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How teachers, nurses fell off their lofty 'elites' perch

By XN Iraki | August 25th 2020 at 10:00:00 GMT +0300

In the past 100 years, teachers and nurses have been the elites in the countryside, with many school children dreaming of following in their footsteps.

Police officers could join the list, but they are always on the move and rarely get noticed unless there is something unusual like a crime.

Their uniform, just like the school uniform, also does not inspire confidence.  

For the longest time, teachers and nurses were major catalysts of ambitions and economic growth in the countryside.

Their children often outdid them in careers and school, becoming captains of industry and other professionals.

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Behind many successful men and women professionally, there is likely to be a teacher as a parent.  

It is also worth noting that they brought up their children in a relatively orderly environment without social media and peer pressure that have made modern parenting a nightmare.

They also had authority and could easily pass their dreams to the children.  

Their “superior” lifestyle was a motivator too. They could afford the good things of life like bread and shoes. The society looked up to them for guidance and inspiration. They enjoyed prestige and honour.  

Then years ago, through a constitutional referendum, the teachers and nurses got competitors in the employees of county governments with fancy titles like county executive, committee members, clerk to assemblies, chief officers, directors and sub-county administrators. 

Just like with the governors, it took us time to notice the new elites or pseudo elites.

Their elitism is derived from not just titles but better pay. Pseudoelitism comes from the fact that they have neither inherited title nor well-defined professions.

They are made by the political system, not the economic system. They do not enjoy the freedom and prestige associated with professions like doctors or lawyers.

This is the bitter truth that many found out after joining the county governments.

The better pay puts them above the nurses and teachers. But the amorphousness of what they do and the uncertain impact of their work attenuates their prestige and elitism.

Could that explain why they like titles? The impact of teachers and nurses in society is well known.

What of the county employees? Almost everyone has interacted with teachers and nurses and not with the police or county officials. 

The national government takes care of big things like roads and higher education.

This leaves the counties with such duties as early childhood and “problem” sectors like health and agriculture, making it even harder for us to see the impact of the new elites and pseudo elites. Add the fact that their selection is rarely fair and their elitism is further eroded. 

Further, some of the new elites serve under the mercy of the governors. If they lose in the elections, they are also sent packing. The job security that teachers and nurses enjoy is a luxury for county officials. 

Is it time that teachers and nurses moved over and make way for the new elites and pseudo elites?  

In the fullness of time, they need not. Their elitism is guaranteed by their work and impact on society.

My fear today is that with unemployed teachers and students enjoying unfettered freedom, the prestige teachers used to enjoy is becoming part of popular history.

Add the privatisation of education and health services and the mystic of the two professions is at stake. 

But if the elitism is defined in the short run through flamboyance, teachers and nurses can move over. Beyond the titles, the county officials can buy cars or be provided with them for free. They even have offices and some have assistants. 

But if truth be told, teachers, nurses and county officials need to understand that the real elites are the entrepreneurs who through ingenuity and sheer hard work move the economy forward by providing goods and services.

They have started firms that employ 83 per cent of Kenyans in the informal sector.

And the taxes they pay run the national and county governments. On the list of entrepreneurs, we must exclude tenderpreneurs, who use their proximity to power to make money without any value addition. 

The framers of the Constitution may not have foreseen the emergence of new elites and pseudo elites, who manage money given to them by the national government.

The state of flux in status and elitism will continue and will become more muddled if we go through another referendum. 

The MCAs may enjoy more perks than the councillors (MCAs), teachers or nurses, but the real elitism is not about conspicuous consumption or show-off but the impact one has on society. Who is bold enough to dispute this? 

- The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi  

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