Sunday, November 28, 2010

Scrap KCPE, but fix our schools first

Sunday Nation 28 November 2010

The recent call for the scrapping of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination has raised temperatures all over the country.

Much of the noise is attributed to supporters of this examination while very few voices have been heard supporting the call for it to go.

Unfortunately, the political angle to the debate has robbed it of serious intellectual input that would have placed everything in context and led to a more reasoned outcome that would be more beneficial to learners.

Instead, this debate therefore looks set to be settled in the political arena rather than in the Ivory Tower where it belongs.

It is important for us to identify the key issues in order to facilitate a more sober result.

Why do we have these national examinations in the first place? The answer to this question will provide the way forward with this and other national examinations.

Independent Kenya’s first education system was borrowed directly from the colonialist.

The colonial curriculum had the very simple goal of educating the native just enough to enable him to assist with lowly administrative tasks, but not enough to “swell his head” and give him ideas of self-rule.

Several examinations were therefore introduced even in early primary in order to filter out the potential clerks and other lower cadres of staff in the colonial service.

British curriculum

Getting to university involved navigating a bewildering array of examinations culminating in passing the prestigious Ordinary and Advanced level examinations based on the British curriculum.

Piecemeal modifications were progressively carried out on this system after independence until former President Moi came up with his 8-4-4 brainwave in the mid-1980s.

The aftermath of this change saw only two “hurdles” between a primary school entrant and entry into university – KCPE and its secondary school counterpart, KCSE.

Apart from the segregative motive of the earlier examination “roadblocks”, a deeper philosophy underlies these multiple national examinations.

This is based on scarcity of resources needed to educate every citizen to the highest level available in the country.

Shortages of teachers, equipment and brick and mortar necessitate some sort of filter to ensure that those that do reach these high levels are assured of a high quality of education that would be useful to society.

As a society’s means gradually improve, the shortages become less and less acute and it becomes unnecessary to stop the willing student from proceeding with their education to the level that is satisfactory to them.

KCPE apologists are displaying a kind of thinking akin to the Oriental allegory about a king who planted a tree and instructed a soldier to guard it and water it to ensure it is not destroyed by the elements or mischievous subjects.

Centuries later, soldiers would still be posted to guard the tree, even though nobody could remember the original reason for this!

The question everyone should be asking at this point is whether we have enough resources to convert every primary school into a complete school with primary and secondary school facilities.

Indeed, the goal of the Education ministry should be to develop enough resources to ensure that every child who enters Standard One can, if they so wish, go all the way to a tertiary learning institution of their choice.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ranneberger must reveal names or shut up

Sunday Nation 21 November 2010

The American Ambassador to Kenya, Mr Michael Ranneberger, has announced that four top government officials and a prominent businessman had been banned from visiting the US due to their links to drug trafficking activities.

He went ahead to announce that the American Drug Enforcement Agency would set up an office in Kenya in the coming months to help combat the international drug trade and bring the traffickers to justice, “no matter how senior or politically well-connected they are”.

No right-thinking Kenyan would have any problems with this move by a friendly government to help make our society safer from criminals who would destroy it in the quest for quick riches. However, two giant red flags are raised by this ambassador’s statement.

First, he persists in making these statements about banned “prominent Kenyans” and “senior government officials”, but has never once publicly named any of those involved.

Some time last year, Mr Ranneberger made a similar announcement in respect of some “senior government official” who was characterised as the single largest manifestation of impunity in this country.

However, he fell short of naming the individual, even though Attorney General Amos Wako came out guns blazing soon after that to declare that he was happy staying away from the US, and defending his legacy as Kenya’s foremost lawman.

Despite the assertion by the US Government that the individuals they are banning from visiting their country are really horrifying monsters unfit to lead even the village cattle dip committee, failing to name them makes the whole thing a completely useless charade.

The ordinary mwananchi lining up to vote at a General Election makes decisions based on more temporal considerations like food in the stomach and money in the pocket.

Lofty issues like integrity and moral probity are left to the chattering classes that hardly ever vote in the first place. The only way of really protecting Kenya from these sleazy characters is to name them and shame them in the court of public opinion.

Keeping their names secret only serves to embolden them to raise the bar on looting in the knowledge that their days are truly numbered.

As I argued in this column in March last year, “it is better to continue in ignorance and conjecture than to know that there are individuals who, though proved corrupt and complicit in crimes against our nation, continue to sit at the pinnacle of executive power and decide government policy”.

The second issue raised by Ranneberger’s rabble-rousing charade is really one of Kenya’s place in the community of nations. Since the bungled 2007 elections and the subsequent conflagration, Kenya has become a theatre for competing international interests.

The election of an American President with Kenyan roots tilted the balance in favour of the US, increasing their involvement in even the tritest of our affairs.

However, it must be noted that unsubstantiated public attacks on political leaders are often counter-productive. Indeed, Ranneberger’s “regime change” rhetoric, though welcome, needs to be expressed more surreptitiously and with some degree of finesse that will not alienate the very citizen it seeks to “liberate”.

As things stand today, it appears as though, at some point in the recent past, Kenya became the newest territory of the USA.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The future is here, go ahead and grab it

Sunday Nation 14 November 2010

Kenya is once again approaching that period in its historical life cycle when showbiz is more important than substance.

As we enter the twilight years of the Kibaki reign and approach the end of the Grand Coalition government’s life, politicians are becoming ever more alert to the symbolism of seizing the moment and capitalising on it for the next elections.

We have entered once again a period of divisions in government, where ministers are accusing each other of corruption in a sick game of one-upmanship that only serves to raise queries about the integrity of all those involved, and perhaps the appointing authority as well.

Politicians with an eye on the future are on the lookout for every opportunity to permanently hobble their opponents in order to ensure a free ride for themselves at the 2012 elections.

This is the light in which we must perceive suspended Higher Education minister William Ruto’s recent “triumphal return” from The Hague, as well as the infantile commotion in the Water ministry between a former assistant minister and the current minister.

In politics, image counts for a lot. In Kenya, where the average citizen has the memory of a gnat, image is all that counts.

We have no qualms at all rewarding with leadership positions those among us with the most despicable habits, and quashing the ambitions of honest young men and women whose aspirations go beyond the traditional tribal kraal.

I have argued before that the war on corruption needs to be personalised and politicised, and I still hold that this must be done to ensure a hostile environment for those that would fleece us even with the best of intentions. As has been pointed out ad nauseam by others before us, the price of democracy is eternal vigilance.

With the changing demographic profile of our country, a gradual shift is occurring in our national consciousness. Sooner rather than later, our political class will realise that making lots of noise and causing disruption and commotion will not necessarily translate into increased popularity and immunity from close scrutiny.

The herd mentality that has protected high-profile kleptocrats is slowly dissipating as more and more young people enter positions of responsibility in this country.

The clueless young “leaders of tomorrow” are rapidly giving way to very highly motivated global citizens with a more sophisticated worldview than their forebears. They are asking for more quality time with positive role models, and not more money or material comforts.

These young people are asking for more fairness and equity, and not the prevailing favouritism and nepotism. They do not want to be unfairly rewarded, but are asking for opportunities to exercise their creativity and entrepreneurial ideas. Kenya’s youth are demanding justice.

At this rate, the days of the tribal chieftain are numbered, considering this army of a global-oriented youthful population operating in the new political dispensation.

The law requires all of us to become the guardians and guarantors of the new constitutional dispensation, and to ensure that the rights of all Kenyans are respected and upheld by all.

The message to the youth is therefore loud and clear – the future is here. All that remains is for you to step up to the plate, and take it.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We can't preserve culture by lynching people

Sunday Nation 07 November 2010

Close to three months ago, the Kenya Psychiatric Association held its Annual Scientific Conference in Nairobi.

During this meeting, one of the psychiatrists from the then Nyanza Province made a moving presentation on the mortal dangers many Kenyans are exposed to in the name of religion and culture.

Participants were shown a video clip from a Kisii village in which several elderly women were literally roasted to death on allegations that they were witches.

This memory was rekindled last week when a group of young high school students were shown on national TV burning houses allegedly belonging to local witches.

TV interviews

In one of the TV interviews, one man expressed his excitement that the young people had taken the lead in eradicating witchcraft from the society.

He wished that all Kenyans would behave in a similar manner to root out this evil from our midst. There are many things wrong with this country, but this must rank up there with the worst of them.

Our singular lack of respect for human life, all in the name of propagating our “culture”, is one of the key reasons we continue having difficulties progressing as a nation.

Moral questions

For a long time, it has been difficult for all of us to agree on what is right and what is wrong, as evidenced by the many arguments about so-called “moral” questions such as abortion, sexuality, gender-based violence and even substance use.

However, it is clear that we all agree on a basic code of behaviour, which is the reason some of the things that take place in the villages and in private homes would not be repeated in cosmopolitan urban settings.

For instance, how often do we see elderly women lynched in the streets of Nairobi for being old and having red eyes? How often do we see houses being burnt in any of our major cities because the owners or occupiers have been accused of witchcraft?

At the basic level, we all agree that such acts are barbaric in the extreme, and the only reason we turn a blind eye to them or even encourage them to continue is because we believe they are culturally sanctioned, and the wazee in the village think they are necessary.

At some level we even feel that as long as these practices are restricted to our rural villages they are mostly harmless. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

People actually lose their lives in these incidents, and others are left mourning their relatives killed for no fault of their own. Indeed I would challenge any right-thinking Kenyan to give up their elderly mother or grandmother to be lynched and roasted by the roadside for the singular “crime” of living long and maybe having red eyes.

Celebrating these barbaric acts of murder and arson in the name of culture is the height of irresponsibility on the part of all Kenyans.

Orgies of violence

Actually participating in the orgies of violence only demonstrates how close we still are to our cave-dwelling ancestors who, out of ignorance, would kill first and ask questions later.

Let us celebrate our culture, yes, but let us also appreciate that culture is dynamic, and deleterious cultural practices must be discarded in favour of more progressive ones.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine