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Pray thee, get us more Matiang’is

By Kipkoech Tanui | Published Fri, November 18th 2016 at 00:00, Updated November 17th 2016 at 23:19 GMT +3

I routinely come across this and I am sure you too do; that Fred Matiang'i, the Cabinet Secretary for Education either is the best performing CS or one among the best performers in President Uhuru Kenyatta's Cabinet.

Let us introduce today's discussion in a way that jogs the mind. A long time ago, the story goes, a UK paper was forced to apologise for publishing a story that said half of the country's civic leaders were corrupt. The next day, it dutifully apologised to the half "that are not corrupt".

Here, for those who remember, Senator James Orengo, then Ugenya MP, while contributing to the Budget speech read by then Finance minister Musalia Mudvadi, said he (Mr Mudavadi), was surrounded by hyenas. When he made the analogous statement, Mr Mudavadi was sitting between Kanu powerman Nicholas Biwott and Vice President George Saitoti, a previous holder of the portfolio.

Obviously, the then East African Community minister and the late professor of Mathematics (some said statistics) took offence. Forced to withdraw the remark on grounds that it was "unparliamentary', Mr Orengo retorted as he walked out of the chamber: "I apologise to all the hyenas in the House". If you remember those days, it took courage to make such a statement, but Jim did. I may be wrong, but it is no secret that Kenyans have fallen for Dr Matiang'i for the things he has dared to do in the behemoth that is the Ministry of Education.

But as we discuss this, let us agree on one thing; Kenyans thirst for heroes and heroines and are constantly looking out for them outside the orbit of the Presidency and the Opposition leadership. Only a fortnight ago, the sensation was Pauline Shamola, the Safaricom Customer Care lady who knelt down on a hard pavement in Nakuru to help a man with disability load airtime onto his phone.

Last week, it was the story of the two twins at Kenyatta National Teaching and Referral Hospital who were separated after a marathon 23-hour surgery. Chris Musau led a team that successfully separated them. Dr Musau, if you recall, also took part in the successful removal of a terrorist's bullet from the head of Baby Satrin.

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This thirst for heroes and heroines manifests itself when we have international sporting events where Kenyans excel, like the Olympics, the World Athletics and marathon races.

When terrorists attacked the Westgate Mall in 2009 leading to the death of more than 64 Kenyans, some daredevil police officers were garlanded as heroes for they literally crawled or dived to evade flying bullets to save those held hostage, including children. Where those officers are now is a story for another day, but for a guide, you know how thankless our country can be to the small man and woman.

Yet, in the midst of this frustration for heroes and heroines who make us transcend party and ethnic boundaries, there are people making simple but dangerous decisions no one wants to make. Not that the execution of those decisions is hard, but the fear of upsetting the status quo, courting revulsion and risking being the sacrificial lamb if the decisions you make upset the political class or appear to antagonise tribe or party.

From my observation on what Dr Matiang'i has done, I get a feeling some of the ideas he has pushed through were the results of years of study and research in the ministry, but which lacked someone with the fire in the belly to risk all to get them implemented. And coming as an Education sector insider, Dr Matiang'i knew which buttons to press.

But he also knew something else better than those who came before him: Endear yourself to the appointing authority yes, but also do things that would make the public rally around you. This way, ordinary Kenyans became his insurance against examination and thieving cartels all over the ministry's administrative chain. He took on school heads and boards on visiting schools with facts on their allocations, asking them how they spent the cash given the poor state of schools.

He stopped the use of MPesa as a mode for paying schools because of receipting problems and the fact that school heads had turned it into a cash cow. Then he had fresh exam papers printed among other measures we are all now familiar with. In fact, he told the parliamentary Education committee that previously, some exams were printed two years before. Need we ask why they leaked?

This isn't a scorecard on my old friend Dr Matiang'i, but a wake-up call to his colleagues in Government and those of us outside that we too can make it. How? You just need to rally your team by being bold and risking for the sake of the Motherland. After all, the first role of a leader is to influence his or her followers.

When you do this well, you get the protection that will help you confront the wayward. Results of the action taken always encourages the followers to try and do better in any task they are given.

Dr Matiang'i is doing his part, but one can never delude himself or herself that the people whose toes he has stepped on or whose financial lifeline he has cut are not strategising on how to bring him down. That is why this Education reformist needs us as we much as we need him.