READERS' CORNER: Mourning Odiemo-Munara, a dedicated literary scholar

Lennox Odiemo-Munara, a professor of literature at Egerton University. He died on March 14, 2016. PHOTO| FILE| NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • LOM spent the best years of his life reflecting on literature and writing material that should be of great value to future scholars of literature. He tackled existential despair, a subject rare in African creative writing.

  • Given that he did it from an African perspective, informed by the African reality of tribalism and tyranny in which chairmen of university departments are a constant reminder of the general purposeless tyranny across countries, it would be

    unfortunate to lose this material with the passing on of LOM.

Mourning Odiemo-Munara, a dedicated literary scholar

By Gilbert Muyumbu


The literary fraternity is mourning Lennox Odiemo-Munara, LOM, as he preferred signing off his name, and who was a young lecturer of Literature at Egerton University.

He died on Monday, March 14. Kenya’s literary fraternity has lost a scholar who was dedicated to literature and whose knowledge of the subject was deep and well-informed.

LOM was not just an A-student of Literature, having graduated top of his class in the year 2004 with a first class degree, he was also a life-long scholar who did his own creative writing, with some of the writing occasionally appearing in The EastAfrican

newspaper. He also wrote occasional essays on the subject in the newspapers.

To show just how well-informed and widely read on matters of Literature, LOM was, every year in December, just after the Nobel committee announced its winner for the Literature Prize, he would give Yours Truly a call and inform me of the works of the

writer that had just been awarded the prize. His knowledge of the literary world was so immense that one wondered where he found the time to read all the works he cited with such ease.

The dedication of LOM to literature became obvious to anyone who visited him at his house in Njoro. Books occupied every conceived space in the house, making the house look as if it was a book store.

In LOM’s rich collection were titles that were so rare that one could never hope to get them elsewhere. Some of the titles that were banned from public reading could be found in his rich library, where he guarded them with the dedication one reserves for prized items.

On the local literary scene, LOM was largely uneasy at the works of Kenya’s emerging writers. His biggest frustration with Kenyan literature was, among other things, its obsession with the colonial experience, a frustration that he expressed articulately in his

short story, The Name of a Secret, published in The EastAfrican in 2014, and in which the lead character, Dambu, despairs over the freezing of African scholarship in mourning over the colonial experience.

But notwithstanding the reservations, he had a respectful relationship with current notable names in Kenyan Literature such as Binyavanga Wainaina. He also had the respect of some of the revered names in the local literary scene, chief among them, Prof

Chris Wanjala, who referred to him in respectful terms, and who in turn, he revered as one of his most influential teachers.

In terms of personal outlook in life, LOM was an existentialist who despaired over human existence. He took on subjects such as death and existential despair and handled them with a witty calmness.

Glimpses of this outlook can be gleaned through some of the creative pieces he published with The EastAfrican. In The Performance, for instance, he is longing for a world of ‘nothingness,’ a theme he was passionate about, and which meant for him an

alternative away from a world of futile pursuits that turn existence into a far more complex reality than was necessary. This outlook made him detach himself from anything that was not scholarly, even if this came with negative consequences for his material

condition. He believed that pursuing anything else was a waste of one’s brief pilgrimage in the world of existence.

LOM spent the best years of his life reflecting on literature and writing material that should be of great value to future scholars of literature. He tackled existential despair, a subject rare in African creative writing.

Given that he did it from an African perspective, informed by the African reality of tribalism and tyranny in which chairmen of university departments are a constant reminder of the general purposeless tyranny across countries, it would be unfortunate to lose

this material with the passing on of LOM. Like Max Brod, who rescued the works of Frantz Kafka from being lost to the world, we should keep LOM’s work alive.

Who knows, perhaps 200 years from now, when Kenyan writing would have taken a turn away from its pre-occupation with the colonial experience, someone may find gold in the writing.


Article written by Gilbert Muyumbu. Mr Muyumbu is the author of the short story collection ‘Noses in Our Family and Other Stories’ and a poetry collection ‘Battle for Power and Other Poems



Teachers still have respect and honour

By Thomas Kipruto


Collins Musanga (Saturday Nation, March 19, 2016) wants teachers to earn their honours, and not demand them as Ouma Otieno (Saturday Nation, March 5, 2016) had advised.

On his part, Ali Dayib envied Tanzanian teachers because of Magufuli’s free bus rides for them. Where I come from, teachers are still the most respected members of society, save for a few who cannot be separated from other village drunks.

They are organised, financially stable and command respect during weddings, funerals and fund-raisers. In fact, six of the 10 boda bodas that ply our rural roads belong to teachers. Their children attend the best private boarding schools and they perform

well during national exams.

Why are teachers not complaining where I come from? Their work in the farm is well co-ordinated. During market days, their motorbikes dispatch vegetables to the market as they are dropped in school just in time.

Did I mention that they do not pay rent? If teachers were as miserable as we are made to believe, they would be all over the media complaining. Did I say that teachers are some of the few who buy newspapers on a regular basis.

Teachers have respect and honour where I come from.

The writer is a physical planner in Nakuru


Blame parents for our poor reading culture

By Kimberly Wakesho


Let’s face it, parents, our children mimic our behaviour — if you work hard, they will work hard, if you try to cheat the system, or your neighbours, they will do the same.

If you want your children to read, you need to start reading. You need to be the example of what to do with your time. You need to read with them. You need to read to them. Studies show that children who are read to and who read for just 20 minutes a

day get 10 per cent higher scores in school and on standardised tests. This should be motivation enough but there are other benefits, too.

Children need to have their imaginations fostered, directed, and grown. Reading opens minds and doors for progress, opportunity and success.

The responsibility falls to us — parents. Stop blaming the schools. Stop blaming the government. Stop blaming the culture. You are the culture for your kids.

If your child is not reading, is not learning, is not living right – look in the mirror – because they truly are


Guide books are still relevant in class

By Ndiangui Ndung’u


While I agree with writer Oliver Oloo on how needless and redundant guide books are in the current study of Literature, I beg to differ with him on his call for them to be “outlawed, burned and banned from our classrooms”.

That guide books have survived over the years in the education system is sheer proof of their value. They are neither to blame for the lack of good grades in English nor the tussle on integration and the confusion among students during exams.

It is worth noting that the texts are, and should be, used for the purpose that their title portends — guidance. They must never replace the actual text. If used correctly, they cannot be blamed for the poor performance.

To Oloo, killing the messenger will definitely make things right, yet Kenya, even with its integrated system of teaching English and literature, is not the only country where guide books are used.

If what Oloo observes about the arrangement of content is true, then the problem is not with the guide books but their users — teachers and students — and publishers.

Oloo missed the point when he alleged that teachers prescribe some guide books just because they are written by professors who taught them at university. That teachers pledge their loyalty to their dons with little regard to the curriculum is a vain attempt to paint teachers as incompetent and unable to think for themselves. The marketer has well written guides by teachers alongside those written by university dons.

It is erroneous for teachers to prescribe guides to students instead of a practical interaction with the texts. It is my belief that Oloo should instead be calling for a paradigm shift. He should have advised teachers to stop relying on guides authored by persons without current (integrated) classroom experience. Instead, teachers should tailor their authorship to the requirements of the curriculum.

The failure by authors to produce texts that are relevant to the requirements of the curriculum shows that the struggle between English and literature is still alive. Like marriages, some fail, some just exist while others succeed. Much to the chagrin of literary enthusiasts, integration has reduced literature to a mere means to achieving better performance in English.

The “backstreet profiteers” Oloo refers to are any publisher or writer who does not fall in the category of the ‘big names’. Yet even KICD has recommended works written by little knows authors.

It is the quality of content and not the size or popularity of a publisher or author that should dictate approval of a text for teaching.

If mainstream publishers were so good, there would be no need for several editions of the same text as exists in our schools today. The profit driven publishing industry has seen big firms  dominate while up and coming authors are locked out.

This led to the existence of alternative publishers, who have grown to be a force to reckon with.


The writer teaches English and Literature at Moi Kadzonzo Girls High School in Kilifi County and is a part-time lecturer at Pwani University


Reliance on exams not fair to all students

By Raymond Owalla


This year, tennis and a taekwondo professionals have sought audience with our school, requesting permission to train our students in these disciplines. But the latter professional really caught my attention. He outlined a structured breakdown of the whole package that would culminate into registration and a certificate.

 The recently released KCSE exam results left a lot to be desired. While the best performers received attention, the bulk of the candidates were silently pondering their next move.

The education system is so rigid that learners only pursue cognitive aspects.

As a teacher, I am obliged to identify unique strengths or weakness in learners but my work is restricted by the demands of our curriculum.

The national examination, therefore, becomes a parameter for gauging about half-a-million candidates, and the glory goes to only one per cent. What do we do with the rest? Extra-curricular activities should be examined to enable education to serve its core

purpose of solving societal challenges.


The writer teaches Kiswahili at World Hope Senior School in Nairobi and is an MA student at the University of Nairobi


The folly of being serial cheats

By Daniel Oneya


Why would students develop the habit of cheating in examination when most of them were brought up in an environment of books?

Why do they adopt strange interests that consume a lot of their time? Some waste a lot of time online only to realise that exams are approaching, thus they resort to cheating.

Some concentrate on movies, games, music and forming friendship groups instead of  studying.

In some schools, teachers leak exams to senior students, forgetting that they should not only be teaching for grades but for skills, too.

Students who pass by cheating get many challenges when they go to college. They keep changing courses, or resort to more cheating or even paying other people to sit examinations for them.