Today's Paper

Doing away with conservatism will sprout new ideas and innovation

By XN Iraki | Published Tue, March 6th 2018 at 11:07, Updated March 6th 2018 at 11:15 GMT +3

Most rural towns have shops designed the same way. Such designs are found in Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa and many other countries. I hear the design was from India.

It was spread out through the British Empire to less developed countries. I do not recall seeing such shops in Canada.

The design in Rwanda is different, perhaps a legacy of French influence. Drive around the countryside and chances are that you will come across several schools whose motto is “Strive to Excel’. It is also possible that your school had such a motto. Even rare mottos like Alliance’s “Strong to serve” have been imitated. Have schools legally protected their mottos?

The shop design and school motto is a reflection that we are quite conservative particularly in the rural areas. 

The image of modernity is about Nairobi and few other big towns. Even big towns such as Eldoret, Kisumu or Mombasa have become “rural“ fast after the central business district.

Have seen women carrying firewood on their backs along the southern by-pass, just like in rural areas? Noted how Kenyan men drift into the local mother tongues once drunk? In rural areas, men talk English when drunk, even if they are illiterate. When it comes to marriage, many marry from their locality.

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One could ask why that conservativeness in the age of the internet. Why such uniformity of thought in the age of globalisation?  Why would coming up with a motto be so hard?

Check the name of businesses too. How many checkpoints have you come across? What of Kahuruko?  Check the Christian or baptism names of the kids, they too are replicated. In fact, if you gave me your Christian name, I can predict which part of the country you come from. Truphosa and Truphena are from South Western Kenya. Cleophus is from a semi-arid region not far from Nairobi.

Ephantus is popular near a snow peaked mountain near the equator.  Frida is from the windward side of the same mountain. Jimnah is from the land bordering Aberdares.

Tecla is near the borders with Uganda. Populate the list. Our conservatism comes from homes, where traditions are kept and reinforced across generations. They resist modernity.

Despite the Internet, dowry is still paid in terms of cows and priced differently depending on your county. Children are brought up conservatively too, preferring them to follow instructions and not take initiatives. That follows them to workplace.

Schools, which ought to be citadels of modernism and new thinking, are not always that way.

Obsolete computers

Schools got laptops the other day. They should have been the first to get them before corporations and State offices. Incidentally, cases of corporations donating obsolete computers to schools are not rare.  In developed countries, schools spawn new ideas, which are then picked by the corporate world for commercialisation. Think of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo or even Facebook

Not convinced of conservatism in schools? Why did it take over 30 years to change 8-4-4 systems going through three presidents?

When will exams set our young minds free from primary school to PhD? Conservatism is reinforced by religions which rarely change. They use the same holy books and alternative interpretations are discouraged. Recall when Pope Francis made a suggestion about the Lord’s Prayer? Add the State and conservatism becomes a way of life. Can someone explain why the speed limit of 80kph has remained despite cars shifting from carburettors to VVTi?

I checked my grandfather's marriage certificate of 1924 and it bears an uncanny resemblance to modern marriage certificates. Have you noted that despite our new constitution, old older is still in the air? Conservatism is an enemy of innovation.

Yet, without bold initiatives, it can become a way of life. Does it surprise you that China became a world economic power after the Cultural Revolution despite its ugly face? Which initiative have we taken to make our nation more open to modernism?

Vision 2030 and 2010 constitution were not enough; we still hear echoes from the past. How can we turn the tide? Can we reward shifts from conservatism to modernism? 

Registering patents and monetary rewards will encourage innovators to be creative and modern. Immigration has through ages been a natural cure for conservative thinking. It is no wonder America went ahead of Russia. Counties that will make it easy for newcomers to settle will sprint ahead of others.

The writer teaches at University of Nairobi

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