Category Archives: planning

in that parallel world…

Context is important. Two of my high school friends were having a fb conversation. It was inspired by a video of  a freestyle that was in turn inspired by two guys sitting on the side of the road playing their instruments. One(of my high school friends) posted a video of the freestyle and hacked back to their rap days and how this guy is almost as good as they were.


The reply:

I have just checked this out. You’re right… he’s almost on our level. We’re proof of what happens when a society’s education system deprioritises the arts. Who knows where EAW (currently an engineer) may have ended up had his talents been nurtured? Probably, in that parallel universe, he would be singing for change on the side of the road he built in this universe.

That paragraph needs nothing further added to it. In fact if you are in a hurry go ahead and get back to work because after that succinct, sublime, seminal string of sentences all that follows will be muddled and messy, merely marauding.

But I’ll go ahead and write it anyway because it deserves a review. This paragraph that starts off lambasting the education system we went through. Due to the society’s insistence on “practical subjects” we have no idea how many writers, actors, musicians, and designers we lost. Who knows how different our country would have looked, would have felt if we had all these people whose job it was to express a Kenyan identity. People who either knew what their countrymen wanted or who knew what they would like. Opinion changers and complacency satisfiers. A whole host of people who understood Kenya. Perhaps we wouldn’t still be grappling with the question of identity. We may not have been asking what it means to be Kenyan if there were people who understood us and had spent decades decoding it for us. Crafting a national myth and sewing together from our diversity a beautiful cloth that covered our vulnerability and healed the cracks that have been exploited over and over again in order to win elections.

Mark O’Connell writing in the newyorker says

Shelley’s famous line about poets being the unacknowledged legislators of the world always strikes me as giving a little too much credit to poets and a great deal too much credit to the world.

Yet another paragraph that does not need expounding. We can all with the great gift of hindsight say that if we had more art in our country we would have been understood each other better. The empathy that hearing other people’ stories inspired in us would never have let us look at our neighbours as if they were strangers deserving of being burned and hacked. Spontaneous performances of music would lift our spirits from the endless drudgery of daily life. Clothes that spoke truly of us, of who we are instead of who ruled us  once upon a time would definitely have meant that we would walk straighter and stand prouder.

This could all be true. But, and here’s the thing that it’s easy to forget Kenya is a developing country. There are basic things that we don’t have. We don’t have the best  roads or well enough built buildings, we don’t have enough hospitals, we simply don’t yet have the capacity to carry the things our country needs to carry. I mean that literally, to carry the food that needs to be transported from one corner to another, to carry the people who need it to their places of work, to carry the sick to hospital, to carry the ever growing urban population, to carry the still-ever growing but much easier to forget rural population, we can’t even carry the men with egos who would sit and rule over us.

I have absolutely nothing against art. I understand the therapeutic effect that it gives to the weary and the happiness with which it can lift a human soul. But that paragraph made me think. It made me think about what it is we really needed. What we needed at the time that these decisions were being made. I can’t help but think that the right call was made. Kenya has not moved very far past the days when we could see the holes punching through the roads in our capital because they couldn’t bear the weight of the trucks driving  over them.

The further back we look the less we can see. There was no focus on the arts in our school. The education system decidedly leans against the subjects that you excel in due to self-expression. But I can’t help but think that’s what the country needed and may still need for a while. There have to be streets before the career of a street musician becomes a viable alternative. Can anyone deny the changes brought about by the invention of m-pesa and then go on to argue that the presence of a national dress would have been more beneficial?

Today I met a guy who went to campus in the same period that I did he studied actuarial science. Now he’s a musician. He told me that he’s employed in the high school I went to. That it actually has an arts program now. That they have finally recognised the need for this in the lives of their students. We needed engineers and architects very badly for a very long time but I don’t think the need is nearly as pressing as it used to be. In fact I’m sure that the classes will be filled far beyond their capacity in universities all over the country.  Now we have enough resources to spread around. Enough money to invest in the architect and the actor, enough space to teach the future civil engineer and civics professor.

When that happens it gets to be time for a change. Without proper nurturing talent will still shine through and the best of the best will be huge musicians, great actors, well paid writers. As the economy matures I imagine it gets to a point where a middling engineer can feed his family just as much as a middling musician can. It’s the future I would like to live in. Unfortunately it’s going to be a bygone generation making these decisions on our behalf. Though, since time passes it will soon be us. The education system we put in place is  a reflection of the kind of society we want our children to live in. the biggest question then becomes what society that is.


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Filed under arts, education, future, kenya, planning