DEMISE

Ken Ouko: Luminary who changed lives

Scholars like Ken need to be recognised for their input in and outside the lecture room.

In Summary
  • Sociology is the study of human behaviour and Ken added his magic to it, making it a very interesting course.
  • He managed to dilute my military mindset with his interesting lectures and transformed my approach to the workplace, family matters, religion and societal issues.

In 2001, I enrolled as an undergraduate student at the University of Nairobi, being one the pioneers of the Module II programme commonly called the parallel degree programme. I was studying sociology and political science. Most of my lecturers were pioneers in both fields and were advanced in age. The Sociology Department, for instance, was predominantly managed by gerontocrats.

Ken Ouko cut his niche as one of the few young lecturers in the department, with two distinct features. One, unlike his older colleagues, Ken’s lectures were interactive. Second, Ken never carried handouts to the lecture room.

At the beginning of the semester Ken would walk into the lecture hall with three hard copies of the course outline and give them to the students to photocopy. He would introduce himself and lay down a few rules of engagement. He was keen on punctuality and class attendance; he asked students to read the books in the course outline and, lastly, he asked them to comprehend the practical aspect of what he taught.

One of the greatest challenge university lecturers faced was plagiarism and exam cheats. Ken, I found, was the only lecturer not bothered about cheats during exams. His exams were based on critical thinking and practical application so carrying notes into the exam room was an exercise in futility.

Sociology is the study of human behaviour and Ken added his magic to it, making it a very interesting course. For the three year as a sociology student, I never saw Ken enter a lecture room with notes or any book. He would lecture for three hours and as he concluded, he would guide the class on which books to read or buy (since those days, the university library was seriously understocked).

Ken domesticated sociology, which is heavily Eurocentric. He gave examples when teaching on marriage, adolescent, substance abuse, commercial sex, social class, religion and many other units. He made learning interesting and enjoyable.

Apart from the lecturer room, Ken opted to interact with the world on many topical social issues through the media—local and international. He was a dynamic scholar who was able to interpret many social challenges facing the society. Ken managed to dilute my military mindset with his interesting lectures and transformed my approach to the workplace, family matters, religion and societal issues.

Today, many countries are faced with serious societal problems that have had negative influence on their national security. They include suicide, substance abuse and poor parenting, among other challenges. We have always thought that the solution is reactive security approach. However, with the wealth of experience from people like Ken, a number of these challenges can be addressed by their input.

The education system in Africa, Kenya included, seems to ignore the importance of social sciences. Many parents believe their children should concentrate on subjects that will give them an opportunity to be easily absorbed into the job market. We believe the only subjects that will make us successful are those that produce engineers, doctors and lawyers.

We forget that our approach to society must be holistic. The biggest shortcomings in our national strategy is the lack of understanding of the society. As a result, many social aspects, from integrity to family relationships and others, have suffered.

The developed world is grappling with serious social challenges that have left their advanced technologies almost useless. Fifty years ago, sociologist in Europe and Japan advised their governments that strict family planning would have serious social impact in future. This was ignored and today these countries are in a fix, with an ageing population that is very expensive to sustain. Scholars like Ken need to be recognised for their input in and outside the lecture room.

As Ken’s former student, his brilliant lectures had a great impact on my personal life, especially as a family man.

Rest in peace, Ken.