Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, the ODM party Secretary General and Kisumu County Senator is already in the USA to attend one semester as a visiting Go Brutland Scholar at Harvard University School of Public Health; and peculiar kenyans did not disappoint when the public sphere got wind of the information.
It is confusing.
“Will he resign?”, “I thought senate was a full time job”, “is he going to be paid during the time”, “Why can’t he be paid when other people are getting paid for attending ‘small personal matters’ offshore?”, “I have always thought Prof Anyang Nyongo is in the wrong place as a senator or in an elective seat. Dude should keep his peace in academia where he seems to thrive” the debate continued. . .
You see, in a country where intellectuals in politics are as sycophantic and base as most seem to be here, Prof Nyong’o, and indeed many true scholars of his generation have often taken a back seat to watch the country progress out of sheer myopia. This is why the above reactions could easily be fathomed by people who truly think they are contributing to public discourse.
Trouble is, other professors are too willing to join the political bandwagon, idiocy notwithstanding. For instance, where does one place the current Education Secretary, Prof Kaimenyi? With his intellectual ‘weight’, that’s if any, he has been pushing a laptops programme which quite clearly is white elephant project in a country where the physical hardware for technology, especially in the education sector, is still in the precambrian age.
Then Nyong’o is a member of a ‘senate of everyone’. Unlike the senior common rooms where professors trol with knowledge, wisdom and experience gained from age and learning; our two institutions of public debate and deliberative politics – the National Assembly and Senate -house some of the dumbest and clueless people in Africa and the world.
The debates in parliament can proceed from any other social place, including bars and brothels. No much thinking is given to talking nowadays in parliament. The man, or woman of political drama and hubris appear to catch the country’s attention more.
Then there is the elephant in the room. Ethnicity. Or, negative ethnicity. Today, more than ever, the cancer of ethnicity has clouded minds to the point that everything proceeds from this single pedestal. It has everything to do with the media creation (or division) of Kenyans into ‘publics’ and ‘niches’ for readership and viewership.
This explains why queer characters like Jeff Koinange and David Matsanga have become the custodians, and experts, in so many public events and political issues, including ‘Pan-Africanism’, ‘International relations and Diplomacy’, ‘global justice’ etc. The type of music a society plays informs the pace of the dance.
Now, let’s be clear. This writer does not mean the mentioned character have no mettle. What this writer is convinced on is that the series of interviews currently ongoing serve only one disingenuous purpose: To engineer public opinion so as to pass public judgement on the ICC and reify President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy William Ruto as ‘sacrificial lambs’ accused wrongfully, being tried in a kangaroo court with no possibility of justice being delivered. But this is a digression.
Professor Nyong’o remains Kenya’s foremost scholar in economics and political thought. When public appointments, especially ministerial appointments were pegged on merit, Nyong’o landed at National Planning and the country riveted to the path of economic progress after years of KANU wastage. The credit, of course, went to Kibaki! This was the much touted period between 2003-2006. The 2005 referendum and the politics of ‘us’ vs ‘them’ would axe the professor together with others.
Since then, the place of the intellectual in Kenya’s politics has been replace by people referred to as ‘government functionaries’. The mandarins at Treasury or Harambee House or Statehouse. So many other public scholars have decided to concentrate in Academia, or are out of the country, teaching the youth of other nations in top world universities, especially in the western world.
However, it is time a new debate is opened on the place and role of the intellectuals in solving society problems. Even as the Hague debate proceeds, so quiet are the intellectuals that the bashing and the praising of this new world phenomenon has been left for pedestrians and quacks of all shades.
This writer pushes for the formation of public opinion based on informed knowledge. It is not bad to listen to sideshows. But when important public issues are discussed from the sentiments of jokers and ‘ignoramuses’, a society weakens its collective efficacy.
Public intellectuals in Kenya ought to regain their rightful place. There is need for respected scholars in education, public health, governance, sociology, history, science, and even religion to come out and share with the Kenyan society the new challenges borne by this century – the 21st century now in its second decade.
I mean, a new public conversation is needed.
As the professor heads to Harvard, maybe, another scholar should head to Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, the third to Moi University and Egerton. Some how, the debate needs to begin again. An enlightened rant is long overdue.