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Why several high school set books are trending on Twitter today

By Fred Kagonye | Jan 6th 2022 | 5 min read

Some of the set books that were trending on Twitter on January 5 and January 6. [File, Standard]

On Wednesday and Thursday, a number of high school set books from previous years occupied top Twitter trend slots in Kenya.

A Twitter user by the name Cashy, whose handle is @ItsKyylie_, had, on Wednesday, January 5, asked online users to name the set books they studied in high school.

“Name the set book you did back in high school, and let someone else guess your age,” she tweeted.

Her post attracted at least 855 retweets, 1,100 comments and 2,500 likes.

Some of the set books that Kenyans listed, and consequently trended on the micro-blogging site, are Kifo Kisimani, Utengano, The River Between, Shreds of Tenderness, Kidagaa Kimemwozoea, Mayai Waziri wa Maradhi, Merchant of Venice, Coming to Birth, Betrayal in the City, among others.

Most people, who listed the books, are currently in their late 20s, early 30s and mid-30s.

The most-mentioned book, Kifo Kisimani, a Swahili play, was introduced for Form Three and Form Four students countrywide in 2005, enjoying a seven-year examinable coverage.

Kifo Kisimani was authored by Kithaka wa Mberia, a linguistics and languages professor at the University of Nairobi.

In an interview with The Standard on Thursday, January 6, Wa Mberia said he was humbled to have contributed to the Kenyan education system, and impacted the lives of many through his book.

“If the book is trending [on Twitter], it means that people can relate its setting to their current situations,” he said in a phone interview.

“A good book transcends generations; people can relate to it, not just in the publishing country, but internationally.”

According to the linguistics professor, challenges that African countries face are similar, and that he highlighted the issues in his book.

“I’m humbled that people are still referring to it, many years after its last examinable use in high schools,” he said.

Kifo Kisimani highlighted key challenges facing societies headed by corrupt, cruel, incompetent and clueless leaders.

The book followed the life of one Mwelusi, who was treated as a hero in his Butangi hometown for standing up to bad leaders. Mwelusi, who was fighting for the people to be allowed to fetch water from a communal well, would later be killed by his brother, Gege, a pro-regime crusader. The mayor of Butangi, Mtemi Bokono, had issued new rules, denying constituents the rights to fetch water from the well.

Shisia Wasilwa, a veteran journalist and Swahili books author, told The Standard that most of the trending books were examined in secondary schools nationwide between 2005 and 2015.

“At the time, most books tackled issues on poor leadership and effects of patriarchy on society. The problems were unique to that generation. Today, most set books touch on modern challenges such as technology, climate change, among others,” he said.

He urged the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) to expedite the process of approving new books for use in schools.

“KICD has been selecting books whose themes do not necessarily resonate with today’s citizens,” he said.

The trending books

Utengano was one of the set books that had a notable mention on Twitter on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Swahili novel by Said A. Mohammed was centered around key social issues such as gender roles in today’s world, divorce, patriarchy, politics and forgiveness.

Another set book, The River Between by Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, followed the life of a young man, Waiyaki, who was on a mission to unite two fighting Kikuyu villages of Makuyu and Kameno in the pre-colonial era. The English literature book encouraged reconciliation as a key value in society.

Mayai Waziri wa Maradhi was a short stories Swahili set book that was taught in secondary schools in the early 2000s. Some of the major themes in the book included effects of poor leadership on the community and the economy.

Shreds of Tenderness, an English set book by Ugandan playwright John Ruganda, took a deeper delve into how selfishness, greed and betrayal negatively affects the wellbeing of families and the nation at large. It put a focus on the plight of refugees who are unwanted in host nations.

The River and the Source, another famous English literature set book by novelist Margaret Ogola (now late), also received a special mention. It follows the birth and growth of a child whose name is Aoko. The book also focused on three generations of women born after Aoko. The River and the Source looked at the evolution of the traditional African culture over the years.

The Merchant of Venice is a 16th-century play written by William Shakespeare in which a merchant in Venice named Antonio defaults on a large loan provided by a Jewish moneylender, Shylock. The play is believed to have been written between 1596 and 1599.

Mstahiki Meya was a Swahili set book by Timothy M. Arege. His story followed the life of a selfish mayor who did not care about his constituents’ welfare. The mayor’s children, as per the book, were studying abroad while his constituents’ children languished in poverty and illiteracy. The book underscored the consequences of poor leadership.

Late Ken Walibora’s Kidagaa Kimemwozea also made it to the top trends on Twitter on Wednesday. It looks at how the poor survive tough economic times, and how their situation sometimes pushes them not to care about any other thing, but their survival.

In Coming to Birth, the author, Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye, interweaves the story of one young woman’s tumultuous coming of age with the history of a nation emerging from colonialism. At the age of 16, Paulina leaves her small village in western Kenya to join her new husband, Martin, in Nairobi. It is 1956, and Kenya is in the final days of the “emergency," as the British seek to suppress violent anti-colonial revolts.

Finally, Betrayal in the City by Francis D. Imbuga also made it to the top trends. The book puts a sharp focus on third-world countries, and how some are poorly run after gaining self-rule.

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