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February 21, 2019

What Kenya can give you

Kenya can give you an odd sort of reverse whiplash: These days, shenanigans like fistfights in Parliament barely make me scoff anymore. What does startle me, in contrast, is the stuff that so rarely happens: the Senate, for example, discussing the Jubilee-proposed amendments to the jointly developed electoral law relatively sanely and without throwing furniture at each other.

Even more baffling: when something larger goes right. Mr Matiang’i ignored a slew of school dorms being set on fire and somehow managed to organise school exams that, apparently, were held without the usual entrenched, institutionalised (and highly lucrative) cheating. The results tell a story: This year, only 141 pupils had As, in contrast to 2,636 pupils last year. The Kenya National Examination Council chairman George Magoha also sounded very sensible: “Anything outside that bracket [of five to 10 per cent] is suspicious or extraordinary, and for a school to have 96.6 per cent scoring A, then that is stupidity of the highest level and nobody should be associated with such.” Lastly, Mr Kenyatta ordered the Ministry of Education ‘to put in place effective plans to institutionalise the ongoing reforms in the sector to ensure sustainability and entrenchment’.

I have questions: What did it take for this to happen? Clearly one determined CS who won’t be deterred by a bit of arson – but what are the other factors? Can this be achieved elsewhere? It would be great to have a similar turnaround with, say, traffic police so that they could actually police the traffic and provide help and safety instead of their usual roadside racketeering. There was clearly lots of money to be made in leaking exam papers, but the police rackets probably involve far larger amounts (remember the carnival of the police vettings and their contorted explanations of their hugely successful ‘businesses’?). Too much money for this to ever be possible? Or plain old procurement, which has, to quote a useful distinction by David Ndii, escalated beyond grand corruption to plain looting? And I also wonder if this is truly going to be institutionalised, or if this progress will fall apart as soon as Mr Matiang’i moves on to a different portfolio (see Mr Michuki and speed governors).

Kenya claims to have some of the best human resources on the continent. The deflation in grades, just as the annual Uwezo studies, tell a different story (as do the incoherent arguments made by university students unable to string a sentence together on social media). This is a structural issue. I’m very much in favour of teachers (and doctors!) being paid a decent wage – but the system needs an overhaul. More competent teachers, more encouragement towards critical thinking rather than rote repetition.

Andrea is an independent analyst

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