Murkomen’s prowess in cooking: A dichotomy of African education

Monday January 13 2020

Over the Christmas, Senator Kipchumba Murkomen sent a tweet, tagging a video of him energetically cooking a perfect dish of finger millet ugali.

Never mind that this may have been a contrived political show. Culturally, African education was largely through apprenticeship.

To his credit, the senator had invited his children to learn how to cook. That is how it should be.

In retrospect the Senator’s actions revealed the deep dichotomy of the African education today.

Colonial governments brought their own education to serve their own interests and create an elite group – the French called them the "bourgeois” class - that will cooperate with them in conquering and facilitating domination of the natives.

The Europeans effectively used education as a tool for colonisation as the late Prof Adu Boahen of Ghana so amply argued in African Perspectives on Colonialism.


In post-colonial Africa, European standards still dictate African education. Virtually all educational institutions still use European-derived curricula to teach even on topics that have no relationship to life in Africa.

The problem is even worse considering that content from textbooks and now online is patently Western. Africa is still far away from becoming self-sufficient in fostering its own education.

The effect of colonisation, however, still linger. Many analysts believe that sustained corruption in Africa is as a result of the bourgeois continuing to sustain themselves.

Historians have pointed out that the African elites in each country have exploited their own citizens to enrich themselves instead of advancing a common agenda for a wider prosperity.

The trouble with such a lopsided development is that some of the underclass will do what it takes to join the elite class. Education that was meant to be a leveller (to boost many into the middle-income class) is now a tool for social climbing to join the elite and run away from the masses.

We need not run away. Instead, we must use the education to create a productive change. This does not mean we change the culture. No. While the culture could remain, we must change the processes and the products.

For example, Murkomen, knowing that cooking ugali requires great energy should seek to mechanise the process such that his grandmother could cook the same ugali without the physical effort he demonstrated.


In my view, Senator would do us a great service if he works with engineers to innovate a new cooking machine that is more productive and can produce a better product.

If he helped create such an innovation, he would succeed in changing the story of women in Africa.

Research tells us that every minute a woman is beaten up in Africa for bad cooking. They have suffered unnecessarily in the hands of their husbands when the ugali product is not good.

Yet, not every woman has the energy to cook as good ugali as Murkomen did. In Japan a similar dish, Mochi, is made by at least two men. Although they too have mechanized, they sometimes cook it manually for fun.

Mechanisation will not only save a woman from beatings, but it will also enable more women to also have quality time during festivities that most dread.

Ugali can also be produced at a scale that those who are entrepreneurial will indeed venture into a global enterprise and more importantly help the continent of Africa create an industrial revolution from adding value to its enormous resources.

In making ugali, you play with three variables – water, flour and heat. Like wheat flour, can ugali be mechanically pre-kneaded then have the final product in the oven? Can we borrow from the South Americans’ nixtamalization process to improve our 18th century cooking practices in the 21st century?

If that happened, we could reduce the poisoning from aflatoxin as well as improve on food security. It is such thinking that encourages use of education to create new inventions, new jobs and better economic growth.

Opportunities arise from the creative application of knowledge. Our restaurants in Nairobi are uncompetitive since with ugali it is a tedious exercise to standardise production or at least provide what the customer wants.

Research has shown that some people in Nairobi prefer the lighter version of ugali, which hardens more as you move towards the western side of the country. Usually by the time you are in Bungoma, the ugali is so hard that it can pass for a weapon.

To get all these varieties, as we do with meat from rear to medium and well done, we must mechanise it in order to give the customer what they want.


Once we begin to use education to improve ourselves, African research scientists will have the confidence to research into many plants that have been used traditionally to cure many diseases. I am particularly curious about Mukombero that is abundant in Western Kenya and is, interestingly, categorised as bizarre food on the Internet.

Lawyers will begin to improve processes around the African customary law that largely favours men. We could even improve inter-tribal dispute resolution mechanisms by establishing new legal norms that respect the sanctity of life.

It defeats logic that today, we can tolerate an individual killing another and then scar themselves proudly to reveal the number of people they have killed. These bizarre practices will persist until the legal profession educates ordinary citizens on new processes of justice.

Education was meant to make us better. From the early African system of education through apprentice to the selfish colonial education and now post-colonial education, Africa still has a long way to go to create her own content and apply the knowledge into our real-life experiences.

We can enjoy our cultural heritage if we can creatively improve the processes and create new products that will enhance productivity for the benefit of many, instead of a few, elites.

Unless we innovate new processes and products, we may never create employment to widen prosperity. Instead, we shall be perpetuating a colonial system of education.

Lupita Nyong'o has said, “What colonialism does is cause an identity crisis about one's own culture.”

It is time we used education to find our own identity and prosperity.

The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.