There is a reason I call my mom Mother Karua. It is because of the kind of person she used to be when we were growing up. These days, old age has done a number on her. White hair, slow movement, wrinkles starting to show and when she says her eyes are no longer what they used to be, she does not mean that they are starting to fail. Well, not in that sense. They are no longer as fierce as they used to be. There were days when my mom would simply look at you and you feel pain. Iron lady. Thus the moniker, Karua. As in if you wanted to threaten me, you’d just tell me “Nitakusema kwa mamako” and I was done. Surely, why bring out the big guns? Why do you have to be like that? Is life that serious? The ferocity of Mother Karua was a thing of legend in our neighbourhood. We would be beaten for anything, even for simply existing. You’d be seated next to her watching TV and you’d get a slap – the kind that leaves your head ringing like a disconnected telephone line. “Look at this mihia sitting next to me, being so disrespectful, breathing in and out and shit.”

OK, maybe she did not, but there is no dismissing the fact that it must have crossed her mind.

And the most terrible days were closing days. Other kids looked forward to clozi … but not me. Not when I had dropped in position because I knew I would be beaten something serious.

Look, my mother did not give a bat’s nipple what I got in which subject. All she cared about was the bottomline. What number were you. If you remained the same number, you were safe. If you dropped two positions max, you were OK. If you went up, well, you would be treated like royalty. But if dropped significantly, like from number 4 to 10, may God be with you. She would light your ass on fire. And there was nothing as bad as receiving a beating on closing day because all schools closed around the same time, meaning every other kid would hear your ass being whooped. And for the next one week, everyone would be mimicking how you cried. And you know how Luo mothers are, eh? They beat you while interrogating you.

Whack!

“Who taught you to fail like this?”

You had to answer, lest you fuel her anger.

“Nobody.”

Whack!

“Ichako nade? Eh? How did you start dropping 10 positions?”

“I do not know.” I honestly did not know.

Whack!

“Gwok piere tar!”

This is basically her calling you a dog with ashy buttocks, but you had to answer anyway. Accept you are a dog with ashy buttocks. 

“Ayie mama.”

Whack!

Whack!

Whack!

And then when she was done, she would swear that to the house help that if she ever caught me outside the house ati playing, we would both have to go find another place to stay. There was a time in Class 5 when I became Position 4 but my Class teacher, for some reason, put me in position 9. Exchanged my position with some girl named Christine. And she did not realize until she had finished and changing it was going to be hectic. On Closing Day I looked for that teacher. I wanted to tell her that I did not care or mind if I shared the same number 4 with Christine, so long as I was not ranked ninth. I did not find her. She had left early. I have never cursed a teacher the way I did mine that year because I knew she had just put one of my feet inside the grave.

The old man on the other hand was only interested in two subjects; Maths and Science. The rest of the subjects could go to hell. So there is this time I came in 12th. I will never forget this. I had 98% in English (50/50 in Grammar and 48/50 in Composition). Kisungu to nong’ad  go penda. In Maths on the other hand, I had scored a fantastic 12%. I gave my report form to my dad, proud because I imagined that the 98% would capture his eyes. Nothing. All he asked me was,

“George, if you had scored at least 30% in Kwano (Maths), what number would you be?”

“Number 3.”

“OK.”

And that was it.

Why am I telling these stories?

It is because after the KCSE results of 2016 were released by Matiang’i, there was this brouhaha about only 141 students getting As. Sijui 33,000 students had scored Es. Finally, credible results from no cheating. Yaaaaay. Give that man Matiang’i a beer and remind him to pay for it. Fun and games. And then something happened. The conversation shifted at some point, on my timeline anyway, to be about how in the previous years people have been graduating from High Schools with fake As, ending up in glamorous careers like medicine, law, engineering etc, only to drop out because they were never bright enough for such courses in the first place. And where did these damp heads end up? In the Arts. In photography. And most recently, in blogging and social media.

You know, we make fun of other people’s careers all the time. Sometimes it is just tongue in cheek, and so when these jokes were flying around, I figured what the hell. Let people have fun. Let people enjoy things. Until I was tagged in a certain conversation initiated by an acquaintance of mine from campus. That is when I realized that kumbe some of these people are serious. There are actually some people out here who actually think that that Bloggers and Social Media conversationalists are weak brained. That we are academic dropouts.

Actually, you can read that post HERE;

It stopped being funny. The moment it did, that is when these ‘jokes’ started flying about everywhere. I do not know about you, but there are occasions I feel like when something really pisses me off is when the universe conspires to rub it in my face.  Do you get that sometimes? For instance when that song you cannot stand is being played everywhere across town and in matatus, and the sound of Jimmy Gait’s autotune voice is gnawing your fucking eardrums off? Yeah. That comes close to what being online felt like at that time. Everyone talking about how easy it is to be a blogger and that is why it is for the sheeple.

Let’s talk about this for a moment.

First of all, bloggers (and artists in general) are not academically dysfunctional. Here is a list for your enjoyment and delight;

Magunga Williams [www.magunga,com] – LL.B (Hons) The University of Nairobi

Rayhab Gachango  [www.potentash.com] – Degree in Communications,
– Chartered Marketer (UK).
– Masters (ongoing) in Corporate and Development Communications

Constant Cap [www.africancityplanner.com] – MA (Planning), Executive Director Kilimani Project Foundation (kilimani.co.ke).

Owaahh [www.owaahh.com] – Bsc. Forensic Science, Kenyatta University

Andanje Wobanda [www.andanje.com/] – Biotechnology and Bio safety

Abigail Arunga [www.akello.co.ke] – BA Journalism (Cum Laude), United States International University – Africa

Wanjiru Kihusa [http://www.stillamum.com/] – First Class, BSc. IT, JKUAT
– MA Communication, The UoN

David Mabiria [www.magazinereel.com] – BSc. Computer Science, Egerton University

Leah Kanda [www.foodies.co.ke] and [www.canduh.wordpress.com] – Quantity Surveying, The University of Nairobi

Martin Maitha [www.obiterdicter.co.ke] – LL.B (Hons) The University of Nairobi
– Diploma, Kenya School of Law

Laura Arina [http://www.extralaudinary.com/] – B.Com Major in Business Information Systems. (Top 5 in her class.)

Steven Siloma [http://silomasays.com/] – Bsc. IT Software Engineering
– ABAP (Advanced Business Application Programming) Developer

Ian Duncan [www.mister-left.com] – Bsc. Information Technology, JKUAT

Grace Ndiege [http://pisces22.com/] – LL.B (Hons) The University of Nairobi
– Diploma, Kenya School of Law

Owen Habel [http://www.owenhabel.blogspot.com] – Computer Information System, KeMU

Nick Kanali [www.techtrendske.co.ke] – Journalism and IT, Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC)
– currently heading the PR and Communications department – Safetrac Limited

Corrie Mwende [www.mwende.co.ke] – Bachelor of Education and Counselling-English/Literature and History Majors(Kenya Methodist University)
– Master’s of Arts in  communication and Media studies (University of Nairobi)
– Public Relations Professional paper-Chatered Institute of Public Relations(CIPR)

Erick Vateta [www.kenyanstory.com] – L.L.B
– Masters in Arts of Communications

Augustine Vickie [www.thikatowntoday.co.ke] – B.A Communications.
– On Going M.A.-International Relations

Juma Juma [www.jumajuma.co.ke] – Bcom Accounting (Hons). Kenyatta University
– Certified Public Accountant (CPA-K)

Kenn Mwaniki [Mwaniki Tales] – BSc. Computer Science, Kenyatta University
– Bsc. Counseling Psychology*. Park University, Kansas City, Missouri.

Mwende Muya [www.mwendemuya.com] – LL.B- CUEA
– Current- Programs Officer Her Voice Kenya

Abel Muhatia [www.biznews.co.ke] – Dip in Journalism, Kenya Institute of Mass Communication
– 2016 SBJF Fellow, Financial Journalism at Strathmore University (ongoing)

Mercy Kariuki [www.suburbanstylist.wordpress.com] – Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Media Studies (Broadcast option),
– Diploma in Mass Communication

Njeri Kareithi [www.njerikareithi.blogspot.com] – Bsc Economics and Mathematics,
– Msc Biometry (The UoN)

I get the irony of me saying that university degrees are not a measure of intelligence, and then going ahead to mention individuals who have degrees in order to prove that bloggers are not dumb. The logic here is that if this pissing contest is about having papers, then by that standard, bloggers have a very majestic loop. It is curved like a protractor, clear, with a pressure-, something everyone should see. But then, we do not measure intelligence using grades. We do not believe that following this tradition of good school=good grade=good career=a good, happy life. We believe that life does not always follow this tidy, linear equation. We passed exams simply because we could (we also kinda had to). Like everybody else.

Secondly, what is this pressure that we put on children to be academic ‘giants’? That is what our Maranda High School used to call itself. We were the cocks of Nyanza’s academia. You did not dare mention our name, unless it was in veneration or prayer. Funny thing is that I came to University of Nairobi in 2010 and when I mentioned to guys from Nairobi – those who came from schools with funny names like akia ni Patch, Boma, Bush, Changez, Chox, Kotet (magitang’o koro?) and gikmakamago – people where like “Ma-what? Is it in Kisumu?”Eye roll.

Ah, but that is beside the point. The point here is that (a) it really is not a big deal when you are not academically inclined and (b) passing exams does not mean you are clever.

Let me tell you something.

I joined Maranda High School when all three Sciences were compulsory. Chemistry, Physics and Biology. I loathed Physics with a burning sensation. I hated the teacher, Mr. Adipo for this reason here. But Physics was compulsory, so I did it and tried to pass it because I had to. At that time I was an OK student – not remarkable, just OK. Always wandering between position 40 and 50 out of 200. I was one of those who teachers always said ‘had promise’. And then in Form 2 second term, when the time came for us to choose subjects, there was a shortage of Physics teachers in school. They made it optional. PRAISE THE SON OF A CARPENTER!! I dropped that motherfucker like a gangster rap mic. Get thee behind me SAITAN! THU!

When the teachers made Physics optional, they did not imagine that a student who held so much promise like Magunga could drop it. As in how? It automatically locked me out of serious careers like Medicine and Engineering. My mother came to school to protest that shit, but I was not about to change shit. That is how much I hated Physics. So much that I defied Mother Karua’s threats. And that is no small thing, by the way. She threatened me. Then cursed. Then cried. Then pleaded.  Nothing.

What teachers had intended was that the Physics droppers would be the, and I say this with a lot of respect to my Form 4 East comrades, dunderheads. Those ones who were not book smart enough. And so Form 4 East became the Eastlando of Maranda High School class of 2008. We all knew why we were in that class. I would top that class from Form 3 onwards. Like when results came, I was number 1 in 4 East, but number 12 overall. The second guy from 4 East would be kitu number 25-40 overall. We all knew what teachers thought of our class.

If you were to look at 4 East from that lens alone, you would see an academic wasteland. Lakini the other thing about 4 East is that it was the home of talent. When the school was going away for sports in another school, my class would be virtually empty. And then when it was time for drama festivals or music festivals, you’d be lucky to remain with 10 students. Biko Okong’o led the pack for drama fests. Kevin Olonde on the keys, leading music fests. Meshack Kwaka on sports – hell, he was the games captain. I would have been part of the Drama Fest and Music Fest crew but after dropping to position 102 in Form 2 first term because of them, my mother made sure I did not ever set foot on a stage again.

Get this. Academic excellence was rewarded. If you were among the top 5 in your class, or if you topped a particular subject, they’d give you a badge. BEST IN GEOGRAPHY, for instance. This badge ensured that you did not queue for meals and on top of that you were given a quarter loaf of bread during tea break for the whole term. What did the best sportsmen and artists in school get? As much as Jon Snow knows. Fuck all.

Does that sound familiar? is that a simile in your life? E.g. When the now Deputy President, William Ruto said that humanities students should not be given HELB loan

After 2008, we the 4 Easterners parted ways like all high schoolers do after KCSE. Yes, I hoped that we would pass those exams – man! the revision we put ourselves through! – but somewhere at the back of my head, I wanted Meshack Kwaka to be a football superstar. My deskmate, Ronny, could sing and dance like you couldn’t believe. I wanted Biko to kickass on stage. And he did, for a spell, while at Strathmore University Drama Society -DRAMSOC. He took part in a couple of productions at Alliance Française. Who else? Ni vile tu nimesahau. But there was so much natural talent in 4 East. My head fails me today. I’d honour them all.

What happened to these chaps though? Last time I checked, both Ronny and Biko became doctors. Meshack these days is swimming in degrees. And it breaks my heart when I think about it, man. Even me I got my A- and went to law school, but y’all know how that went down. At least Olonde became a music producer.

I cannot blame 4 East for shelving their talents. I get it. The system rejected us long before we even knew we were in it. Started when they removed the arts from primary school education, thereby ensuring that if you could make music, or sketch, or simply create, then you’d have to wait till after 8 years of your schooling to explore it. And if you ended up in a school like Maranda, then your talent was royally fucked.

When we were applying for courses at the university, we did not know what we were doing. I mean, we were 18! Think back to when you were 18. Do you really remember knowing what you wanted to do in life? Damn it, some of you wanted to be married by 25! And so at 18 when we asked our guardians to help us choose career paths, we believed them when they gassed us ati we could be anything we wanted to be in life. What they actually meant was that we could be anything but artists/sportsmen. Arts was for failures, or people with no hope in life. If you are reading this and you were in Maranda Class of 2008, and Mr. Saul (or any teacher from Careers Department) told you that you could become a photographer or footballer or writer, please raise your hand.

I thought so.

if education is the key, then school is the lock – Sully Breaks

I do not blame our seniors though. They did not know any better themselves. I cannot blame my mother for wanting me to become a lawyer, because she has been a secretary all her life and all she wants for me is to have a better life. And yes, it hurt me deeply when my whole family refused to attend my graduation when I finally finished law school simply because I had decided to become a writer/blogger, but I can understand why they felt so disappointed, so betrayed. Our teachers never saw successful photographers or writers. Blogs? Psssh. Those did not even ‘exist’ in 2008. So how then can we blame them for wanting us to be accountants and architects? Eh?

The people I can blame, however, are the ones who know better yet still post nonsense on social media in 2016, demeaning the Arts. I blame the millennial on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat who posits that those who use these platforms for business, did not pass exams. Yet these are some of the biggest earning companies today. Never mind that social media has disrupted one of the oldest economies of all time – the media industry. How can you even suggest that the people who are taking over an industry centuries old, are unintelligent?

I blame someone who comes to this blog every so often to tell me how good I am becoming, and then goes back and says that bloggers have warm water for brains. So who is the stupid one? The one who writes dumb things or the person who enjoys reading dumb things? We live in a different time from 2008. The arts are doing waaaay better. We only have akina Ezekiel Mutua holding us back, by trying to stifle our creativity in the name of saving children, but then keeps quiet when his employers are move to change the legal age of sexual consent from 18 to 16.

Right now there are about 33,000 children who think they are worthless because they got Es in exams. I wish I could talk to one of them. I would remind the young’un that Matiang’i only tested their memory, not their full potential. 

“Look at the sky, little ones. Behold! The only thing greater than you.”


Cover photo source; University of Manitoba

About Author

I am a writer. I was not blessed with much, but I was given this ardent love for writing that I just can't shake off. And anyone who tries to make me do that deserves a bruise on his/her neck. I write for a living, yes. But I also write to live.

12 Comments

  1. what a way to end the year! so insightful. by the way, I enjoy ur articles. in fact I’ve subscribed. the thought of u being a failure never crossed my mind. I’ve always thought of biko, Ian dancun and u as geniuses. the next ngugis. people who do something I can’t do. people who see things magically when it’s so ordinary to me. I envy u guys by the way. wish I could write… keep on writing sir. u inspire a generation

  2. and by the way just so that u know I’m not envying u from an ‘E-position’, I got 80 points in high sch back in 2010. bt will do what u do any day. if only I was half as creative

  3. Finally someone put my exact thoughts to words. A girl with good grades who was cursed at for ‘hard headedly’ deciding to pursue media in the University. A girl who decided not to go get married or stick to a regular sales job after campus and just went ahead to freelance as a writer. So she is no longer recognised in family gatherings when successful members are being lined up. I am one of the smartest girls I know but I just don’t want to nurse wounds or defend people in a court of law. It is sad how in 2016 I am still rumoured to be paying my bills with the help of a ‘sponsor’ because a girl can’t simply get paid to manage social media sites and generate content for publications and TV/Radio. Thank you Magunga.

  4. Magunga, thanks for this. I also thought because I’d done a B.Sc. in Actuarial, then I should be a financial whizz and for 5 years it was all I lived. Until I realised you know what? I want to do something that I enjoy, so now I am the watchman to Kenya. Just closing and opening gates plus doing simple arithmetic.

  5. Its pathetic for someone at this age to think that bloggers are academic dwarfs. I can’t blame such a person because he just follows the system by believing in *Go to college, get good grades, get a job, wife and kids* It is the high time that people start to respect other people’s decisions. Blogging is a career just like any other and it pays bills

  6. So much #Truth in this, and the part of the video that goes, “Tests start with tests but finals are never final, because they never prepare is for the biggest test, which is survival.”

    Thanks for sharing this potent message, Magunga, and Happy New Year!

  7. I think our (Kenyan) society has a skewed view on education…having the ‘right’ papers…the ‘right’ career elevates you in the eyes of society. Your intelligence is measured & becomes legit when you look ‘right’. So we go to crazy lengths to get said papers. No one ever pauses long enough to ask themselves if or how higher education contributes to an individual’s lifelong learning.

    I used to fret over getting the right grades, so I can get into the right schools & have the right career…till I discovered much, much, later in life that the most fascinating, intelligent people I know don’t even have college degrees…

  8. Add me to the list of bloggers with a degree lol! Anyway, I have followed, with disgust and disappointment, as people on social media, a channel that primarily supports the Arts, hate on Arts. They forget that we are all differently gifted and some of the most successful people in history (different from famous) were those who were artistic. Nowadays rappers, footballers, actors and bloggers earn more than those cherished doctors and they make their rules. They rule over crowds. Those who hate on bloggers, like the those whose tweets you have attached, are shallow minds who are stuck in a beautiful past where doctors and engineers and lawyers were revered. they hate the fact that attention has shifted from them and Artists can live a good life as well despite their perceived lack of brains. They conveniently forget how artists are disrupting the world with social media influencers earning a living out of doing digital marketing ( a thing that they fail to recognise because most digital marketers do not hold marketing degrees). They are stuck in 1945 when papers decided who would be successful and who would not.

  9. come to think of it, why make life in school a living hell? Magunga you may talk of physics and Mr.Odipo ….as for me l still don’t understand why they had to make me sit endlessly in a kiswahili class despite the fact that l scooped E’s year in year out.

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