Build the School at Lenana, then do More

Michael Onsando
1 October ,2019


Back when Lenana School was the auspicious Duke of York students were housed at the residence of the British Colonial Governor, currently known as State House. This was temporary as they waited for construction of the 9-hole gold course, rifle range, horse stables, cricket oval with pavilion, sports fields, swimming pools and numerous dormitories to be completed.

It would not be until 1963 that the school would see it’s first African and Asian students being admitted and not until the 1969 that James Kamunge, the first African principal was appointed to head the all-white staff. By this time the country had changed hands, priorities were being re-organised and it was almost our turn to eat. Lenana school with its laundry services that needed paid staff, golf course that needed watering and horse stables that needed hay was quick to fall to the wayside. Kamunge himself wrote a report on the deterioration of education in the 70s and 80s which was quickly buried in the graveyard where reports go to disappear.

“State departments of Public works,Education & Youth (NYS) will work with Board of Lenana school to put up a public primary school to be ready by next term to cater for the children of Ngando area where the school tragedy occurred. The process kicked off this morning in earnest.”

The wake of the tragedy at Precious Talents Academy School in Nairobi was like the wake of any other tragedy in the country. Like the death of Ken Okoth suddenly brought cancer to the forefront of discussions for all of 2 hours (don’t @ me. It might have been 3) so did this tragedy call our attention to the lack of infrastructure in the country. Politicians, as they invariably do, came out with their guns (figuratively) blazing and MP John Kiarie noted that the prestigious schools with over 200 acres of land could easily donated an acre or two to develop a primary school for the area.

And this isn’t the first time it has been suggested.

But it IS an interesting suggestion with interesting implications.

Marvin Sissey, in the Business Daily, writes that it shouldn’t be done because Lenana School was designed to be “green” (and we all know two acres going to make a primary school means that the ice caps will melt TODAY). He also notes that the informal settlements need other resources such as hospitals and housing and as such, I guess, they don’t need schools. After all – it isn’t like a good education will give people the tools to solve their own problems… wait.

But I’m not here to argue with a sentimental laibon – being one myself. Besides, the school board, in a statement released on Monday, already said that they will be building “a Junior Academy as a Centre of Excellence” which “will be in line with the School’s Strategic Plan for the period 2020 – 2030” Still not sure if this means a primary school, but it definitely is a step in the right direction.

No, this is about legacy institutions, what they mean, why they stand and how they can be adapted to suit our current realities. What do these things signal to? I’m reminded of kipande house, what it stands for and why it is still named that. Or the ironically named nyayo house that has a different kind of legacy. What are the luxuries we protect that denote class brought from? Lenana school, even if restored to it’s former glory, still reeks of a British elite having four o’clock tea and heading out to the paddocks for a ride on the horse.

And what does it mean to hold on to this idea of elite as the idea that we need? When will we start to re-imagine the role of these institutions and who they need to work for and create an “elite” learning environment for them? When, for example, will we tear down the name Carrey Francis from all the dormitories he has named after him and find people of our own to celebrate? Or, at the very least, build them a school on an acre of land?

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