By Silas Nyanchwani
A few things from today:
1. When I was in States, one thing I so much wanted to do, was to track down Kenyans doing great stuff in the free world. I remember talking to this Kenyan lady who mentioned the first person I should look for was Prof. Calestous Juma. She shared Juma’s book, New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa.
It would have been an honor going up to Havard to meet one of the most celebrated scholars. Another scholar was Gikandi who teaches in Princeton, Mwangi in North-Western, Ngugi in California among others.
The idea was simple, meet them, conduct length interview for radio, video and print and run share them with any local media house that would buy into the idea, or in my platform. Anywhere, as long they could share their ideas on a dozen things I wanted to talk about.
But reality never mimics fantasy. Upon finishing college, broke than your ‘brokest’ church mouse, homesick like a long-imprisoned chap, I boarded a Swiss Air plane, and 16 hours later I arrived in a deserted JKIA, to a surprise welcoming party, for a man who wanted to sneak back like he never left.
But deep within, it was a great loss of opportunity. You never get some opportunities back. Prof Juma is now gone, forever. He was buried today.
Ngugi turned 80 yesterday and others are not getting younger. So the prospect of ever picking these guys’ brains on several things about the African continent, beyond what they have published, is distant to an impossible one.
I am writing this because I am extremely dismayed by the scathing piece my friend and brother Albert Nyakundi Amenya has written calling Juma a masquerade on account of the fact that he “never did anything for the country” so he does not deserve the national mourning.
What Amenya forgets, as Prof Amuka said today in the Nation, scholars are international. Once you choose to be a scholar, you belong to the world. You cannot be localised to a region.
Granted, our international scholars should do more than pen an occasional opinion in our newspapers.
But there is so much mediocrity in local universities that once you have been exposed to an environment where scholarship is valued, you won’t want to look back.
There is so much pettiness, so much corruption, so much small-mindedness in our local universities for people like Juma to thrive. Often I meet university professors who decry the lack of opportunities in the country, lack of funding for research and everything that can satisfy the intellectually curious.
Also, if scholars like Juma and Mazrui were to start a scholarship program or help getting funding and research money for local universities, the money will be stolen and scholarships given to every undeserving student (based on tribe, sex relationship with those awarding the scholarship), it is easy to be discouraged. Also, there is so much bureaucracy and score-settling mentality in our universities for ‘big-minded’ people to thrive.
This is not a blanket condemnation of the local universities. By all means, they do a terrific job. You can only do so much if you are a sociology lecture with a single class of 400 students.
But people like Albert Nyakundi Amenya should spare Juma and company their negative vibe.