NGUGI: Why this high school students’ banter caught me off guard

By , K24 Digital
On Tue, 31 Dec, 2019 15:32 | 3 mins read
University lecturer eavesdrops on high school students' banter on national politics. PHOTO | COURTESY
University lecturer eavesdrops on high school students' banter on national politics. PHOTO | COURTESY

I was listening to a bunch of high school students — let's just say I was eavesdropping — and caught a few interesting things about Kenyan politics.

One of them had apparently run for office, the high office of House Captain (Yes, believe it or not, being a prefect has been turned into an elective office) and had fallen flat on his face.

The reason: he didn't have enough money to finance his campaign.

Apparently, you need money to pay some people called "influencers," students with huge followings either because they are Oddies who can dance the oddie dance with flare and flourish, are great talkers with no known ambition, are religious captains or games mandarins.

The need for money in high school campaigns has given rise to all manner of characters about whom interesting stories were being exchanged.

Squandering fees on 'KDF'

There is the guy who squandered an entire term's fees. Apparently, he converted the fees into a slash fund of sort, entertaining fellow students with loaves of bread and KDFs. His campaign managers even got sodas.

For the uninitiated, a KDF has nothing to do with the Kenya Defense Forces, who are still heroes in most high schools. A KDF is a non-Chinese made, long-life, indestructible mandazi guaranteed to fill the gap left in the stomach by the stone-filled, weevil-infested githeri served in high school.

Speaking of KDFs, one enterprising student from a poor background, for there are clear class distinctions in high school despite the uniforms, was said to have accumulated a fortune by trading in KDFs at night. He would buy an entire cartoon of KDFs from the school canteen, then wait for an opportune time to sell.

The price of a single KDF is usually Ksh10. This businessman would then hoard the KDFs until after the only school canteen closed down at 9pm. Anyone desiring a KDF after that hour would then cough up Ksh20 for the item.

This is how he saved enough for his own upkeep, for fare back home and for campaigns. He also used the resources to campaign and actually clinched some office or other.

'National politics'

Then the conversation turned to national politics. And I craned my neck to hear more.

Apparently, none of these guys want be the President of the Republic of Kenya. It is too much stress, they said.

To prove it, someone quoted one of those stupid memes Kenyans have taken to saturating the internet with.

There was a hearty, prolonged, cascading laughter, with not a few high-fives for the curmudgeon.

Then someone explained that the campaigns take their heavy toll on the candidate.

First off, you form a coalition with thieves, murderers and sorcerers, either before the elections or after, for tribal politics ensure that you can't win on issues only.

After criss-crossing the entire width and breadth of this godforsaken country on the dime of corrupt, expectant sponsors giving speeches to people who have mostly turned up to see the motorcade or helicopters and have no idea who you are or what you want, you finally settle into office.

No sooner are you sworn in than complaints start and citizens who didn't vote get mad at you for not acting like God who would say "let there be a road here" or "let the economy grow at a rate of 20% per year" or "let tribalism cease" and all these things happen immediately, the seamless way it happened in Genesis.

Mission impossible?

It is this realisation that surviving the electoral stampede is only but the beginning of mission impossible, the thanklessness and ungratefulness of it all that appeared to give these students cold feet.

It is easy to say that they were not taught properly, that their teachers should have told them to think beyond themselves. But can you really blame them seeing the stress we all put on materialism and individual success?

What worried me about this sophisticated, judgemental political banter among high school students was that I didn't expect it from them.

These are good kids, attending national high schools, yet none of them was interested in politics.

Of course, this group is hardly representative of the youth of this country. But it is the sample I have to work with. Perhaps they will show interest later in college.

But I couldn't help but ask: What have we done to our politics to make it so unattractive as a future careers for young people? If our finest are not interested in leading us, who shall be the leaders of the future?

We need to think long hard about where we are headed.

Dr Muiru Ngugi is a lecturer at the School of Journalism, University of Nairobi.