Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Cry of a Lone Academician

Now, now, now yesterday I was lucky. I eventually got a chance to attend the "East Africa at 50: A Celebration of Histories and Futures" conference at the University of Nairobi. You see my work itinerary could not allow me to be there for the opening day on Tuesday. Please do not ask me about the nature of my work. I am not proud and I am not willing to divulge details now. 
My failure to attend the conference on the opening day means that I missed a life time opportunity to listen to the 1st keynote address my Euphrase Kezilahabi. Kezilahabi is the Tanzanian guru credited for having broken ranks with traditional Swahili verse. You recall usawa wa vina vya kati na vya mwiso? Mizani? Kiitikio/kibwagizo? Mishororo? He has written what we call in literature free verse as opposed to bound verse – yake ni shairi huru/guni. You may not understand but this is a big deal for a literary fan like me. He is also famed for having a plethora of texts such as: 
  • Rosa Mistika -1971
  • Kichwamaji -1974
  • Dunia Uwanja wa Fujo -1975
  • Gamba la Nyoka -1979
  • Kichomi (poems) -1974
  • Mzingile - 1991
  • Nagona - 1990
  • Karibu Ndani - 1988
  • Rosa Mistika – 1988 among many others
Now you understand why I am disappointed for having missed the opening day of the conference. It is litotical for me to say that I am bitter.
            But I am fortunate because yesterday I got the chance to attend the conference and present my paper titled “The Vulgarities of Language and Cultural Aestheticism”. More fortunate because the 2nd keynote address of the conference was given by Susan Kiguli, The chairperson of the department of literature at Makerere on the subject of “orature”. Even more fortunate because the evening was crowned by some serious intercourse between Kezilahabi and Prof Kithaka wa Mberia. The Swahili discourse of the evening was nostalgic for me especially because I have a soft spot for Kiswahili. It was part of my academic pursuit at the university up to 2nd year until ... a story for another day.
Reminiscing away in Malindi 2012
Let us go back to one Kithaka wa Mberia. He is a playwright and poet from Kenya. His works include:

  • ·         Redio na Mwezi (poems) – 2005 
  • ·         Maua Kwenye Jua la Asubuhi (play) – 2004
  • ·         Kifo Kisimani (play) – 2002
  • ·         Bara Jingine (poems) – 2001
  • ·         Mchezo wa Karata (poems) – 1997
  • ·         Natala (play) – 1997 among many others.

This is why I am boasting for having been party to such a highly inspired session with all the scholars from the world over. Kithaka and Kezilahabi’s experiences demonstrate that most writers share one thing in common – disavowal for poor politics/bad governance. For instance, Kithaka says that his name is symbolic of the bush because whilst growing up, his mother’s hut was full of herbs as a result of the lack of hospitals or dispensaries. This is what makes him to have constant altercations with poor leadership for failure to equitably distribute resources throughout the country. He attributes poor leadership as resulting to marginalisation.
            It is thus obvious that bad governance is to blame for the socioeconomic stratification of the country. Kithaka wa Mberia contends that the writer as the voice of social consciousness must have heightened senses – sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch (visual, olfactory, auditory, gustatory and tactile for the academician). The writer must have the ability to ask why? Why is a young girl a prostitute? Why is a young man a robber/mugger? Why are people violent? Why do we have beggars? Why is there poverty and destitution? In his concluding remarks, he reckons that these issues have to do with poor governance.
            The other aspect emerging from Kithaka’s observations was the fact that in Kenya we do not have tribal clashes but political clashes. On this I concur with him because I have always argued that Kenya has two main tribes: the rich and the poor. Whoever thinks otherwise is grossly mistaken or mis-educated. Acts of social degeneration et al are a resultant effect of impoverishment of human beings – dehumanisation and destitution of people by a few selfishly and economically empowered individuals. J M Kariuki once upon a time described Kenya as “a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars”. Reckon that!
            Now you know why mine is the cry of a lone academician. I am moaning the death of my academic career because the administrative demands from my employer are non-academic. I am continuously feeling frustrated, demoralised, impoverished and destituted academically. Consider this post my act of ventilation. I would love to conduct research, read my novels, engage in literary discourses, and banter with my students about emergent trends in the world of academia. But this appears to be the least concern of the TORs at work.
            I am ceaselessly engaged in non-academic tasks that are slowly taking a toll on me. If I choose to publish and not perish then, the assumption of my employer is that, I choose to abscond on a lot of the duties before me administratively. On the contrary, I believe that if my energies are channelled into my academics, my students will be a happy lot. Why? I will be a self-actualised scholar, knowledgeable and able to disseminate requisite information to my students. I will be able to attend conferences, to write research papers, to skilfully mentor my students and to inspire them to become better than me. Or even to blog/tweet.
However, now you definitely understand that my choices are limited. If I choose to be faithful to the nature of my work, I will become grumpy, disappointed/frustrated with my work, I will not publish, I will probably never attend a conference and I will be the worst lecturer to my students – an unknowledgeably dejected one. I will be unable to challenge them, I will recycle information/notes, and I will not keep up with emerging trends in my area of specialisation. In a nut shell, education will die a natural death.
Therefore, mine is the cry of a lone academician. No one wants to support me, not unless I am willing to compromise and adhere to the demands of the nature of my work. I feel stunted, malnourished and suffocated as a scholar. I am venting out because I am worried of the consequences of the choices that I have to make. Now that you are in the know could you please tell be if I should be a scholar and an enemy of my duties or I should be a good employee and an enemy of academic growth? What would you suggest I should choose?

1 comment:

  1. Choosing between forced and false options is still unjust. We have to fight against the contradiction, for the sake of not just ourselves, but the soul of the academy and the academic health of our society.


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