The Star (Nairobi)

12 November 2012

Kenya: What Is in a Name?

A few years ago, there was a big fuss when a multinational company wanted to acquire the naming rights to the Nyayo National Stadium.

Some people felt strongly that it would be a sacrilegious act to change the name, while others felt that the opportunity to change the name would help improve the stadium as a facility.

In the end the name remained and the stadium got a coat of red paint. But what does the name tell us? A name we know is a word or set of words by which a person, animal, place, or thing is known, addressed, or referred to.

It is a term of identification. A name can help identify the class or category to which a thing belongs to or even provide context. So the 'Nyayo National Stadium' tells you a lot of things.

The name provides some context and identifies the category to which the structure belongs. One thing is missing, though, it is difficult to tell where it is. And this is something typical of Africans.

Travel to other cities in the developed world and you will come across some attempt at order. In New York City, in the island of Manhattan, roads that cross from north to south are called avenues while roads that run east to west are called streets, then numbered sequentially so that 1st Street will be at the southern end while 200th Street will be north. Avenues have a similar arrangement. Hard to get lost.

Compare that with our set up. Nyayo Stadium is on Uhuru Highway. Kenyatta Avenue abuts Uhuru Highway. Joining on to Kenyatta Avenue is Koinange Street.

Kenyatta Avenue itself ends on Moi Avenue at the other end. Is there some logic here? There is no named road in Kenya that goes to Kisumu, best to fly through the international airport. There you will find an Oginga Odinga Street but no Koinange Street.

The naming of things in Kenya partly reflects our history and we name to remember. So Argwings-Kodhek road is so named because the late cabinet minister CMG ArgwingsKodhek died following a car crash on that road.

Today close to 5,000 people die every year on our roads so it is no longer feasible to use this as criteria to name roads. So how should we name things?

The constituency development fund has created a problem, not because there are unfinished half-baked projects but because there are finished projects.

Our low standards mean that relative good stewardship in one constituency in the country is considered national news. Across the country in an attempt to be immortalised many politicians have appended their names to primary schools especially.

So you find a "(Dr) Mweshimiwa MP (Letters of choice) Primary School" sign board pointing to some tuition block along some dusty road in many parts of the country.

The name tells you very little other than that you have come across a primary school. Are you not supposed to wait until you are dead before you are remembered?

Our constitution is supposed to help us solve every problem we have. Can it do so in this case? Maybe with a small amendment?

The constitution calls for leaders to be persons of integrity, have read at least until chapter six of a book and to have a degree?

If they go to university then hopefully they will learn a bit of human anatomy and the thinking behind it. Maybe the constitution should have specified medicine as the degree every politician should have?

When you are thirsty and you reach out to your favourite thirst quencher (water of course), it hits the back of your throat, down the oesophagus, a short stay in the stomach and into the small intestines where most digestion and absorption takes place.

The big blood vessel from the heart is the aorta. Around the stomach it divides into several blood vessels that supply the stomach and surrounding tissues.

You can tell how they divide up from the names; the left and right gastric arteries; the short gastric arteries; the splenic artery that goes to the spleen; and the gastro-duodenal artery.

Precise functional names making it difficult to get lost. It makes you wonder if we really should be letting politicians or business people name things?

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