Scholars should promote national values in politics
On the last day of the recent Governors’ Conference in Naivasha, I tuned in in good time to watch Prof H.B. Manyora field questions in a panel. It was in the course of this session that fingers were pointed at intellectuals. Prof Manyora was put to task to explain why the academia has lost its authority in the national discourse. He was challenged to explain what happened to the age old perception of scholars as the merchants of values and sworn enemies of vices and why today ethnicity and tribalism thrive in the academy. Some scholars, it was alleged, sugar coat the truth to serve the whims of their political paymasters.
In his response, Manyora blamed two things — the scramble for resources and our education system. It’s the scramble for resources, he reasoned, that motivates people to employ vices like ethnicity and tribalism to get an edge over their competitors. He blamed our education system for churning out graduates who are slaves of these vices. Whether he got it right or wrong is not the focal point of this discourse.
The focus should be on how the academy can regain its fading fame as the hub of honesty, courage, intellectual acumen and truth. Literary scholars, for instance, need to appreciate the fact that from the early days of Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o and other pioneer scholars, literature has always been synonymous with activism. They should advocate for the socio-political and economic welfare of the masses. Prof Evan Mwangi have been doing this whenever they make an appearance in the Literary Discourse pages. The undisputed king of literary satire and verbal irony has played his part in a style that has been beyond the grasp of a good number of his readers. We need more numbers to join Barrack Muluka in his trade as a fearless hawker of truth.
If it is true that the scholars currently holding various political offices have failed to rid themselves of ethnicity, tribalism and corruption, then there is still hope in the younger generation of scholars, who should be driven by the desire to do things differently.
Our hope lies in the intellectuals in politics to save us from the jobseeking parents menace that was recently highlighted in one of the local dailies (Saturday Nation, March 11, 2017). Revelations that today all that a college graduate needs to secure a job is a well connected parent begs questions. What, for example, is the fate of the many other graduates who do not have ‘tall’ relatives to argue their cases? Could this be the reason many of them have submitted job applications that no one ever bothers to respond to despite their qualifications? And could nepotism and cronyism, and not half baked graduates, be blamed for the alleged attendant incompetence at the place of work?
If scholars must hog newspaper opinion pages, if they must shuttle from one radio and TV station to another in this electioneering season, then they must only do so not as court poets-cum-jesters but as merchants of truth and values. Otherwise, at the moment, they remain guilty as charged – they are the top peddlers of all manner of vices courtesy of their presence in all spheres of our lives.
The writer, is a primary school teacher and author living in Migori County. [email protected]
Streamline prefects selection to curb indiscipline in schools
Bullying is creeping back in our schools. This is a retrogressive trend that reminds us that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Currently, schools have adopted a democratic way of electing prefects. In the past, the students’ council was strictly appointed by teachers after thorough vetting on the behaviour and the overall conduct of particular students. The current trend where students elect students of their choice hascreated a loophole and they rarely elect pro-administration students to the students council.
This results in council members who will always favour of their fellow students. This means the administration is totally in the dark over happens in classrooms and dormitories. Bullying goes on unreported as teachers have no way of knowing what vice goes on in their schools.
Prefects should act as a link between students, teachers and administration. This disconnect is costing us a great deal. Teachers should retain the role of choosing members of the students council. After all, they have the disciplinary record of each student.
The writer teaches Kiswahili and Geography at Munithu Day Secondary in Meru-County
Poor reading culture leads to poor speech
I do not wish to take sides on whether learning institutions should purchase reference books — the dictionary, the kamusi and the atlas, among others — for learners, or whether the purchase of these books remains a parents’ moral obligation. However, there is an undeniable fact, that without a dictionary, teaching English, especially grammar, becomes very hard. Take for example topics that involve spelling, pronunciation and homophones (words which are pronounced the same as others but which differ in spelling and meaning).
I had a particularly rough lesson when I explained to my form one students that the way some English words are spelled, may not always be the way the words are pronounced. They found it hard to believe that a word may have a silent letter. A student found it absurd that the letter /w/ in the word sword is ‘silent’, and that the letter /b/ in the word plumber is silent. They would not fathom why the letter /b/ in the word obvious is not a ‘silent’ letter. To this date, only a few believe that the letter /n/ in the words environment and government, is not silent. Some insist I have forced my own English on them.
I know that most of these challenges are down to a poor reading culture, and I fully support the recommendation that students read novels, newspapers and articles. I have also encouraged my students to watch and listen to international media channels like BBC, CNN, pundits and commentators. To this end, my advice to anyone is that what you hear people speak may not be right English. I conclude that all my students who have made an effort to purchase themselves a reliable English dictionary.
For immediate criticism, always publish online
Daniel Many nailed it in his article ‘To grow as a young poet, publish online’ (Saturday Nation, March 4, 2017). He has worked hard to ensure that Eldoret Poets Association gives budding poets and writers a platform to showcase their work.
I remember posting my unpublished poems on his Facebook page, and one piece evoked debate.
Writers should not shy away from online platforms. Instead, they should ensure that their presence is felt online, more so on social media. This will foster a onetime interaction with their audiences.
Decolonise our minds but avoid the negativity
Decolonisation, be it of the mind or of the economy, is a giant step towards being autonomous. However, left unchecked, the gospel to ‘freeing our minds and economies from the bondage of our oppressors’ can spiral out of control and cause more harm than good.
That Africans must take control of their own destiny is not debatable. That their perception, both of themselves and the world, ought to change is not to be wished away either. The intention to do this, however, should be to be assertive rather than retaliatory.
Instead of concentrating on re-writing the legacy of colonisation, I strongly feel that more effort should be directed at shaping a post-colonial order in which inclusivity rather than hate and division is the driving force.
Moving forward, the conversations that will be beneficial to Africa are not how much Africa suffered from the tragedy of colonisation, but how Africa can craft her own positive story, how it can shake off the perceptions that corruption, war, disease and famine are the bane of the African continent.
In a world that is increasingly embracing the ideologies of the far right and far left, Africa must resist the temptation to flatter with pretentious, rogue nationalism that only finds unity in opportunism and division. The habit of passing the buck has afforded many African despots the luxury of legitimate misrule.
Last week (Saturday Nation, February 11, 2017), I read Job Mwaura’s “Decolonising the Mind: Ngugi tours South Africa” with keen intent. The writer wondered why Ngugi never gets a heroic welcome in Kenya such as the one accorded to him in South Africa. I think many South Africans find Ngugi’s message of decolonisation more appealing following their experience with the Apartheid regime.
Consequently, many of them have adopted extreme forms of a nationalist agenda. That is why an audience member requested that all white people (the oppressors) leave the auditorium before Ngugi could speak. This is why xenophobic instances lurk in the rainbow nation.
Ngugi has painstakingly argued against a Eurocentric view of the world, a view in which Europe is the pivot around which the rest of the world rotates. To this end, I agree with him. But it would be pointless to replace