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We have values; question is, are we happy about them?

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JOYCE NYAIRO

By JOYCE NYAIRO
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Last week, I argued that ethnic identity is a social construct.

No one is born with an ethnicity written into their genes. Everyone is socialised into an ethnic identity by being exposed to its rituals and value systems.

But ethnicity is more than the language of the home, otherwise many would be labelled Swahilis.

It is possible to carry the blood of two Kamba-speaking people who have never left Ndithini and end up with Nandi ethnicity because the mores of that community are the dominant ones you have been exposed to.

Consider the case of Nadia, the girl who was rescued from a forest in Masinga four years ago, adopted by Deputy President William Ruto and given the name of his mother, Cherono.

In his memoir Dreams in a Time of War (2010), Ngugi wa Thiong’o reveals that his paternal grandfather was Maasai.

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If the Maasai are patrilineal, how did Ngugi become Gikuyu? His grandfather strayed into Murang’a — “a war ransom … or an abandoned child escaping famine”.

He was given the name Nducu, a guesstimate of the Maa word he kept uttering.

Anecdotal evidence reveals that William Wamalwa, father of the late Vice-President Michael Kijana Wamalwa, was born and raised as a Sabaot.

How he became Bukusu and acquired the name Wamalwa, meaning one who brews alcohol, is the story of mobility and integration common to all communities, traditional and modern.

This is contrary to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report’s assertions that identity is untidy and culture is hybrid, often “operating between two or more sometimes contradictory worlds”.

That is why a people who first encountered the Bible barely 80 years ago in oppressive conditions now recite it as part of their ancient lore as they complain about foreign influences.

The examples of numerous Kenyans — including former Vice-President Joseph Zuzarte Murumbi and my current MP, Dr Swarup Mishra Kiprop arap Chelule, who had lived in Kenya for just 20 years before he was elected to represent the people of Kesses — demonstrate that cultural identity, just like national identity, is mutable.

It can change over time through socialisation and be legalised.

The BBI is therefore right to posit that we can map what Kenyan identity should look like by establishing the values through which we will learn how to be Kenyans.

But BBI gets it wrong in its implicit assumption that at present, Kenyans do not have national values, that the only things that hold us together are blood and soil.

They may be unwritten and distasteful, but here are the values that shape our consciousness and determine our everyday actions — the ones we must unlearn.

We glorify being first — look at the annual headline splash over Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) “winners”, or the “overlappers” on our highways.

We glorify being right — for the sake of winning, not in pursuit of justice.

We worship being seen in church — not in contrite search of wisdom, but in a wanton show of might.

We place a high premium on amassing certificates rather than on gaining knowledge.

We value conspicuous consumption over humility, so we shy away from asking where one got the money to live as large as they do.

Acres of vanity press refer to a “businessman”, without ever seeing the need to name what they produce and how many people they employ.

Kenya was founded on the ethos of harambee, pulling together. How quickly we corrupted that spirit!

The BBI report says “the behaviour of the State and its leadership was too often at odds with what it was preaching”. Indeed.

Harambee cards to raise funds became part of the tyranny of the State in chiefs’ offices.

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They also became the excuse for the State’s underperformance in guaranteeing food security, health and education.

We are still trying to “Paybill” our way to health, and fundraising for imaginary burials and weddings is now part of our social fabric.

Clearly, our problem is that we do not have humane values, the kind that condition one to forever want good things for other people.

The word “other” is important here because it raises our eyes beyond those who we think are like us, to those who paint as different.

Humane values, like empathy, decentre the self. They privilege the vulnerable majority. They diminish the private and elevate the public — public spaces, health and education.

Some will argue that being first and amassing certificates are not values but the wayward behaviour of a few.

But when the wayward behaviour of a few is rewarded by the State to the point where it is coveted by a critical mass in order to bag the society’s markers of success, we have moved from wayward to value.

We won’t redefine our values until we redefine success.

The highest incentive for upholding a value is the reward earned for doing so. That reward should be your peace of mind.

When our idea of success is revised, BBI’s plan to use cultural initiation programmes to teach national values will be great.

But the clash between some ethnic values and some constitutional rights prevails.

Many initiation rites would have to be remarkably reworked to erase toxic attitudes that condition boys to disregard girls, contributing to an already out-of-hand culture of rape and femicide.

Expanding cosmopolitan initiation programmes where boys and girls are initiated together and taught the values of (self) respect, among others, may be worthwhile.

Last week, I indicated that Prof Palamagamba John Kabudi was less than comprehensive in his history of identity politics in Tanzania.

Forget his erasure of DO Misiani, whose story would have forced the professor to acknowledge that Misiani was fleeing the intolerance of the Moi State, Prof Kabudi was also silent on a more urgent question.

Is Tanzania today a tolerant society, free of othering on the perceived basis of origins and ethnic language?

Can it honestly describe itself as a capitalist nation that has disavowed ethnic identity as a tool of accumulation and a vehicle to access and retain power? I have it on good record that it can’t, not anymore.

The control of a society’s memory — regulating what is remembered and what is ignored or erased — is a valuable tool for maintaining and legitimating political power.

When the State oversees the writing of history, it obliterates whatever threatens it.

Chinua Achebe declared, “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”.

When BBI talks of “an official and inclusive” history, are they promising that this government is now ready to disclose all the official records it holds with regard to the acquisition of certain lands and the murders of Pinto, Mboya, Karumba, JM, Ouko, Msando, and all those others for whom every stone that would have led to their murderers remains resolutely unturned?

What would a comprehensive history of the Turkwel Hydroelectric Power Station or the Kisumu Molasses Plant look like?

What would an inclusive history of the 1969 oathing in Gatundu include?

The only business the State has in documenting histories is to make robust funding available to journalists, scholars, curators, and artists to do their work.

That funding can be managed by the National Academy of Sciences or better still, by the long-awaited National Arts Council.

Armed with the requisite political will, the revamped Ministry of Culture that BBI dreams of, and a progressive Ministry of Education, can consort to conceive policies that will flatline ethnic suspicion and recalibrate national values. Ask me how another day.

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Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus

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By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.

There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.

A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.

Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:

“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.

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From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.

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By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.

Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.

“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.

Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.

Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.

“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”

On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.

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Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation

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By EDITORIAL

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Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.

President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.

Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.

But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.

The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.

Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.

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Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.

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Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly

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By EDITORIAL

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When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.

Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?

In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.

POOR STATE

At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly

For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.

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But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.

Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.

REPEAT CLASSES

Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.

The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.

The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.

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