Education Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i and his team caught us all flatfooted. They say that old habits die hard. And ours don’t just die hard. They are bad habits that seem to be only second to our nature. For, we are accustomed to repeated cycles of life, after the same pattern of bad things, year in year out.

We gravitate towards the beasts that George Orwell had in mind when he wrote, “Their life, so far as they knew, was as it had always been. They were generally hungry, they slept on straw, drank from the pool; they labored in the fields; in winter they were troubled by the cold, and in summer by the flies.”  In essence, nothing changes and nothing good happens.

When we seem to stumble into a good thing, it takes the air out of our lungs. That is what the management of national examinations this year – and now the announcement of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) – results has done to us. We are flabbergasted. And rightly so.  Jogoo House knocked us breathless this week. We are used to the results coming out during the last two days of December. They arrive fully loaded with all manner of anomalies and angry exchanges.

There are accusations and counter accusations about exam stealing, cheating, doctoring and a whole cocktail of dysfunctional recriminations. The teachers’ unions are brandishing the fist from one corner and a self-styled parents’ association is making shrill sounds from some other corner. Private schools are complaining over one thing or the other, and some parents and schools are frantically drawing everyone’s attention to the plight of cancellation of their results. From there we move on to a messy selection of Form One candidates, equally amidst a complaints galore. We move on to a teacher’s strike – or a threat about an imminent one. Our life goes on that way, up to the end of the year, when teachers either go on strike or promise to do so as a preface to the next cycle of national examinations.

When they tell us on the first day of December that the results are ready and that Form One selections are set to begin in a week’s time; and every candidate will get their results, we are lost for words. It seems that we should wonder for the first time ever what they have always done with the results in the previous years. Yet, more significantly, there are great lessons to take home. Primarily is the reality that one committed and focused individual can make all the difference.

It is usually unpleasant to attempt to draw parallels between two officials who are serving the same entity and who sit in the same forums as equals. Yet when you have passed through a certain orbit, you must invariably accept to be part of the reference frame. When he came to Jogoo House in the first quarter of this year, Dr. Matiang’i, like Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi before him, had the mien of a no nonsense man. Barring a confounding brush with some universities, Dr. Matiang’i, has been more methodical and consultative than his predecessor and former senior at the University of Nairobi.

Put together with the straight shooting Prof. George Magoha at the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC), the duo makes for a redoubtable two cylinder head engine. Throw in General Joseph Nkaissery from the Ministry of Interior and garnish the arrangement with the rest of the top boys and girls in Jogoo House and you have a team that Kenya has not witnessed in recent times. They have worked with clockwork precision, with dignity and decorum. Which must lead us to ask the question, why is it so difficult for this to become our way of life?

When Kenyans complain about the way things are done in Government, they mean that they expect the kind of service the Ministry of Education is now providing. They have of course had their own challenges in Jogoo House. There was the spate of fires in high schools across the country, the unending agenda of salaries and the plight of exam cheating – the latter which we had almost come to accept as our way of life. Indeed, the fires were said to have been a reaction to new stringent measures against cheating in exams. Jogoo House dug in, regardless. In the end we have examination results that we are likely to believe. We also have a team that we are likely to trust, going forward.

Dr. Matiang’i was the first Cabinet Secretary President Kenyatta named when he began putting his government together. Others followed slowly over a period of almost one month. In the fullness of time, Kenyans begin to appreciate what the President had seen in this Cabinet Secretary. The question remains, however, where is the rest of the Government?

What this country needs are efficient men and women who can give citizens cause to smile because they have a functional government. Regrettably this is not the case. Instead, the place is awash with cantankerous sycophantic characters that seem to think that their role is to antagonize everyone who did not vote for the Jubilee Government. They frolic from pillar to post engaging the nation in arrogant ethnic based invective and still expect that their government can be popular.

If President Kenyatta wants his government to be popular, he now has the answer. If he has been almost tearfully asking what Kenyans want him to do about thieves in his government, he now knows that Kenyans are asking him to provide leadership. He needs to provide political will, provide a new paradigm and lead from the front. A warning shot has gone out to all in leadership and those who would aspire to lead. The bar has been set. And it is a high bar.

In the ended Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams and in all other areas of public service, Kenyans will expect no less commitment and no less efficiency than what the Ministry of Education has demonstrated that it is capable of. As for the Ministry and for Dr. Matiang’i, the last word is that Kenya is watching. We don’t expect anything less than what you have just given us. Congratulations and good luck, going forward.

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