April 20, 2011 Mad Hatter


It is a sunny mid-morning; I have been travelling the whole night from Kenya’s capital to the hilly periphery of Mt. Elgon. Residents here look at strangers with discreet unease. Ravaged by the murderous SLDF spree and the military terror, the discomfort is warranted and justified.
It has been a bumpy ride bumpy in more ways than one. From the pot hole ridden Kitale Bungoma road, I take a motor cycle through a dusty stretch to Kapsitwet high school. My hosts are anxious; the principal a hefty man in all words welcomes me warmly. Written on the gate is the school’s vision: TO HELP STUDENTS ACHIEVE A MEAN GRADE OF C+ AND ABOVE.
This is the cut mark for university entry in the republic of Kenya. However, for someone to qualify for government sponsorship, the threshold is a whooping 69 point B plain. C+ would only make sense if you are talking about an affluent family that could afford the high cost University private sponsorship.
As I enter the packed hall, students clap with anticipatory reverence. I am here to give a motivational talk you would say. I start the address with a joke about the now hot finger of God saga hitting the roofs of the media. I painfully realize that no one is laughing. Wondering, I get a glimpse of a menacing ridge of Mt. Elgon. The ridge is sad and determined. Determined to seclude the people within its reign from the rest of the country. And probably, the fact that what sensationalizes the capital is a remote mystery here, only shows how successful the seclusion is.
The school would be called that as a basic skeleton. It lacks the basics and having recruited the crème de la crème of this region, spells a perpetual doom for this ridge. Emancipation from these ridges can travel tricky but it is possible.
Seated amongst my audience, is a young man whose face beams with hope. He listened to me yesteryear and when results were announced, he texted me an emotional, ‘THANK YOU SIR, YOUR WORDS SHAPED MY LIFE.”
Such are the words that tie me to this course, a course to decent ridges and dispense hope. As I emphasize the possibility of excelling from such tough circumstances, recounting with relish my turbulent times, I feel a profound connection with the audience. They believe in my words, and possibly this is the only time they have come to know that no career is a preserve of the top league schools.
I start rummaging through there questions and one question stands out: Can I change the course of my performance today? Remember we are only two months shy from the exams. I look at him with concern, sincerity is written on his face. He has never understood the opportunities the education held, he has never understood that success is a possibility, never understood that there was life beyond the village normalcy.
This story reflects the painful reality in the country. The country has secluded areas which as such are condemned to poverty. Equitable measures so far undertaken through establishment of centers of excellence in every constituency will not work effectively to redress this inequality that is an emergency.
It is a valid long term strategy but short term immediate impact strategies have to be incorporated. Central to this should be a sharp movement towards fighting cynicism in underprivileged schools and re-invigoration of the management.
I would wish to take a radical view of the miniature emphasis placed on educational empowerment in this country. The control of all social provisions has been politicized in many ways than one. As such, they either serve as vote baits, punishment for non support or deliberate suppression to ensure allegiance.
In western Kenya for instance, an area known to produce highly sharp minds, the leadership could be deliberately slowing or undermining educational empowerment to avoid probable competition and sustain dynastic tendencies. The leadership would wish to excuse their no performance by riding on ignorance.
Some regions in this country, though devoid of material resources, it could be turned into knowledge based economy. Nambale constituency in whose jurisdiction is the Busia border point would suffice as an instance. Its leadership however, is deliberately scared of empowering education so as to shield critic on non performance.
The devolutionary system envisaged in the constitution would hand this responsibility to county governments, however, education must remain a national priority to guard against regional idiosyncrasies where the empowered could wish to stifle the uninformed.
As such, there should be a clear dissociation from political influence. Education holds the key to emancipating this country from the perpetual den of underperformance. It is an avenue of reducing dependency and stimulating production. Comprehensible empowerment would provide an avenue of creating a pool of talents and objective solutions.
The country should move to seek the lost minds in ridges and villages. Brilliant minds that could provide solutions. As a matter of fact, the greatest detractor of progress in this country is cynicism. If a government outlines its development strategy like the Vision 2030, the single most danger it should look out for is a cynical and disillusioned populace.
The bulk of such a populace is a village boy who never made it through the high school successfully, the unemployed Mathare dwellers and the squatters on the periphery of the Aberdare.
As I make these suggestions, it would take a really brave government to address these issues. May be we need these heroes and heroins in government.




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