Today I watched my friend Willis Raburu interview Attorney General Prof. Githu Muigai in the on-going Citizen TV series, Newsmakers. During the interview, the AG noted that his youngest son is currently studying film production. He did not say where, but it is more than likely that his son is studying in Europe or North America. Raburu’s interview with the AG reminded me of an observation I have been making for some time now. It is only the children of Kenyan elites who have the privilege of pursuing careers in the creative arts. Think about it. Lupita Nyong’o, daughter of long-time politician Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o, holds a Masters in Acting from the Yale School of Drama as well as a Bachelors in Acting and Film Production also from a North American university. Muhoho Kenyatta, the 18-year old son to President Uhuru Kenyatta, owns a successful fashion and design company, yet he is still a student at Peponi School.
Over a decade ago, the Ministry of Education scrapped Art, Craft and Music from the curriculum of public primary schools in Kenya. Yet, the same breed of senior government officials who formulated this policy continue to take their children to Peponi, Cavina and other high-end schools where student toys are clarinets and trombones; weekend assignments consist of attending the Nairobi Jazz Festival; and end-of-term trips include visiting prestigious galleries and exhibitions in Paris.
Class inequalities in Kenya’s education system are so rampant that careers in the arts are restricted to the children of elites. One must be born on “the other side of Uhuru Highway” for them to afford to dream about music, film, theatre, literature and art as career options. That’s why every December, when K.C.P.E. results are released, the top students always want to become the same thing when they grow up: a neurosurgeon, aeronautical engineer, or slight variations of these. Kenya’s public education system is killing the creativity and life of our children by teaching them that true success can only be achieved in the hard and social sciences, though the latter is less prestigious. The true measure of success in our education system must be the breadth and depth of dreams that our pupils and students have. The catastrophe of Kenyan education is painfully evident when children in Eastlands and rural Kenya confess that they cannot “afford” to be musicians or actors because there are no jobs in those fields—the same kind of rhetoric spewed by their parents and teachers. To be a child is to be able to dream. We are dehumanising our children by denying them a chance to dream. To dream that they can become anything they want.
It is important to note that this is a structural problem and thus no amount of individual or organisational philanthropy can address it. Safaricom Jazz Festival and Coke Studio can sponsor all the music platforms they want—and they have profit-driven motives to do so—but this can never replace the need for the Kenyan government to invest in the proper training and education of art professionals. I have met many actresses at Kenya National Theatre who are more talented than Lupita Nyong’o, but they will probably never win an Oscar. This is is because their theatre training only went as far as attending the annual Drama Festivals in high school. Most of us can remember fellow students in our high schools who only came alive during Drama and Music Festivals or sports season in the academic calendar. They enjoyed the “extra-curricular” activities more than they did the “curricular” ones. Sadly, it is only children in Eastlands and rural Kenya who operate within this artificial binary of what is curriculum and what is not. Students in Cavina, Peponi and St. Andrews Turi can take subjects like theatre and public speaking. They can also practise horse-racing and archery depending on the sport that is in-season.
The Kenyan government through the Ministry of Education must invest in the arts and sports. Of course, this will only be possible after an ideological transformation in government and society at large. So the next time President Kenyatta makes a mushy statement about Lupita and Kenyan patriotism, someone please remind him that children in Ndururuno Primary School in Huruma would also like to afford acting as a career.
By Muoki Mbunga