More and more academic and less and less relevant

In a tribe-wracked country like Kenya, it is probably extremely unfortunate that the most successful football club should also be identifiable with a large ethnic community whose leaders are so loud-mouthed and controversial.

I was, nevertheless, intrigued to learn that KERR is the surname of the new coach of Gor Mahia, which is among Kenya’s most successful football clubs.

In that context, the coincidence between the Germanic name KERR and the Luo title KER may be unfortunate because the pronunciation is practically identical and the difference lies only in spelling.

If you remove one  “r”  from the European name KERR, what you remain with is KER, which, in tradition, was the Luo word for a “paramount chief”,  a term which, in today’s parlance,  is what might refer to “the President of the Republic”, which  nowadays is, politically, a highly contentious office. 


The only difference between the European name KERR – which is perhaps Germanic at root – and the Nilotic word KER is that the one is spelt with two Rs and the other with only one.

In Dholuo, the language of the populous inter- lacustrine Nilotic community which purports to own the Nairobi-based football club – the word KER (with only one R) traditionally refers to the paramount chief of all the Luo (as Jaramogi Ajuma Oginga Odinga once was recognised).

However, I have to say “any Luo community” – rather than “THE LUO community” – because, as we now know from better scholarship, there were many such communities.


Known together as NILOTES (because the River Nile was always their line of orientation as they migrated southwards from the Nile’s Delta), the people came to sprawl all the way to the Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and even Burundi, Congo and Rwanda.

We learn much about this from the historical researches and writings of Prof Bethwell Alan Ogot, the versatile minded scholar who, in the mid-l950s, before he went to Britain for high studies to become an eminent historian, had taught many Kenyans, including myself, algebra, geometry and trigonometry at Alliance High. 

From mastery of trigonometry to mastery of civics – that, if you ask me, is what should be called an educated mind.


In those days, education was still thus all-inclusive. Knowledge had not yet become so divided until, as  now, as one went on with one’s academic pursuit, something called “specialisation” forced one to know less and less about not only one’s universe but also even one’s  planet, one’s species, and even one’s ethnic community.

Once upon a time, with their pyramids and other amazing skills, the Nilotes of Egypt and their Hellenic students in south-eastern Europe and Semitic counterparts in Palestine pursued knowledge holistically – that is to say, without any of the specialisations that enable one to achieve a first-class PhD degree in one extremely narrow subject in absolute ignorance of all the other spheres of objective human interests.


If the British had not so rudely interfered with their Southward-Ho, what modern Kenyans call the Luo would now be prominent all the way south, in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa. 

Each prominent African community pursued its separate quest, that is to say, as a whole single subject.

Ignorance began to invade the education of humankind only when, as in Europe and North America,  humankind began to replace its original holism with something which we still proudly call academic specialisation.


It was thus that, indeed, knowledge became more and more academic and less and less than relevant, socially speaking.

It was thus that educated individuals came to know less and less about the real existential and development needs of their societies.

Thus, up to now, human beings pursue narrower and narrower interests that have little or no relevance to the real development needs of their own respective societies as a holos.

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