themes · in dialogue   
themes literature agenda archive anthology calendar links profile

Teaching Philosophy in Nairobi

Christine Gichure in Dialogue with Steffen Andreae

Christine Gichure is teaching philosophy at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. Before she was teaching philosophy at University of Nairobi and Spanish at United States International University (USIA). During almost 15 years, she was working at high schools in Kenya.


La Etica de la Profesión docente: Estudio Introductorio a la deontología de la Educación.
EUNSA (Ediciones de la Universidad de Navarra), 1995.

Basic Concepts in Ethics.
Focus Publications, 1998.


  Andreae: Miss Gichure, you are teaching philosophy at Kenyatta University: How big is the philosophy-department at your university, how many students are around and how many teachers are occupied in your department?


  Gichure: The philosophy department is very small. We have a body of about 50 to 100 students in first year. During the second year, quite a number of them drop philosophy to major in some other academic discipline, so in the third year we have 15 to 30 students. We have a staff of five fully qualified people, but the students who are working on the dissertations also teaching. Besides that we have two tutorial fellows who are abroad right now. Corey Francis Onyango is doing research in the philosophy of science in Vienna, and we hope he will come back to Nairobi. And Namwabah is in Spain at the moment researching critical and creative reasoning as one branch of philosophy. There is also Prof. Murungi, a logician, who was for a long time Deputy Vice Chancellor in charge of administration. He hopes to rejoin the department now that he has completed his term as administrator.


  Andreae: Who started your philosophy department?


  Gichure: It was Prof. Wambari who started the department of philosophy. Before that philosophy was taught together with religious studies. The two departments separated less than ten years ago. We are right now building it so that in the next ten years or so we could have a strong department of philosophy, if possible with subdepartments where teachers can specialize in specific disciplines for greater proficiency.


  Andreae: What are the main teachings in philosophy at your university, which branches of philosophy are on the schedule for the students?


  Gichure: We try to cover the whole syllabus in philosophy. As you can imagine, this is difficult to do because we are only a few teachers and also because our students do not specialize in philosophy. They are taking philosophy as a part of their BA courses. So they take for instance two units in first year, three units in second year and six more during third and fourth year. Mainly we try to cover introduction of philosophy, logic, history of philosophy and ethics. Then we have different optionals. Metaphysics for example is optional. Unfortunalty this should not be, but that's how it is organized at the moment. Philosophical anthropology is not a core subject. Other non-core but elective subjects are philosophy of language and of science, also philosophy of social science. The students have to pick one of this list. We try to cover as much history of philosophy as we can. We also offer contemporary philosophy, environmental ethics, philosophy of law and social philosopy.

See also:

Kwasi Wiredu:
"Philosophy teaching and research in English-speaking Africa" (survey report).
In: Teaching and research in philosophy: Africa.
Paris: UNESCO, 1984, 213-244.


  Just now the university is revising the syllabus, because we realized that we have to compete with other universities and the market. They are asking for more and more practical subjects. You cannot make philosphy practical, but you can make it more appealing to the students. The students want to study subjects which will help them to get employment or for the practice of everyday life. So the selection is often made having the future employment in mind, they think of the understanding of the employer. For instance, the students think if they choose ontology, the employer will not understand what this is all about. Philosophy of science is more linkable to the needs and demands, even the employer is able to understand the connection. The same with philosophy of social science. The students can see the social science aspect. We want to make the syllabus more appealing to the situation in Kenya.


  Andreae: Is this the politics of the administration of your university or a result of the demands and questions of the students, or is it a consequence of the fact that philosophy lost an attractiveness?


  Gichure: It is not really the politics of the university. It is more that we are forced through the circumstances. Yes it is true. The departments are being asked to be self-supporting. To be self-supporting means to be market oriented. Out of fear of unemployment fewer and fewer people are taking courses in philosophy, because perhaps they do not understand what this is all about.

»If you do not get employment with philosophy, you don't want it. So it turns out to be a luxury to do philosophy in Kenya right now.«


  Andreae: Do you have an explanation for the circumstance that the people are getting less interested in philosophy and how does that happened?


  Gichure: I would not say that they are getting less interested. We have a lot of unemployment in Kenya right now. Science oriented subjects are much more marketable that humanities and arts. So the students in Kenya are less attracted to the values of knowledge for its own sake and more of the economic gain. If you do not get employment with philosophy, you don't want it. So it turns out to be a luxury to do philosophy in Kenya right now.


  However, we are trying to make the subjects, the philosophical topics understandable for the employers and try to orientate our students to subjects, which are school oriented for instance. It is a pity, but that's how it is. And I think time will show whether we are right or wrong. One of the things I find really pity is that we do not teach much metaphysics at the university. Instead of having two units in first and second year and perhaps ontology in third year, we have changed this into only one metyphysical unit during this time-period. This is one of the things we have to revise soon.



  Andreae: I observed at my university that the employment orientation, you also mentioned, has as a result that the students stop doing critical thinking and loose the capacity, or at least the will, to reflective thinking. Is this observation correspondig to your own?

»The students don't reflect enough, never too much. They just swallow anything they hear.«


  Gichure: The Vice-Chancellor of Kenyatta University seems to be interested in the philosophy department and wants to have taught logic to the whole university, probably out of that reason. Right now we teach critical and creative thinking. The students don't reflect enough, never too much. They just swallow anything they hear. They dont asses, they don't critize it, they only swallow it. They just learn to reproduce what they have learned. So we need a kind of conflicting ideas from different faculties and disciplines for instance. At Kenyatta University we are working since a couple of years on a programm concerning that problem and we have in mind to let at least all the art students – not only the philosophy students but also all the others – participate in it. We tried this for about three or four years right now and it has worked quite well.

»Every paper they have to deliver, costs a big amount of money to some typists.«


  Andreae: How is the teaching situation at your university in the moment, concerning the facilities, concerning books and computers?


  Gichure: We have promises that we will get for instance computers. We don't have computers in most departments, actually the department of philosophy does not have a single one. We hope to get some soon, perhaps next year. That makes the research work very difficult cause everything has to be typed manually. And it also makes it very expensive for the students, because every paper they have to deliver, costs a big amount of money to some typists, to somebody who has a computer, to the computer center of the university itself.


  Andreae: So there is a computer center at the university, but it is only for some departments?

The African Virtual University (AVU)
A distance education program for Sub-Saharan Africa
external linkHomepage


  Gichure: No, there is a computer center, a school, something like an institute within the university. And they are offering their facilities also for the students. They take your paper, type it, print it. But you have to pay for that. That makes it really difficult to have proposals, to have your papers finished on time and properly. But we have been promised computers in every department of the university, though when this will happen is anyone's guess. At the moment we do not have any.


  We also have something called the African Virtual University. This is a program with the intention to learn through internet. So there are some science students who directly communicate with other universities. This is working very well. Unfortunately at the moment this is only for science students, but once we will have get more computers this program will be for all students.


  Andreae: How is the situation in the library?

»It is important to know and to have information about the latest research, the latest findings.«


  Gichure: The textbooks are generally outdated. Sure we have a couple of books from 91, 92 or 93, even 95. But there aren't any more recent books. This is a drawback, for instance for the research work. Sometimes it is good to have old books because a new book does not mean that it helds newer or better information. Value and newness do not go together, otherwise Plato or Aristotle would be completely out of fashion. We value those ancient philosophers and thinkers, it is not possible to say that they are out-dated because they are so old. But it is important to know and to have information about the latest research, the latest findings.


  These problems are a direct result from the financial difficulties and are linked to the politics of the ministry of education. Right now Kenya is going through a difficult economic situation. So to ask for a bigger amount of money for the university, especially for the department of philosophy does not seem to support itself.


  Sometimes we get donations from other universities from Germany, the United States or from private persons. Such donations are always welcome and necessary. But to have only one copy of a book is not sufficient for the students. So many times our students have to rely on lecture notes, and that is very bad. But we cannot send them to another university like Nairobi State University because they face the same situation than we do. Either we cannot send them to private universities like the United States International University because there philosophy is not taught. This university is business oriented. We cannot send them to The Star University for example because this university is oriented to astrology.

»I think the American students come mainly because they want to learn something about the African culture.«


  Andreae: Are there any possibilities for students to be part of exchange programs with other universities, foreign universities? This – despite the fact that this is making the situation for Kenyatta University directly better – at least would help the students in doing their researchwork?


  Gichure: This is already happening. This summer there has been an exchange program going on between United States and our university. The American students were here for about six weeks, during our so called summer-semester. This was set up to give the students the possibility to finish their studies in three instead of four years. The students from both universities were interacting, working together, living together, the Kenyan students showed the american students the country and so on. But I do not think that the Kenyan students have been to the United States so far. So in fact I do not know what kind of exchange will develop out of this program. May be next year students from Kenyatta University will go to the United States.


  The Vice-Chancellor has recently established what he calls the culture village. This is a village within the campus where the traditional African houses are build. So people are coming to the university to see the exhibitions in that kind of cultural center. I think the American students came mainly because they want to learn something about the African culture.



  Andreae: Is and if, how is African philosophy taught at Kenyatta University?



  Gichure: Yes, it is taught. The aim of teaching African philosophy in Kenyatta University – and I guess that this holds for other Kenyan Universities – is, in the first place to introduce the debate that has been going on for some time now regarding African philosophy. Central in this debate is the question whether there is or there can be an African philosophy. The question leads therefore to an examination of different answers that have been forwarded by scholars regarding the matter. There have been people who hold the view that Africans are incapable of having a philosophy because they are too emotional. This, according to experts in the discipline, is the view of people like Hegel and Levy-Bruhl.


Kwasi Wiredu:
"Toward Decolonizing African Philosophy and Religion".
In: African Studies Quaterly 1.4 (1997).
external linkArticle


  Others maintain that African thought as such is itself philosophy, an ethno-philosophy. For this kind of scholar African philosophy is just there amongst the elders or sages. All one has to do is go to them, talk to them and professionally or academically classify their wisdom into the proper place it belongs to such as ethics, epistemology, ontology etc. The result of this approach has been what a number of African philosophers are calling Sage Philosophy, whose originator was the late Prof. Henry Odera Oruka of the University of Nairobi. There is still another view which maintains that African Philosophy is to be found in the thought of modern African scholars who have received their philosophical training either at home or abroad.



  Our philosophy courses therefore expose our students into the debate "philosophy in Africa" vis-a-vis "African philosophy". It also focus on African values, on issues like philosophy of aesthetics, politics, education, cosmology, epistemology, metaphysics.



  Andreae: 91% of professors in Germany are male and it looks like, that this situation will not be changed in the nearer future. What are your experiences concerning the relation of man and women at your university?



  Gichure: So far, there has been only few women philosophers, and those of us who are in it came to philosophy via philosophy of education. At Kenyatta University I am the only fully qualified woman lecturer in philosophy, that is to say, with Ph.D. level, nor do I know of any other woman Ph.D philosophy lecturer in any of the other Kenyan universities. However, it is difficult to say because in some of the other universities philosophy and religious studies are taken as one department, so that it is possible to find that their Ph.D women teachers are really specialists, not in philosophy but in some area of religious studies.

Steffen Andreae lives in Tübingen (Germany).


  At Kenyatta University we now have two graduate assistants preparing their Ph.D proposals. As soon as they have their thesis we will be three women lecturers. Generally few women students take philosophy in Africa. I do not really know the reason for it, but someone has suggested to me that this has to do with the vulnerability of women's status in our societies. Women prefer seek careers that will assure a safe economical future. Philosophy gives no such guarantee.

themes literature agenda archive anthology calendar links profile

home  |  search  |  sitemap  |  newsletter  |  interphil  |  imprint  |  donations