Tuesday, August 13, 2019


What you’re about to read is a work of satire. It began as a way for writer/researcher Alexander Nderitu to make his Facebook friends laugh but gradually evolved into something many readers viewed as truth dressed in comedic clothes. 

The author has been compared to Franz Kafka, but only in looks! His non-fiction documents, such as “Changing Kenya’s Literary Landscape”, have been read in over 100 countries (which would be more impressive if he wasn’t primarily a fiction writer!) Whether he is one of Africa’s preeminent wordsmiths, standing on the vanguard of progressive post-Colonial literature, or a coffee-addled scribbler with too much time on his hands remains to be seen...

Lesson 1: Whenever the media asks you a question, position yourself in front of some books while you answer. This makes it appear like you've done the research. It doesn't matter whether the question is simple or complex eg:

'What is a community husband?'
'Why does Superman wear his briefs over his trousers?'
'How is Chipukeezy funny?'
'What is a tyranny of numbers?'
'Devolution - success or failure?'
'Has the Sonko-nization of Nairobi politics spread to other counties?'
'When is Tiwa Savage coming back to Kenya and is she willing to take up duo citizenship?'

Inter alia.

(By the way, always use 'inter alia' as opposed to 'etc' to show that you went to college.)

Lesson 2: Name-Drop Well-Known Intellectuals/Academics.
Work it into to the conversation: 'As I was telling Prof. So-and-so during the colloquium...' or 'When I was with Prof. So-and-so during the workshop in Mombasa...', that kind of thing.
For example, in the picture below, I can be seen chilling with UoN Prof. Chris Wanjala (R.I.P) and Prof. Chris Odhiambo (Moi University). I don't know what that has to do with the price of eggs but there it is!

Note that your connection with distinguished brainiacs does not matter. You don't have to say whether you're their peer, student, mentee, designated driver, bodyguard, court jester, inter alia (Remember yesterday's lesson on the importance of 'inter alia').

Lesson 3: Speak/Write In Purple Prose

Lesson 4: Carry Your Own Books To Events.

Should someone ask for a synopsis, explain that you have written so many books that you haven't even read some of them yet! (It can happen!)

If you are yet to publish a book, borrow a leaf from from Churchill Show's 'Professor Hamo' and carry a lot of books anyway, even if you're just going on a coffee date. People will assume you've authored at least some of them. Borrow another leaf (or the whole book) from Prof. Hamo and maintain a shaggy hairstyle. (I am yet to make the connection between shaggy hair and intellectualism but then again I have very little hair to speak of so I am not part of that club...yet!)

Lesson 5: Attend public conferences/meetings of an academic or literary nature, even if you only have a nodding acquaintance with the subject matter.
Recommended fashion: dashikis and scraggly beards for men, dreadlocks and kikoi scarves for ladies.
Arrive early. (That has nothing to do with intellectualism, I just don't want you to miss out on soft drinks and 'bitings'.) If you're not familiar with the book/paper/topic under discussion, don't fret or leave. Who's gonna kick you out? Have you ever seen a bouncer at a colloquium or book club? The toughest character at such events is usually about as intimidating as Sheldon Cooper from 'The Big Bang Theory'. (Their biggest weapons are their brains - they can analyze a situation or break down an argument in a manner that discombobulates your medulla oblongata and leaves you flabbergasted!)

If you wish to avoid certain characters (pesky bloggers, know-it-alls with no published or broadcast works etc), there are several techniques. For men, you can just mumble something unintelligible and the interloper will think , 'Oh my gosh, this one has a PhD as in "permanent head damage", I betta avoid him!' For ladies, introduce a topic that can't possibly be covered in a few minutes of small-talk eg. 'I'm currently undertaking research on ailments in the Autism Spectrum.' A unisex method of avoiding motormouths is to simply pretend to be reading something. It can be a newspaper, journal, Blood Pressure test results, child's homework, grocery list, eviction notice - just pretend that it's something intellectual. (But don't scroll on your smart phone - that's for socialites and self-important 'celebs'.)

Lesson 6: Give (and accept) long-winded introductions. Exercise your bragging rights.
Inevitably, you will be asked to speak in front of an audience. Whether you are the keynote speaker, making a brief statement or introducing somebody else, milk the opportunity like a cash cow. Regardless of the time limits, make long introductions, coloured by unnecessary statements like 'all protocols observed.' Claim that your guest 'needs no introduction' - and then go ahead give him/her one anyway! (Some speakers are so windy, they should be called 'gusts of honour'.) Highlight your guest's key achievements, qualifications and affiliations, spiced up with phrases like 'distinguished' and 'highly esteemed' eg. 'Our keynote speaker is the Distinguished Professor of Something-or-Other at the University of Whatever. He is the author of various highky acclaimed books on Whatever-the-Hell-He-Teaches-or-Researches and has published many essays in journals worldwide, including his seminal paper on Blah-Blah-Blah.' Don't read the introduction - if he/she is so distinguished, you should know his/her basic bio. (And if you can't memorize a couple of paragraphs, then you don't belong in the Brain Trust anyway.) Don't go overboard and start describing his/her family/personal life. You might say a man is married to the equally distinguished Mrs/Dr. So-and-So only to find out that he has another wife and 5 kids in the village! Or you might say that a woman is 'happily married' kumbe she's going through a divorce!

Display no rivalry/jealousy in public. 'Academic slagging', intellectual rivalry etc are a private matters. Remember that these are your peers and 'members of an avian species of identical plumage tend to congregate.' Kill your colleagues/rivals with kindness at public events.

Once you're on the podium, take your time, quote great thinkers, leaders and historical figures as you go along. If you notice the MC look at the time or passing you little bits of paper, say '...and in conclusion' and then launch into another story! There will never be enough time for everything. We're not even sure if time really exists or whether it's a poor concept of ours that corresponds to no ultimate reality!

Extra tip: As with long-winded intros, submit extra-long C.V.s. Two or three pages may be the recommended size but go and give out even 20 or 30 pages containing all your academic qualifications, postings, affiliations, publications, conferences, workshops, foreign trips etc. Aim to impress. At the very least, you're going to stand out, which is OK because you can't shrink your way to greatness!

Lesson 7: If the Organizers of An Event You’re Interested In Don’t Put You In The Panel, Hi-Jack The Q&A Session.

As the saying goes, if you lose the battle, don’t lose the war. Wait, patiently as a vulture, as the panelists/discussants do their thing up there on the stage. When the moderator turns to the audience for questions/comments, put up your hand and stand up with the dignity of an ambassador (It helps if you’re sitting near the front so you're one of the first to be picked.) Once you get the microphone, it’s show time! Play to the gallery, win over Wanjiku. You don’t even have to say anything related to the topic of the discussion – just introduce yourself and talk about your own projects. University lecturers will tell you not to quote your own works but that’s yet another reason why they’re seldom celebrated. Quoting yourself is OK, just like eating your own words doesn’t give you indigestion. Go ahead – mention articles and books that you have authored, whether they are on-topic or not. This is a country where politicians pontificate at funerals and pastors preach the Gospel of Prosperity, not the Gospel of Christ: being off-topic is nothing new.

Panel discussions often take place in the evenings, so give the people something light and humorous. Entertain them. You don’t have to be super funny – if telling dry jokes was lethal, 90% of Kenyan 'comedians' would have self-destructed by now. Chillax. If you spot a gofer coming for the microphone, speak fast - like an art auctioneer or American rapper. Then hand over the mic and take your seat, knowing that the people are on your side. This is what is called ‘the Nobel Prize of the heart’: if the people like you, then screw officialdom!

Lesson 8: Pay Attention to The Titles Of Your Books And Articles.

Results of a survey published in a prestigious journal last year indicated that the average scholarly paper is read by less than ten people, even if it’s publicly accessible. How will you become a 'public intellectual' when you never address the public, you just interact with other brainiacs? Tailor your publications for the mass market, like Stephen Hawking did with ‘A Brief History of Time’. Get the public’s attention by crafting clever/catchy titles. Why release a document titled ‘The Effects of Increasing Desertification in Rural Kenya’? Call it, ‘From Eden to Sahara: What You Can Do to Save the Ecosystem Before It’s Too Late’. That title has a call to action, and a sense of urgency. Brilliant - even if I do say so myself! If you’re trying to catch the media’s attention, employ hyperbole (since they’re so wedded to melodrama). Call it: ‘Desertification Now More Widespread Than Adultery in Kenya: A Major Report by Whoever-The-Hell-Wrote-The-Damn-Thing’. That should get their attention! When you hear of books with such titles as ‘The Divinity of the Clitoris’ and ‘The 4th International Convention on Nude Mice’, don’t laugh. Those are serious books with marketable titles. (Incidentally, ‘nude mice’ are what scientists call the hairless lab rats used in experiments, it’s not like there are some mice running around in suits and ties.)

I once peeked through a bookshop window and spotted the following books side-by-side: ‘My Life in Crime’, ‘My Four Wives’, ‘How to Get Rich in Africa’, ‘Excuse Me, Your Dream is Calling’, ‘Sunrise at Midnight’, and ‘The Politics of School Texts in Kenya’. Which one would you say is the odd one out? That last one of course! The title alone promises boredom. You have to keep in mind that when you put out a book, even if it’s non-fiction, it will be competing with other books from all over the world. Even if ‘The Politics of School Texts in Kenya’ were placed strictly among non-fiction books in a bookstore, it would still rub shoulders with such seductive titles as ‘Pop Babylon’ (an exposé of the world of pop music) and ‘The Accidental Billionaires’ (about the founding of Facebook). With all due respect, that title alone is enough to put potential readers to sleep. ‘The Politics of School Texts in Kenya’ sounds like something high school principals attending a conference in Mombasa would discuss. Or like the agenda of an early-morning meeting at the Ministry of Education, following complaints from publishers. A better title would probably have been, ‘Education Babylon: Who Decides What Your Children Read in School?’

Add some Aromat to your commercial products. Sprinkle some pizzazz. As the hackneyed phrase goes, ‘To bore the audience is a crime.’

Lesson 9: Socialize from time to time. Salimianga watu.

Attend academic/literary/scientific community mixers, rare though they are. Even if you’re an 'introvert'. Living and working in isolation makes you look like a weirdo, not a maverick. No (wo)man is an island, and refusing to socialize is ultimately detrimental because it cuts you off from information, trends and relationships. So unless you can reproduce asexually - like bacteria and fungi - it might be wise meet other humans from time to time. (If you’re a writer, you can even use this as an opportunity to research future characters.) A few tips:

- Avoid kissing people you (barely) know. We’re not Europeans. Africans kiss secretly. A couple can spend their entire married life with no PDA and yet produce 10 children!
- Listen, don’t just talk. A wise man once said that when you talk you are only repeating what you already know but if you listen, you might learn something new. Be all ears - like Barack Obama.
- Don’t get drunk. Nobody looks dignified when they are under the affluence of incohol (oops, I mean the influence of alcohol).

Now, below are some of the interesting personalities you’re likely to encounter at brainy quasi-social events:

1) The Meat Wrapper – A print journalist sniffing for stories. S/he may pretend to be having a good time but watch him/her closely. You could end up being mocked in the Friday meat wrappers (sorry, I mean newspapers) for a fashion misstep or social ‘faux pas’.
2) The Accented Female – She has probably never left the country but insists on employing a god-awful US/European accent that you can’t quite place. Tolerate her. She’s good material for later gossip.
3) The Firebrand – A Young Turk poised to make a mark in intellectual circles. May have studied abroad or racked up achievements at a young age, like a PhD at the age of twenty-something. Befriend them. They’re OK. Plus their intellectual discourse will stimulate your own cognitive activity. After all, iron sharpens iron.
4) The Drunkard – The type of fella whose idea of ‘multi-tasking’ is holding a Tusker lager in either hand! Can be fun to hang around but not for too long.
5) The Braggart – His biggest sin is not exaggerating his own achievements but denigrating those of others. Never has a positive thing to say: so-and-so shouldn’t have won an award, so-and-so’s books are whack, so-and-so’s proposal/project/application is bound to fail etc. Avoid him as you would a venereal disease.
6) The Mzungu – There’s usually one hanging about, being super-friendly (‘I’m a hugger!’) What the hell - let’s be multi-cultural and show that racism is ignorance. Embrace them back. They might even hook you up with a foreign scholarship/fellowship/institution that you had never even heard of prior.
7) Madame Scandal – She’s been in the tabloids and blogs for all the wrong reasons (‘protest stripping’, nude pics, financial misappropriation, sexual misconduct etc). Whatever you do, do not bring up their particular scandal. This is not a courtroom or cheesy reality TV show. Manners, please.
8)The Wannabe – Keeps talking about earth-shaking works-in-progress (books, NGOs, initiatives etc) for years and years but they never seem to materialize. Advice ‘hem’ (that’s the new European term for ‘him or her’) to be like Nike and ‘Just Do It’!!!!
9) The Blogger – Keyboard Ninja who thinks he’s on a level with Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sergy Brin. Treat him with the contempt he deserves. Anyone can have a blog. Those things are free and non-technical.
10) The Geezer – An elder, usually fawned over by the younger generation who studied his/her works in school or have been hearing of them since childhood. They usually have great stories and amusing anecdotes, along the lines of ‘When I was at Makerere, the Harvard of East Africa…’ or ‘During the Kenyatta/Moi era…’ etc. Geezers are living libraries – revere them. They are the foundation upon which the bright upstarts stand. Avoid telling ‘old people’ jokes, like: ‘I heard you’re sooo old, your Bible was personally autographed by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!’ Respect the ancestors – I mean elders!

Lesson 10: Avoid Intellectual Dwarfs and Incurable Dullards

Time, not money, is our most limited resource. You can have a billion dollars but no-one will live for a billion years. Our short time on the third rock from the sun is more precious than most people seem to realize. Remember that you will only be productive for a few years of your life. The rest of the time, you will be too young or too old to work; or asleep or caught in traffic or eating or moving your bowels or sick or babysitting or socializing or watching shows or otherwise not in a position to make a worthy contribution to the world.

To make your mark as a thinker, avoid people and activities that divert your attention from your overall purpose. Don’t take constructive criticism from people that have never constructed anything. Some intellectual dwarfs and what Prof. Egara Kabaji might refer to as ‘incurable dullards’ might try to steal your shine or bump you off your chosen trajectory but don’t let them. Africa needs its thinkers now more than ever. The very idea of Pan-Africanism, for example, was birthed by intellectuals like Marcus Garvey. We need to complete the journey, to introduce the ideas that will elevate our people to Wakanda-esque heights, and – brothers and sisters - there is no time to waste!
I do not argue with non-thinkers, even on Social Media. It’s a waste of time. Some would-be debaters are so unburdened by brains, if you offered them some fish fingers to eat, they would argue that fish don’t have fingers! Dumb contrarians. Some are eager to engage others in debates – online or offline – but they present arguments that are riddled with fallacies. Their spirited submissions have more holes than a game of golf. One of the most common errors I’ve noticed – especially in televised debates – is the Straw Man Fallacy, whereby one debater misrepresents his opponent’s theory/ideology/thesis/belief/political system etc in order to make it a more convenient target. Another fallacy I’ve seen employed in virtually every religious and political argument is Confirmation Bias, whereby one only presents evidence that supports his/her pre-existing beliefs (but ignores everything else no matter how compelling). That’s no way to learn. ‘A bowl is most useful when it is empty,’ philosopher Lao Tzu taught us. Have an open mind. Accept new information. It’s OK to be wrong. Dr. Richard Dawkins says that as a student, he once watched in wonder as two great scientists held a debate and in the end, the loser walked up to his opponent, shook his hand and said, ‘Thank you for enlightening me: I have been wrong these many years.’ That’s how intellectuals should argue. Iron sharpens iron. Brains sharpen brains, and we are all the better for it.

Most un-intellectual debaters posses neither the rhetorician’s skill nor the gift of gab. Orators they will never be. There’s no need to challenge them to a battle of wits because they’re clearly unarmed. And when they realize they can’t win on a cerebral level, they result to mud-slinging and fallacious arguments. (I’m sorry, but my Quantum of Solace for time-stealing contrarians is zero.)

I leave you with some food for thought (not fish fingers!) from legendary historian/educator Dr. John Henrik Clarke:

‘I don’t think African people can succeed anywhere in the world until they hear again Marcus Garvey’s call: ‘Africa for the Africans, those at home and abroad’…We must regain our confidence in ourselves and learn again the methods and arts of controlling nations. We must hear again Marcus Garvey calling out to us: “Up! Up! You mighty race! You can accomplish what you will!” ’


Alexander Nderitu is a novelist, poet, playwright and critic. In 2017, he was named one of Kenya's 'Top 40 Under 40 Men' by Business Daily. His latest scholarly work, ‘Changing the Literary Map of Africa’ (2019), is available at https://tinyurl.com/LiteraryMapofAfrica


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