On 7th July 2018, the Social Justice Centres Working Group, which consists groups from Mathare, Dandora, Kayole, Mukuru, Kibra, Kamukunji and Githurai, held the Saba Saba March for Our Lives. The demand? An end to extrajudicial killings, investigations into the ones that have occurred, and most importantly, justice for those killed.
According to the Who is Next? report by the Mathare Social Justice Centre, between 2013 and 2015, 803 people were killed in Mathare by the police – 308 in 2013, 418 in 2014, and 77 in 2015. The average age of those killed was 20. They were mostly men of mixed ethnicities; they were intercepted by the police and shot at close range, or in the back; the killings are usually premeditated, and the police officers who carry out these killings are identified and well known in the community, and are involved in multiple extrajudicial killings; weapons tend to be planted on the bodies of the executed after they are killed to justify the killings, and people are routinely intimidated such that they fear acting as witnesses to these killings.
Many Kenyans tend to support these killings, saying that these young men belong to gangs that make Nairobi unsafe and unlivable, and that putting them in jail is difficult; catching them in the first place is difficult. That if one lives by the bullet, they should expect to die by the bullet. That the people against such killings are only against them because they haven’t been victims of these gangs. Or, that they are benefiting from the spoils of these gangs and have incentive to support them.
These killings are extrajudicial for a reason – they are illegal. According to Article 26 of our constitution, every person has a right to life, and a person should not be deprived of the right to life intentionally, except to the extent authorized by the constitution and any other written law. In the case of the police, specifically, the National Police Service Act (2011) provides that firearms may only be used when less extreme measures are inadequate, and for the following purposes: 1- saving or protecting the life of the officer or other persons, and 2- self-defense or in defense of other persons against imminent threat of life or serious injury.
This is usually not the case. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU) reported that in 2017, 152 people were killed by the police, and that out of those 152, 74 were summary executions, 38 people were killed to protect life, and 40 were killed in unclear circumstances. 106 deaths occurred in Nairobi County, and 95% of those killed were young men. Many of these killings occur in low income areas, and this is due to the criminalization of poverty. Many innocent people are killed by the police simply because they happen to live in a slum where gangs also live.
It is claimed that these young men belong to criminal gangs which, according to one report, fundraise via social media to pay police bribes. Which goes to suggest a couple of things. One, that they are known to the police, possibly quite well. Two, that for as long as they pay their dues and don’t kill any police, they are safe. If these criminals are known, why haven’t the police apprehended them? It is worth remembering that in December 2016, then cabinet secretary for Interior Affairs, the late Joseph Nkaissery, outlawed 90 criminal groups, such as Gaza, 42 Brothers, Eminants of Mungiki, Vietnam, American Marines, Chapa Ilale, and the Super Power Gang.
Their being outlawed means that by law, they risk a fine not exceeding KES 5 million, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 15 years, or both. However, if a victim dies, they are liable for life imprisonment. We have a process for dealing with these gangs, so why won’t we enforce it? Most times, it is because of loopholes in law enforcement, of which the police and the judiciary are a part. Then there’s the matter of evidence collection and witness protection, both of which are shambolic in Kenya. If we are to successfully put members of criminal gangs behind bars, evidence must be properly collected; it must not be contaminated, and the process of acquiring it must not have gone against the law. Otherwise the case will likely be thrown out of court.
There’s also the matter of testifying against these gangs. Anyone who was at the scene of a crime needs to be assured that they will be safe if they testify, and that they won’t suffer retaliation from the rest of the gang towards them or their loved ones. At the moment, this is not the case. There’s also the matter of judicial bribery. Members of criminal gangs may just buy their way out of jail.
We must fix these problems as opposed to making extrajudicial killings acceptable. What we have now is a cycle of violence begotten by a cycle of poverty, and a cycle of injustice begotten by inequality. We have bad systems and a lack of political will, all of which are nuanced; all of which will take time and commitment to fix. The solution is not extrajudicial killings. When we make such crime acceptable, it becomes the norm. How can we defend law breaking by the people supposed to enforce the law? It shows that we have no respect for our constitution. In which case, on what basis do we criticize our leaders for their grand theft? For their corruption? If we base our arguments on the law, then we must unequivocally support the law.
Kenya is now in the unique position of having two “presidents” – Uhuru Kenyatta, the current head of state, and Raila Odinga, the self-declared people’s president. Raila Odinga was sworn in at Uhuru Park on 30th January 2018 in the presence of massive crowds. It was an an oddly peaceful event because the police were not present. In the days following the event, I have observed with much concern the open movement towards fascism by Uhuru Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, and the state in general.
If it feels like we’re on the verge of the breakdown of democracy as we know it, it’s because we are. World over, the rug has been pulled from underneath our feet. But for Kenyans, this is nothing new. It’s just more pronounced now. There is no simple, straightforward way to describe fascism. It has its roots in Benito Mussolini’s Italy. In 1919, there was a movement called the Blackshirts in Italy, named after the black shirts they used to wear.
It was built on the disenfranchisement of the every-man by industrialization. Mussolini harnessed this disenfranchisement and diverted it into political action. When he founded the fascist party, he said that fascism “is the wedding of state and corporate power.” His followers were nationalist and totalitarian, and used violence to consolidate political power in him. The more his power grew, the worse they became. This ideology is fundamentally violent, and praises war and conflict.
Mussolini believed that war was the highest expression of human ability and society, and that life was a continuing conflict between people for limited resources. This same thought was shared by his German counterpart at the time, Adolf Hitler, which is why he wrote a book called Mein Kampf – which translates directly to My Struggle. To fascists, war and conflict are good things. They let nations or “races” decide who the strongest is, and who deserves the already “limited” resources. Yet not all modern day fascism can have direct lines drawn between it and Mussolini’s fascism. Or Hitler’s. It cuts across multiple forms of government, and multiple ideologies. Yet, its traits are always the same.
Fascists are nationalistic. I’ve talked about nationalism and why it’s dangerous here before, as well as the differences between nationalism and patriotism. Fascists believe in the exceptionalism and greatness of their nation for no reason other than they were born there. Everything they do is said to be for the good of the nation. They speak in terms of greatness in past days. For example, Uhuru Kenyatta’s focus on Kenya being a powerhouse regionally and in the continent even when his government does everything possible to undermine this in reality.
In the aftermath of Raila Odinga’s swearing-in, Uhuru Kenyatta and his government have broken multiple laws in the name of national security, and gone against the spirit of our constitution – they allegedly summoned media stakeholders to State House the day before the swearing in for a lecture on why they must not cover the events. When the chairperson of the Kenya Editors Guild brought to light these events and said they would not be intimidated, they waited until the next day and switched off Citizen TV, Inooro TV NTV and KTN – a gross violation of press freedom. After seven days, NTV and KTN were back on air on the 5th of February 2018. However, Inooro TV and Citizen TV, owned by Royal Media Services, remain switched off.
They have outlawed the National Resistance Movement, which amounts to outlawing the opposition, listing it as an organized crime group. Other groups on this list include terrorist/vigilante/militia groups like Al Shabaab, Mungiki, Chinkororo, Forty Two Brothers and the Baghdad Boys. Yet, NRM agitates for electoral reform and the boycott of companies they perceive to be “wedded to the state” (as Mussolini may have described it), while the other groups routinely commit murder.
Arrests were also made of parties involved in the swearing in, such as Tom Kajwang, George Aladwa, and Miguna Miguna. The charge is treason, which attracts the death penalty. Miguna, in particular, was arrested on the 2nd of February 2018 for administering Raila Odinga’s oath and being a member of an outlawed group. The High Court ordered his release on a bond of KES 50,000. He was not released. The court then ordered the police to produce him in court at 2pm on the 5th of February 2018 or risk the Inspector-General of Police and Director of Criminal Investigations being held in contempt of court. He was not produced.
The executive arm of the state seems to gleefully undermine the judiciary, as if to say they do not care about the law – they are a law unto themselves. Fascism cannot operate without divisions. A fascist leader has to create an in group and one that’s the enemy. The in group tends to be a majority that this leader controls and feels he belongs to. The enemy? That tends to be minorities. Which is why under fascist regimes, women suffer. Queer people suffer. Ethnic minorities suffer. Foreigners suffer. Religious intolerance thrives. Sexism thrives. Racism thrives. Xenophobia thrives. Tribalism thrives. Homophobia thrives. Anyone that does not belong to the in group suffers.
This is why, despite harping on and on about it, the Jubilee regime has not made a dent in youth unemployment. Why they have not passed the two-thirds gender bill despite having a parliamentary majority. Why they run around the country screaming “I have been unable to perform because of Raila.” Fascists are able to get away with this behaviour partly because of their charisma – they know how to sell the dream. I remember when Kenyans were convinced we were going to achieve great things when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto wore matching red ties early in their first term. Adding onto their charisma is their love of controlling and gagging the media. Uhuru Kenyatta famously said newspapers were only good for wrapping meat. Recently, he shut down TV stations and drunkenly kicked the media out of an event they were covering. His regime has been in a covert tussle with the media since he invited them for tea and snacks at the beginning of his first term.
A charismatic fascist will sell you a ticket to hell for twice the price and you will go gladly, thinking you got a deal. How else do you explain Uthamaki, which is a nonsensical concept engendered by older generation Kikuyus (and some very misguided young ones)? How else do you explain the Nairobi Business Community? They believe that leadership is rightfully theirs. That uthamaki belongs to muthamaki (the fisherman). This fisherman being a fisher of men, currently Uhuru Kenyatta. Who is stoking this fascist sentiment? This is why we are forever caught up in tribal politics and clashes. Because every “tribe” ends up wanting Uthamaki.
Fascist leaders, and their states, easily trample on human rights. If you don’t belong to their in group, you may as well not exist. Fascists are terrible for the working classes. Under them, ethnic cleansing is routine, detainment for arbitrary reasons is the norm, and slums and ghettos thrive because they do not care about inequality. We only need to look at the state of our public schools and hospitals, and the high rates of unemployment to see proof. Our public schools are in shambles, with a majority of the children who sat KCSE last year not making the cutoff for university. Look at our public universities, where lecturers are perpetually on strike because of poor pay, yet that is where most can afford to take their children to school. Under fascism, the common man comes last.
Fascists are excellent at corporatism. Everything must be privatized. This is why our president sees no problem with a company he is associated with (Brookside Dairies) basically owning and controlling Kenya’s entire dairy sector. This is also why instead of fixing our public healthcare system, he prefers to entice private investors to offer more expensive healthcare. They love public-private partnerships and corporate takeovers of industries and sectors that have no business being privatized. When a fascist is done, there are little to no public goods and services. Instead, all you have is rampant corruption, fraud, cronyism and corporate greed.
Fascism is contradictory, as it is packaged to appeal to the every-man, yet the every-man is most harmed by it. It is irrational – it does not make sense because it is not supposed to make sense. It merely capitalizes on emotions and societal tensions and directs them towards political actions that the fascist in charge fancies. Under a fascist regime, a drought can be stopped by a president’s prayers for rain. Defying all logic and good sense, people will believe that the president’s prayers made it rain. They will believe that if he continues to pray, a drought, which is man made and curable by policy and not prayer, will end.
Fascist leaders are masters at shifting goalposts. For those who feel secure within the in group but are not in power, or those who do not belong to the fascist’s group of cronies – security is not guaranteed. One minute you are in, the next, you are an enemy of progress. Only the fascist knows where the goalposts are, and he can shift them at will.
This is why fascists are so disdainful of intellectuals and artists. Naturally, these people will call them out on their actions, and they don’t want that. So they berate them publicly, as you may have witnessed Uhuru Kenyatta do many times, and work hard to stifle the creative sector as Ezekiel Mutua and others in the government are doing. They also defund arts programmes, as William Ruto and Fred Matiang’i hope to do. Make no mistake, this is intentional. They have to do this to quash dissent now, and in the future.
How do we counteract this? The first step is recognizing and accepting that we live in a fascist state. Fascists and their followers live in an alternate reality where “alternative facts” exist – we do not have that luxury. Fascism, unfortunately, cannot be fought purely through facts and logic. It is a heightened emotional state. We have to appeal to the people’s emotions, just like the fascist. Why are they afraid? What are they afraid of? Because many times, fascism stems from a fear of the “other.” What is this that is so bad, it makes them hateful and intolerant towards their fellow citizens and human beings?
How do we make them trust us? How do we bring them into our shared reality? It all boils down to trust. The rest of us cannot trust our fascist governments, and the supporters of fascist governments cannot trust us.
“Disposability is a long word. It speaks about the value of an object within a certain space. Say, for example, the wrapper of the chewing gum that you just had. That is very disposable. Unless you collect chewing gum wrappers. The idea of disposability of people within a community works the same way. How can society work with or without, say, you? Are you collectible, or disposable? Do you have value?”
One only needs to google “Kenyatta Hospital Screenshots” to read about the atrocities that have been happening at Kenyatta Hospital recently. But, if you don’t want to google, and are yet to hear, there are allegations of all sorts flying at the hospital. These allegations have nothing to do with poor services rendered (something that we can talk about), but of robbery, people being drugged and rape. There’s something especially wrong when we are discussing whether you are safe at a hospital (before even discussing whether they are getting treated).
Still, this is where we find ourselves.
Disposability shows its face in many ways. When a place is made for you, it is created to enable your continued survival. To be disposable is to speak of the attitude of the state towards a people. It is more than neglect, because if it was neglect, the state would at least acknowledge the responsibility held. To be disposable is to live in a state where the assumption of responsibility itself does not exist.
“We wish to state that there is no mother or patient who has reported being raped or attempted rape at Kenyatta Hospital”
““Did you report?” as the first thing a victim is asked does not address what the victim has just gone through. It does not deal with the violation. It does not allow the sexual assault victim control of what happens next. Reporting will only help a victim if they are allowed to make this decision.”
But, what do we want? By the time the screenshots were hitting peak circulation KNH had responded. In typical fashion blame was shifted to the victims but an investigation was promised. We are now in the stage where we wait for some action(and forces push for something to happen). We can speculate that this will go round on social media, pressure will be increased and soon the public declarations by government officials will start. Once this has happened a report will be generated that will be given to parliament, who will discuss this report over 90 to infinity before it slowly slips out of the public conscious. Part of a Facebook post reads:
“My wonder, after 6years, is this. If the KNH story hadn’t been told on social media, not many would have known nor cared. Ignorance has been blissful. Pia, inakaa Akili nyingi imeondoa maarifa mengi. (…)Those that need that social revolution the most, are not ardent social media users. Aren’t nearly well-enough read to comprehend this post. And yet we, who have that luxury. We talk. Sensationalize issues for a bit; months, even. Then, more often than not, forget. “
This reminds me of the discussion we had a few months back about travel. We see a series of road accidents, then national outcry, followed by a decisive declaration which is soon overturned because it really isn’t a policy. Even with the NTSA – we saw them on the road, then a quick sudden death meant they aren’t on the road anymore.
Is anything really being thought through?
I ask this in light of Sonko’s various squads as well. Who is on these squads? What is their mandate? (especially because one squad is also meant to help with security. Do they use force? Under whose authority?) I ask because women aren’t safe going to give birth. Because this isn’t really even a large policy question – rather a simple question of security and efficiency. How, and when, will we demand to receive the services that we need?
“Yet what is baffling to me is that we continue to think of these moments as glitches; flaws in the system that runs Kenya, as opposed to proof that it is working exactly how it was designed – to keep the majority poor, hungry and desperate, never with enough time to realize that their dignity is inherent; that they are deserving of rights; that it has never been about tribe, but about class and power, and that ultimately, the power was always theirs to use and give. We continue to sacrifice our nation’s most vulnerable at the altar of corruption and anyhowness, and we can only get away with it for so long.”
- The Wrath of the gods, Brenda Wambui
As I write this essay, I realise that I am working towards showing the nuance in something that, honestly, isn’t quite nuanced. It is important that the oldest and, arguably, most accessible hospital in the country be safe. Hospitals are the place we go when our bodies have failed us. When we are at our weakest. I’m not equipped to do it – but I’ve heard that giving birth is hard and both physically and mentally straining. Surely, we need not add insecure and unsafe to, what is already, extremely difficult.
It’s 2018, the city is Nairobi and we’re discussing mothers giving birth without being raped. Seriously though, how is this even a thing?
In December 2017, over 330 Kenyans lost their lives in road accidents while traveling for the holidays. Over 40 people died in road accidents within 24 hours at Sachang’wan and Bungoma. 36 people lost their lives at Migaa on the 31st of December 2017. For purposes of comparison, 148 people died in the Garissa University terror attack.
The NTSA’s (National Transport and Safety Authority) response was to abruptly ban all night travel by Public Service Vehicles (PSVs). This left several hundred passengers who intended to travel on the night of 31st December stranded, since the ban took immediate effect. “In order to review the current measures in place to improve road safety, the authority in consultation with other relevant government agencies hereby suspends night travel for all long distance public service vehicles from December 31. All travel must be scheduled to take place between 6 am and 7 pm.” As a result, PSVs are being driven even more dangerously in an attempt to reach their destinations before 7 pm. Unlicensed, unregulated private motorists have begun offering commuter services between key towns at high fares.
Driving and being driven in Kenya is a high stakes activity. Kenyan roads are hazardous, and each day we make it home okay is a happy day. Because we recognize this, we established the NTSA five years ago, in October 2012, with the vision of having a sustainable and safe road transport system with zero crashes. Their goal is to facilitate the provision of safe, reliable, efficient road transport services.
In Kenya, over 3,000 people, mostly pedestrians, die in road accidents each year. Globally, 1.24 million people die per year on roads, but 90% of these deaths occur in low and middle income countries even though they have fewer motorized vehicles. The age group that is most affected is the 15 – 29 age group worldwide, with road accidents being their leading cause of death. These accidents cost us about 5.6% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) each year. An agency like NTSA’s existence comes from a place of necessity, however, their interventions seem not to work.
Road deaths in 2015 increased to 3,057 up from 2,907 in 2014. This is an increase of 5.15%. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Kenya’s goal was to reduce fatalities from road accidents by 50% between 2009 and 2014, yet they have not reduced. The NTSA has yet to provide comparative figures for 2016 and 2017.
Even more worrisome is that instead of measuring their performance in terms of lives saved, they cite how much they collect in fines instead, as if that is their mandate. They impose arbitrary speed limits on highways, which are meant to facilitate the high speed flow of traffic, and hide their speed cameras in bushes so as to arrest errant motorists, as opposed to announcing them with signs to remind the motorist to slow down.
I get it – speeding is the main cause of most road accidents we have, followed by drink-driving, not wearing a seatbelt, not wearing a helmet while on a bike, not using child restraints, distracted driving and so on. As a result, the interventions that follow should be – we must reduce the speeds that drivers drive at, make sure they don’t drink and drive, penalize people for not wearing seatbelts, helmets, using child restraints, using their phones will driving. And so on. Yet we’ve done these things, and they are clearly not working, given that road accident fatalities are not reducing year by year. So what gives?
Enforcement. Do we do these things consistently? Effectively? Efficiently? Let’s take highway speeding, for example. 3,057 people died in 2015. How many of them died on highways? On Thika Road? 70. Mombasa Road? 60. Waiyaki Way? 50. Jogoo Road? 30. That’s a total of 210 people – 6.87%. Yet where are we most terrorized by NTSA about speed? Highways.
The World Health Organization has an annual global status report on road safety. The most recent one is from 2015. Road safety is included under two sustainable development goals. We want to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages: by 2020, we should halve the number of global deaths and injuries from road traffic accidents. As it stands, that would mean our target is to get them down to 620,000. We also want to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable: by 2030, we should provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons.
Almost half of the world’s road deaths are those of pedestrians, pedal cyclists and motorcyclists. The average for Africa is 43%. In Kenya, however, they account for 70%. In 2015, 268 drivers and 642 passengers died in road accidents, making up 30%. The rest were as follows: 104 pedal cyclists, 553 motorcyclists and 1340 pedestrians. Only 30% of those who die are inside cars.
It becomes apparent that to reduce fatalities from road accidents, we need to ensure that pedestrians, people on bicycles and motorcyclists are safer on the roads. We need to strike a balance between ease of mobility and safety. In the “Safe Systems” approach, used successfully in countries like Sweden, the speed limit on a section of a road takes into account safety, mobility and environmental considerations, as well as the impact of the speed on the quality of life for people living along the road.
Where motorized traffic mixes with pedestrians and cyclists, the speed limit must be under 30 km/h. This is due to the vulnerability of these road users at increasing speed: an adult pedestrian has less than a 20% chance of dying if struck by a car at less than 50 km/h but almost a 60% risk of dying if hit at 80 km/h. On roads where front impacts with other road users are possible (such as on non-divided rural roads, and two way roads) a “safe speed” will be lower than on highways, where head on collisions crashes are unlikely.
We need to ensure that both the drivers and riders on boda bodas and personal use bikes wear helmets. Many people say that they don’t because of hygiene, so perhaps we need to mass introduce helmet liners and other products that help prevent the transmission of skin diseases through these helmets. As we do this, then, we can also strictly enforce the wearing of helmets as a must by all people on bikes. The quality of these helmets should also be guaranteed, and low quality helmets should not be allowed into the country. There are some that crack as soon as someone falls, regardless of the magnitude of impact. These should not be allowed.
When it comes to drink driving, strict enforcement of the blood alcohol concentration limit/alcoblow should be there. The guys at these stops should be well trained and know the importance of not taking bribes – you take a bribe now, in 20 minutes the drunk driver kills someone, or multiple people. We also know that young and new drivers are a greater risk on the roads, especially if drink driving. They may then enforce lower blood alcohol concentration limits for them, to ensure that they are present on the road. This can then be graduated based on age group and driving experience. The effects of drink driving by commercial drivers (such as truck drivers) and PSVs is even more severe, because their vehicles tend to kill multiple people when involved in fatal crashes.
This means that strict enforcement of blood alcohol concentration limits should be enforced on them, especially on high risk roads, and at high risk times (such as between 5 pm and 10 pm, and during the entire night). We also need to tell Kenyans to stop warning others about alcoblow checks. If you can show them that they are actively contributing to the deaths of others, they may stop this behaviour.
Then there are seatbelts. Wearing seatbelts saves lives, yet it is no longer strictly enforced. We need to go back to doing this, and not just front seat passengers. All passengers should have their seatbelts on. For children, regular seatbelts don’t work as well – they need special restraints. Whether it’s a well fastened car seat, booster seat – have your child in a special restraint for him or her. It increases their chances of surviving a car accident by up to 90%. They should also travel in the back seats of private vehicles as it is much safer.
We need a law that applies an age, weight or height restriction on children sitting in the front seat, and a national child restraint law based on age, height or weight. We also need to make sure child restraints are affordable and accessible. We could have community based education and distribution schemes, maternity hospital loan schemes, voucher programmes and so on. We also need to look into how to enforce this in PSVs – which many people use with their children when moving from place to place. How can we make matatus and buses safer for children?
Then comes distracted driving, caused mostly by mobile phone use. This distraction comes in the form of auditory distraction, visual distraction, cognitive distraction and manual distraction. If one is on a call, for example, one is manually distracted due to holding the phone, and while listening to the call, one may miss audio cues on the road. Texting is even worse – it takes your eyes off the road, your attention is focused on the phone, and you are holding the phone so you are manually distracted. Even when using an earpiece, one is probably still distracted cognitively, which is the most dangerous form of distraction while driving. Drivers talking on a phone are four times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who aren’t. While this number applies to four wheeled vehicles, it doesn’t mean motorcyclists are any safer. Fighting distracted driving should be a key focus of the NTSA.
Vehicles and roads themselves must also be safer. Cars should be crash worthy, and have electronic stability control. This aims to prevent skidding and loss of control in cases of over-steering or understeering, and is effective at preventing different types of crashes (single car crashes, head-on and rollover crashes, and crashes involving multiple vehicles), reducing both serious and fatal injuries. Political will to enforce these interventions also needs to exist. We need to embark upon radically fixing our police force.
We should also have vehicles on roads that consider pedestrian safety. Softer bumpers, better bonnet area clearance and removal of unnecessarily rigid structures are required to reduce the severity of a pedestrian impact with a car. This means that most of the old cars on our roads would not make the cut. Roads themselves need to be safer. Planning decisions are usually made without sufficient attention to the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and people on motorbikes – for example, cycle paths and footpaths are frequently not part of our road network. Neither are bridges.
We should optimize the movement of people and goods with road safety in mind. This optimization needs to take into account the mix and safety of all road users. We should also promote non-motorized forms of transport, such as walking and cycling. A good step in this direction is changing the perception that walking and cycling are for poor people. We can do this by separating these different kinds of road use, eliminating conflicts between high-speed and vulnerable road users. This is simple – have pedestrian walk ways, have separate cycle lanes. Look at Kileleshwa and Kilimani, for example.
We also need advocacy efforts to keep road safety high on the government and public agenda. We can do this through public awareness campaigns to increase understanding and support for enforcement measures, and to sustain a high perception of enforcement. This may even incentivize compliance. Until we start doing these things seriously, the NTSA will remain the butt of many people’s jokes, and rightly so.
It has been 137 days since Kenyan nurses went on strike demanding better pay and better working conditions. In this time, the Kenyan central government, county governments and the Salaries Commission have engaged in brinkmanship when it comes to resolving their issues, as if to see who can agitate them and endanger Kenyans’ lives the most, as this seems to be the role of institutions in this country. In this time, mother to child transmission of HIV has increased, polio and leprosy have re-emerged, and children continue to go unvaccinated in many parts of the country, leaving them (and the rest of the population) exposed to Hepatitis B, Measles, mumps, rubella, and a host of other diseases.
As has become the norm, Kenyans continue to die in large numbers, because our lives do not matter to our leaders. I am reminded of the KES 5.3 billion stolen from the Ministry of Health whenever I view images of Kenyans in understaffed hospitals lying on the floor, as we did when the students of Lokichoggio Secondary School were attacked by one of their own. I also have the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report on extrajudicial killings and abusive policing on my mind as I write this. It focuses on the events in informal settlements in Nairobi (Mathare, Kibera, Babadogo, Dandora, Korogocho, Kariobangi and Kawangware) in the aftermath of the shambolic August 8th presidential election in which our fascist in chief Uhuru Kenyatta was said to have been re-elected (this result has since been annulled).
According to this report, “at least 33 people were killed in Nairobi alone, most of them as a result of action by the police and therefore warranting investigation by either the Independent Policing Oversight Authority, a special commission or by parliament. Twenty-three, including children, appear to have been shot or beaten to death by police. Others were killed by tear gas and pepper spray fired at close range or trampled by fleeing crowds, and two died of trauma from shock. Two others were stoned by mobs. We received unconfirmed reports of another 17 dead in Nairobi. Added to the 12 killings at the hands of police documented by Human Rights Watch in western Kenya, and five additional killings confirmed by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, the national death toll could be as high as 67. Hundreds of residents have suffered severe injuries including gunshot wounds, debilitating injuries such as broken bones and extensive bruising as a result of the police violence.”
At such times, I wonder what it really means to be Kenyan. You are probably born to parents who want the best for you, so they sacrifice everything to take you to a good school. You sit your KCPE, and pass. You get accepted into a district or provincial or national school (bear with me here, this is what they were called when I was in school). You consider yourself lucky, because 84% of the children in Kenya join primary school but only 32% of these go on to enroll in secondary school. That’s right, more than 250,000 children fail to transition from primary school to secondary school. You work really hard in high school, and sit your KCSE. You pass, second time in a row. That makes you one of the 40% or so that score above a C+ and are able to get into university. The other 60%? They have to drop out and find something else to do with themselves. You are now part of the 20% that complete form four after enrolling in class 1 years earlier.
You go to university and do your BA or whatever other degree you’re called to do. If you have the means, you get to go to a private university for your degree. That’s at least 3 more years of school, but you’re grateful to have come this far. You work hard again, and graduate. You are now part of the 1.69% of people that enrolled in class one and were able to go through the whole 8.4.4 system and come out at the other end with your degree. Afterwards, you go out into the world. Chances are that you’re aged 15 – 34.
Your age group makes up 35% of the population, but the unemployment rate for this age group is 67%. The unemployment rate for the whole country is 25%. You tarmack and send your CV all over the place, you’re not as well connected as your peers. Within a year, you get your first job. A job in the formal sector. You may have a starting salary of between KES 20,000 – 40,000, putting you in the same bracket 64.5% of the formal sector workers in Kenya. Your goal is probably to work your salary up to above 100,000. Then, you say to yourself, you can start living. After all, a salary of KES 100,000 and above makes you one of the 2.89% that earns this much in formal employment. It’s not just that you want to be a member of the elite, you need this money to live a comfortable life. The average rent for a modest two bedroomed house is KES 15,000, after all.
Maize flour costs around KES 120 a packet. Bus fare costs anything between KES 100 – 300 a day depending on where you live. And these costs don’t ever seem to become lower. We haven’t even gone into other costs, like education, clothing, entertainment, healthcare. Then, because you’re one of the few that actually are employed in this country, your relatives depend on you. You send your mum and dad money each month for upkeep. Every time there’s a wedding or a funeral, you are called to contribute to the harambee. There’s the harambee that no good Kenyan can say no to – the harambee for medical care. You’re called and told that your cousin Njambi is ill, and she needs money for treatment. Let’s assume Njambi has enough cash for insurance cover, which is rare.
She’s already exhausted all the cash allocated by her cover, both inpatient and outpatient, and she doesn’t seem to be getting better. Her workplace makes NHIF contributions, yes, but somehow no one even knows how to work this cover, so you have to do a harambee. They say she needs to go to India to be checked, because you know hospitals there are cheaper and better that ours. So you do your duty. You come on Twitter and start a hashtag: #StandWithNjambi and set up a paybill number for people to send donations to. Things work out well, and you’re able to raise the money she needs for her treatment. Off she goes to India. She gets there, and they find that she has some obscure cancer. You feel a pain in your stomach, because you remember that the radiation machines had broken down the last time you checked.
How is Njambi going to continue her treatment here when she gets back? Who knows? You just hope for the best. You get home in the evening and turn on the news, only to hear the news of a new mega scandal. You remember the Goldenberg scandal, the mother – the one that opened our eyes to the corrupt nature of our country. How much was stolen that time? USD 600 million between 1990 and 1993. That comes to about USD 1 billion (KES 104 billion) in present day terms. That was Moi’s big scandal. Then you remember Kibaki’s big scandal, the Anglo leasing scandal. How much was stolen then? About USD 1 billion. That was in 2004. Presently, that comes to about USD 1.28 billion, (KES 133 billion). Not forgetting the Chickengate scandal, the Tokyo Embassy scandal among others. Then you remember the NYS/IFMIS scandal, through which up to KES 1.6 billion is said to have been stolen, and of course the Afya House scandal in which we were robbed of KES 5.3 billion.
If they didn’t steal our health money, perhaps Njambi wouldn’t have to go to India? Perhaps she could have had her diagnosis and treatment here? Perhaps no harambee would be necessary in the first place? Perhaps there would be enough nurses, doctors and clinical officers in our hospitals? Perhaps we wouldn’t have to bury people dying of things that can be treated like cholera, leprosy, malaria, the flu, pneumonia, diarrhea, tuberculosis, malnutrition, road traffic accidents…the list goes on and on.
You remember there’s worse to come, because we lose approximately KES 600 billion of our KES 2 trillion budget. What else does it mean when we say it can’t be accounted for? In the financial year 2014/15, we could not account for KES 450 billion shillings. That was a quarter of that year’s budget. And, as our government steals our money, you remember that they also kill us (through the police), just as they killed Thomas Odhiambo Okul, inside his gate. Or Kevin Otieno, outside his. They killed Lilian Khavele and her unborn child when they teargassed her, and she fell and got trampled on by a crowd. They also killed Geoffrey Onancha, who was shot by the police, and his daughter Sharon Imenza who died upon seeing her father’s body. You remember that they shot and killed Stephanie Moraa while she was playing on her balcony.
You realize that no one is safe. Nowhere is safe. So, what happens now?
by Robert Munuku
“We were bundled together in military trucks and taken straight to Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. On arrival, I was locked up in solitary confinement for two months without any communication or reason as to why I was locked up,” retired Airforce Captain, Frank Mũnũku, recounting the 1982 attempted coup d’état in Kenya.
The year was 2012, a time that would later prove critical for my family in more ways than one. It was towards the last part of the semester and I was preparing for my final exams at the University of Nairobi, more specifically, I was reading ‘Philosophy of Law’ (or, jurisprudence). St. Thomas Aquinas defined the law as ‘a certain rule and measure of acts whereby man is induced to act or restrained from acting’. In other words, he saw the law as a disposition of reason, one whose relevance was only actualized in as far as it served the ‘greater good’ for the public. This would also be the same year that marked the 30th anniversary since an attempted coup d’état orchestrated by then Kenya Airforce private, Hezekiah Ochuka. Ochuka and a few others would later become the last Kenyan citizens, to date, to be executed after a death sentence ruling. My father, Frank Mũnũku, was a captain at the Kenya Airforce and was now, three decades on, seeking justice for victimization in relation to the botched coup.
It is said that time heals, I however believe that such a recovery can only be a product where justice is a necessary part of the equation. In my father’s case, recovery was only half done after a three plus decade moratorium and it was finally time to seek reparation for ills done unto him.
My first conversation with him more than showed this, as he narrated:
“When young servicemen tried to overthrow the Government on 1st August 1982, I was not in my Barracks at Embakasi. I was with my battery in Wajir Air Base guarding the airfield and carrying out my duties as assigned. The officers who were said to be the ring leaders were not in my Battery and I did not even know them. I was informed by my radio operator about the coup in Nairobi on that Sunday morning. My first reaction was to call all my officers and soldiers to a parade and tell them to remain calm and await instructions for I had no idea what was happening.
I tried to call my base at Embakasi but could not get through. Inside the Air Force Base at Wajir, there is always an army battalion with its own camp and has its own operational procedure which does not interfere with Air Force operations. During this time it was under the command of Lt. Colonel Thirimu. His deputy was Captain Dan Munene – both officers were known to me.
I decided to go to the Army camp to find out if they knew what was happening in Nairobi. I found the commanding officer and his deputy and they told me that they did not know anything besides what I had heard on the radio. The commanding officer told me to tell my men to remain calm and wait for instructions. I went back to my camp and did exactly that.
My officers and men remained calm as I had instructed them and there was not a single incident of indiscipline. The following day Lt. Col. Thirimu and Capt. Munene visited me at our Air Force camp and informed that he had received instructions from Army Headquarters to disarm my men and I, and carry our interrogation on us to find out what we knew about the coup.
I obliged and ordered by my officers and me to hand over their weapons to the Colonel without any problem. The Colonel then set up one of the rooms for interrogation. ,During the interrogation, the Colonel asked me what I knew about the coup. I told him I did not know anything or anyone who could have planned it. He then ordered for me and a few of my officers to be locked up at the Police Station at Wajir to await transport to Nairobi.”
This was the first encounter I had with what would follow as a series of narratives depicting the dehumanizing treatment my father and other colleagues received at the time. The law is to be obeyed, that is the underlying philosophy of any law or rule. Obedience is usually a functional value and often laws followed lead to a better state of life for those that the laws govern. My father’s description of the insurrection of the 1982 coup, coupled with events that were consequential, is a crystal clear analogy of how the law and its obedience or disobedience oscillates on the same paradoxical axis. My father was actually following the protocol required to escalate a crisis of such a nature but irony would later punish his obedience and respect for the same protocol.
“As a Captain I was earning about KES 3,600 and a Hardship Allowance of KES 1,200 since most of the time I was out in the field. Thus my salary in total was KES 4,800 per month.”
My father eventually got legal counsel and took the government to court. In our country, sadly so, it is not often the case that an individual wins a legal battle against the government even when the facts are as clear as the light of day. One such rare case is that of Judy Thongori, a Kenyan lawyer who successfully sued the Kenyan government for not delivering on the legislated 30% of women representation. Another is that by transgender activist, Audrey Mbugua who, after taking the KNEC (Kenya National Examination Council – a government parastatal) to court, successfully had her name changed on her school certificates. My father too, oddly enough, was eventually successful against the government, 2 years after he had revived past horrors by way of a lawsuit. His ruling read: –
In a nutshell, judgment is hereby entered in favour of the Petitioner against the Respondent in the following terms;
- a) A Declaration that the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment subjected on the Petitioner upon his arrest and being taken into police custody and subsequent detention in the various prisons constituted serious breaches of the Petitioner’s fundamental rights and Freedoms as to liberty, humane treatment, and freedom against arbitrary interference with his privacy, family and home, and right to earn an honest living as guaranteed under the Repealed Constitution and Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
- b) A Declaration that the detention of the Petitioner for eight (8) months with two months under solitary confinement (incommunicado) without arraigning or charging him in Court with any offence known under the law violated the Petitioner’s right of personal liberty under Section 72 of the Repealed Constitution and was illegal and a violation of the Petitioner’s fundamental right to equal protection of the law under Section 70(a) of the Repealed Constitution (now Articles 27(1)&(2) of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010) and further grossly violated the Petitioner’s right to a fair administrative action as provided for under Article 47 of the Constitution.
- c) General Damages of Kshs. 5 Million consequential to the Declarations of violations of the Petitioner’s Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
- d) costs of this Petition.
- e) Interest at Court rates on (c) and (d) above.
DATED, DELIVERED AND SIGNED AT NAIROBI THIS 1ST DAY OF NOVEMBER, 2013
In the presence of:
Irene – Court clerk
Mr. Amolo holding brief for Mr. Gikaria for Petitioner
The ruling, however, was a short-lived triumph, one that would later prove as a battle, rather than a war, won. The next phase of getting compensation from the government was the real fight and, to date, the government has not paid my father for his false incarceration and torture, the latter being a somewhat abstract thing to compensate – how does one qualify what is a ‘good enough’ compensation for psychological trauma? Initially, when my father had began the process of seeking legal redress, I battled internally with this question: what amount of money would be enough to heal psychological scars or how can one be even compensated for time lost? I then went on to get a detailed account of the psychological experience that my father went through, again, from a conversation with him which he vividly recollected:
“(…) my being locked up was just the beginning of a long and very painful experience. Being the boss, I was locked in a cell alone with nothing but a rug to sleep on. For three days I did not have any food or water. The heat and mosquitoes were beyond human imagination. By the time I was taken out on the third day I could hardly talk. I still have problems with my throat since that day. In the afternoon of the fourth day we were taken back to the camp where we found an aircraft waiting to take us to Nairobi together with the other officers. I was not allowed to go back to my room to pick up my belongings. I therefore lost all my clothes, a camera and a very expensive music system that I had bought in Wajir town.
We arrived at Eastleigh Air Force Base at around 7 pm. On arrival we found many other officers and servicemen. We were bundled together in military trucks and taken straight to Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. On arrival, I was locked up in solitary confinement for two months without any communication or reason as to why I was locked up.
In the third month, I was taken for interrogation. During the interrogation, I was told to tell the panel what I knew about the coup. I told the interrogating officers that I knew nothing and that I was in Wajir when it happened. One of the officers asked me why I was arrested if that was the case. I replied that I had no idea and that they should call Lt. Col. Thirimu and ask him why he arrested me. I was taken back to solitary confinement and kept in incommunicado for another three weeks which seemed like three years due to loneliness. I was treated like an animal. Even the guards who brought me food never talked to me. They would not even respond to my greetings.
After three weeks, I was taken back for interrogation. I was not asked any questions; instead, the officer in charge told me that they had contacted Lt. Col. Thirimu and had indeed concluded that I did not know anything about the coup. I thanked him and, thinking that now that they knew I was innocent, they would release me and I would report back to work. However, I was instead taken back to the cell and locked up, this time along with my colleagues.
Another two months passed and I was still languishing at Naivasha Maximum Security Prison. After the Christmas of 1982, we were transferred to Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. The living conditions in this prison were horrible. Most of us suffered from diarrhea because of the pathetic food we were being given. We remained locked up there until 9th March 1983. That was the time we were released and given one month’s salary to buy clothes as we were still in uniform.
Despite the fact that the interrogating officers found me innocent, I was not released but was instead punished further for no reason at all. When I was released, I found that my wife and child had been evicted by the army from the married quarters which had been allocated to me by the Air Force. Most of my household items were broken or lost during the eviction process. My wife was traumatized as she did not know where I was all that time and whether if I was alive or not.
That week I reported to the Department of Defense to find out if I could go back to work. The officer who received me informed me that I had been fired and that I should report back to him for my certificate of service after a week. I asked if I could see the senior officer in charge to find out why I had been dismissed yet I had been informed that I was innocent. However, I was refused to see him and told to go away. I was so disgusted that I did not go for it until 1990, the same year that my third child was born. That is when I saw that my commission had been terminated for no reason at all.”
The government actually appealed thrice to no avail and the court was adamant that compensation be made as per the initial ruling. As citizens of our country, we are left wondering whether we should obey the law if the government itself, a custodian of the law, cannot. Why should an individual follow the constitution if the government cannot? Should students pay their loans to government if the government cannot pay compensation (of which a court of law has instructed) to those it has wronged? How credible is our government? These questions are but a taste of the stark realities that face Kenyans on an everyday basis, and I, like them, ask the same questions too.
Robert Mũnũku is a visual artist, writer & filmmaker based in Nairobi. Mũnũku is also the founder of Mau Mau Collective which is an organization that seeks to create a strong network of independent visual artists, filmmakers & performing artists on the continent. He also serves as the Regional & International Dialogue Coordinator for the Heinrich Böll Foundation (East & Horn Of Africa). Follow him on Twitter @robertmunuku
Depending on your school of thought, you may believe that globalization has its roots in the modern era due to international commodity trade, which experienced an uptick in the 1750s. Or, like Adam Smith, you may attach huge significance to Vasco Da Gama’s and Christopher Colombus’ campaigns around the world in the 1490s, and even claim that this truly set off globalization. If you’re Thomas Friedman, you may believe in three waves of globalization: Globalization 1 (1492 to 1800, a la Adam Smith), Globalization 2 (1800 – 2000, a la O’Rourke and Williamson), and Globalization 3 (2000 – today). Globalization, as we know it, is a process of integration. People, goods and ideas spread across the world, leading to increased interaction between the world’s cultures, economies and governments.
Whichever your school of thought, however, many agree that since the global economic crisis of 2008 which was triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, many of the benefits of globalization have begun to be rolled back. The crisis led to the narrowing and reduction of size of these global connections. Many argue that the economic crisis was in fact caused by globalization, and the inequality that it had consistently been creating over the years.
The prevailing theory before the crisis was that globalization led to an increase in incomes for countries, and that this increase benefited everyone across societies, from the rich to the poor. The opposing school of thought says that while globalization does lead to an increase in incomes, these benefits do not accrue evenly to all citizens, and that there are clear losers both relative to other citizens, and even absolutely – globalization causes them more harm than good.
The income inequality comes about as such: say we have two countries (one developed, one developing), and one factor of production to consider – labour (the developed country with highly skilled labour, the developing one with low skilled labour). These two countries then decide to increase trade openness by reducing tariff barriers to trade. The developed economy of course finds it cheaper to buy products from the developing country due to the reduction in tariff barriers and the lower cost of labour since the labour is not as highly skilled as theirs. This leads to an increase in the pay of the low skilled workers in the developing country, and a reduction of those in the developed country where labour is highly skilled. Thus, in the developing country, incomes are going up, while in the developed country, income inequality is growing due to the loss of potential jobs and reduction of demand for their skills. This increased openness tends to hurt regular people in developed countries. Of course, this only happens to countries that produce “competing goods”. In the case of non-competing goods, which are those either country did not produce in the first place, the effects are wildly different. Reduction of tariff barriers would lead to a reduction in their price in the importing country without changing the wages and prices of goods in the exporting country. In the long term, it is argued, if the good in question forms a large enough part of the consumption basket of the poor, it would actually reduce income inequality.
This income inequality thus creates new challenges, such as welfare and other social support structure concerns on the part of the government. And, we must never forget that globalization only continues to exist due to the goodwill of populations around the world, which has been on the decline since the 2008 global economic crisis. Fringe right wing nationalist groups, also known as the far right, have quickly become mainstream due to their capitalization on the pain of those affected. They have positioned themselves as against “the global/liberal elite” who are the only ones to have benefited from globalization and increased multiculturalism. They practice extreme nationalism (nationalism is the shared belief that your country is great and superior because you, and the other people in it, were born in it).
Far right parties and groups are anti-immigration, because according to them, immigrants come and take their jobs, and bring “foreign cultures” to their countries. As you can imagine, this contingent is not only nationalist and anti-immigration, but it tends to be authoritarian, xenophobic, racist and inflammatory to others, whom they view as inferior. We cannot ignore the connection this has to globalization and income inequality, and the proclivity of human beings to blame “the other” for their misfortune.
The leaders of these far right movements, from those in the USA, the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Denmark, Poland and others, are undeniably xenophobic, racist, authoritarian and insular, but they masterfully manage to conflate their bigotry with the masses’ very real concerns about income inequality, and point a finger outwards at “them.” They are steadily gaining popularity, influence and power, as detailed in the articles linked to above. In Europe, “them” has been refugees in the past year. Before, it was immigrants from poorer EU countries who were “taking their jobs.” The leaders of these movements have claimed that these refugees, most of whom are from Muslim countries, especially Syria, would bring diseases, parasites and terrorism, and that they may be forming an army, and they have said that “Islamism is the Nazism and Communism of our time.” The leaders of these movements forget to mention that the West is quite responsible for the refugee crisis that has seen people from the countries they have started “Wars on Terror” in flee to their countries.
The mainstreaming of far-right nationalism already has had devastating effects, and more are yet to come. The endorsement of Brexit and Donald Trump by the publics has also brought the extremist ideas of the people who made this possible to the fore. In the days after the Brexit vote, racist, sexist and xenophobic attacks were on the rise. The same has happened in the days after the election of Donald Trump. Thoughts and actions that we had formerly managed to make taboo are now OK again.
Yet this is something we should all have on our minds even as we watch it unfold in the West, especially since we are pursuing a deeply pan-African agenda as a continent and their actions will affect us. And because similar events have happened before.
In 1929, what we now know as the Great Depression began. The economies of Europe and Japan were decimated by it, experiencing mass unemployment and poverty. This then led to more aggressive and nationalistic policies and politics which pointed blame at others. This created fertile ground for the fringe, far-right Nazi party to take power in Germany, with Adolf Hitler soon becoming German Chancellor in 1933. A militant cabal also took power in Japan. While there has not been another Holocaust, Hitler espoused many of the ideas far-right nationalists today espouse. Due to pre-occupation with the economic crisis, many countries failed to deal with the rise in fascism and nationalism. Hitler then invaded Poland in 1939 under the claim of defending Germany, and the rest is history.
Many echoes of this past can be seen today, and if history is to be believe, this past could very well be repeated. We should be wise enough to put our foot down regarding nationalism once and for all.
In the aftermath of the 2007 general election that ended in violence and the death of over 1,000 Kenyans, we decided “never again” and set up the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), to promote ethnic harmony and investigate complaints of ethnic or racial discrimination or any issue affecting ethnic and racial relations. The National Cohesion and Integration Act (2008), which sets up the commission, in Section 13 criminalizes the use of hate speech and stops the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour in any medium if they are intended to spur ethnic hatred.
We would therefore expect, and reasonably so, to have our jails full of offenders convicted for this offense, politician and everyman alike, since the use of hate speech in this country is as much a Kenyan pastime as eating roadside maize or mutura. Except that this isn’t the case. With the exception of a few, such as Alan Wadi, nobody goes to jail for it. Hate speech is notoriously difficult to prove.
What does it mean when Ferdinand Waititu, accomplished thrower of stones, asks Jubilee supporters not to hesitate to “defend themselves” during the CORD anti-IEBC protests? When Kimani Ngunjiri asks Luos to move out of Nakuru? When Moses Kuria suggests that Raila Odinga “must not trouble us forever” and can “eat bullets” (or maize, depending on your interpretation)? When CORD camp members then ask their supporters in turn to “defend themselves” if the three are not apprehended by government?
These politicians are engaging in dog-whistle politics, where they send targeted political messages using coded language that reaches voters sympathetic to them, just like how the special high-pitched whistle used to train dogs is inaudible to humans. The message is subject to interpretation, and relies on the prevailing attitude and way of thought of the target audience. They are demonizing entire groups of people and employing the composition/division fallacy: where one represents the whole, and the whole should suffer for the actions/words of one. They are also using eliminationist rhetoric. In the run up to the Rwandese genocide, for example, radio presenters partial to the elimination of the Tutsi would call for the elimination of “cockroaches”.
An outsider listening to these messages would wonder what/who the cockroaches were, but the intended audience (the Hutu majority) knew all too well what they meant. Similarly, in Kenya, what does ‘defending yourself” against Jubilee supporters or CORD supporters mean when we have a history of ethnic violence that has lead to mass death? What does “eating bullets” (or maize, depending on your interpretation) mean in a country where lives are disposable? Yet when asked to explain their statements, politicians on both sides were quick to say their words had been misinterpreted; taken out of context. If only we knew of their good intentions.
It is easy to fall into thinking that if only we more tightly defined hate speech, or, if only it had more painful legal consequences, then it would stop. Hate speech tends to do two things very well: it emboldens bigots and shows them that they have “strength in numbers”, and, it intimidates the target, most times making them fear for their lives. It is harmful. Hatred, after all, is like a gateway drug. It leads to harassment, discrimination, and many times, violence.
Even with this, the lines are blurry. Does the censorship of hate speech constitute an infringement of the freedom of expression? Is freedom of speech/expression absolute? Who decides what hatred is, exactly, and can we agree on one definition? When you ridicule or offend, is that hatred? Is it harmful? What of when you satirize or criticize? Most reasonable people can tell hate speech from free speech, but as we know, many people are not reasonable. Are we to rely on this test to determine which is which?
The restriction and punishment of hate speech, while ideal, equals fighting the symptoms, but not the disease. It does not tackle the bigotry that causes the hate speech – it merely outlaws it, and gets it out of our sight, without challenging it radically. It just moves below the surface. The only way to fight this disease in the long run, regardless of the perpetrator and his/her motive, is to meet it with sound rebuttals. Not only does this reach the perpetrator, it also reaches his/her potential audience. This is where education and debate come in – these are the most effective tools against hatred.
Schools, the media, public figures, and even members of the public, should rise up against bigotry, and instead teach understanding, a sense of empathy, and encourage solidarity. We must criminalize speech when it incites violence and murder, and punish it heavily, but the way that we will successfully fight cases and causes of hate speech is at the root. Education and debate not only convert those open to reason, but they prevent hatred from occurring in the first place. They also create a critical mass of people interested in living in, and maintaining, a good society. People willing to stand against hatred and all its manifestations. People who have something to live for.
“You could hear women lamenting, children crying, men shouting. Some were calling for parents, others for children or spouses; they could only recognize them by their voices. Some bemoaned their own lot, others that of their near and dear. There were some so afraid of death that they prayed for death. Many raised their hands to the gods, and even more believed that there were no gods any longer and that this was one last unending night for the world. Nor were we without people who magnified real dangers with fictitious horrors. Some announced that one or another part of Misenum had collapsed or burned; lies, but they found believers. It grew lighter, though that seemed not a return of day, but a sign that the fire was approaching. The fire itself actually stopped some distance away, but darkness and ashes came again, a great weight of them. We stood up and shook the ash off again and again, otherwise we would have been covered with it and crushed by the weight. I might boast that no groan escaped me in such perils, no cowardly word, but that I believed that I was perishing with the world, and the world with me, which was a great consolation for death.”
I have long been a reader of the Roman civilization’s documented history, and in a recent examination of the letters of Pliny the Younger’s description of the destruction of Pompeii by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius, I could not help but be reminded of the daily Kenyan struggle, displayed in a rather extreme fashion by the flooding in Nairobi on major roads and in neighbourhoods. Only that the destruction of Pompeii happened in 79 AD, while the flooding of Nairobi happens in 2016 AD. And, that one happened at a time when there was little that could be done to predict such a disaster and save lives, while the other happens at a time when flooding continues to be caused by rains we know are coming meeting infrastructure we continue to build poorly. Only that one is a natural disaster, while the other is man-made.
The images of flooded roads stay with me, as I remember the six storey building that collapsed in Huruma due to these rains, constructed in ways that defied logic. The collapse killed at least 45 people, with 55 still missing. It is described as an accident, but how was the building constructed and inhabited without the knowledge of relevant authorities, such as the county government, the National Construction Authority (NCA) and the National Environmental Management Agency (NEMA)? It is easier to believe that the authorities were complicit, as shown by the existence of an audit report drafted in 2015 that recommended that residents of structurally unsound buildings be evacuated and the buildings classified as dangerous, which has yet to be acted upon. This was no accident.
As I sit with these thoughts, I am met online by images of police brutality meted out against protestors who are demanding for an overhaul of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in solidarity with Raila Odinga and the other CORD principals. This is what we are up against should we have the courage to question our government, or any of its agencies – a boot to our heads and necks.
Yet what is baffling to me is that we continue to think of these moments as glitches; flaws in the system that runs Kenya, as opposed to proof that it is working exactly how it was designed – to keep the majority poor, hungry and desperate, never with enough time to realize that their dignity is inherent; that they are deserving of rights; that it has never been about tribe, but about class and power, and that ultimately, the power was always theirs to use and give. We continue to sacrifice our nation’s most vulnerable at the altar of corruption and anyhowness, and we can only get away with it for so long.
Unlike Pompeii, this is no wrath of the gods (a common way to explain things we cannot understand, to this day, is to attribute them to gods). This is our very own disastrous masterpiece. This is a state whose leaders and powerful people elect daily to take the path of a weak/failing state, where they do not deliver goods and services. Where we have been on the brink of civil war (the Molo clashes, the 2007/08 post-election violence) but still, we do not implement the recommendations of the Truth and Justice Reconciliation Commission (TJRC). We remain very angry, and very violent, as shown by the police. Where institutions destroy, as opposed to support, political freedom, and where the path to economic prosperity is unclear to many. Where there is no control of the environmental public good(s), and medical services, water, electricity are a joke.
We continue to have signs that we are not globally competitive (increasing our chances of failure) such as restrictions on the free flow of information, the subjugation of women, the inability to accept responsibility for individual or collective failure, having the extended family or clan as the basic unit of social organization, domination by a restrictive religion, a low valuation of education, and low prestige assigned to work. All these can be changed/reversed.
States do not just fail. People, sometimes an individual, and many times a group of people, fail the state, leading to its collapse. World over, we call these peoples our leaders, more so in Kenya. But a weak/failing state does not necessarily spell doom if there is political will to fix it. It usually begins by providing security to the people, and moving on from there. Our government needs to make sure Kenyans feel safe, especially from/with it, for us to move from here. But are they ready to do the work? Are we?
This essay was taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata, which is on security in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.
Ed: Today we are running two essays. Both of these essays are from the same book and circle around insecurity. In reading these essays I’d like us too pay close attention to “othering” and how othering happens. In both these pieces, for different reasons, community fails as a security mechanism. When faced with our selves/ our privilege would we still hold ourselves to our principles? These are the questions demanded by intersectionality and, in many ways, these are the questions that these two short pieces ask.
by Nyambura Chege
My Uncle ‘Mucene’ (gossip) came to visit. He said he had news to tell us, so my father and I listened keenly while indulging in a cream tea. “I tell you, it’s been a long night for me and Mama watoto,” he started saying.
“Why, what happened?” my father, his brother-in-law, asked.
“Our neighbour’s house was burglarised, and I think some of them were beaten because all we could hear from our bedroom was Mama watoto screaming in pain.”
My father was astounded. “You did not go to help them?” “
Go where?! And expose ourselves voluntarily so that they can rob and beat us silly as well? Ah-no, be serious! No way. We waited quietly, and prayed for them…just hoping that the thugs would leave. It’s all we could do.”
“You think cowering away in your home while your neighbour was being terrorised is all-that-you-could-do for them, uncle Otieno?” I asked, incredulously.
Readjusting himself in his seat, he said, “You people just don’t want to understand what I’m saying, Nyambura.”
The matter was laid to rest.
Then two weeks later, my father got a call from Uncle Otieno in the middle of the night. He told me how their conversation went:
Uncle ‘Mucene’ was sobbing. “Peter! Please do something! They’re in the house asking us to come out!”
“What are you talking about? Who is in the house?”
“The thugs, they’re here! Please call for help. Please come and help us! We’re going to die!”
At this point, Uncle ‘Mucene’ was barely audible. “Otieno, call your neighbours! Meanwhile, I’ll be praying for you!” my father said, and terminated the call. It so happens that my Dad had relayed Uncle ‘Mucene’s’ philosophies to some of their shared friends, and they in turn had decided that he needed to be taught a lesson.
Security in our beloved Kenya has to begin from the grassroots. We have to change how we think and how we react to people being robbed, carjacked, kidnapped, raped, terrorised, and even murdered. Why don’t we start minding each other, it has to start somewhere, so why not there— mind each other. It is easier said than done, yes, but it is achievable.
Mind each other.
by Aisha Ali
The other day I was involved in a debate about street harassment when the man I was debating confidently proclaimed “Women get harassed on the streets because they allow it.”
This statement shut me up for a few seconds. As soon as I recovered, I inquired:
“What does this mean?”
“If women stood up against men who harass them, they wouldn’t harass them.”
“You do know that the average woman was no match to the average man, and standing up to men most of the time means physical violence. Women have even been killed.”
“If you believe in something, then you should be willing to face violence for it. Even if you have to die,” he said in a very matter-of-fact tone.
Since then, I have been thinking about the number of times I have been harassed by men simply for existing female. One day three men surrounded me in a bus at night, and harassed me to the point of tears in the presence of the bus conductor who didn’t do anything. Another, a man said hi to me and when I refused to respond, grabbed my arm and shook me, and followed this with insults.
It hit me that day that women are not human. When a person requires your death to believe that you are worthy of safety, you know that this person doesn’t consider you a human being who deserves to exist in a safe environment. Women are getting physically attacked by men who feel entitled to them. Women are being killed for not accommodating these men.
Yet this person could stand there and demand more harm towards women, more death of women, before he can admit that the problem is men. He would rather see women die, before he accepts that the fault of harassment of women lies firmly on men. Every time I leave the comfort of my home, I know that my body, my being female makes me a target. And that I am responsible for my own safety.
And I know that if anything were to happen to me, I’d be the one to blame. If I were to die, I’d be responsible for my own death.
The man I was talking to didn’t notice the shift in my body language. He didn’t notice me folding into myself a little, moving away from him. He didn’t notice me recognizing yet another man I can’t trust to keep me safe.
This essay was taken from Brainstorm’s third e-book, Ha!Kuna Matata, which is on security in Kenya and is available for free. DOWNLOAD IT HERE to read more such essays.