Isukutis and awkward teenagers

Isukuti drums and songs welcomed Student So and So as she rushed to confirm her first place at This and That School somewhere in the leafy suburbs or at Unknown Academy at Dusty Estate in Nairobi.

That was December 2007 and as we looked forward to the General Election, I wrote such an intro on a 300-word story that was married to several others describing similar events the day the results of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination came out.

The editor who assigned me that job was obviously happy with the story I wrote that day. It was precise and delivered fast and in time to go into the paper, which I think had a bigger print order than usual.

For KCPE, we would troop to the Makinis, Riaras, Light Academies and in the odd year, to some school in Komarock or Githurai  to record stories of the supposedly best students. It is all predictable quotes: “I prayed hard to God and would like to thank my parents and teachers for their support. I was watching TV with my sisters and cousins when I heard the minister say my name. I want to be a doctor/aeronautical engineer/neurosurgeon/pilot/insert dream profession.”

In subsequent years, I would find the whole process of covering the release of national examination results rather boring. I could write that intro one million times with my eyes closed. That intro can even write itself. It is that used to being written.

Even when colleagues who work on other publications asked that we introduce some variety, we put out the same thing over and over every year. It worked for us and it worked for the market.

In 2012, I had the results for the entire country at my disposal. All the candidates. All you had to do was give me an index number and in the case of my nephew, Ctrl F and enter his name.

One of those years- they all look  and sound the same- an advertising salesman came to the news desk and got into an altercation with the boss. He wanted one of his clients given favourable coverage because they had ran adverts in the paper six months straight. We don’t do that kind of thing so he was asked to sod off. Ironically, I had been to the school earlier and talked to the owner and her benighted first class honours students.

Before Mwai Kibaki brought (back) Free Primary Education, the stars of the annual ranking were the likes of Olympic Primary School. Set in Kibera and catering to the ordinary, common and most likely poor students, there was a sense of satisfaction in seeing a public school where students got the honours they deserved. But then schools such as Olympic got crowded  and those who could afford it began putting their children in private schools. When a private school got ranked high up, it got to attract more students- parents actually- and has a genuine reason to hike the fees.

Walking these newsroom corridors, I have often heard the question, “What happened to the stars of yesterday such as Olympic?”

They drowned in the rankings is what happened to Olympic.

Internally, the media will have to adjust to covering the release of the results in a whole new different way. We have to get more creative. No more isukuti drums. No more awkward teenagers on uncle’s shoulders.

Let’s see what the papers do tomorrow.


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