Political revenge of the Kenyan nerds 

Azimio la Umoja running mate Martha Karua confers with presidential candidate Raila Odinga.

Azimio la Umoja running mate Martha Karua confers with presidential candidate Raila Odinga during the final Azimio rally at Kasarani Stadium on August 6, 2022. Azimio will take a good look at our education system and restructure it to bring sanity and credibility to it.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • As our education system failed, so did the state and society. Back in the day, the nerd used to get the girl.
  • Azimio will take a good look at our education system and restructure it to bring sanity and credibility to it.


Our education system has collapsed. International employers no longer believe in Kenyan academic credentials.

Colleges and universities in America used to take transcripts from Kenyan schools as gospel truth. No longer.

Today they hold them under the proverbial magnifying glass. Often, they discount the grades and knock them down a peg.

If you doubt me, listen to some of our “graduates”. Many can’t string together a coherent sentence.

Our universities are tawdry diploma mills. Anyone and I mean anyone, who wants a degree gets one.

“Nerds”, or so-called “bookworms”, went out of fashion eons ago. 

As our institutions of learning – from kindergarten to college – have collapsed, our country has slowly decayed in virtually every facet of life.

"Screwed up"

The economy is on its deathbed. Traffic rules mean diddly squat. We can’t grow enough food to feed ourselves.

Official impunity is at an all-time high. Morality and honesty are a distant whisper. We no longer respect our parents or elders.

Our senior politicos mouth the vilest epithets at rallies. Our moral code as a nation is no more.

PhDs are despised by dropouts and make less than MCAs. We are a country that’s screwed up.

Royally. That’s why the August 9 elections mean everything. We are at an inflection point. We must get a grip. 

Let me recall my idyllic early education and how nerds were the bomb then.

First, the usual opening line by folks of my generation. The school was far away, miles over several valleys and rivulets.

But we got up at the crack of dawn, took cold baths from buckets in outhouses (running water was only a rumour in the village), and then trekked into the horizon to school after a bite of breakfast.

Often, many went barefoot, the only thing distinguishing them being the bright-coloured uniforms.

At six o’clock sharp, we reported to school. Guess what? We were truly happy campers.

The entire school day was one great adventure. We loved it. Then we happily trooped home hopping and skipping. 

My children roll their eyes every time I tell this story of “hardship”. Teachers were stern then.

The rule was spare the rod and spoil the child. There was more corporal punishment than I would’ve liked.

The education system was a copycat of the harsh British public education, only without the benefits of industrial democracy.

But I will say this of the system. It forged character, the excesses notwithstanding.

I remember disciplined school culture percolated all the way to the University of Nairobi.

The idea of cheating in exams, for example, never even occurred to us. That’s how innocent and naïve we all were.

I can see more eye rolls. That system made us who we are today.

A broken people 

But those who came after us are broken people. The 8-4-4 system was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The state has so tinkered with the education system that nothing makes sense anymore. Nothing.

Today it’s the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC). Who knows what monster is next?

As our education system failed, so did the state and society. Back in the day, the nerd used to get the girl.

Then the nerd was dropped for the villain, the vagabond. Then the flashy but empty-headed dresser took charge.

Materialism took over. Soon, it didn’t matter how you acquired your wealth.

Only that you were morally inferior – a fool, an idiot – if you weren’t rich. The nerds were pushed to the margins of society.

Kenya became an anti-intellectual society. We are largely governed by our inferiors.

People who are moral dwarfs and intellectual midgets. That’s what sells in Kenya as long they have cash in their pocket.

But lately, I have seen some incipient changes. The nerds are coming back. It’s what I call the revenge of the nerds.

In the political campaigns of the major candidates, for example, nerds are increasingly valuable.

It’s the nerds who crank out manifestos. They organise “thinking” retreats. They write “think pieces”.

My suspicion is that the next government will pay more attention to what nerds think, and say.

That’s partly out of necessity because the country has to think its way out of the mess it’s in.

But it’s also because in Azimio, for example, flag-bearer Raila Odinga and running mate Martha Karua are intellectuals.

The campaign is driven by data, evidence and facts from impeccable research.

They interrogate their advisers repeatedly and think with them. They don’t shoot in the dark or act on a hunch.

I believe the Azimio government will have its fair share of nerds.

I also believe because of this, Azimio will take a good look at our education system and restructure it to bring sanity and credibility to it.

It will modernise it while making it competitive internationally.

It will make sure we are no longer an international laughing stock.

As Azimio restores the education system, banishes corruption and shuns impunity, the country will return to moral sobriety.

Let the nerds return to respectability.

Makau Mutua is SUNY Distinguished Professor and Margaret W. Wong Professor at Buffalo Law School, The State University of New York. @makaumutua.

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