That the kids in Kenyan schools have in the recent past been at the barricades - laying waste to millions of ideological indoctrination investment centers, and are being met with a ban in cell phones in educational institutions by the education minister is a sign of high incompetence and incomprehension.
High society in Kenya bereft in knowledge of anything signaling cultural resistance and youth rebellion resort to political innuendos and fire breathing. In a culture where high stake impunity, economic shenanigans and high incompetence ride in tandem with mob and vigilante justices and sheer survival , this hand-wringing and head-shaking smacks of hypocrisy. It is idiocy to assume that the youngsters were going to turn out any different from what the national dominant cultural milieu offer.
Lost in the ensuing hot air as the blame game heats up between the parents, the teachers and government bureaucrats, is acknowledgement that these youngsters are questioning the content and the direction of an educational system that holds the needs of the market place to be supreme over the fulfillment of the individual. They are beginning to crumble under the pressure to achieve in a consumer furnace that offer limited opportunities to thousands left by the wayside to commit their lives to uncertain futures - perennial discards whose participation will be limited to watching and cheering from the sidelines and provide cheap labor.
A history in cultural resistance might help these political and high society wonks unravel the substructure of the Kenyan society, its educational system and other attendant feel good myths incubated in the inherited class based colonial educational system, the Moi era of hegemony in style and ideas and the nostalgia imbedded in the African traditional system. These are meeting head on in a fractured political system bereft of new ideas and vision but rich in bickering and stagnation. It is this mixture which is exploding in student rebellion. Like in every culture, the youths' lashing out is the onset of a much larger ominous life style rebellion that is rumbling within our society. It is beginning in our schools - the citadels of indoctrination where cultural resistances are also born.
The underlying question is - what is contemporary Kenya got to offer to its youngsters; so far nothing. In a system that offer no creativity other than an examination laden machine system of production and consumption yoked to a political landscape overseen by a team of nursery school cheerleader legislators being paid better than any other in the world (about $12,000 a month) to be full of themselves - what is there to aspire to?
The youths know they are being led to the slaughter; rushed to enter a market place that offers dim hope. In the public square they also witness a meat market peopled by naysayers, politically bereft dinosaurs, NGO industry-speaks - flush with donor funding, fancy African style dressings and the same humdrum policy papers manufactured from retreats in fancy resorts.
Locked in this stasis, the youths have adopted destruction as a form of self expression. In the absence of a culture that is sustaining hope both at home, in school and post school, the youths are creating their own brand and merchandising - wholly hinged on destroying everything their pseudo-society market as supreme. The pressure to be achievers within the poverty of their society and the emergence of a quasi-celebrity culture - with sham celebrities or 'celebs" as the youths call this local horde selling lifestyles, consumption and images of success on television - has sparked anxiety with the school emerging as one huge sub-culture of resistance. Burning and mayhem has become their badge of honor and no amount of colonial era subjugation tactics or recourse to nostalgic African tradition tidbits from the mouths of also rans, is the remedy.
What we are observing is an intricate dance of identity, attention and an undertow of resistance to the commoditizing culture that these youths are consuming and being consumed by and their attempt to create a victory of the imagination for an imagined victory over the system. It is the same thing we witness with the proliferation of vigilante groups and other restless youth movements that abound this country - the symptoms of failure in the delivery of services and our tacit acceptance of the legitimization of widespread systemic inequalities.
Without knowing, these Kenyan youngsters are borrowing their antics from the masters of self exhibitionism of the counter culture movement of the late 1960's - the Abbie hoffmans and Jerry Rubinses: "instead of making your own culture out of a whole clothe, it is more effective to hijack the dominant culture and make it the mouthpiece of your message". To see them clown in front of television cameras after their infernos have rained havoc, they are using television news as theater for their resistance. Their revolution is being televised.
As mainstream Kenya grapple with the tools of conspicuous consumption, mis-governance and modern day capitalistic mythologies of achievement, so too has it to grapple with the price and consequences - the alienation amongst its youth. These are the fires we stoke when we fail to provide vision, an inclusive culture and the necessities and security to life for our youth: the obligations of every legitimate state. We will not succeed by marketing state and patriarchal hegemony.
Youth anywhere will always be amenable to brands because it's a time of identity formation - and brands sure do help. When our national brand is impunity, incompetence, consumption and chest thumping, our youths are simply buying in. Any student of the nineties in Kenya would have known it would be this fire next time.
By Onyango Oketch
Author and Performing Artist