The phrase “new year, new me” cannot be said to apply to the year 2015 – for it appears that it will be a continuation, and perhaps a crescendo, of the gross inhumanity we experienced in 2014.
Nigeria has suffered yet another onslaught from the terror group Boko Haram, who have killed an upward of 2,000 people in the town of Baga. Many complained that the attack did not garner nearly enough public attention and outrage, as compared to the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in which 17 people, mostly staff members of the magazine, were killed. A young girl (initially thought to be 10-years old) was also strapped up with explosives and released into a busy marketplace in Maiduguri, killing at least 16 people.
Forty world leaders went to France and staged a faux protest for free speech (faux because it was later proven that they were on a barricaded street on their own, as opposed to leading the people’s march as it had originally been thought they would.) Some of these leaders included Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel, who killed seven journalists in Gaza in 2014; Foreign Minister Shoukry of Egypt, where journalists from Al Jazeera are still being held for over a year for doing their work; President Keita of Mali, which expels journalists for reporting human rights abuses; The Attorney General of the USA, where atrocities such as the unlawful killing of Mike Brown and Eric Garner happened recently, among others.
The irony here is palpable.
Ngunjiri Wambugu rightly said: Terrorists attack Kenya. European leaders advise their people to avoid Kenya. Terrorists attack France, they go there. These leaders did not issue the travel advisories they normally do when terrorist attacks happen in developing nations. Instead, they went to France and stood “in solidarity” with them. We are still waiting for the same in Nigeria. When asked why there was no public outrage and coverage of Baga on major international news channels, military analyst Major General James Marks said that Boko Haram and Nigeria were not a priority (because they were in black, and not white Africa), which is why even with the power to root them out, the USA has done little. Coupled with how the USA treats its own black citizens, the answer to the question “Do black lives matter?” is a firm no.
Closer home, in a return to the Moi error, Twitter user @ItsMutai was arrested on 17th January at the behest of the Isiolo governor because his tweets on the impunity in the county “caused anxiety” and were a misuse of “licensed telecommunications equipment.” Only after online protest by Kenyans and pursuit of the matter by his lawyer was he released, after being harassed and held against his consent by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID).
On 19th January, children from Langata Primary School were tear-gassed by police for protesting against the grabbing of their playground by a greedy Kenyan intending to put up a private development. This is reminiscent of apartheid South Africa. On Twitter, defenders of the government have blamed activists, the parents of the children, teachers and even the “bad manners” of the children for this act. The land grabber, however, walks off clean.
- the children showed up
- and the government felt so threatened
- that it showed up, too, with helmets
- and rungus and tear gas.
- and then your eight-year-old was in prison,
- your ten-year old was in hospital
- and you still do not know where your seven-year-old neighbour is.
- how dare you allow your child to defend her humanity,
- the president challenges you,
- as if she came home last week with a permission slip you had to sign.
- as if she doesn’t know for herself the difference between good and this fresh hell.
- but the children keep coming,
- their parents are holding their hands now
- and the president, behind his beautiful doors
- behind his beautiful walls behind his
- beautiful security
- [remember, security starts with you]
- he smiles,
- because he owns all the milk that the people will use to wash the teargas out of their eyes.
One begins to feel overwhelmed by the news of all this injustice. Everywhere. It is a constant onslaught of impunity, unfairness and inhumanity, and it seems to get worse and worse, perhaps because we are all so interconnected now and know what is happening in most parts of the world. All oppression is connected. We are all connected. We are Baga. Some of us are Charlie.
This happens as it is announced that 80 people now own as much as 50% of the world’s poorest. Surely, there must be a correlation between this rising inequality and the violence we have witnessed in the last two weeks. Many scholars attribute the increase in terrorism to political, economic and social injustice. In a simplified explanation, I would say people turn to it when they feel stripped or denied of their rights and their property. When they try to correct actual and perceived social, political and economic wrongs that have been happening for years. In places where people’s voices are taken away from them, and where the public’s participation in governance is denied, people are more likely to resort to violence to make their point. Social injustice and poverty are rallying causes that many are sympathetic to, and they can be used to recruit for exploits that promise reprieve from the current situation. It is easy to see why terrorist organizations such as ISIL, Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda have an easy time recruiting.
Unbalanced development and unequal distribution of wealth bring about a sense of frustration and having nothing to lose, which many who commit acts of terror have in common. Poverty is, in fact, the worst form of social injustice. People have limited employment opportunities, and many of those who are employed are overworked for little pay, and even after this, they cannot provide for their families adequately. This feeds into the high levels of crime and terrorism we are witnessing in many developing, and developed nations.
We also need to shed our self-righteous lens when evaluating both local and global terror. As we pay more and more attention to “the war on terror”, we ignore several injustices that occur on Kenyan soil, such as unemployment and the widening of the wage gap, hunger, misogyny, homophobia among others. Minorities, be they religious, tribal or sexual, continue to face systemic violence and discrimination. While this happens, it is impossible for the Kenyan, or any other regime, to stand up against the violations by other states, and to take a morally superior stand, as they are socially unjust as well.
In the same vein, when we look at the definition of terrorism (the use of violence and intimidation over a people so as to instil fear and effect change) we begin to realize that most of the world’s current regimes are terrorist. Several governments are complicit in allowing the oppression of minorities, and acts of terrorism against them. For example, when the USA can act against Boko Haram but chooses not to, it is complicit in their terrorism. When millions of people world over live in fear of violence, with little protection from it, this can also be considered as terrorism.
It then begins to become clear: to fix this mess we have created, we need to undertake radical social justice. Shirin Ebadi said that “Violence begets violence.” As opposed to increasing military expenditure year after year, perhaps as human beings, we need to seriously focus on fixing humanitarian problems. What if we addressed the education problem? We know that prejudice is an offspring of ignorance. What if we diverted funding for war into fighting ignorance and engendering tolerance? Education is key in achieving peace, and would lead to a world in which people respect others’ ways of being as much as their own.
Perhaps, as opposed to focusing on dividing ourselves along national, and other lines, we should focus on making sure that we care about problems that affect people other than ourselves, regardless of their nationality, because in our interconnected world, a problem in Syria very quickly becomes a problem in Kenya. A problem in Kenya equally becomes a problem in China very fast.
As Richard Horton said:
Principles of harm reduction are more realistic and practicable than false notions of a war on terrorism. Attacking hunger, disease, poverty and social exclusion might do more good than air marshals, asylum restrictions and identity cards. Global security will be achieved only by building stable and strong societies.
Human rights, as the name suggests, apply to all human beings, and must be upheld against all odds to ensure our survival as a race. The more we erode them, the less we have to lose. We have got to fight social injustice, no matter how much we feel it does not directly affect us, because all oppression is connected, whether we see it or not.
“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace.
But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one’s own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one’s strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair.”