Lupita Nyong'o
                                Lupita Nyong'o            Photo: Courtesy

A PhD is the highest degree in formal scholarship. It used to have value. Successive political regimes in the quest for dominance and public compliance watered down the prestige of the achievement progressively.

“You do not want too many smart guys asking too many smart questions. That interferes with the smooth running of government”. The pursuit of knowledge was knocked off its high tower, education was dumbed down and intellectuals were slowly silenced.

Nowadays, university dons are better known for their public agitation for better pay. So it seems quite appropriate that a Kenyan acronym for PhD would translate to ‘pull him or her down’. Success lies in a constructive effort to rise above others but through the ‘PhD’ lenses one can only achieve success by destroying those who are better than us.

 In this country, the public relishes in cutting tall poppies down to size. It is another of those Kenyan peculiarities, like our recent fascination with quails. Those who occupy positions of envy must always play humble. The politics of envy operates as a social refrain.

One is advised not to rise too high or too quickly. When success descends after hard labour, especially the nature that involves international accolades, one is advised to voice their gratitude in this order; to thank God, country and then family. You might be big in Ho Chi Minh city but back in Nairobi, celebrity has to be earned.

Our world celebrated athletes, kings of the podium in global competitions, recognise this characteristic and bow their heads when they land at JKIA (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport). It is apparent that it takes a lot more than an Olympic Gold medal to earn a street parade in Kenya.

Presently, a shining star in the name of Lupita Nyong’o is getting her Kenyan DNA analysed. Lupita is the breakout star from the critically acclaimed movie 12 Years A Slave. She has stood alongside Hollywood royalty and most have paled in her shadow. Let’s get this out of the way. She is not Mexican. Lupita’s performance was riveting and she earned her right as an Academy Award nominee.

The symbolic gesture of her success, will serve as a major motivational factor for a whole generation of young Kenyans and is a critical endorsement for the arts as a worthy career pursuit. From now on, every Kenyan filmmaker or producer, will always reference Lupita for effect when talking to their Nigerian counterparts. Every living relative with so much as an iota of a blood relationship to the Nyong’os, will self-identify.

For dark skinned sisters, Lupita has brought the groove back. Black is still beautiful. Her rise is probably not very good for the cosmetic industry. In one fell swoop she has dented the market for skin lighters and weaves.  Very importantly, Lupita has also taken the spot light away from socialites and their press hogging derrieres.

As far as patriotism goes, that is a significant contribution from a 30 year old. But Lupita knows that one slight misstep, a minor incidence of bad behavior, a weak moment of judgment and knives of envy will be drawn. She cannot take a bad picture or experience a fashion faux pas.  She also has to fight the perception that she is a beneficiary of privilege as the daughter of a prominent politician and a Harvard alumnus. These are occupational hazards of stardom.