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January 21, 2019

These are the kind of lists that govern our lives

These are the kind of lists that govern our lives
These are the kind of lists that govern our lives

When many were growing up, there was one list that no one wanted to be seen on – the list of noise makers. The list was compiled by the students anti-corruption commissioner who went by the name of “prefect”. It was feared universally as it could have negative repercussions to your career as a student. In those dark days, teachers were happy, without the law on the student's side, to apply corporal punishment for any small infraction. This is a politically correct way of saying that a noise maker would be caned by the teacher who was in charge at that point in time – be it the class teacher, teacher on duty or the discipline master.

If one was really having a horrible day, then they could be caned by the three of them. Sometimes the punishment wasn't just caning, but it involved doing tasks that were considered arduous, such as uprooting tree stumps or cleaning the whole school. Because of this, the prefect aka the commissioner was feared – everyone with any political savvy at this early age makes sure his or her friends do not land on the list.

A list that was more coveted in those early days was the list of prefects. These were announced once a year with a small number of students being elevated to a hallowed status. These prefects were from then on allowed privileges such as different uniforms, more food, their own rooms and the like.

We then go out of schools, and get some new and more desirable lists – apart from shopping lists of items that we need to have bought by a certain age. One of these is the annual honours lists, such as Top 40 Under 40 men or women done by a popular media houses that recognise the best people in their profession under the age of 40. Those who make these lists are very pleased as they have been recognised for the hard work that they are doing. If we are not, we get incensed with being ignored, but we work harder knowing what it takes to be so highly celebrated.

When we get older, the next list to be on is the National Honours lists that the President announces annually on Jamhuri Day. These lists include people who have been doing amazing work in various different categories such as sports, the arts and service – and the President on behalf of the republic is recognising them.

In recent times, there are lists that have emerged that aren't as complimentary as the national honours given by the President. The most notorious of it is the List of Shame that was introduced to the public by the same President while delivering his State of the Nation address to the public in Parliament. This list had the names of many high-ranking individuals in government who were alleged to be implicated in corruption, and were to be investigated.

As you can expect with Nairobi folk, some of them saw this list as a mark of honour, as it means if you were on it, then you were doing very well financially. Thus if you were not on the list, there was a quick question about whether you are really serious with your life. People are featuring on lists having allegedly stolen billions, and you are here asking me to send you Sh1,000 to bid you over to the end of the week. You clearly haven't done this whole living in Nairobi thing right.

Another of those additions to our list of lists emerged when Kenyans were killed at Garissa University a few weeks ago. The leaders from that part of the world, perhaps in the emotion of the moment, promised to furnish the country with the list of the funders and sympathisers of the people behind the attack. With temperatures having cooled down, the list has suddenly become very low on the list of priorities from that part of the country. Perhaps we might see this list emerging when an election looms?

If lists are being suggested willy nilly, can I suggest one that will be of use? At this moment, for instance, we are having a huge discussion on how to get more women in Parliament in line with the constitution. The ideal situation would be the women activists insist that they have 50 per cent of all positions in Parliament as women are half of the population. With that approach, their male counterparts will quickly see that one-third of women in Parliament isn't as bad as it seems, and they would deal. The next best alternative would be for the women activists to publish another list. This would be the List of Shame of those who are blocking women's progress and shame them.

Twitter: @jamesmurua

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