My name is Kuseyo Talito. I am a 14-year-old Maasai boy. Back in 1987, I was a Standard 8 student at Mbita Point, a ramshackle Primary School near the fishing villages of Rusinga Island on the majestic southwest shores of Lake Victoria.
Mbita Point has the adjoining velvet green Lambwe Valley as its hinterland and is known as 'land without thunder'. This is because on most evenings one can stand by the waterfront and see torrential rain clouds brewing in the distance with intermittent lightening, but none of the accompanying rumbling of thunder.
Neighboring Lambwe is an immense and crater shaped tsetse-infested tract of land. It is harsh unforgiving territory, which cattle cannot graze. African villages dot the upper edges of the valley. Butterflies (said to be the world's largest variety) flitter in and out of the dense foliage. Deep in the valley, there once lived a wild man who it is said had not seen another human being in twenty years. He was found in the forest with overgrown hair and hopping around on all fours like a chimpanzee. Nobody knows what became of him, as administration police caught him like an animal and whisked him away in a Government Land Rover.
Mbita Point is also well known for its large population of deadly snakes. My father worked at a research laboratory nearby making anti-snakebite serum. The serum was used to treat snakebite victims who crossed the perilous valley on foot. The primary school I attended was just a spear's throw away from the family dala (traditional mud brick hut). I remember the events I am about to recount as if it were yesterday, because they were quite unusual.
One lazy, sun-drenched afternoon, our class teacher Mrs. Felista Okemwa, having given the class an assignment, was having a post- mbuta (Nile perch) siesta. Next to her was a small radio from which boomed the strains of Puccini's O Mio Babbino Caro.
Suddenly, the Inspector of Schools at the time, a tall Kenyan Somali man named Mr. Edin Omar Ogle, burst into our classroom via the rusty mabati door unannounced. He had come to assess first hand how prepared our class was ahead of the National examinations later that month.
Naturally Mrs. Okemwa literally fell out of her lazy chair having been caught unawares by his presence. After a somewhat awkward interval straightening out her skirt, she switched off the wireless and introduced Mr. Ogle to the class, she asked us to show the Inspector just how clever we were by fielding any question he might have. The stern-faced Inspector thought for a while and concluded that since the class normally began with religious instruction, he would ask a Biblical question.
In a booming baritone, (that would have done actor Charlton Heston as the voice of God in Cecil B. DeMille's Ten Commandments proud), he asked who had broken down the walls of Jericho? For a full minute there was a deathly silence. It was so quiet that one could hear a pin drop. I dared not so much as even cough for fear that I would be called upon to answer this most difficult of questions.
Most of the pupils fidgeted with their pens and pencils, others stared away from the Inspector, as if in guilt. There was something about the Inspector that inspired fear. Eventually, my desk mate Joseph Ejakaiti raised his hand. The Inspector excitedly pointed to him. Joe stood up confidently and replied that although he did not know who had broken down the walls of Jericho, he wanted to assure the Inspector that as surely as the rock of Luanda Magere stood, it was not he!
Naturally, the Inspector was both shocked and dumbfounded at the answer and looked at the teacher for an explanation. Realizing that he was deeply disturbed, the teacher said that she had known 'Joooseee' for four good years, and she believed that if he said that he didn't do it, then he didn't do it!
The Inspector was even more shocked at this and stormed down to the Principal's office. He found the startled Principal absorbed in the adventures of Philias Fogg in Jules Verne's Around the World In Eighty Days. The Principal threw the book under his desk and pretended to be doing some elaborate filing.
After the Inspector had told him what had happened, the Principal replied that he didn't know the boy personally, but he had the highest regard for the teacher and if she felt that the boy was innocent, then he had to be innocent!
The Inspector could not believe what he was hearing. He grabbed the phone on the Principal's desk and in a rage dialed the Minister for Education's telephone number in Nairobi and rattled out the entire occurrence to him. For good measure, he asked the Minister what he thought of the education standards in Kenya.
The Minister, Hon. Joash Ocholla sighed heavily and admitted that though the school was in his constituency, he did not know either the boy, the teacher nor the Principal! He pledged to get in touch with the Provincial Civil Engineer to have the offending wall fixed! Then Bwana Ocholla hung up in disgust.
Needless to say, when the Engineer went to the school the next day to fix the so-called 'wall of Jericho' he could not find it. He reported back his findings to the Minister and the matter died down.
Two weeks later, we read a sensational story in the local dailies of how an Inspector of Schools named Edin Ogle had been fired for shifta tendencies - demoralizing Heads of schools in Nyanza Province and attempting to con the respected Minister into releasing funds for a ghost wall!
In summary, this debâclé was the result of lack of knowledge- the teacher, Principal and Minister seemed clueless that the controversial wall was not a literal wall in Nyanza, but one that existed in the pages of the bible! The whole sorry episode (critics say) was a stinging indictment of the 8-4-4 system of education.
Given the urgency, confidential and sensitive nature of information being relayed (professional incompetence on the part of both the teacher and Principal) the call to the Minister should have been merely one seeking private audience on a 'delicate matter'. The Inspector lacked tact and courtesy in making the Principal look bad over phone in his full view.
Weary and demoralized, the Inspector should have concisely channeled his anger into a written report for the Minister (and copied to the Teacher's Service Commission) before meeting the Minister. This would have covered his back, as subsequent events were to prove when he was unfairly sacked.
We can only surmise that the Minister may have had a tough day and was only listening selectively and thus did not get the full import of what was being communicated. Long distance calls over landlines are notoriously unclear and sometimes prone to broken transmission of voice. Another probability was that the Minister did understand what was being said, but (this being Kenya) had been or was later compromised in some way by the Principal to ensure that the heads that rolled were not his and that of the incompetent teacher, but instead that of the Schools Inspector!
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