Why a bottom-up transformation can make Kenya better

nelson mandela education quoteSince I live in the diaspora, I constantly make a conscious effort not to meddle in the affairs of the motherland unless called upon by fellow wananchi back at home. One such instance is the current state of pre-tertiary education sector in the country. Friends – mostly on social media – have variedly sought my take on this issue and so as a public intellectual that I project myself as, I feel compelled to share a few thoughts.

Growing up in Kochogo village, my beloved parents introduced me to two powerful ideas namely Christianity and Education. While I am not a great fan of the former – I consider myself a Godian, I have grown to cherish and pursue the latter with the greatest zeal any living man can ever command. Education – and the right kind of education at that – is key to living successfully on planet Earth. In fact, as the late Nelson Mandela – one of the greatest Homo sapiens to have walked this planet during our lifetime – puts it, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

That said, it breaks my heart to see innocent pupils who are eager to learn being forced to stay home because their teachers are on strike and their government has ordered the closure of all schools till further notice. It even breaks my heart more to learn, now as a Doctoral student, that in Kenya teachers are undervalued to the point where a salary increment agreed on between the teachers union and government when I was a primary school pupil has not been honoured in full to this day.

Having been brought up in a teacher’s household, I can choose to be emotional about this issue but that will not lead us anywhere. So let me identify what I consider as the key problems ailing our country, which when addressed will ensure this kind of problems become a thing of the past. I will then provide what I consider the best possible way out of the identified problems and then end with concluding remarks.

As a young and rapidly growing nation it is expected that we should be facing myriads of problems and challenges of varying significance at this stage of our nation’s life. However, I consider the following three as the key problems facing our nation today and this is not in any way meant to minimize the significance of the rest of the problems that are not captured in this obviously short list:

First, one of the greatest problem we have as a country today is an impatient electorate. By this I mean that we elect political leaders and expect to see change over night and when that does not happen we instantly get into electioneering mode plotting how to elect new leaders whom we will also subject to the same treatment without realizing it is all to our own detriment. This problem is made worse by ethnocentric politics, which is in turn worsened by perpetual dynastic political duels. If you add corruption into this mix you get a very lethal concoction, one that Prof. PLO Lumumba may describe as a recipe for chaos. I will admit that I have no single panacea to solve this problem but if I were to try something out it would be education.

Second, the other problem is an indifferent middle class, particularly those who live in the country – remember there are Kenyan diaspora middle class as well. This particular problem has not gotten to a critical stage but it is swiftly heading there at least with the country’s economic growth looking up according to World Bank’s estimates. Others have put Kenya’s middle class population at 44.9% of the national population as of the first quarter of 2015, an impressive feat to say the least. While this trend means well for the country’s economy and possibly life within the country, it is yet to be a force to be reckoned with in terms of the promotion of democratic ideals at least as a recent study by the research consortium GSDRC reveals. With their vantage position in the country, the middle class commands a significant amount influence that if directed to the right place can bring about positive change. Civic education and sensitization campaigns may probably help out with this to some extent.

Third, perhaps the greatest of all these problems is the lack of strong institutional culture in Kenya. For a long time, our institutions were built around the individuals in power meaning that the individual was the institution and vice versa. In fact, this is a key reason why the crisis in the pre-tertiary education sector has persisted for this long. Basically, the agreement to pay the teachers their rightful dues was arrived at during President Moi’s era. When he exited office and President Kibaki took over, the political good will to honour the very tenets of that agreement was significantly eroded because his regime did not feel obliged to pay up what they did not agree to. Thus, the problem was carried forward to Kenyatta II’s regime, which now has the opportunity to save the country from a potentially perpetual crisis by rising above the pettiness of power play and inculcating a culture of respect for the rule of law and reliance on strong institutions.

But having said that, I must add that Kenyans should be fair to President Uhuru Kenyatta by recognizing that the crisis did not originate with him and that if he is to tackle it he has to handle it in such away that does not jeopardize the integrity of our government in every meaning of that phrase. Therefore, Kenyans and teachers in particular have to begin to see this crisis beyond President Uhuru Kenyatta and focus on a strategic dimension of it that will bring about longstanding and sustainable solution. Grandstanding from both the teachers’ union and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government will only bring misery to the two groups and shame to our great nation if it hasn’t already.

Perhaps one thing that most Kenyans at home may not appreciate, and particularly those who have not had the opportunity to stay out of the country for a protracted period of time, is that when you are out here – unless you were pathologically and incorrigibly indoctrinated with a lethal dose of the pathetic ethnocentric politics that prevails in our rather great Republic of Kenya before exiting our borders – you do gain a level of level-headedness and understanding that allows you to view issues of national interest through a non-partisan lense.

I am a believer in the school of thought that holds that, it is only once you manage to pull yourself outside a situation that you can fully appreciate the gravity of the challenge it presents and the opportunities available to you to surmount it. Thus, while I agree with most of you that President Uhuru Kenyatta has erred in some of his decisions particularly in relation to how he has handled the unfolding crisis in pre-tertiary education sector in the country thus far, I am still persuaded to think that in President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya has an individual who is at least willing to build institutions that transcend individuals at least gauging by his rhetoric since he took office. But then again one would say rhetoric is not enough. Well, the ball is in your court as a citizen. You either agitate effectively and bring the change you want or you support the sitting government’s noble initiatives while providing constructive criticism as and when necessary to those other not so noble initiatives of the same government. But what you should never do is engage in agitation that disrupts orderly governance while not effecting any meaningful change. That is double jeopardy, which only spells doom to our young nation.

And that is why our country needs a transformation that starts right from the bottom (citizenry) to the top echelons of its leadership i.e. Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. Only then will we know real change.

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