Thursday, July 31, 2014

Triumph over drinking to inspire others

Chris Lyimo’s My Side of the Street: One Man’s Journey from Alcoholism to Sobriety
Although Chris Lyimo’s My Side of the Street: One Man’s Journey from Alcoholism to Sobriety may not be adopted as a literary text for study in the classroom, it is one that literary critics should pay close attention to. It is a narrative on masculinity, a misgiving about definitions of sex and gender, a scathing attack on the institution of parenting and above all a clarion call to the society to rethink the essentials of education. Lyimo’s narrative bares it all and strips the reader off any prejudice about matters alcoholism, suicidal tendencies and sexuality.
My Side of the Street is the cry of a lone man abandoned by the very society he thought would not only hold him accountable to his deeds but embrace him and cajole him in the true sense of the words. Lyimo indicts the society for failing him at the moment that he needed a pillar to lean on the most. The absence of a father in his life compounds his socialisation and makes us realise that we are to blame for the failings of our mentees. The genesis of his problems is traceable to his elder sister’s ignorant comment when he is seven years old: the persona is crudely identified by his phallus when the sister intones “Your kanyamu does not look like theirs”.
It is the discourse of exclusion that sets off his life’s path into a trajectory reminiscent of hopelessness and the ever present feeling that whatever the persona attempts to do will ultimately lead to rejection because his kanyamu is different. At this tender age, the persona discovers that his penis, genitalia so to speak, the only body part differentiating him amongst his siblings is the cause of his desolation. He craves to belong, to feel wanted but, unfortunately no one seems to get through to him. The fact that he is the only patriarch in his family makes it worse because of the dented masculine images that hover like a phantom in their homestead. Meet the author:
The process of mentoring that would have bailed him whilst growing up is severely challenged. Possible male figures who would have waded in the soles of his father’s feet are losers in their own ways. The cumulative verdict is that he is a loser because men in the family are losers. Sadly, the persona is cocooned in his fragile male ego and things get worse when he indulges in alcohol in the hope that he can get a firm grip of the elusive masculinity – andurume – “the men”.
Confessions are rife in this narrative. The urgency with which the story unfolds makes it vivid and scary. The persona’s struggles to overcome addiction, suicidal thoughts and other negative images on masculinity, marriage and sex serve to demonstrate that it is only an individual’s realisation of their spiritual being that can help to turn their life around. It is a journey of acceptance, a belief in brokenness, worthlessness etc. it is a moment of reckoning that life is worth reconstructing.

My Side of the Street demonstrates redemption and the existence of God. It is a religious narrative coloured by a life of iniquities and other despicable human acts. But it is also a simple story of growing up, falling in love and discovering the first kiss. The narrative has enough lessons for all of us and most importantly it lets us know that there is a haven for every drunkard just as there is a heaven for every sinner as long as one has a strong will to get there. This article was fist published in People Daily:

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Travails of Kenyan Education

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The psychological and economic exertions of academic pursuits in Kenya cannot be refuted. Although this is not a preserve of developing countries, it is only fair to argue that it is more challenging to attain higher education in an underdeveloped economy as opposed to a developed one. It is likely that developed countries have put in place contingency measures to facilitate learning and research work because they understand the indisputable position of education in shaping human livelihoods. Developing countries, thus, seem to have reneged on this responsibility or taken it for granted.
In 2007 I missed a golden opportunity to relentless chase a DAAD scholarship opportunity and probably learn from some of the best institutions in the world. Blame this on personal error, a miscalculation on my part or being misled by naive and immature love, but the truth is in a blink of an eye I had lost the intellectual opening which would have economically handled my educational prospects. As a result, I went back to my alma mater as a prodigal son and begged to be taken back. At least I could pursue my costly PhD programme at a manageable pace.
I don’t consider myself a bright student by any measure. What I know is that growing up was decorated by financial upheavals and my parents endlessly reminded me that my economic salvation lay with education. It was a psychological and spiritual battle as my young mind strove to make sense of a world of inequalities. I miraculously survived high school and through the benevolence funds of HELB attained my BA degree from the University of Nairobi. Never mind the fact that I am currently paying the last of the instalments of that loan after almost fifteen years later.
At the time I finished my BA degree at least the University of Nairobi had an educational programme for supporting first class honours students to pursue their MA degrees. It is through this arrangement that I attained by MA in Literature. I was not surprised that when I went back to HELB for more funds to pursue my PhD I was turned down. I had never started servicing my undergraduate degree loan! With a missed DAAD opportunity my last fortress was the bank. I may not be able to enumerate the number of banks I visited but one thing is clear about the credit system in the country. If you are not permanently employed or into a business then there is no bank, worth its name, that would transact business with you.
Somehow I enrolled for my PhD with scrapings from here and there. When I essentially became a permanent employee of Daystar University in 2010, after almost five years of part time teaching, I saw the door to cementing my education. Because Daystar has no dependable financial kitty for higher learning for its staff development programme, I took the riskier path and went to the bank once more. My bitterness with an unforgiving economic environment and a country without proper support mechanisms for education transformed me into an introvert. I never even applied for study leave or reduced workload from my employer. When you are a new employee you generously understand that these are not your preserves.
The fact that I completed my PhD studies under duress cannot be underscored. I empathise with all learners and academic enthusiasts who have to contend with lack of educational structures of whatever kind in their quest for knowledge. It is a herculean task that can’t and will never be single-handedly managed. As a society, do we care about education? Do we support those in need of it? My verdict is maybe we care but no we don’t support those in need of education.

  *This article was earlier printed in Daystar Connect, a Daystar University Publication. To purchase a copy, contact the Corporate Affairs Department at

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Social media: a blessing or a curse to institutions of higher learning

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The wealth of communication possibilities available through social media is unmatched. However, there have been concerns raised regarding the effects of social media on learning in the universities. A good number of these effects are positive but there are as well negative impacts accruing from students’ interaction with social media. For example, the social media platform provides unbridled socialisation through which instructors and students can become innovative and imaginatively recreate better learning models. They can do this by posting questions, engaging in online discourses and where possible sharing their research findings and insights for enhanced knowledge dissemination.   
Social media interactions can also improve students’ critical thinking skills. This can best be illustrated by the fact that social media encourages collaborations as opposed to individualistic approaches to problem solving. An online group discussion therefore provides a student with divergent views that require him/her to digest proffered options before making a decision thus horning out the student’s power to examine scenarios before drawing conclusions. Moreover, social media provides an avenue to use graphics, personalise work and adopt other appealing tools that can exceedingly serve to rope in students into subjects that they had initially expressed disdain for.
Furthermore, it is possible for students to integrate classroom learning with peer interactions amassed from outside classroom contexts. This can be argued to be a positive element that serves to prepare the students for situations that demand skill application as opposed to mere theorising. Also, if properly utilised, social media can provide enhanced interpersonal skills and a feedback mechanism that can make it easy for instructors to monitor student progress and provide personalised engagements for the benefit of the learners.
On the contrary, social media can be detrimental to education in institutions of higher learning. If incorporated into the curricular, the instructors might make the assumption that the social media types they adopt are convenient for their students. This is not necessarily true because we all have varied interests and our knowledge of computers and other modes of technological interactions are different. In our case, it is possible that required gadgets for social media use may not even be accessible let alone affordable.
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Chances of students getting distracted from the core business of the course are high and prevalent. The assumption is that social media is highly stimulating and both the instructors and learners can get swayed especially when they are actively engaged in online learning. Such off-topic engagements can derail the learning outcomes and eventually affect the students’ GPA. This means that students will essentially find it difficult to finish assignments and their course work thereof. Also, social media thrives on truncation of words owing to space limitations and students’ language skills are consequently impaired by the repeated use of corrupted codes of communication.

In addition, social media is difficult to regulate and one cannot overrule the chances of cyber theft, bullying, abuse, plagiarism etc. There are of course other forms of addictive behaviour like gaming, chatting, or possibly pornographic engagements. But, technological advancement is here to stay and these challenges cannot be wished away. Thus it is prudent for educators to adopt a hands-on-approach to the use of social media and ensure that the learning process is not only collaborative but one that encourages creativity even as it sustains academic integrity. 
  *This article was earlier printed in Daystar Connect, a Daystar University Publication. To purchase a copy, contact the Corporate Affairs Department at

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tasting the Forbidden Fruit in the Garden of “The Stone Hills of Maragoli”

Stanley Gazemba’s “The Stone Hills of Maragoli” is reminiscent of Adam and Eve’s transgressions in the Garden of Eden when they chose to savour the forbidden fruit despite having a wide variety of fruits to pick from. But, unlike the Garden of Eden where Adam and Eve had unlimited access to the fruits and provisions of the garden, Ombima in Gazemba’s text must not covet that which does not belong to him – Madam Tabitha. Tabitha is the wife of Ombima’s master and employer Andimi who owns a vast garden characterised by plenty of crops and fruits.
This is a story of inequities. It is a blend of the urban and the rural. A story of fading African traditional cultural practices and the emergent mixed cultural milieu characterised by loose personal relationships and wanting moral values. Andimi is cast as the thrifty business man who has painstakingly invested in building a local empire in the village. Andimi’s homestead is clearly foregrounded as a castle in the backdrop of the wretched village huts that appear like they can cave in at any moment as symbolised in Ang’ote’s dilapidated thatched hut.
Gazemba traces the story of Ombima and his travails as the novel’s protagonist. Ombima’s nuclear family betrays the effort to represent a village life setting since traditionally families would have an average of about ten people in the nuclear family and many more through the extended filial bonds. However, it could also be reminiscent of the shift from the traditional lifestyle to a more modernised mode of life. The serene ambience in Ombima’s homestead is shattered by the death of his only daughter – Saliku – who has been ailing since birth.
Suffice to note that the novel is characterised by elaborate descriptions which cast the story’s setting as a romantic paradise unadulterated by the corrupting ills of mechanization and industrial development. The villagers till their tiny farms and supplement their day to day needs by being casual labourers in Andimi’s farm. Their main chores are tea picking and delivering the produce at the local weighing station. It is a typical farm life commandeered by a foreman in the name of Mudeya-Ngoko, and coloured by the petty jealousies of the labourers as they jostle to find favour either in the foreman or the owner of the farm.
The greatest turbulence in Gazemba’s The Stone Hills of Maragoli happens when Andimi’s wife rocks the proverbial ship after she becomes unhappy with her husband’s obsession with the business franchise as opposed to their marriage. It becomes the same old story of an unhappy wife who falls in love outside marriage, for example, Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. All these texts express disillusionment with married life and cast it as dull and listless. It is thus adequate to surmise that Gazemba borrows from this tradition of realistic narration to domesticate the ups and downs of a rural Kenyan village life.
Ombima never thinks nor imagines of an affair with Madam Tabitha. As far as he is concerned, Tabitha is way beyond his reach but when Ombima breaks the law and steals vegetables from Andimi’s garden she takes advantage of her knowledge of his misdemeanour to engage him in an illicit affair without the knowledge of her husband. It is Tabitha who initiates the relationship and dictates the direction of their uninhibited romp. In this context, Ombima is an unwilling party who nevertheless has to dance the marionette dance as long as Madam Tabitha holds the reigns of the strings to their affair. Tabitha’s power and economic standing casts her as possessing an intoxicating and magnetic pull that is characterised by her perfume and one from which Ombima’s weak protestations cannot help him wiggle out of.
It is a relationship that catapults Ombima into turmoil by throwing him of course in as far as being a man in his family is concerned. He becomes a little reckless and he feels unable to provide a sense of proper direction in his family. When Saliku eventually succumbs to her death, Ombima deteriorates in his moral standing. He seeks for solace in smoking and the burden of his inequities towards his employer weighs heavily on his moral conscience. His attempts to ward off the Madam are unsuccessful and he ends up entangled in the sweet aroma of their escapades as they indulge in the steamy and unbridled partaking of the stolen fruit. It is these escapades that take them up to the stone hills of Maragoli from which the novel’s title is borrowed.
Like in the predecessors’ stories of unlawful affairs, this story also ends tragically. Ombima cannot bear the guilt of his relationship alone and he ends up unburdening his soul to his closest friend – Ang’ote. But the jealousies play out and become exaggerated when Ang’ote considers this information as his only sure way out of poverty. Ang’ote confides in Rebecca – the old widow – that he plans to inform Andimi of the escapades of his wife so that he can find favour with him and earn his way up the ladder to riches and a good life. Although Rebecca cautions him against such an undertaking, Ang’ote still goes ahead and breaks so to speak the brother code by betraying his friend. Ang’ote’s decision to report his best friend demonstrates how poor male labourers’ hold voyeuristic gazes towards their rich madams and how they wish to conquer them by indulging in fantastical erotic sexual imaginations.
It is a catastrophic turn of events as a scorned and irate Andimi vows to gorge out Ombima’s eyes for having used them to covet after his wife. The irony of the turn of events is that Andimi had made a personal pact with himself to spend more time with his wife as a way of atoning for his absenteeism. He has vowed to become more loving and to try to reignite the fire that first brought them together. It is however a little too late because Madam Tabitha has become obsessed with getting married to Ombima. The story cautions us about human relationships that are founded on weak foundations since we discover that Andimi had married Tabitha in order to climb the economic ladder by gaining access to business opportunities that her father had.

At the end, it is Madam Tabitha who bears the brunt of her husband’s jealousy and hatred for Ombima whom he considers as a useless servant who should have never dared to do what he did. Andimi succeeds to gorge out Ombima’s eyes but his wife is killed by a watchman’s arrow who is scared that thieves might be plotting to rob the school. Thereafter, Andimi expresses his interest in making his faithful servant his wife now that Tabitha is gone. The tragedy of the turn of events at the end of the text is appeased in that Ombima’s wife – Sayo – is reunited with him and Aradi – his son – becomes his eyes whilst leading him around town to beg for alms. On one hand, this scenario brings the text’s unity into focus since the beginning of the novel had highlighted another old man led by his grandson.  On the other hand, when the two blind men meet again at the end of the novel, the story can then come to an end on a positive light although no one knows whether the peace of the stone hills of Maragoli will ever be assuaged.
The story fist appeared here:

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