. Instead we have an old guard-in the sense that he has been recycled through the political machine a number of times. Moreover, the president-elect and his deputy have cases pending against them at the ICC. I guess that’s the something new in our presidency.

The results of this election made one thing clear- we, as a nation, are several election cycles away from issue-based politics. The ongoing discussions about the presidential results in print, broadcast and social media emphasize our tendency to vote along ethnic lines. We are of the mentality that our lives will only get better if a person from our community is in a key leadership position.

Our previous presidents are partly responsible for this. Their presidencies were all based on patronage. Positions of power were allocated not to the qualified but those who had pledged undying allegiance. They assumed office and immediately forgot that they were sworn in as “President of Kenya” and not “President of Region X.” They went about developing their towns and those that their cronies belonged to. All the while we sat and watched. At the end of the day we left believing that the only way our communities would be uplifted is if our fellow tribesman is the president.

The tactic employed by the previous presidents was perhaps a self-preservation mechanism. However, it isolated communities from each other, created animosity, brewed fear and fueled an ethnic divide that will take generations to bridge. By so doing, these presidents and their shadows cemented our “it’s our turn to eat” mentality. A mentality that has further been solidified by the utterances of leaders who thrive on divisive politics. Think about it, a few individuals have done this to our country.  Why do we continuously let them? Why do we allow them to turn us against each other? Are we really that afraid of getting rid of the status quo?

We held our first presidential debate this year. Did anyone ever think we would see the day when all the presidential aspirants would gather in one room and present their case? I certainly didn’t. It was a great moment to be Kenyan! Such pride we all felt. Millions tuned in to hear what the aspirants had to say. They were prepared too. Sure there were some fumbles and allergic-to-answering-questions moments but for the most part they took it seriously. For the first time it seemed that they finally understood that Kenyans hold the key to State House.

During that debate period voters seemed to be more interested in the proposed solutions to our country’s issues rather than ethnic allegiance. Post-debate discussions  were vibrant, complete with analyses of the feasibility of each candidate’s action plan. Change was imminent. So what happened between the debates and Election Day?

Well, some call it the tyranny of numbers. Others claim that the election was simply a referendum against the ICC. There are several other theories out there. The jury is still out on this blogger’s theory.

We have already seen what our leaders are capable of. It’s time for us to hold them accountable- all of them not just the president and his deputy. We need to take the initiative to find out what they promised and ensure that they deliver. It’s time to speak out against injustices not just against our fellow tribesmen but against Kenyans. The effects of poverty, illiteracy, human rights abuse and underdevelopment do not discriminate based on tribe.

Yes, the status quo carried the day, but by holding them accountable we can ensure that the days of empty promises are well behind us. We can put every aspiring politician on notice – let them know that leadership is for serious contenders and it’s no longer an avenue for self-enrichment. All the institutions we say we want to change/reform are run by human beings. Once we change our individual mindsets then we will be able to change institutions.

We have a long way to go as a country but I believe that change starts with each of us. We can no longer afford to leave the future of our country in the hands of a select few. As Dida said, “I have seen tough life until I got tired. Everyday things would get tougher until I gave myself two options – either flee the country or remain and become an agent of change. I chose the latter.”

The candidates who won (whether it was your preferred candidate or not) made many promises. We collectively have to ensure that they keep each and every one of them. Keep a scorecard and call them out on their lies. In the next election, pull out the scorecard and take note of who did what, when and how. Then use your vote to show the jokers exactly where the door is. The ballot revolution has only begun. Yes, this is definitely one of those make lemonade out of lemons moments.