Friday, March 30, 2007

Mkono Wa Tanzia, Rispah Adala!

Report from the Toronto Star:

911 Call Ends In Murder Charge

Mar 29, 2007 04:30 AM
Isabel Teotonio
Tracy Huffman
Staff Reporters

The Toronto police homicide unit was called yesterday to a condominium high-rise in the city's north end after a man called 911 to say his wife was not breathing.

Officers arrived at 35 Finch Ave. E., just east of Yonge St., around 3 p.m. and discovered the lifeless body of Rispah Adala, 32.

As a result of evidence retrieved in their eighth-floor apartment, police said, the woman's husband of two years was arrested on suspicion of second-degree murder and taken to 32 Division, where he was questioned by police late into the night.

According to a source, the couple, who had no children, had gotten into an argument earlier in the day.

"On its face, it looks like a domestic," said Homicide Det. Sgt. Steve Ryan.

He added that it is still too early in the investigation to determine the cause of the woman's death.

A post-mortem is scheduled for today, but a source said it appeared as if the victim had been strangled.

One resident, who asked not to be identified, said the condo is popular with young professionals.

"I'm shocked that something like this would happen here," said the woman, who did not know the couple.

"There's never been anything negative here."

The suspect in this matter is Julius Otukul, 34.

Earlier this evening (Thursday, March 29, 2007) past the prime Kenyan television news at nine, just before ten o’clock, I was getting more and more irritated with my brother and my spouse as we sat in the living room downstairs.

I kept repeating over and over:

“Do you know that Rispah is dead? She was apparently strangled yesterday by the man she wedded just a few months ago!”

They kept giving me half-sympathetic and partially bewildered glances, temporarily distracted from the murder/thriller/mystery they were transfixed on over on the Citizen channel.

Finally, in a fit of pique, I stormed upstairs to my home-office, muttering darkly that they apparently did not care about the March 28th 2007 domestic tragedy in Toronto, Ontario.

Getting ready to keyboard this piece after reflecting on the biggest breaking story affecting Kenyans in Canada at the moment, I conceded that I was being unnecessarily harsh on my Nairobi family.

After all, they did not know who I was talking about.

I placed a quick call to her friend Roseanne, a former Ontario resident like myself.

These days Roseanne, who was trained in the sciences, is a rising star in Kenyan haute couture fashionista circles for her unique khanga (leso) based designs.

Unsurprisingly, unlike me, she had heard the sad news much much earlier in the day.

As for me, I literally stumbled on the news at a Nairobi South “B” cybercafé at approximately four o’clock Kenyan time.

On the internet, I had stopped by one of the many Kenyan online boards that I visit every other day to find out what Kenyan netters and bloggers are nattering and yabbering about.

There was this story on this one site talking about a Kenyan woman being killed in Toronto.

My heart stopped briefly when I eye-balled Rispah Adala’s name.




I silently screamed in that overheated café.

Can’t be, I quickly and firmly retorted and reiterated in my agitated internal dialogue.

First gut reaction was to dismiss it as one of the many hoaxes one encounters daily on that particular Kenyan site-a haven for hydra handled identity thieves who are notorious for their wild stories.

But then I saw the link to City TV news, a major channel in that Canadian city.

Still unbelieving, I quickly dashed over to the kco-l yahoo groups site- the home for the Kenyan community in Ontario, one of my many homes away from home.

And sure enough, there was Ben Ondoro, the President of Kenya Community in Ontario organization mournfully informing his co-members of the sad demise of Rispah, who happened to be the current Treasurer of that organization.

I scrolled through the flood of condolences on the site in profound disbelief and lingering denial, not wanting to accept that one of the most vibrant, most vivacious, most generous and community oriented Kenyans I have ever known in Canada was now a cold corpse rigid in some obscure Greater Toronto Area morgue.

If I said that Rispah was one of my closest friends, I would be lying through my teeth.

I knew her the way most Kenyan-Ontarians knew her:

Through her indefatigable community spirit.

She was ever present at the Madarakas, the Jamhuris, the Hengs.

Rispah was always among the first people to fire off her rambi rambis whenever a fellow Kenyan (or East African) lost a loved one and at the front-line of any uplifting Kenyan community function- be it a social, business or professional event. She was a prolific poster on the kco-l discussion site-her last posting on March 25th 2007 forwarding a sardonic link on Agwambo’s H3.

An academic genius, Rispah was one of the most down to earth people I knew in Canada’s financial capital. At parties she would let her hair down and have fun.

I still remember that Jamhuri party in December ’03 held at the African Village night club somewhere in Jane and Weston (if I am not mistaken).

Kenyans descended on Toronto from as far away as Windsor and Ottawa. I was among a handful who had traveled all the way from Montreal. Having persuaded the DJ (who was more into reggae and r&b) to sneak in some benga and mugithi offerings, the dance floor was instantly flooded.

And right there amidst the din, the waving arms, gyrating hips and chorus of laughter was Rispah Adala having fun, thoroughly enjoying herself surrounded by her Kenyan sisters and brothers.

The last time I remember seeing Rispah in person was at another Kenyan community function in 2004. I had gone over to their table to say hi.

She shyly introduced me to a quiet thirtysomething Ugandan man:

“Oloo, I want you to meet my fiancé.”

He is the man in the cool tuxedo embracing the enchanting bride named Rispah in the August 2006 wedding photo which was flashed today at the aforesaid American-based Kenyan site.

Is he also the same man sitting in a Canadian police cell waiting to be arraigned in court for second degree murder?

Are those the same hands that squeezed the last gasp of life from Rispah Adala?

Of course, it is way too early to jump to conclusions and I am not going to play Barnaby Jones or Perry Mason tonight.

Today, I join Kenyans in Toronto, throughout Ontario and all over Canada in grieving over the untimely, shocking and completely unwarranted demise of Rispah Adala.

Tonight my mkono wa tanzia is first of all to her mother, her father, her siblings, aunties, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews, extended family, friends, former school-mates, professional colleagues and people in her immediate circle.

That extended family includes each and every Kenyan living in Canada and scattered throughout the Kenyan diaspora.

Will she be brought home or will she be laid to rest in her home away from home?

That will come later.

For now I pen off with:

Hamba Kahle Nyaminwa Rispah!

Your generous community spirit keeps you alive in all our hearts.

photo: Nyamweya Osoro

Here you are living and breathing talking to us about your MBA...

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya

Monday, March 12, 2007

ODM-K's UK Trek Not OK?!?

Onyango Oloo Revisits A Message He Sent to ODM in November 2005

I have been following the events surrounding the ill-fated trip by ODM members to London. There is no need to recycle what is in the Kenyan media and public domain- the conflicting statements and finger pointing from the luminaries and presidential hopefuls; the scathing editorial interventions; the conspiracy theories; the rumours and innuendoes- and of course, the stubborn facts.

There are a couple of things I want to say before recycling a document I had sent to the ODM leadership-in November 2005.

One of those things is that part of the problems bedeviling ODM-Kenya is that it is NOT a political party, but rather, an electoral matatu propelling some of Kenya’s mainstream politicians to the apex of power that they have been seeking for quite some time.

The other thing worth pointing out is that ODM-K started climbing the tree from the top rather than from the bottom.

Thirdly, ODM-K makes the headline news most often not because they are pushing issue-based politics but rather engaging in spats or covering up insinuations that spats and rows are taking place in the first place.

Fourthly, as all these mini-feuds break out all over place with increasing predictability, the struggling wananchi are hungry for concrete alternatives and hankering for sustainable solutions to issues like poverty, unemployment, gender-based violence, corruption, expropriation and repatriation of Kenyan natural and human resources etc.

Fifthly, the allegation that Raila Odinga and his associates tried to stage manage an event in London to push Agwambo’s agenda seems inconsistent with the Raila Odinga I have known and interacted with abroad, in Canada between 1992 and 2005.

Let me give two illustrations to back me up.

On Wednesday, April 8, 1992 Raila Odinga and Gitobu Imanyara arrived in Toronto for a public event organized by the Kenyan community in southern Ontario. I remember this vividly because I am the one who secured a room on the second floor of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education building located at 252 Bloor Street West. I helped to moderate the event as well. We organized the schedule and then invited Gitobu and Raila. I believe that event revolved around the emergence of the original, undivided Forum for the Restoration of Democracy in Kenya. There was also a lot of support for the women, especially the mothers of political prisoners who gathered at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park to demand the release of their loved ones. At the end of the public Q & A the hat-literally- was passed around and slightly over 230 Canadian dollars were raised. I remember handing the actual cash to Gitobu Imanyara at the Pearson International Airport just before they flew to Ottawa for another encounter with Kenyans in the Canadian capital.

The second event was on Friday, August 25th, 2000. The venue this time was the Public Library at Dufferin and Eglinton West. We chose that place because one of us, James Karanja Ng’ang’a was one of the senior staff there and so it was easy for him to secure the hall located in the basement of the building. We had organized a public session featuring

Najib Balala, Kavetsa Adagala, Orwa Ojode, Peter Kyalo Kaindi, Professor Tumbo, Raila Odinga, William Ruto, Matunda Nyanchama and Adongo Ogony.

I remember having a run in with Ndhiwa MP Orwa Ojode- who saw himself as a very close aide to the Lang’ata MP at that period. Hon. Ojode railed at me when I informed him that ALL the visitors without exception would be limited to a 10 minute initial intervention before opening up the floor to the public participants. Ojode was adamant in demanding more time for Agwambo, arguing vociferously that Raila was a cut above the rest and therefore we could not keep a cap on how long it should take the Langata legislator to address the audience.

This back and forth went on for some time.

Ironically, it was Raila Odinga himself who resolved the impasse by informing Ojode that their entourage was visiting Toronto at the invitation of the local Kenyan community and that therefore they couldn’t and shouldn’t interfere with arrangements made by the organizers on the ground. As things turned out, the public session proved to be very fruitful with audience hanging around until very close to half past eleven at night.

I have had more than my fair share of organizing similar community-based public events in Canada and it looks outlandish for one to suggest that Raila was behind the just concluded UK foray with the troops...

My suspicions of what may or may not have happened in Britain this past week are neither here nor there.

Perhaps we will await the emergence of more facts before commenting much further.

All the same, and regardless of where you stand on the whole PR debacle, one keeps getting the nagging thought that all these issues on who the ODM-K’s flag bearer should be largely spring from the history of the ODM-K itself and the ideological underpinnings of its leading lights.

It is one’s fervent hope that the internal mud-slinging- if that is what it is- does not degenerate to the point where it resuscitates the dashed hopes of the totally discredited and self-destructing NARC-Kenya electoral machine.

It would be tragic not just for ODM-Kenya and its massive social base but also those patriotic Kenyans who have been hoping against hope that ODM-K may miraculously turn out to be the new political messiah, despite the ferociousness of the apparent infighting within its high flying “luminaries”.

With that long prologue, let me now recycle a document I wrote and submitted to the ODM leadership way back on November 30, 2005:

Viable Structures for the Orange Movement:

A Contribution by Onyango Oloo

[Following a discussion with some key members of the ODM in the days following the November 2005 Referendum victory for the NO forces, I was invited to submit a brief outline that was to be discussed internally within the Orange Democratic Movement.. What follows below is that contribution.]

1.0. The Historical and Ideological Context of the Orange Victory

The overwhelming rejection of the Wako Draft by 3.5 million Kenyans climaxing the just concluded referendum campaign has a deep significance far beyond the mainstream contestations of power that have pitted the NAK faction against the LDP and her KANU allies.

In the first place, it must be appreciated as the THIRD consecutive democratic victory garnered by the Kenyan people in almost as many years, following close on the heels of the Unbwogable Victory in December 2002 that brought an end to 40 years of KANU rule and the democratic breakthrough that punctuated the Bomas Triumph in March 2004. A key aspect of those three events is the massive participation of millions of ordinary wananchi in effecting peaceful democratic change in Kenya.

In the second place, the NO win marked a further opening up of democratic space precisely at a time when a section of the ruling elite was trying to sneak in disturbing precursors to a civilian dictatorship with creeping fascist tendencies. Despite the naked use of state terror in the form of brazen police brutality put in motion to crush peaceful and very well attended Orange rallies, the wananchi and their leaders were resolute in pushing for a reaffirmation of the tenets that led to the multi-party coalition which caused such a seismic shift in Kenya and beyond at the end of 2002.

In the third place, the Orange Victory has radically redefined the notions of who is to be counted among the “reformist” forces and who represented the forces of reaction. In an almost cruel ironic inversion, the heroes and sheroes of the reform movement of yesteryear emerged as some of the most vicious attack dogs at the forefront of shoring up an increasingly tribal cabal: names like Kiraitu Murungi, Koigi wa Wamwere, Kivutha Kibwana etc rush to mind. In the meantime, KANU which had become a by-word for repression, dictatorship and retrogressive politics managed to reinvent itself as a patriotic democratic formation counting among its ranks some of the most articulate defenders of our patriotic and democratic values: names like Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto and Mutula Kilonzo come to the foreground. In the meantime, the NAK faction led by President Kibaki, the hitherto self-declared “reformist wing” of the NARC administration thoroughly discredited itself among the Kenyan people by its naked appeal to the worst vestiges of ethnic chauvinism, overt state propaganda vilifying its perceived “enemies” and naked employment of the most tawdry manifestations of shameless pork barrel politics. This coming in the aftermath of the series of corruption linked scandals like Anglo Leasing, La Rue Gate and the embarrassing travel ban slapped on one of the most rabid hawks of the Kibaki kitchen cabinet went a long way in squandering the massive popular mandate given to NARC when it took over from KANU in January 2003.

In the fourth place, the opening up of democratic space had profound ramifications in the East and Central African region. We saw opposition forces in Uganda and elsewhere mull over the NARC coalition experience as a possible template that could power their own march towards forming governments in their respective countries. Additionally the emergence of a popular government in Kenya acted as one of the catalysts for the regional peace processes already underway in places like Somalia, Sudan etc. The Western countries initially warmed up to the prospect of doing business with the Kenyan government, before the NARC era corruption scandals emerged in the public domain to cool things off somewhat at the bilateral levels.

In the fifth place, the democratic breakthroughs in Kenya between 2002 and 2005 were punctuated by the re-entry into national politics of SEVEN marginalized groups: the working people in the towns and countryside; the youth; women; Muslims; pastoral communities and ethnic minorities.

In the sixth place, the aforementioned developments helped to solidify the prestige, respect and popularity of several mainstream Kenyan politicians- almost exclusively the present leadership of the Orange movement who were seen as the real progressive and patriotic leadership recognized by the Kenyan wananchi. The LDP, even more than KANU was seen as “the real opposition”.

In the seventh place, all of the above pushed otherwise conservative politicians in the LDP, KANU, Ford-Kenya and Ford-People mainstream parties to try and reinvent themselves as agents of democratic reform or else risk the ire of the irate masses.

In the eighth place, the core of all the democratic advances was anchored in the decades-long demand for a new KATIBA.

2.0. The Patriotic Responsibilities of the Orange Movement

At the moment, the Orange Democratic Movement is seen across the country as the one force in the mainstream that can spearhead the national political salvation of Kenya and is riding the crest of the post-referendum euphoria.

But let us not forget that this was precisely the position that Jomo Kenyatta and KANU found themselves in December 1963; that even Daniel arap Moi was seen to be a fresh gust of air following the repressive years of Kenyatta and the Kiambu Mafia and that the ORIGINAL Forum for the Restoration of Democracy in Kenya had the same delirious and enthusiastic backing that the ODM, and before it, NARC enjoys.

Time and time again, mainstream populist formations have been consistent in BETRAYING the trust, dashing the hopes and rubbishing the aspirations of the ordinary Mwananchi. This has been largely due to the fact that mass mobilization happens from above rather than below and that this mass mobilization is NOT de-linked from immediate electorate face offs. We notice that time and time again, politicians who are extremely popular with the wananchi use mass mobilization as a mfereji that is turned on and off for political expediency leading to the quick and disappointing demobilization of the very same wananchi who are largely responsible for the emergence of these leaders in the first place.

To be quite frank, the ODM is a very mixed gunia where you will find nduma mixed up with ngwache, mahindi, maharagwe, mchicha, kitungu saumu, pili pili hoho, biringanya and dania.

Within the Orange camp one finds veterans of the Kenyan reform movement as well as undisguised apologists for the status quo ante.

One finds consistent democrats as well as opportunistic political careerists.

There are those who are in Orange because of genuine patriotic sentiments-coexisting with defeated candidates from the last election mulling over the cynical possibilities of clambering on board the Orange gari la moshi to re-enter Bunge.

Because of these internal contradictions, the Orange Democratic Movement can go one of two ways- it could be a proto-NAK formation that cynically exploits the wananchi’s kiu for democratic change in order to grab elitist power;

OR it could be a GENUINE launching pad for a new, Made In Kenya national democratic and liberation movement that will complete some of the historical and political tasks left over by the Mau Mau and earlier generations of Kenyan wazalendo like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Makhan Singh, Elijah Masinde, Pio Gama Pinto, JM Kariuki, Jean Marie Seroney, Bildad Kaggia and many others.

It is entirely up to the leadership of the ODM to determine which fork in the political road the former NO camp will take.

3.0. Some Strategic Imperatives for the Orange Democratic Movement

In order to be a viable political force that eventually grows to rival the clout that South Africa’s ANC currently enjoys, the ODM MUST focus on the KEY democratic demands of the Kenyan people:

(a) The need for a new democratic constitution;

(b) The permanent participation of wananchi in all aspects of national politics;

(c) The need to deal with the Mashamba Question;

(d) Devolution of powers to ensure BOTH regional autonomy AND national unity;

(e) Equal participation of Kenyan women in all political, social, economic and cultural spheres;

(f) Developing a national ethos that says NO to impunity, corruption, sloth and political arrogance;

(g) The re-entry of Muslims, pastoral communities and ethnic minorities in national politics;

(h) Forging peaceful and friendly ties with all of our neighbours;

(i) Developing a truly independent foreign policy;

(j) Placing Kenyan national interests at the forefront of any negotiations with international financial institutions and multi-lateral bodies such as the WTO;

(k) Valorizing Kiswahili and other components of our national heritage over the blind adherence to what Ngugi wa Thiong’o called a Kasuku Culture;

Perhaps the reader will notice that NONE of the above points includes “winning the next general elections and propelling so and so to State House.”

It is my contention that the death of the Orange Democratic Movement will kick in the moment the formation confines itself to a mad obsession with mainstream succession politics. The ordinary Kenyan people who are far ahead of the Orange Democratic Movement are NOT looking for a NARC retread or a Kibaki clone: they have been there and they have done that.

4.0. Creating Viable and Accountable Structures for Orange Democratic Movement

The ODM is a mseto cobbled together around the struggle for a new Katiba in Kenya. Its broad nature precludes any narrow ideological prescriptions.

However, no matter how diverse, this cannot be an excuse for lack of principles.

Because of its very popularity, the Orange movement is destined to attract political wagongaji, matapeli and even magagula (conmen, fraudsters and night runners to the Kiswahili shy). Scores of wanna be MPs and potential cabinet ministers in waiting will dash to Orange HQs to pledge fealty to a movement which perhaps, they secretly disdain because they are NOT true democrats, true reformers or true patriots. That is why I want to suggest a few cornerstones for the development of a strong ODM:

i) A broad patriotic and democratic manifesto that potential ODM members must understand and adhere to;

ii) A code of conduct for all ODM leaders to eschew such things as corruption, tribalism, nepotism and lone-ranger horse trading mentalities;

iii) A conscious affirmative action to ensure that 50% of the ODM leadership is comprised of women, youth and ,marginalized communities;

iv) A mashinani based approach to movement building. Units of the ODM should start at the locational level if possible.

v) A culture of internal democracy and open dialogue and tolerance for dissent within the parameters of the aforesaid manifesto.

I could write more but I am confining myself to the limit that we had all agreed upon when I embarked on this little intervention. Models that speak to some of the structures I have in mind include: the African National Congress of South Africa, Al Mubadara (The Palestine National Initiative), Al Mubadara and Uganda’s FDC (Force for Democratic Change).

I will provide copies of their structures shortly.



Nairobi, Kenya

November 30, 2005


The only feedback I got from the ODM-K leadership came from two senior people-none of them Raila- who basically told me to come down to earth because hardly anyone in the ODM grappled with such theoretical and ideological issues. That was it!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Kenya's Social Darwinist Academic Champs

By Onyango Oloo in the Kenyan Capital

Absolute Delirium are the two words that best describe the pandemonium of self and collective congratulation that has been raging across Kenya throughout this week as principals and head teachers jostle to preen, prattle and prance beating their puffed up chests as they outline how their schools battled to make it to the top 100 schools during last year’s high school final examinations. Students who posted stellar performances are justifiably hoisted sky high by proud parents, school-mates and friends.

It is a veritable academic Olympics in progress, I kid you not, with the gold medal egghead teen winners swooning in the blare of media adulation.

Watching NTV on Wednesday night (February 28, 2007) I was transfixed as images of Loreto ya Limuru’s red, Starehe’s blue and red, Aga Khan ya Mombasa’s white, assorted burgundies, greens and all hues in between provided a collage of youthful voices and agile bodies ululating, dancing and screaming in joy, and should we add, relief.

A Meru relative of mine just called me a couple of days ago confirming that he too, had surpassed the cut off points at the KCSE national examinations.

Today, I am not going to waste words celebrating with the winners and super star candidates.

Instead, I want to empathize with the TOP 100 LOSERS- both schools and individual students.

How does it feel, for instance, to be head teacher of one of the worst performing schools?

How does it feel to be the one student in the country who ended up dead last?

How does it feel to come from the province, the district, the division, the location or the village which produced the longest string of Fs in Kenya last year?

Just like everyone else, I admire and I am inspired by academic diligence, youthful hard work, focus and discipline. Kudos to the straight A students, congratulations to all those teachers who prepared their students so well.

At the same time, I am saddened by this cut throat social darwinism in our pyramid of an education system.

Is this the way our young people should be prepared for adulthood and its many challenges in the work-place and society at large?

That the prize one should aim for is number one, often regardless of how one gets to that top spot?

Should our society really be one of WINNERS and LOSERS?

Given our fierce competitive world-beating track record in track and field, many of my readers may be actually wincing, wondering what I am going on and on and on about.

This winner takes all tradition is by no means confined to Kenya. In the Far East, the Indian sub-continent and even in Canada among families with origins in China, especially South Korea, India and some of the other Asian countries, this is often taken to extremes. There are numerous reports of very, very bright students committing suicide because they “only scored 98%” marring an otherwise perfect score! There are incidents of irate parents shunning and coming close to disowning such brilliant minds for the same reason.

What does it then say for those who got a string of Bs or even Cs in comparison?

How about the Ds the Es the Fs and the Gs???

The day before the day before yesterday, I opted to take a leisurely stroll over the foot bridge near the Nairobi railway station- you know the one behind the Kenya Polytechnic, the one that commences at the Vasco da Gama village. Going up the time-worn wooden steps I was going past a shuffling, hurrying and dashing human wave of workers trudging their way to Kencom, Tusker, Gill House and other matatu stops along Ronald Ngala, Tom Mboya and other streets.

Many of their countenances were panel beaten with exhaustion; many furrowed brows spoke eloquently of the daily frustrations of being a casual, a kibaruwa, a low paid toiler making factory owners rich while they could not earn enough to take public transport right outside their work-place. It did not matter whether it was a female or a male face, the story written was the same-not really looking forward to another working day.

As they zipped past me, I kept wondering how many of them had been Straight A primary school pupils; kept musing how many topped their districts in the form four exams, and how many of the older ones had flying colours in all the principals they had taken at the “A” levels of yore.

How many had to take up a job, any job after years of gruelling tarmacking?

How many had to quit school to support their younger siblings orphaned by HIV/AIDS?

How many simply could not afford the exorbitant fees demanded by institutions of higher learning?

It is obscene that in Kenya we laud social darwnism, a concept that is now seen as one of the modern corner stones for class-based discrimination.

Is our educational system really a race which guarantees the survival of the fittest?

The last time I checked, financially well-endowed schools in the heartland of Nairobi City were being lumped together with ramshackle ones stuck in the impoverished back waters of rural Kenya. Students from poor and struggling families in town and country were assumed to have the same equality of opportunity as those ones from middle and upper middle class families.

It is an open secret that some of the so called academic power-houses use very cynical and often unscrupulous methods to reinforce their schools with the best and brightest.

And even if we take this “success” on its own terms, at what price does it come?

Should the number one objective of our learning youth be the quest to scale the top at all costs?

Given the nature of our cut throat vicious pyramid curriculum, how many unconventional geniuses are we tossing by the wayside?

If we were to judge three IT biz whizs by Kenyan academic standards, we would certify them BIG LOSERS. I am referring to Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Dell’s founder Michael. They ALL DROPPED OUT of college.

How many Kenyan Michael Jacksons and Stevie Wonders out there are wallowing in penury and obscurity because the Kenyan educational system does not recognize budding musical and other creative braniacs?

Apart from our world beating track and field stars (who are largely self- made) how far do our systems (not just the schools) identify and tap sports prowess?

Is it any wonder that Kenya is under-producing the Drogbas, E’toos, Essiens and Adebayors of the football pitch?

The other day I was talking to one of Kenya’s finest ever boxers (at the campus level) who is today a respected architect and lecturer at one of the country’s universities. He recalled a very sad tale of bumping into former Kenya world boxing and Olympic champion Steve Muchoki- a national legend and hero in the seventies and eighties-eking out a life of extreme poverty to the point where he could hardly afford bus fare.

Pugilists like Conjestina and Zarika in the contemporary period have detailed the urban poverty they endure in the slums of Nairobi even as they win accolade after accolade.

The unspoken story in all this, is that if it is the superstars who are saying this, what about the rest of the boxers out there?

A cousin to my spouse is on the Kenyan Tae Kwon Do team. Yet he remains jobless three years after finishing high school.

One could go on and on, but one will not…

Do our schools instill political consciousness among our country’s youth?

How many of them know the roles of people like Abdilatif Abdalla, Wanjiru Kihoro, Micere Mugo, James Orengo, Chelagat Mutai and George Rubik in the struggle for democracy in Kenya?

How many of them know the biography of the patriotic policeman known as Muindi Mbingu?

How many of them could contextualize the Nandi Resistance and its legendary hero Koitalel arap Samoei in the story of the birth of modern Kenya?

How many of our youth can analyze the reasons why George Bush invaded Iraq in 2003?

How many can see the connection between the Asian Flu (and I am NOT talking about avian influenza) of 1997 and the insane speculation currently underway at the Nairobi Stock Exchange?

And do not tell me that it is too early. I could do that when I was in Form Two over thirty years ago- and again no thanks to the school curriculum.

Are our schools training our learning youth to be critical thinkers or just automatons who can pass exams?

In fairness to our system, let me also concede that Canadian youth right up to university level fare more or less the same way.

When I was working with a social justice group based at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec between 2001 and 2005 I was often saddened to see students who had just written their final exams rush to sell, give away or throw away their text books- and it did not matter whether they were engineers, literature, medical or environmental science graduates. They were saying in effect that the ONLY reason they read their books in the first place, was to pass the exams that would give them their degrees.

I remember when I was part of a hiring committee with a certain Toronto-based housing non-profit during the late nineties being taken aback when a student who claimed to have a Masters in Political Science and was applying for a Zimbabwe placement with a human rights organization giving us BLANK STARES when we asked her to share with us her understanding of the term “social justice”.

I also read a piece over three years ago by an American commentator that in the US the situation is sometimes often worse than what we have in Kenya- with academic staff pressurized to give a passing grade to as many undergraduates regardless of the rigor of their academic performance- because campuses are seen as cash cows through which a conveyor belt populated by kids (especially of the rich) pass through.

My guru-I am talking about that dead German with the initials KM- had proposed a “polytechnical” approach to education. By which he envisaged well-rounded students who would be as comfortable with the so called “arts” as they would be with the “sciences”; students who could be as comfortable in the basket ball court as they would be in the physics lab; students who spoke a multiplicity of local and international languages; and of course, politically conscious students. Now, again, these things are NOT unheard of. The second highest female KCSE student last year and the top one in the whole of Eastern province not only hails from a humble peasant family- she also displayed a slew of more than a dozen extra-curricular certificates to demonstrate her all rounded skills and talents.

Back to the TOP LOSERS. What does the government and society do with such presumed under achievers?

And speaking of winners and losers, already some of our brand new post-KCSE winners are already losers in the sense that close to sixty thousand candidates who qualified for university education will NOT be admitted because there is simply no room for them. And you wonder what the braniacs in the education ministry like Saitoti and Kilemi Mwiria have been doing in terms of ANTICIPATING this surge.

Almost everyday at our Kenya Social Forum offices here in Nairobi, a young person walks in armed with a sheaf of his or her academic qualifications. Many have second degrees and a string of diplomas and other credentials. Most of them have been tarmacking for at least one year. In the run up to the World Social Forum, hundreds of them registered as VOLUNTEERS in the hope that such high profile participation would add to their employability after the global event.

So, has our system succeeded in creating a nation of academic winners who end up thriving in real life?

Please read the pieces on the same subject by Lucy Oriang’ and Tom Mshindi respectively…

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya