You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2008.

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, who is dying from pancreatic cancer, and had three to six months left to live when he gave his last lecture at the university Sept. 18, 2007. In his moving talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals. The talk is dedicated to his three young children who will never have a chance to have him walk them through life. Though long, this video is completely captivating. I needed tissue at the end.

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A short while ago I discovered Jemimah Thiong’o and my life has never been the same since!

I bought her CD Alinitua on the recommendation of the clerk at Kassanga’s (another fine establishment in support of local artists) and just loved it. Track after track is on point!

Then in January I bought her latest CD Imani which is even better than the first. Again every single track is just on point.

I think her music and voice is of a much higher quality than other Kenyan artists who get all the hype. I feel like there is a class background issue and she doesn’t have the kind of people promoting her that match the high quality of her music. I mean with talent like this, she should really be rivaling the international career of an Oliver Mtukudzi…. And while i’m making the Southern African comparisons, I should mention that, to me, her music is reminiscent of South Africa’s Brenda Fassie who I discovered when i lived in Zimbabwe a while back. I think if she got the right kind of people and money behind her, her talent and career could easily rival those Southern African performers.

My four thumbs up songs from the CD Alinitua are mwenye Baraka, Hakuna, and Mipango ya Mungu. And from Imaniare sina chakujivunia, una mbegu, and Niseme nini.

So if you like Brenda Fassie, check out Thiong’o and you won’t be disappointed!

and if you know where I can get her concert schedule let me know!!

Then of course there is the yard stick: Brenda Fassie! Haki I don’t know what Brenda is saying in this song but the Video is amazing in communicating the tension!

I stumbled on this website a while back and have been thoroughly impressed by the initiative. I subscribed to the mailing list and every once in a while will receive and email with the profile of an amazing Kenyan doing incredible things. Like this week’s profile of Tom Oketch, a peacemaker in Kibera.

According to their website, “In 2007, a group of Kenyans decided to start thinking about ways in which our country’s demi-centenary, in 2013, could be approached. We thought that one of the ways in which it is important to mark Kenya’s 50th Birthday is by telling the inspiring story of Kenyan achievements in the last fifty years. We wanted to celebrate ordinary every-day heroes, in a variety of fields of endeavour who have taught us and challenged us as Kenyans, by their lives. Indeed, we would focus specifically on those Kenyans whose life-spans have mirrored that of this wonderful country of ours: Kenyans born since 1963. We would document these lives through beautiful fine art photographs, and attempt to put down a record of our times through the recounting of these extraordinary and well-lived Kenyan lives in well written socio-biographies by professional writers. This was the idea behind GenerationKenya, the project.”

For a while now I’ve been very interested in the role of the Kenyan middle class in our democratic development. So i’ve gone back to the books…

According to widely respected Political Scientists Rueschemeyer Stephens and Stephens in their book on Capitalist Development and Democracy, capitalist growth is “associated with democracy because it transforms the class structure, enlarging the working and middle classes, facilitating their self-organization, and thus making it more difficult for elites to exclude them. Simultaneously, development weakens the landed upper class, democracy’s most consistent opponent. The relationship of capitalist development to democracy, however, is not mechanical. As the authors show, it depends on a complex interplay of three clusters of power: the balance of power among social classes, power relations between the state and society, and transnational structures of economic and political power”

The question for Kenya’s democracy is whether the interplay of these three clusters of power is in favour of our democracy.

I would argue that they are not quite yet. Indeed the new bloated cabinet and government that was sworn in last week shows that the balance of power in Kenyan society still favours the elites and that the Kenyan middle class, as was represented by members of civil society who were teargassed as the protested the bloated cabinet, has not yet formed enough of a power base to effectively challenge the elites.

The balance of power in the second power cluster, that between the state and society is still not in favour of Kenya’s democracy. Again this is evidenced by the ability of the state to unleash security personnel on protesting civil society not to mention the protesters in Kibera and Kisumu among other places.

Finally, I think that now, more than in the past, the transnational structures of political and economic powers are in favour of Kenyan democracy. Yes, there are major problems in the location of Kenya in the global economic matrix. But still, the fact that for the last couple of years we have been able to read a national budget that did not heavily rely on foreign aid means that we are, to a limited extent, free to chart the course of our democracy.

My advise to those pursuing the growth of democracy in Kenya: focus on pressuring the new parliament to enact legislation that will expand the size and power of the working and middle classes.

First among this legislation needs to be a strengthening of the legal system and particularly a strengthening of private property rights including limiting corruption.

Private property rights not only includes the rights of those dispossessed in the Rift Valley, but also ensuring justice in land allocation to those communities who feel that their land resources have been usurped by Kikuyus.

For more on the importance of private property rights on capitalist growth see Hernado De Soto’s explanation

hmmm. been a while since I dusted and tended to things around here blog house of mine.

I’ve been busy handing in the first complete draft of my dissertation and trying to clear the forest that was my back yard so I can plant things for summer. I’ve already planted tomatoes and herbs and have plans for maize, beans, cucumbers, lettuce, as well as fig, persimon, pear, and apple trees. I”ve been such a mkulima over the last few days you wouldn’t think I grew up in the concrete and mabati jungle that is the Eastlands of Nai.

Speaking of which, I get so irritated when people here think all Africans grew up in the wide open savannah and are expert about agriculture and living in the wild. I’m so the opposite!

I’m such a city kid and have no apologies for it. For example I hate camping and all other forms of ‘roughing it’. My idea of adventure is traipsing down Madison Avenue, or Tom Mboya Street, not some bush with spiders and assorted other animals!

Anyway, despite my aversion to the wild, I still love growing plants and the idea that you can feed yourself from your back yard. I think its the sustainability of it thats attractive to me. Same reason I’m an avid recycler, keep two compost heaps, and want solar panels on my roof. I’m passionately about saving the earth from humanity but leaving forests to animals. A tree hugger who doesn’t want to live in a forest. Is that an oxymoron?!

I have two passions: Project A, and teaching.

Project A is something I created to give back to young women in Kenya. Its my true calling and what I would do with my life if I won the lottery and could only pursue one of my passions. Unfortunately, its an expensive habit that, while is a major boost for the spirit, its a big drain on the family finances.

My other passion is teaching and here there is wonderful news: Yesterday I accepted an offer for a tenure track Assistant Professorship at a U.S. University!!

I’m beside myself with relief and excitement because I now have a job that will allow me to pursue both of my passions. The academic calendar and my research interests mean I’ll be in Kenya at least a couple of months out of the year from here on out!

On the other hand i must admit that I’m a bit ambivalent about diving head on into U.S academia. Kenya needs my education more than my young American students do. Much as Project A is an attempt to stem it, I am part of the brain drain.

But then again the paycheck and research funding from the teaching job will help me keep paying the bills and tickets to Kenya so I can pursue Project A more….

I know I’m lucky because its not like i hate teaching and I’d only be doing it to support what I’m really passionate about. Which makes me wonder (in the spirit of flipping out over my upcoming 30th birthday):

Do you continue at your job because you’re passionate about it or is it something you do so that you have money to pursue your true passion?