You don’t put one at risk; you put him or her to risk

Friday July 12 2019

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary. English prepositions give particular difficulties to East Africa’s so-called educated class. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP


English was the Germanic language our nationalists chose for official use when we snatched independence. We chose it as Kenya’s tool of political governance and economic development. But, in such British colonies as were soon to become independent Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, England’s language continues to play havoc even with those carrying the highest academic “arts” titles.

The very so-called “educated” class on whom East Africans are supposed to depend so precariously for good and socially profitable use of that Anglo-Germanic tongue are among the chief culprits.

English prepositions give particular difficulties to East Africa’s so-called educated class. A headline in a recent number of the Daily Nation was exemplary.

It said: “Dilemma of schoolchildren put at risk by their own loving parents”. It is, indeed, a dilemma. That is why, in that statement, I italicise the word loving — namely, because “parental loving” appeared to the sub-editor to be essential to the education of children. I have no quarrel with that idea.


What bothered me was only the statement that, in this way, humanity’s parental love had been put at risk. For, in English as I was taught it at a high-quality high school near Kenya’s Kikuyu town, you do not put anybody or anything at risk. No, you put her, him or it to risk. Indeed, at the Alliance High School, practically all our teachers were exemplary.


Whether European or African, they had been chosen and were headed by an exemplary Englishman called Edward Carey Francis, a strict disciplinarian already celebrated throughout Eastern Africa as a special teacher of algebra, arithmetic, geometry, trigonometry and English.

Among our teachers at Alliance High were Scotsman Laurie Campbell (history), Englishman Robin Hood (English), Kikuyu Joseph Kariuki (English), Englishman George Kingsnorth (history), Englishman David Martin (mathematics), Luo Bethuel Ogot (mathematics) and Luo Nicholas Otieno (biology, chemistry and physics).

Yes, this was the same Nicholas Otieno who habitually laughingly dismissed all of us, students, as ranywar (a Luo word north of Lake Victoria’s Nyanza Gulf with which to publicly dampen a person’s spirit). Yet Edward Carey Francis, the Englishman who served as our headmaster at Alliance High, always chose teachers excellently.

Whatever their race — though I never saw any teacher of Indo-Pakistani origin at Alliance — all our teachers at Kikuyu were deeply knowledgeable in their respective academic areas, exceptionally dedicated to tuition and extraordinarily effective.


Because the language of England proved to be my best high school subject, I profoundly admired Joseph Kariuki, the only non-Englishman — indeed, the only non-Euro-Caucasian — whom the extraordinarily strict Edward Carey Francis allowed to teach English at any level at Alliance High. No. ECF — as we called Edward Carey Francis — never practised any mean-minded racism.

Nevertheless, he openly and habitually affirmed that, concerning something which he called a “wavelength”, Euro-Caucasians, Indo-Pakistanis and Afro-Negroes had different ones.

Concerning “racial wavelengths”, then, Edward Carey Francis was a racist, the only saving grace being that he never practised or preached any racial or ethnic prejudice and malice.

At a time when British racism was at its height in Kenya, Edward Carey Francis openly criticised all present and past Caucasians who committed racial malpractices.

According to Edward Carey Francis, then, “wavelengths” were a racial category. If you were a Kikuyu, a Luhya or a Luo, you could not belong to the category to which the English and the French, for instance, belonged.

No, Carey Francis was not a racist in any obviously negative sense. He merely believed that Europeans were more advanced culturally.

Mr Ochieng is a veteran journalist; [email protected]