What Kind Of Leader Is Yours?

In my observed opinion, there are two BROAD kinds of leaders in Kenya.

Unfortunately, the majority crop of politicians are in the bad kind.

The first type of politician is the ‘dreamer salesman’ type. He has selfless intentions, a remarkable work ethic, great vision and the charm to open the eyes of his followers to see his beautiful dream and believe it?

He realizes that he was appointed to his position to direct and lead from the front. He is firm in his vision and will not be distracted by ‘noise’ or populism. Why? Because he believes in his vision and will be ready to defend it.

The ‘dialogue’ he has with his followers is that of telling the story of his dream and selling it. Invariably, the dream will be bought by the followers.

The late John Michuki was such a leader. He never asked his followers or the public what they wanted. He conceived – sometimes even before the masses did – what was good for them, and was adept at selling the idea and marshaling support.

The dreamer salesman will then march forward towards realizing the dream and, as you guessed it, his followers enthusiastically rally behind him.

These are the kind of leaders we lack, but are desperately in need of.

The second type of leader is driven by populism and a knack for pleasing his followers. He is the ‘consulting’ one and is wont to abdicate his leadership responsibilities to his followers.

How, you might ask? The consulting leader is bereft of initiatives and is largely driven by the yearning of his followers. Usually, he will mostly get ideas from his subjects. And rather than interrogate what his followers actually want, he will push their agenda with gaiety and think about what he did later.

Usually, he does not invest time in dreaming. He is driven more by survival and relevance. He seldom goes beyond his call to duty. His followers will want him to initiate programs or activities that they (and not necessarily him) delight in, but which may not necessarily be in the interest of the wider society.

If he does come up with initiatives, they will be selfish rather than selfless, imposed rather than driven. He leads from behind.

He is so beholden to what “my people” want that he can even risk his life trying to push his followers’, rather than his own, agenda.

The tragedy of leadership in Kenya is that leaders want to be told what to do, which is fine, and also how to do it, which is tragic.

My idea of leadership is that you must go through a tenure with a vision. You must own the vision and be seen to both drive and market it. You must lead from the front, not from the coat tails of your followers.

That is why we should be in grief when a leader says he wants to ‘consult’ the masses. Of course, we elect leaders to serve our needs, not to dance to our tune without their own vision.

It is usual to find leaders who straddle the foregoing leadership types. They will have the character of either leadership types. But, certainly, one of the two types will dominate.

When followers dictate and control your leadership, you are no leader. You may be known to be a leader in deed, but you are not one in substance.

You Could Get Killed For Standing Outside A Bank In Nairobi

If the ordeal that a friend went through this morning is any guide, it is dangerous to stand outside a bank in Nairobi.

Having just come from his honeymoon, Sam started his day at the Kimathi Street branch of Equity Bank this morning to withdraw Kshs. 250,000.

He was going to use the money to pay off someone. Sam left the bank and called his payee, who confirmed he was not too far off. Sam would wait for him for a few minutes, the two agreed.

As Sam whiled the moments away outside the bank clutching his laptop bag and occasionally twiddling with his cellphone, an innocuous-looking white NZE car with three occupants pulled over on the sidewalk between the Equity Bank branch and the adjoining Jamia Mall.

Leaving the driver behind, two of the occupants leapt out and confronted Sam. Introducing themselves as “CID officers”, they sought to know from him why he was standing outside a bank. “I am meeting someone who’s actually not too far off”, Sam countered assertively.

When asked to identify themselves, the officers obligingly flashed genuine-looking Kenya Police IDs. They demanded that Sam accompany them to CID Headquarters along Kiambu Road for “vetting”. Everything happened so fast for Sam, who was muddled by the unexpected turn of events to have any photographic memory of the identities behind the Kenya Police IDs, or of the registration of the white NZE Toyota car.

He soon found himself sandwiched at the rear seat of the car by the two officers as the third one took the wheels.

But it is the ensuing daylight developments that turned out to be even more traumatising for Sam, who had lots of cash with him, two laptops, including a Mac, a cellphone and personal effects, including ATM cards.

As the car approached Muthaiga Police station, Sam was suddenly handcuffed and ordered to switch off his cellphone. The two men then violently bundled him to the floor of the car, where they took turns to trample and rain blows on him. One of them even menacingly hit his scalp repeatedly with the butt of a handgun.

According to Sam, he kept on pleading for his life to one of the officers, who incessantly threatened to kill him. Sam recalls it was this officer who asked him whether he knows of Kenyans who vanish from the face of the planet, never to be seen again. Meanwhile, instead of taking the Kiambu road turnoff, the car hurtled onwards along Thika road and onto the eastern bypass.

Sam only realised he was far from CID headquarters when they later unshackled his handcuffs along a desolate dirt road off the bypass, at a place he would soon learn is called Kimbo.

Sam is convinced these were rogue police officers. Occasionally, they would engage in phone calls in which they addressed each other as afande. Everything, including their looks, seemed to betray them as cops.

At a secluded spot where they abandoned him, they ordered him to walk along the dirt road and not dare look back. It seems their intention was for him not to note the car registration. They even waited for him to reach a safe distance before they drove off in the opposite direction.

Luckily they spared his life, but not before dispossessing him of the two laptops and cash in the mid-morning robbery. They also handed back to him his work and national IDs, empty laptop bag, ATM card and several business cards he had.

More Love In Schools, Families, Lifts Society

While on a training visit outside the country, a Nigerian colleague intoned that Kenyan men were known to be terrible at “treating ladies well…”

According to her, Kenyan men are too rough and lack the kind of charm that ladies yearn for.

Nodding grimly in affirmation, I told her we were about to get worse.

I am no social expert. Or psychologist. But I stubbornly cling to the belief that the way kids are brought up in this country does not augur well for the future of honourable courtship on the one hand, and by extension, the family institution on the other.

Part of the problem, in my view, stems from the fact that Kenya has a disproportionate number of non-mixed schools, particularly in the secondary school years.

The adolescence phenomenon is arguably at its peek when one is in high school. Since many of our schools are not mixed, boys, for example, are often looking forward to some inter-schools event e.g. drama festivals or a sports meet so they can ‘flirt’ with girls.

This is alright but if you speak to the current crop of boys in high school about what they think of the girls, you get a strong sense that males view the females as sex objects, or quarry of a sexual conquest.

A mixed school environment has its own demerits. But I think the advantages far outweigh the pitfalls. The St. Kizito school incident in which male students took advantage of a strike to run amok and rape girls was most unfortunate. But that, in my humble view, was an isolated incident that should not be used as a knee-jerk yardstick with which to condemn mixed schools.

A mixed school environment in high school, especially in an atmosphere like 8-4-4’s in which there are rigorous study demands, offers a healthy atmosphere for the young students to let out their puberty-impelled emotions. Boys will try and impress girls, girls will impress boys, together they will learn better ways of being courteous and respectful to each other and the boys will naturally muster better ways of relating with ladies right (you know, the mannerisms that ladies demand of ‘gentlemen’). Also, vice versa.

This phase is important because it is the period when both girls and boys experience physiological and physical changes brought about during and after adolescence. It is a phase that nature prescribes but which if we deprive our kids of, the end result would be an individual who grows up in a way that is incongruent to nature’s expectation.

In my observed opinion, I find the current generation of youth invariably having despise for the other sex, nearly everything between the sexes is viewed as a sexual contest – nay, conquest – of manipulation, abuse and sexual fantasy outside the realm of real love.

We need mixed schools in early stages of higher learning so the kids can learn that the other sex is not a sex toy but just a different human being deserving respect and love.

When Jamaica’s Israel Vibration reggae group sang ‘Loves Makes A Good Man’, their hunch was right.

When we get more good girls and boys, it shows in society. We get to hear a lot less crappy lyrics in the music of our youth, our ladies are treated a lot better by their men, we have a lot more people genuinely in love and, overall, a happier, character-decent and comparatively more respectable populace.

Love makes a good man. And, by extension, woman. This applies as much in the family setting as it does in school. In most cases, it is hardly expected that a kid brought up in a family of incessantly feuding, fighting parents will be of decent character to other kids, whether boys or girls.

The Case For A Digital National ID For Kenya

Is it possible for the Government to connect a driver’s license, NSSF and NHIF cards, tax PIN, national ID (or passport), photo, fingerprints and mobile number to one identity, based on a single card?

Yes, it is possible. Malaysia has done it.

Through myKad, the Asian country became the first one in the world to collapse an individual’s holistic profile (passport photo, biometric and government-issued credentials) to one smartImage card. The cards are of four types:

  1. MyKid – for Malaysian citizens under the age of 12 including new-borns (non-compulsory);
  2. MyPR – for Malaysian Permanent Residents;
  3. MyTentera – for Malaysian Armed Forces personnel; and
  4. MyPolis – for Royal Malaysian Police personnel.

The MyKad project was intended to have four functions:

  • Identity card, incorporating data on fingerprints, postal address, location address, photo and conventional passport number, if any;
  • Driver’s licence;
  • Travel document in Malaysia and several neighbouring countries. However, a conventional passport is still required for international travel. The card is also aimed at reducing congestion at the border by enabling the use of unmanned gates using biometric (fingerprint) identification.
  • Storage of health information (e.g. blood group – which is key to establish quickly in the event of, say car accidents, insurance memberships, etc.).

Four further applications were added during its initial release:

  • e-cash, an ‘electronic wallet’ system intended for low value but high volume transactions (maximum limit was pegged at US$ 500). The government can make payments (e.g. cash bail) to citizens electronically via the card.
  • Touch ‘n Go – Malaysia’s toll road tolling system and also public transport payment system.
  • Digital certificate, commonly known as Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

By law, MyKad must be carried at all times. Failure to do so may incur a fine or jail term of up to three years. Moreover, unlike in Kenya, security guards and other unauthorised persons are not allowed to retain the MyKads of other people. Only those authorised by the National Registration Department, like the police and immigration officers, can do so.

myKad Lessons for Kenya:

  • Since mobile phone numbers are supposed to be registered, these, too, can be incorporated into a modern digital national ID Imagethat also serves as one’s NSSF, NHIF, driver’s license, and biometric card. It can also be used as a voter’s card during national polls.
  • Adoption of such a card will help sanitise national citizen’s registration information already with Government. A massive but simple – technologically speaking – project of amalgamating all silos of Government and quasi-government (e.g. NSSF) held data should be undertaken for the card to be practicable.
  • Police on patrol can be equipped with small portable card readers with which they can access a person’s information. Traffic police officers would use such gadgets to access the individual’s driving license. Using these gadgets, the police can also read a card, print court summons, or issue receipts for cash bail offered.Instead of having separate numbers for tax PIN, NSSF and driver’s license, the use of one (national ID) number should be able to bare all. Of course, there would be massive cost savings in the long term made from adopting one smartcard as opposed to multiple cards issued by various agencies. There can also be a similarly smart card for aliens (refugees).
  • In the back office, the registration and law enforcement authorities would have a 3600 view of its citizens’ profiles using software and dashboards. This means that access to details of one’s card bares complete information about the person, including details of mobile phone numbers used before, “connections” to kinsmen, countries visited, etc.
  • In later phases, the cards can also be linked to issued payment cards, debit and credit, and from these, government can using court orders obtain access to details of transactions, malls or ATMs visited, etc. The issuance of these cards must be done using stringent physical and logical security processes to ensure that illicit cards cannot be issued under any circumstances.
  • Government offices, hospitals and even hotels should be equipped with inexpensive, PCI-DSS certified terminals (PoS) or ETR machines for purposes of any government transactions, monetary-based or otherwise, with this card.With proper policies and applications in place, the card can be extremely useful in netting tax evaders.

Government Oversight In Media Is In the Public’s Interest

Recently, I got amused when a news anchor of a leading TV station in Kenya asked the Cabinet Secretary for Arts and Culture whether the government was intent on letting the various sports associations in the country regulate themselves.             

Isn’t it for purposes of holding in trust the interests of citizenry, I wondered to myself, that we establish governments to exercise supervision of various public institutions, or of entities that have a profound impact on the wider society?

As citizens, we must learn to appreciate the noble role of government in ensuring that the public’s interests are well served, and well protected.

Ironically, the media is one such institution from whose activities we cannot disassociate government oversight.

Lately, the Kenya government has come under heavy criticism for their attempt to gain greater supervision of the media through the Kenya Communication and Information (Amendment) Bill.

According to observers and media analysts, the government move stifles democracy and stands in the way of not only media freedom, but also citizenry’s right to information. Beneath these rantings by NGOs, media owners and eminent journalists about the Bill, there is a clamour to maintain status quo and have the industry regulate itself.

But, can it really?

Among the published functions of the Kenya Media Council as mandated by the Media Act (Cap. 411B) is to “promote ethical standards among journalists and in the media”.

Well, I believe that on the afore-stated mandate, the Council has over the years performed dismally.

For example, as the Media Council looks the other way, our typically impressionable kids set out to school in PSVs in which radio shows expose them to odious, often sexually lurid content courtesy of certain media companies. As a parent, I cannot reconcile myself to the notion that the hosts of the said shows ascribe to freedom of the press these depraved radio themes.

The establishment of a free press in Norway, which is among countries that were declared to have the most free press in 2011-2012, was written into their Constitution in the `19th century under Article 100. Punishment for any writing is strictly prohibited in the Article, except where the writing leads to law-breaking activity, “contempt of religion or morality or constitutional power”.

There is healthy regulation of journalism in this Scandinavian country, and the media practice is honourable.

Contrariwise, sections of the Kenyan media are promoting practices that are disruptive to the proper preparation and development of a responsible and socially mature generation of young Kenyans. And I am utterly disappointed that the Media Council appears either unwilling or unable to rein in these sections of the rogue media whose acts are increasingly dishonourable to the profession.

Yes, our kids are being ‘spoilt’ by the media.

Slowly but surely, we have condoned the decay of the delicate social fabric that is the foundation of every society’s future – the young generation. Our media has been guilty of poisoning efforts to bring up our kids as mature, successful and responsible adults.

I mean, explicitly vulgar music lyrics and glorification of violence are all hallmarks of what is branded ‘adults only’ in public movie theatres. However, as far as Kenya’s broadcast and other media is concerned, these are prime time shows on TV and radio.

Little wonder that kids nowadays are far more rebellious and prone to dangerous, irresponsible sex, in some cases at ages just shy of puberty.

I hold that the consumers of media should be protected from media excesses by an institution or framework that is all inclusive but truly independent. And the proposed Amendment Bill, in spite of paranoid views from media practitioners and NGOs, offers just that.

Whenever government moves in with intent to protect certain noble interests, those threatened by such moves have a tendency of pointing out shadows behind every bush. What I find intriguing is that the Fourth Estate is wont to highlight parts of the proposed draft Bill that it considers disenchanting to them and, in calling for the Bill’s total withdrawal, stays mum about its positive aspects.

I stand for press freedom that tempers freedom with excesses that are likely to bring about social cataclysm. Just as movies are regulated and branded ‘unsuitable for under 16’ or ‘PG’ and so on, so should we regulate what our media projects to the public.

The Broadcast Standards Committee under the envisaged Bill is part of the oversight that will put a check on any disruptive benefits of free media. The existence of a set of prescriptive standards of broadcast and media in which the citizens have actual say through a government agency is a welcome move.

It is neither enough, nor sometimes fair, to justify certain extreme media actions by advising offended persons to seek redress in court. Often, the damage will have been inflicted way before the offended party files a case in court.

Moreover, free press has, granted, been hailed as a liberator, and one that precipitated free democracies in many countries. But when it comes to national security matters, the media is a double edged sword.

Although state security matters are deliberately cloaked under a veil of secrecy, many security experts will tell you that the Fourth Estate is prone to manipulation by forces – particularly external – that harbour threats to a country’s well-being. This is all the more reason why there is strong need for a framework that, while providing an enabling, free press atmosphere, allows for pre-defined “national security” oversight by a government agency.

Government should be able to create an atmosphere supportive of free press but at the same time, be protectionist of the havoc that comes with freedom.

Otherwise if the media is granted immoderate freedom, who will protect us from its excesses?

As Nairobi Modernises, Will The City’s Law Enforcers?

Nairobi city

City of Nairobi

This is an open letter to the Honourable Joseph ole Lenku, the  Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, and Hon. Evans Kidero, the Governor of Nairobi.

Our capital city’s erstwhile reputation as the Green City in the Sun has been damaged largely by decades of dreadful management, wanton lack of oversight and, overall, systematic neglect of its own by-laws.

The city has defied this decay and is slowly but surely emerging as a financial and tech hub in Africa. A growing middle class, vibrant financial markets, fairly educated workforce and a construction boom have now become synonymous with eastern Africa’s largest city.

Often, when the general public talks of a ‘modern’ city, it is glistening high-rise buildings, advanced road networks,  gargantuan shopping malls and dazzling night life that almost instinctively come to mind. Rarely, if ever, will crime and a total breakdown of order come to mind.

Yet, my strong feeling is that with the profile that it is increasingly gaining, Nairobi requires that the authorities concerned look at how we can better employ security resources. Here are a few ideas, within the realm of law and order, that this post was intended to share for your consideration.

1. Outsource Traffic Surveillance

In a country deficient of the recommended number of law enforcers required to effectively forestall runaway crime, it goes without saying that we need more policemen and policewomen deployed in mainstream crime prevention duties. My radical suggestion is that Nairobi outsources traffic surveillance to a top private security firm.

The firm would invest in surveillance cameras that have both number-plate recognition and night vision capabilities (they exist!). The cameras would be used to remotely monitor the city’s major roads and highways, particularly those notorious for gridlocks.

From the security firm’s central monitoring centre, their officers would look out for and capture evidence in real time of drivers flouting traffic laws like in cases of overlapping, obstructing, jumping traffic lights and dropping off passengers in non-designated areas. The police would then be presented with the incriminating evidence for follow up and the security firm paid a pre-determined percentage from the resulting fines.

In fact, a law can even be enacted to make it mandatory for insurers to recover the fines from offending car owners, on behalf of government, as a pre-condition for insurance renewal. Moreover, in case of a motor accident, the security firm would be able to quickly tip-off the police to the scene.

Of course, the biggest loser in such an arrangement would be the glaring impunity embodied by the unscrupulous traffic police officer who is wont to pocket bribes that otherwise are revenues that rightfully belong in the public coffers. Thus in considering implementing such a plan, change management on the part of the Kenya Police Service would be vital for the overall project’s success. But the biggest winner, ultimately, would be the ordinary mwananchi.

Some countries such as South Africa have traffic marshalls who complement law enforcement officers in tracking traffic offenders. Like bounty hunters, they are rewarded through commissions paid off fines. Moreover, the surveillance infrastructure in Johannesburg is managed by the city’s business community and manned by rehabilitated former thugs.

Apart from minor legal enactment encumbrances, I see few challenges in outsourcing traffic surveillance. In fact, the BOT (build, operate, transfer) model of project financing would be perfect! In such an instance, the city government can take over the monitoring infrastructure after a given period of time within which the security firm would have recouped its investment.

2. Modernise Traffic Lights

Solar-powered lightsI cannot remember the last time Nairobi was lucky to have a well-meaning chief executive like Governor Evans Kidero. He has cited traffic management as one of his priorities and I hope he gets the necessary support to modernize Nairobi’s derelict traffic lights systems.

His government may want to borrow from Mumbai City which, backed by the World Bank, and reeling from chocking traffic, deployed camera-assisted, cutting edge traffic lights systems that featured, among other capabilities, real time adjustments. So if Nairobi were to outsource traffic surveillance as afore-described, the same cameras can also be used to aid in the management of traffic lights.

Many traffic lights systems today are be equipped with Wifi or GSM modems which eliminate the need to lay down underground communication cables for remote traffic management.

3. Recruit Local Law Enforcers

Growing up in Nairobi’s Buru Buru in the 1980s and early 1990s, my contemporaries and I knew many of the louts in the neighbourhood and adjoining residential estates, where they attended school, their inner-estate hangout lair (maskan, we called it), siblings, close friends, sometimes even their parents. Whenever anything anti-social occurred, we had a fairly good hunch of who the culprits were. Often, they were.

I yearn for the day when the Kenya Police Service and County Government would consider a Metropolitan force whose law enforcement teams would be drawn from the suburbs. Think about it, if you grew up in a certain locality and were familiar with the residents, wouldn’t you be more effective in helping crack down on the bad elements? Wouldn’t residents be more motivated to embrace community policing if they worked closely with familiar faces and age-old pals?

For this to happen, the authorities could come up with a metropolitan policing policy that requires, say, 60% of officers in a police station to be drawn from that very locality.

It is no secret that residents are more familiar with the rogue elements in their neighbourhood. When, in the late 90s, I was a member of the Rotaract movement, we made regular visits to the Mathare-based Good Samaritan Children’s Home, which we supported at the time. As we trudged through the valley after an afternoon of playing and hanging out with the kids, the older ones escorting us would often furtively point out to us some of the bad guys in the sprawling slum.

“That guy is known to harbour and sell guns”, they whispered to us. “See this other guy”, another kid volunteered, “he is the local mungiki commandant. He rakes in extortion money daily from shop owners”.

The point? What better way to implement community policing than by having police stations in crime-prone areas manned by qualified, trusted locals who grew up in the same area they are serving?

4. Basic Automation For Police Stations

Currently, when one has an incident to report at a police station, the officer at the reporting desk would record your statement on a usually threadbare Occurrence Book (OB) and, once done, hand you the OB reference number written on a piece of paper.

I believe headquarters lacks a graphical or statistical mechanism of tracking, using a portal or database, in real time, the locality where a case has been lodged, the frequency and category of crimes reported, etc.

Undoubtedly such information would help the force come up with rapid counter-measures quickly, besides assist them in strategic planning.

It would be my wish to have each police station equipped with a hand-held PDQ device. These are typically hardy, can work anywhere served by a mobile network and can be instrumental in logging and transmitting statistics, in near real-time, to a centralized intelligence-gathering portal.

The software installed in the PDQ, which relays data using normal GSM SIM cards, would have various categories of crimes. So if one made a report of, say, a carjack, the officer at the reporting desk would, after recording the statement, enter the details of the crime on a PDQ, including details of the specific road in which the crime occurred, plus the victim’s ID number or equivalent. The PDQ (some of them support biometrics) would then generate a report receipt with the OB reference number which can be handed to the victim.

In the meantime, away from the police station, the crime dashboard, which can be made available on a publicly accessible portal, would instantaneously be updated with details of this particular incident. A number of local technology firms are known to program and support these kind of PDQs and therefore there is local capacity to support them. Indeed, some of the PDQs support solar charging and can operate for several days without the need for battery recharge.

With such an open system, investors can access crime statistics of various locations, neighbourhood associations and ordinary citizens can readily access the information and take measures to improve their security or even lend in useful information that can be used to nab suspects. Additionally, if statistics pointed to an upsurge of carjacking incidents in a certain area, headquarters can make informed decisions to deploy more patrol vehicles or step up foot patrols.

If a certain locality, on the other hand, registers a disproportionately high amount of female rape cases, the police chiefs would be better advised to deploy more policewomen, and so on.

Of course, there are more ways in which the technology could be improved including being able to compile weekly crime reports to county neighbourhood associations, alerting security guards and on-patrol officers via SMS, etc.

Granted, there are, overall, many interventions – some indeed basic – required to boost security and order. The now moribund 999 emergency number should be made to work reliably at all times, the welfare and proper equipping of police officers needs to be urgently looked into and residents should be enlightened on the various ways in which they can act as first line of deterrence.

But even as we focus on the basics, it is my hope that the authorities concerned can consider incorporating the foregoing (similarly basic) tips as necessary in endeavours to improve enforcement of law and order. It is instructive that implementation of some of the ideas shared would be good candidates for public-private partnerships. Both the Constitution and Vision 2030 blueprint contemplate closer partnerships not only between citizenry and Government but also between Government and private sector.

As the city surges ahead with its rapid modernisation and increasing sophistication of her residents, its law enforcement agencies should not be left behind. 

Useful References

a. Why Government Should Outsource Technology

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2013/02/fiberwan_terry_childs_gavin_newsom_on_why_governments_should_outsource_technology.html

b. Municipalities Need To Outsource In 2013

http://outsourcing.about.com/od/clouds/a/Municipalities-Need-To-Outsource-In-2013.htm

c. Mumbai Introduces Modern Traffic Management System

http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/SOUTHASIAEXT/0,,contentMDK:22938853~menuPK:158842~pagePK:2865106~piPK:2865128~theSitePK:223547,00.html

Twitter: @fkariuki

Kenya’s Education Planners Could Do With Some Homework

While 8-4-4 has been hailed for producing bright kids, some of who go on to win academic accolades in the global arena – it has also been blamed for producing ‘zombies’.

Years ago, I read with interest a newspaper contribution on the state of Kenya’s education sector by Mike Eldon, a Nairobi-based businessman and career counselor. His article drew wrath from readers who complained through the Letters To The Editor column that his was a point of view that lacked merit because he was no expert in academic matters.

Mike had castigated the 8-4-4 system for, among other things, subjecting students to inordinate levels of knowledge within disproportionately limited periods of time. The system did not propel students to areas in which they had scholarly strengths, he argued. In other words, there was too much to be grasped even in those subject areas where a student repeatedly demonstrated he/she was weak in.

I think Mike was right. The 8-4-4 system, in my view, conditions students to be “bright”. Bright in the sense that because of the extraordinary pressures imposed on students to pass, what is expedient for them to do is to cram and revise hard, rather than understand and challenge. In my view, when you cram, you scarcely interrogate the subject matter. Indeed, ‘cramming’ and ‘understanding’ are as different as the baobab tree is from a scrub.

Great innovations, ideas, etc. have been brought about by human beings interrogating, exploring, challenging, probing for answers to questions like why, how else, etc. When you interrogate the way you do things, you discover better ways of doing them and understand more. You therefore become smarter, authoritative in the subject matter, more creative.

Sadly, Kenya’s education system is so packed with academic content that there’s hardly time to ‘understand’. Neither is there sufficient time for the student to invest in creative stuff.

In fact, the 8-4-4 system has failed miserably in helping mould creativity in students. Many scholars agree that students going through the system have had little time to undertake extra-curricular activities (music, drama, group activities, sport, scouting, etc.) that are helpful in jolting their creative faculties.

This is because the system is, alongside other reasons, too demanding of our kids’ reading time at the expense of other less curricular but by no means less important areas of their lives.

That is why I am an ardent admirer of Rudolf Steiner, after whom a global network of schools he founded is named.

Rudolf Steiner, who died in 1925, believed that no one was born foolish. He believed you could fare poorly in a certain area but be brilliant in another. For that, he argued that there was intelligence in all of us. One only needed to find it (intelligence). For example, Beethoven may have been a struggling student of mathematics, but he was a brilliant composer and artist.

Rudolf started schools (Nairobi’s Rudolf Steiner school is within flag-waving sight of Nazarene University at Ongata Rongai) that initially exposed pupils to varying areas of learning including the less mainstream ones of music, art and craft, dance, etc. with a view to discovering areas in which the pupils had spark. The schools would then academically propel the pupils towards subject areas in which they demonstrated good mastery and interest.

For example, a kid that excelled in design and craft and was good at arithmetic betrayed potential of becoming a brilliant architect.

Some education systems of leading economies in the world are based on a model similar to Rudolf Steiner’s. France and Finland are good examples. In the latter country, for example, outdoor activities are stressed, even in the coldest weather; and homework is minimal to leave room for extra-curricular activities. The objective being to achieve developmental well-roundedness of the pupil or student.

Coming up with an educational framework that combines the Rudolf Steiner-type model with one that best complements our Vision 2030 aspirations is the challenge, in my view, that Kenya’s educational planners are faced with.

Overall, the current education system in Kenya would help mould a better Kenyan society if it was designed to bring out brilliance in all areas – mainstream and extra-curricular. The government should adopt a learning regime that not only encourages creativity but helps propel students to areas in which they demonstrate scholarly aptitude.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of brilliance being churned out by the 8-4-4 system that is going to waste. The country could be teeming with talented individuals who have no faith in their abilities.

They have no faith because we have taught them that brilliance lies in how many ‘A’s they are able to garner across multiple subject areas, including those that they were naturally not well predisposed to.

As Albert Einstein once remarked: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid….”