Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes I did it: The PhD Feeling and Dreams

In line with my previous posts, my PhD Viva was held, coincidentally, on my birthday; the 3rd of October 2008. In response to the overwhelming congratulatory messages from my family, close friends and colleagues, I felt that I must summarise my journey leading up to the triumphatic feat that was achieved. Indeed, many have asked how it must feel to shine on such a momentous occasion which in its own unique way, has cemented my academic foundation and ushered in a new era in my life. Since being awarded the doctorate, every moment has felt like a quiet afternoon with the fresh air forming some summer saxophone note, rising and falling on a warm breeze. With jewels in my heart, it is heaven here and the light that glows inside my heart feels like the salvation that will hopefully free my soul and brighten many others.

But as with most sweet victories, the road I travelled up to this point was not always smooth. Firstly, it was not always easy being an E-student at Mangu High, one of Kenya’s leading national secondary schools. And being constantly reminded that I was a kumutha who got into Mangu through the ‘back door’ was particularly unwelcoming. But my newly acquired status as an academic and a Doctor of Philosophy means that few will now refer to me as the boy who got his admission through his dad’s pocket. I can still hear their whispers back then as they dined with their fellow intellectual giants. Yet ironically, it is such dismissive talk, mixed with the rich culture within that great school that continues to shape me and strengthen the man that I am today.

In particular, being in the ‘Panthers’ Basketball team, which was coached by a man that believed in winning against all odds, certainly helped me to believe that success is created in the mind. No wonder that despite being rejected by most Kenyan universities due to my modest grades, the utmost belief in myself later enabled me to attain a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Kent with honours. And to further silence the sceptics, I later achieved a Distinction in the LLM Public International Law and attained an Award of Academic Excellence from the University of London. But it is the subsequent grant of a full Scholarship from the University of Sheffield that led many to start seeing the fuller picture what was destined to emerge.

Overall, in considering my purpose on life, I see myself as an idea that must find expression. In the very least, I hope that my story peels away the layers of doubt that covers many of those that are discouraged by exclusive and bureaucratic systems. Anyone, and everyone, deserves a chance at the shot. And I must thank all those that have supported me throughout my academic expedition. Everyone should have the chance to see what I said on very first post of this blog; that amidst life's daily struggles, pain and endless enduring hurdles, there exists colour and beauty and that the world is both colourful and beautiful. Therefore it is important to stay close to the personal dreams that befriend you. In my own journey, I can safely say that the willingness to pay the full price for the cost of my dreams and to take responsibility for my life continues to act as an incentive, as well as reward, for my complete personal maturity.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The end of an Era and the Beginning of Another

My decision to start this blog three years ago was informed by what I already knew would be in store for me as I embarked on my research. And in the same way, as in the beginning, with my writing having served its purpose, I must now prepare to bring the blog to a conclusion. After three years of dedication and hard work on my PhD, my Viva Voce is now only three weeks away. With my thesis already submitted and in the hands of my examiners, I can feel that I deserve more from life. Therefore, destined for great heights and bigger things, I am now knocking on the doors of success and satisfaction . The world is now mine.

In preparation of my Viva Voce, which is the oral examination that I must in order to attain a Doctorate, I have made a list of what I feel is necessary for me to satisfy the examiners; that my research is original and makes a significant contribution to knowledge. And as I wrote the list, I realised that the requisite attributes for a successful Viva are actually the ingredients for success in life. As I have said before, there is a thin line between the attitude that a Doctorate student must exhibit and the professonalism that is needed to conclude a good research project. It is for this reason that my list contains both spiritual and formal values that are necessary, not only for short term projects but for life in general.

Therefore, during my Viva that is to be held on the 3rd of October 2008, which coincidentally falls on my birthday, I plan to display the following qualities;vision, confidence, grace, honesty, precision, eloquence, tact, maturity, profesionalism, clarity, politeness, compassion, integrity, sacrifice, passion, enthusiasm, brilliance, finese, calm, dedication,openess, creativity, assertiveness, a sense of humour, responsibility, consistency, efficiency, respect, persuation, empathy, flexibility, preparation, thought, reflection, and, most of all, I shall be myself. As they say, the rest shall be history. But most importantly, it shall also be the foundation that ushers in a new era, whose prosperous future stems from time immemorial.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thesis: The preparation for Submission

It is official, the next time I write on this page, I shall have submitted my PhD thesis in Law entitled: African Regional Peace and Security under the African Union’s Constitutional Framework: Conflict of Compatibility with the UN and International Law? Indeed it has been a most fascinating expedition. And now, more than ever, I know that amidst life's daily struggles, pain and endless enduring hurdles, there exists colour and beauty and that the world is both colourful and beautiful. My thesis has led me to analyse and re-analyse what it means to be me. It led me to question where exactly in the universe that I find expression. And the most fundamental truth that I found is that I am inextricably linked to the independent souls of other individuals, which in turn, are related to the community and other societies. Though forming an autonomous unit of my own, I represent only part of a structure embedded within a wider web of humanity.

My studies have not purely been an academic exercise. Indeed, the submission of my thesis means more yet another law degree in the bag. It is yet another step on the way to the podium. I have always viewed myself as an idea that must find expression. But then it also means finding that which makes me who I am. Like many others, this is a question that I have to face again and again. Almost everyday, my perception of the world compels me to ask myself whether I identify myself first and foremost with my family, my ethnic tribe, my country, my region or my continent. My parents grew up in an African village called Ngethu in the Central Province of Kenya. I was born in the city but grew up in the village where we speak ‘kikuyu’ only to go back to the heart of Nairobi for college. Now I find myself in Sheffield, far away from the motherland. The overlapping contrasts and similarities of the environment that have been part of this life’s journey have shaped me and become part of my identity. The experiences of Ngethu, the drumbeats in Nairobi and the technological advancement in Sheffield have all become part of who I am. But so have the few glimpses of the stop-overs in Harare, Amsterdam, and Kampala amongst others.

The natural unity of brotherhood with peoples from different backgrounds and the few phrases of French, Chinese and Italian that I have learnt all add to the Swahili and Kikuyu that I was taught as a child. My family is now composed of people I consider my best friends and my ethnic tribe serves not as a complete description of my identity but only as a critical component of it. My country is a mere geographical location in which I was born to be blessed and it is the interaction with its peoples that adds to my identity. There is no doubt that I am an African and proud at that. However, one thing remains true, that identity develops and adapts to changing environments. I was born in African to have an international identity.

With the submission now eminent, I find myself right on track literally by the years with the personal dreams that befriended me, the dreams that due to my past could only be shared with my parents and close friends. But now I can safely say, I have come of age. All my beliefs principles and all that I stand for in this life are coming together. So everyday, I pray that tomorrow comes. And I dream as a child that one day I shall be one of those that brighten African cities and villages, to inspire hope and preach the rejection of fatality. And although I am insignificant from the skies, the submission of my thesis is at least a page of history that an African wrote for the continent and the world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Past, the Great River Chania and the Future

I AM suspended in ecstasy. For three years, I have worked and re-worked my thesis chapters. And for the very first time last week, I printed it all out. Indeed, it is when it became clear to me that a single thought had spread out to become almost 100,000 words. My personal satisfaction led me to remember the day I established this blog. Back then, I phrased it to describe what I understood of myself at the time. As a work in progress, I have evolved and developed. Still I am that star; one of the billions that seek to shine in this dark world. And hopefully, we will glow enough for all to see that the universe is full of colour and beauty and it is love that makes the world go round. My thesis demonstrates this belief in its own profound way.

CERTAINLY my journey to the current point represents the complete embodiment of the African dream. A grandson of a freedom fighter, I grew up in Ngethu right by the side of River Chania. I always take my friends there and show them the bridge that my father always took my brother and myself to. Standing on the overpass, beneath streams the river that befriended our past generations. The great Chania River will live forever, for all times. You can hear the sounds and the roaring of the river as you walk down the valley by father's house. During our forefathers' heroic and enduring struggles, Chania's waters cleansed their sweating and bruised bodies and our women fetched its waters; sweet waters that fed a lifetime.

LIKE many that live in Africa, the introduction to life in the City takes away all past innocence. And hence, through the eyes of my heart, I looked to the world and saw love, disillusion, pain and happiness. Indeed, the good and the bad co-exist on the same side of the coin. The universe is truly beautiful; the world hurts so much. So my mind became a field of snow and pure waters of fresh serenity and landmines. In here I run all my life and not tire. And only herein am I truly and fully supreme; unrestricted by the ways of evil men. In Each Breath and at Each Step, all the days of my life, I have breathed in and out-in and out! There is no greater joy and no greater pain than that brought by this miracle.

FOR as long as I live, for as long as my heart beats, I will wonder in amazement at life's beauty. I will trudge on excited that I walk on this earth. Now thousands of miles from the motherland, I wait for my own moment of triumph. Matches are won everyday so I will not stray until my flash of brilliance changes the world. Indeed, the viva is coming soon and there after, I will start my life on a new page and my work will not possess a drop of past ink. In the end, Destiny has no recollection but is an end to all that is born.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Story of Progress

I have always thought of myself as a work in progress. I engaged with the world from a tender age and I always pondered on how and where I fit in the bigger picture that is life. From my childhood I placed images on the future in my mind and constantly thought and dreamed of successful moments that befriended me. And just like I have developed to become a man, so has my thesis progressed from a mere idea to a substantial work of scholarly art.

The pace is now intense as I come close to completion of the PhD. And it reminds me of those beautiful days at the University of London where I strained and studied so hard, lived in the excitement of knowing I would emerge one of the best students. How so I feel now? I am even more confident and I know I am capable of making a great impression.

The PhD is examined through a viva. Basically, I have to defend my thesis to a panel of experts of international law. It must be shown that my work is original and makes a significant contribution to knowledge. That a whole three years of work will be determined by my performance in one or two hours is intriguing.

But it is the preparation that I embark on that is the full measure. I have now become my own critic and a perfectionist at that. I have notes and reminders posted on my wall. I continue to keenly read on anything with regard to the viva. Furthermore, I have been reading a lot, particularly on philosophy as well as watching debates and other communication material, including the Prime minister’s question time on the BBC news channel.

My confidence, eloquence and passion in articulating the subject has grown immensely. This is a significant page in my history and that of my family and all those that my efforts represent. It is a time of reflection, calm, peace, anxiety, turbulence and all the essentials of a healthy life. I write a thesis, but it is also an African story, my story.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Threads of My Essence: Full Circle

It has been a while since I last wrote here. In fact, it’s a first this year. And time has flown. My life has taken a cruel beating since the chaotic elections in Kenya altered my perception on things and destabilised my senses. And even more disturbingly, it led to the deaths of thousands and left hundred of thousands homeless. Simply put, Kenyan burnt and as it did, I lived a full life, of pain and sadness but also of love and faith. In order to understand the correlation between this event, my life and that of many others, a bit of background is essential.

I was only 14 years old when the Rwandan genocide occurred. That dark period saw the slaughter of up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus, as the world stood aside and watched. I only understood later that my new found Rwandese friends were refugees and that the reason Uganda’s economy performed so poorly was due to the barbarism that Idi Amin unleashed on his own people. Fortunately, ten years later, I was at the University of London, well equipped as a lawyer to investigate the international community’s ambivalent attitude towards Africa.

And I do remember the particular day that the UN Secretary General stood at the Memorial Conference on the Rwanda Genocide in 2004 to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1994 genocide and express his deep sense of remorse on behalf of the world. And I remember it so well because as the Kofi Annan gripped his audience with his well know eloquence, a somewhat similar catastrophe was underway in Darfur region in the Sudan. And it was then that my mind was made up to write an essay on the Darfur for my LLM. Not only did my paper score a distinction, it has literally shaped my life.

But who would have thought that images of Kenyans hurling machetes at each other would be screened across the globe, and with such intensity? And how would I approach such an analysis given the combination of my own innocence, naivety, education and pride of being a Kenyan? What I learnt with regard to Kenya and the face of utter horror within the last few months has transformed me into a maturity of contradiction. Now with a clear mind, I can look back and reflect on the lessons learnt and uncover the blur that prevented me from updating my blog. There are many stories to be told, and so I share mine, before convicting Kenyans of complicity, if not active participation in turning the island of peace to utter hell.

I am one of the people who went back to Kenya to vote. And you can imagine how excited I was having missed the huge celebration of 2002. For me, December 2007 was going to be the first time to vote as I was too young in 1997. I couldn’t wait!! Armed with the voting card, I queued with Kenyans. We joked and laughed as well as helped old women to vote, indeed a show of Kenyan spirit. That was the last positive thing I thought of Kenya. And up to this day, I have been unable, even having tried, to say anything positive about Kenya. I can talk of the beauty of Maasai Mara and the Great Rift Valley, but that is not Kenyan, it is God's work of art.

For a start, the majority of Kenyans rarely consider education, health and sustainable development as a platform from which to vote for their future. I will not lecture on the importance of these concepts given that we, especially those in the Diaspora, know they shaped the developed world. Instead, Kenyans largely vote on ethnic grounds. The educated lot are generally the most hypocritical of them all. They will talk about the economy, employment and then rally behind their tribal leader as having the best vision for the country. Our fallen heroes and all others that fought for our freedom must turn in their graves.Kenyans let themselves down at all levels. The country's new found resolve must go beyond mere power sharing agreements.

Until then, for me, and with all due respect, the fact that neighbours turned on each other on account of their ethnicity, neutralises any past glory. Kenya needs an overhaul of the education system, one that buries the primitive hatred on account of ethnicity. The country also needs strong anti-tribal laws and a new culture based on diversity as a national heritage. Most of all, the nation need leaders that will deliver the Kenyan promise and complete the liberation of Kenyans that commenced time immemorial. In the end the citizens will be governed but such rule can only based on their own aspirations, hopes and dreams. God Bless Africa.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Life, PhD and BasketBall

I have always believed in getting to the very top of everything I do in my life. This included my earlier years as a Basketball player where I worked hard to join the Kenya National Basketball Youth Team in 1998. Now I realise the close connection between my passion for PhD and Basketball. Ever since arriving in Sheffield, it is during this semester in which I have worked the hardest. All I have learnt, and the constant thoughts of what I want to achieve culminated in carefully and well thought out drafts. I just couldn’t stop myself from working. It had nothing to do with what I wanted or had to. I just found myself working late into the night and it has been fascinating.

I am now in a stage of discovery. Every time I read my thesis, I realise just how it makes sense. I am amazed at the manner in which all sections are connected. I also discover how each word has its own special space and significance. To be honest, I have this strong feeling that I will miss pursuing my PhD after I am done. I will miss this life, just as much as I miss playing Basketball, the game that taught and shaped me on how to approach life.

But I also face serious challenges. Now in my third and final year, there is definitely an increase in the pressure. It reminds of my Basketball days in Mangu High School. The minutes before a match would be tense. I wore the No 7 Shirt with pride. I was in the first five of the team and led in scoring throughout my stint in the first team. My mentor, Sammy Muturi, whose shirt I inherited taught me the importance of focus and meditation. And hardly did he miss any shots. I remain focussed and meditate as the PhD comes to an end.

I have always compared my life to Basketball. On a one on one basis, I believed no one could ever beat me. It became my truth. But one man can never do it alone in this world. So our Coach (Paul Otula), and who is one of the men that shaped my life, taught us the importance of teamwork. So strict was his policy that he would often request that ONE of us take a shot at the basket and if missed, ALL (the whole team) would be ordered to run on the court back and fourth, also known as suicides. Now, my supervisor, in similar fashion to my Coach, encourages me to not only get all the key arguments on board but to also critically analyse and develop them.

Whatever the date of my Viva ( PhD oral exam), I am approaching the free-throw zone about to take a shot at the basket. I have received a lot of support from many people who are aware of my current venture.And it reminds me of the days that the Basket Ball court was jammed with people cheering, ‘Tunaye Jemo, Hampampata!!’(Our James, you Cant stop him!!). I was known for my follow-through when taking a shot at the basket. It means I like to finish things well.Now, looking at the score-board, a successful defence of my Viva will ensure victory for my people and the society. Yet, deep inside, it will be my self liberation.