Social Shifts That Mark the Present State of Kenya

Guest Writer
19 June ,2018

by Wangari Kibanya

Conversations around the word millennial make me wonder, why would we need to contextualize our social and economic shifts from a very US American lens yet our nation is only 53 years old and did not undergo some of the shifts that mark the demographic markers on that end? What happens when the word millennial is deployed in the larger Kenyan discussion? When we label young people and how they act or contribute to society?

When we discuss the different generations, we use the terms – Baby Boomer. Generation X, Generation Y or Millennials and Generation Z /iGen (yet to be crystallized.) This illustration shows what characteristics have been assigned to each of these demographic groups, and the language we currently use to describe people within our workspaces. It shows US American centric culture dynamics. What makes each generation unique? According to US Americans, it is differences in technology use, work ethic, values, intelligence, among others.

The thinking behind all the demographic labels we use to define our workforce dynamics are informed by the United States. Maybe it is time to localize these labels and develop the language and apply a different context for the Kenyan workspace (which may also hold true for a lot of African countries).

The recent history of Africa can be defined as pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial. How has the Kenyan workforce morphed from independence to post-independence? What are the demographic characteristics that we can use to shift the conversation around how we develop strategies for understanding context and the role it plays?

Kenya gained independence from Great Britain’s colonial rule in 1963, and this ushered in the Africanisation policy. Pre-independence dynamics saw colonial Kenya define and demarcate drastic social shifts in systems of production, culture, religion and economies. Different communities that were merged to make the Kenyan project moved from agricultural, pastoral and gatherer means of sustenance to a money economy – new crops, language, religion and vocations.

This is the starting point of a change that brought Kenya into the world. The different markers for each generation also determine expression, how ideas spread, their conversations and world views. A person born in a certain time period may have more privilege that one born in another time. This privilege is rarely acknowledged. Maybe this is why talk of younger generations having it easy crops up in conversations about the good old times. According to many, younger generations are “spoilt”.

How can we think about the Kenyan workforce in a new way? What are the educational, political, and social markers of each generation? Within each of these broad categories, you can also map and expand different sub- groups and cultures to get more nuances on each demographic label.  The main consideration for the social, cultural and political characteristics what happened around them as they made the leap from childhood to adulthood.

1963 – 1978: Uhuru generation

This generation came up during the Africanisation of labor market, and took up jobs in the civil service, leading to rapid expansion of formal economy. Africanisation ensured that new jobs were created in Kenya’s post-independence economy. They had (and still have) jobs for life in the civil service, and there were limited education opportunities. This led to the wide availability of jobs. Public services were functional in their time.

First and second generation Kenyans were able to get through formal education system, from 3R (reading, writing, arithmetic) to university education. There were airlifts to the United States and Soviet bloc countries to train a professional class, as well as expansion of education facilities in Kenya, and Kenyan music (Benga especially) dominated the airwaves with influences from the Congo – they even had global recording studios such as Polygram set up shop here.

1978 -1982: Early Generation

This generation was born into a constitutionally embedded one party state, and witnessed succession from the first president of Kenya as well as a coup attempt, which radically shifted Kenya’s character.

1982 – 2002: Nyayo Generation

This generation experienced a change of education system from 7-4-2-3 to 8-4-4. We have experienced state repression, currency controls and price controls. Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) have had a great impact on our experiences of public services such as education, health and infrastructure.   We saw the liberalization of the Kenyan economy, including the free market, privatization of public services, and a public service hire freeze.

We have witnessed the rise of Information Technology as an industry, boosted by computerization and dial up internet access. There was increased uptake of opportunities abroad by Kenyan students and professionals (which led to “brain drain”) due to political and economic conditions. We experienced news from a monopoly broadcaster (KBC), and Congolese and vernacular Kenyan music defined our audio experience.

2002 – 2010: Children of democracy

This generation has witnessed the expansion of democratic space. Freedom of expression and creativity in the film industry, art and music was burgeoning at this time. The Kenyan Hip Hop scene grew due to the presence of labels such as Ogopa DJs and Calif Records, and there was an increase in literary output from collectives such as Kwani? TV and radio frequencies were liberalized, leading to a rise in independent/commercial media houses.

There was a geopolitical shift to engage more with the East, leading to the entry of China in megaproject infrastructure funding. This generation has experienced the enhanced use of technology for everyday life, as well as increased global connections due to internet use (due to the landing of fiber optic cable on Kenyan coast.) This led to better connectedness of Kenya to the outside world – more Kenyans got online as the cost of internet significantly reduced. Mobile telephony grew rapidly with the entry of KenCell Safaricom.

There were many diaspora returnees at this time, and new constitution was promulgated at this time. There were also curriculum changes in primary and secondary schools, with a reduction of examinable subjects.

2010 – Current: Digital natives (Generation Z/iGen)

This generation is experiencing an even greater merge of Kenya with the global space on the digital frontier. They have grown up using mobile devices, high speed internet and broadband. There is an immediacy in the adoption of global trends, making it to almost every part of the country. There has been a screen shift to mobile rather than legacy media, and a change in news dissemination and cultural trends in the age of viral news and trends on Kenyan Facebook and Twitter (#KOT.)

This generation is coming up in a time of unemployment and underemployment, leading to a growing gig economy and the emergence of the “hustler.” There has been a demographic shift in the makeup of our population, and an expansion in the creative economy (we have photographers, videographers, writers, actors, poets, fashion influencers, Instagram and Facebook popup shops.) This generation has seen a rise in self-publishing on platforms like WordPress, and self-promoting created content on platforms like YouTube. There has been more privatization of services, and the rollout of a new curriculum in 2017.

*

With this basic frame of the different slices of the demographic shifts and labels, perhaps we can reimagine and develop strategies that blend both global thinking and local dynamics that underpin our interactions with Kenyan youth, and understand why it is important to contextualize demographic labels.

The Dynamics of Corruption in Kenya

Guest Writer
12 June ,2018

by Robert Munuku

It is expected for governments to be corrupt. This is a reality, not a vindication – of course corruption is wrong. But at the very least no one gets a heart-attack from surprise upon hearing that government is corrupt.

The most injurious things are those that are an unexpected, because they go unseen then untreated as they operate from the shadows. Corruption in Kenya is not a government phenomenon, but a nationwide one, pervasive in social life and hence all institutions. To deal with corruption we have to deal with many things, preferably at a micro-sociological level. To attempt to deal with it (as we are now) at a macro-level would be futile because at the macro-economic/political levels, corruption is guarded by the very same people/institutions with the power to do something about it. It’s like going to a Kenyan police station to report police brutality and expect results

We as the Kenyan population are also not organized enough, willing enough & politically neutral enough to unite and mobilize towards a fight to end corruption. The middle-class is busy trying to get richer so that they can join the elite upper class, so any malcontent with corruption is often a front to show they care, when they really only care about upward social mobility. Likewise, the elite is more concerned with protecting their already acquired wealth.

Once we accept that corruption in Kenya is not unique to government, we also need to remember that the institutions that traditionally had more muscle than the individual to fight corruption are themselves corrupt – this is what some call the civil society. Civil society in Kenya has been tainted by the commercialization of activism. It is marred with self-interest often hinging on foreign funding. Cartels now too exist in civil society because they need to keep securing funds to keep their NGOs functional, and what better way than to ensure that there’s a constant state of chaos?

Civil society may come in to support a fight against corruption, but this is because their interests shift with the tide that pays their bills. Today it’s climate change, tomorrow it’s the girl-child, the next day it’s water and sanitation, and the next week its poverty reduction. Those who fund civil society from outside the country don’t do so because they love Kenya so much, but because they too want to front foreign agenda to African states like ours, which is a form of neo-colonialism.

The media have one of the most powerful tools – voice, and distribution channels of the same. However, journalists often also fall victim to corruption themselves, being paid off to steer conversations in a certain way (brown envelopes) or to outright kill stories. This is not surprising, because the media houses are owned by individuals who are often politically aligned. Perhaps non-mainstream media & independent journalists are the ones we can count on

Religious institutions are also participants and beneficiaries, because political leaders are usually aligned with one (or more) of the religious denominations in the country, leading them to shy away from harsh criticism.

I believe that the fight against corruption is a one we all need to deal with at first as individuals. But that can only happen if we truly believe it’s wrong. But do we? Or do we wish we were privy to the same wealth that it brings, and only fight it out of spite?

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. Follow him on Twitter @robertmunuku

Down came the market

Michael Onsando
29 May ,2018

“The curio shops near the Sarit Centre in Westlands will be demolished next week.”

  • Curio shops in westlands to be demolished, The Star, Feb 1 2016

It was not until May 10th2018 that the curio shops in Westlands were demolished. On the day of the demolition roads were closed and the internet was abuzz with questions on nostalgia, culture and gentrification.

Amidst the continuous labour we see on the streets these days, it is increasingly easier to make peace with the transient nature of things. The feeling of coming up against a familiar landscape and finding it different is now one we are all accustomed to – whether it is taking a wrong turn on a bypass, or driving into a ditch somewhere.

“For more than 40 years, 73-years-old Mzee David Waweru traded at the recently demolished Westlands Curio Market, selling African curios, carvings and Maasai jewellery, like hundreds of other traders who worked there.”

 

*

 

It takes a certain naiveté to believe in glorified narratives. Your dad is the biggest and strongest – until you see him as another man. Or santa claus is real, until you are the one who has to buy the gifts. Sometimes believing in the dream is a product of distance from it – from what it means to labour towards its actualization. And from the circumstances that make its actualization impossible.

“Growing up in the village back in the 80’s, we often used to hear stories of this place called Nairobi better known then as the ‘city in the sun’. According to the stories the city was this fabulous place which was clean, well organized and everything worked like clock work. The buses were always on time, garbage was always collected, newspapers and even milk was delivered to your door step just like in the movies and most importantly there was no water rationing. You have to understand that back then in the village these things sounded foreign to us and made us long to visit this place called Nairobi.”

Eventually, it becomes easy to forget the fragile nature of freedom actualizing circumstances.

“I lost my innocence of a predictable and certain world in 1982 on the first day of August. I was 8 years old. My elder brother returned from a party on the 31st July and had turned on his portable transistor radio to catch the 6 am news. That Sunday morning, the hesitant voice of radio veteran Leonard Mambo Mbotela on VOK’s national service announced that the government of Daniel Arap Moi had been overthrown.”

And, with a little of romanticisation, it is easy to re-member concepts that had been put aside

“To be a millennial is to believe in freedom. To acknowledge that the ideals that make up the society should not erase or ignore certain people whose existence are in/within/revolve around the same society”

 

*

“This type of informal market is vital in Kenya, where so many people lack the education needed for skilled jobs. Money spent here helps support the artisans’ families.”

Narratives are sticky. What has been said will remain as what has been said, and what is done can never come undone.

 “Life is a lived experience. There is only one way to do that, to live it. To seek. To find, sometimes. To accept Trump as the clarion call to the next phase of American aggression, which might just drive us to the next war we historians will describe as the war of our generation. To accept that each generation has a purpose, and ours isn’t defined by colonialism and independence, as much as it is defined by our need for jobs, better Internet, fewer wars, more inclusion, and a more humanist approach to social problems. By rapid political transitions, a debt bomb, the traumas we inherited, and those we are inflicting on ourselves. Those are our wars, so far, and they are real. If the next generation has different wars, then so be it.”

 

And freedom is a multifaceted concept. What can look like revolutionary reclamation of a space in one era can serve to its own detriment in another. As the world changes, so we must change with it.

“I came here around 1976 to start my business. I found this Market here. There were traders here already.”

  • David Waweru, Westlands curios market was my life

 

There’s something cyclical about the reclamation of reclaimed space. The city takes back to give what had been taken back because it couldn’t give.

The first time I walked past the curio space after it was demolished, I couldn’t help but feel like something significant had died. Then I remembered it was just another shade of the sunset.

(they better build that road)

Situating Ourselves

Michael Onsando
15 May ,2018

“By saying, this is how the world sees me. This is what is expected of me”

“When bodies break it is not a moment but a culmination. Bodies that break tend to have been pulled, stretched twisted and torn. Bodies that break do not just break.”

 

We all seem to agree by now that the current imaginations of purpose have been long outlived by the modern world. Increasingly the ethnopatrichal capitalist system is being called into question. Globally curiosity has been ignited in alternatives. So much so that flat earthing almost became a thing again.

But the system itself is a thing – and things are indifferent. Building off the previous essay, things only have the power we give them.

So we must ask – what is this thing – the system? And why does it have so much power?

Thankfully, this is not labour we have do ourselves. Several liberation struggles have given language and articulation to the various ways in which this system marginalizes. And, being a system born and bound to certain imaginations of freedom, it makes sense that some bodies were given preference. It is important to note that it is about bodies, because bodies are also things that we can do little about.

System (noun)

A set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network; a complex whole.

Even systems have a purpose. And the system for survival. For whom? That will take us back to the question on bodies, which is a whole other debate. Maybe then it makes sense that the people who have made peace with their role in the system are disproportionately resistant to change – fear is a powerful thing.

And this is even before we begin to introduce the individual human into the equation. If one was to look at the system as a well-oiled machine then it would be a matter of switching parts, keeping it oiled and regular maintenance. But the individual insists on have a conscious mind, and the need to think, feel, live and be.

So we see static unchanging roles and purposes, held in place by an outdated system and we see the wrong bodies coming up to fill the wrong functions and faced with different problems. A woman comes out as the breadwinner in a family and comes up against the sexist nature of compensation. A gentile man seeking to paint comes up against the demand to provide. The system, indifferent, identifies the bodies in a certain way and assumes peace with the function the bodies are to fill – placing the burdens as expected. Those who find themselves aligned are overjoyed. Others are at battle.

This relation shapes us.

What’s true is [that] trauma makes weapons of us. And fools, and secret keepers, and collaborators in harm. What’s true is that trauma is both singular violent events and the ongoing constant socialization of ‘power over’ for those deemed superior because of skin or penis or ability or inheritance or something else they didn’t create or do. If we are going to grow, we must embrace truth telling. We must generate our compassion. We must learn to set and hold boundaries within community, on this planet we share. We must learn what is worth our attention, and how powerful our attention is. We must get more passionate about healing than we are about punishing.

 

But the system is just a thing. Which is to say, to change the system would be as easy as to wake up tomorrow and say ‘from now on it shall be.’ So what’s stopping us then?

There is need.

I keep going back round to this because I need it to be seen that the thing under discussion is tangible. More often than not it is like we are discussing some abstract system that exists eons away from us, but it is right within ourselves. Knowing, for example, that the system is perception bound, means knowing that the ways we have learned to see others are the things that are holding them in place. This ‘system’ is really our definitions of what roles people must fulfill in our lives.

Which makes sense because if the purpose of the system is survival then excommunication is the perfect punishment. Especially when you go into the nature of excommunication in relation to survival – it often meant death.

“It is the people we hold onto that hold onto us. As we shake people off, we too are shaken off.”

There are two things here. First, we must look at the ways in which we have trained ourselves to look at the world. The perceptions we have held and reinforced because ‘they are true.’ The people we have vilified and the people we have sanitized. There is need to shift the way we think – and this can only happen through open and honest debate. It is in the debate that we make peace with the nuance.

Second, it should be more apparent that no matter how we define ourselves in relation to the purpose our identity will be interlinked to it. Because we have only learned to see things as they have been seen and we are only seen as we have been seen, then the futility of fighting becomes apparent.

This is not to say that everything is predetermined and there is no such thing as free will.

Rather it is to say that the act of freeing one’s will must be a deliberate and, will often be, a painful task. As we refuse to become the person we are seen as people see less need in being the person we see them as (the level of peace we have made with this may vary).

“A void will always fill.”

This system doesn’t exist in a vaccum though. And survival as a purpose cannot be taken away from you. All the system did was distribute the labour (and unevenly distribute the benefits of) towards that survival. And so in freeing our will, we find ourselves differently burdened. And those who pick up the burdens we left behind find themselves differently burdened. I use differently because things trade hands, but it is difficult to speak of which is heavier.

It is this time that we take to analyse and understand these different burdens.

And it is with this new understanding that we begin to re-shape the ways in which we relate to the labour of survival. Then maybe, just maybe, we can take a shot at changing the system.

 

Finding your Power

Michael Onsando
1 May ,2018

“Perhaps now it becomes clearer that when we speak of “reclaiming our power” we are not necessarily talking about moving in opposition to something, rather than moving towards actualization of our own will.”

In pursuit of power

But power is an intangible thing. To try to see it/touch it/discover it is to watch it dissolve. And because our mode of interrogation is outwards, to search for this power is often to outsource it. To ask, “is this a valid source?” Is to immediately validate the source. And to tell someone “you have my power” is to be asked “where did I put it?” So it makes sense that even statements like “reclaiming our power” seem to say a lot without saying anything.

In pursuit of power we tried to ask – where has it gone, this power? To reclaim something, you must have had it at some point. When talking about enlightenment Allan Watts uses an anecdote. When asked to provide a form of enlightenment his question is often – “have you forgotten something?” In further talks he goes on to speak on the nature of enlightenment and how it unfolds upon itself, leading to the meaning of existence being existence itself. I’d like to argue that power unfolds unto itself this way.

Especially when we remember that power is most often a way we are perceived.

The thing is, how we are perceived has very little to do with who we are – or even what any single individual thinks of us(if there even is such thing as a single individual). It is a collection of knowledges that we carry in our bodies, in our tongues, in our motions – and what these knowledges have meant to many people right? (or, what happens when truths collide?)

And, knowing the number (and multiplicities) in ways we are perceived, it begins to make sense why fighting perception increasingly becomes a losing battle. In taking on how we are seen in a debate it is almost as if we are saying, “Sit, bring me yourself and your ancestors, bring me all the ways in which they have thought- and let me tell you why you’re wrong.”

The things we hold close.

Eventually, these debates become draining.  Further, perception is a real time thing – happening with tens of people a day for the working adult. There isn’t enough time to break down perception barriers in every single conversation. And, because all these knowledges all hold truths in them – the murk becomes messy.

“Though you can see when you’re wrong, you know you can’t always see when you’re right.”

Billy Joel, Vienna waits for you.  

I’d like to argue that to give away our power is to see ourselves through the argument of another. So, when mucking through the mess, rather than follow our path back to ourselves, we move towards their truth (their perception of us) – for whatever reasons, vanity, fear, and so forth. Now, holding these truths in place of our own, we carry them with us. They define us.

And the problem here comes from several angles.

First, we need this ideas to be held in stasis. Or at least with the same stability that our own core gave us. This is highly improbable. One’s perception of you can’t be held in stasis, there are too many factors involved in a transaction of this kind. Second, under interrogation – these ideas always fail. Because they are not grounded in how you are perceived, when challenged to unfold into themselves, they unfold unto someone else. And this someone else doesn’t look like you – even to yourself.

This can cause a serious amount of cognitive dissonance.

The problem is, these ideas are often challenged because the world continues to perceive us as it has always perceived us. We are the ones who perceive ourselves differently. And so we relate differently to how we are seen:

“Increasingly, it seems to be about how we relate to our purpose and how that relation then shapes who we are. And then how who we are shapes how we are perceived. Which shapes our experience. Which shapes the ways in which we are (dis)allowed to navigate. Which shapes who we think we are supposed to be. Which shapes our purpose, with which we relate.”

Or, Whatever

 

Which is why even before we begin to reclaim our power from outside sources, we must begin by acknowledging our own. By saying, this is how the world sees me. This is what is expected of me. These are the ways in which I am feared. These are the ways in which I am loved. These are the ways in which I am acknowledged. These are the ways in which I am disregarded.

It is in this process of acknowledging that the cracks in our own foundations become apparent.

It is in this process of acknowledging that we realize whose power we hold.

And because the world, oblivious to your change, continues to see us as it has always seen us, then we can move in and out of our power and use it to create space where others can do the same (or not, it’s really your decision).

I fall back to Wambui Mwangi on remembering:

“To ‘re-member’ is to make a member again, to bring that member back into the community of imagination, re-awakening past trajectories and giving new momentum along new paths of the present.”

Silence is a Woman

What does it mean to make yourself a member of your community once again?

Or, have you forgotten something?

Bridging The Gap

Brenda Wambui
24 April ,2018

Human beings struggle with confirmation bias – we easily accept information that confirms our already existent beliefs while rejecting that which does not. This is why no amount of throwing facts at someone who you think or know is wrong will change their minds. They just tend to reject the information you gave them, give you their opinion, and become even more firmly rooted in their views. Appealing to rationality or logic works very few times, and requires people to be open minded. So we have to find another way. A way that works.

Researchers at Cornell University looked into this, and established some things: First, numbers are important. The more people that reinforce a point of view, the likelier they are to change a person’s mind. A good example is the doctor’s strike in Kenya that ran until early 2017. Initially, many were against it, but after it garnered widespread support and many people began endorsing it on mainstream and social media, it was difficult to come across people who still opposed it, except of course those who were partial to the government.

Timing is also key. The arguments the person encounters first are the likeliest to stick for your position, so arguments should be fine-tuned as they are taken as a blanket representation of a position. It is also important to use calm language. Which is hard, especially when arguing for things one is passionate about, but it is important to observe this. Being able to explain one’s position from different points of view also helps, as opposed to hammering the same point over and over again.

Daryl Davis, a musician who has actually convinced KKK leaders to change their minds and leave the Klan, echoes these findings. His efforts have been fruitful, as the KKK has been unable to re-establish a presence in his home state of Maryland, USA. He urges us to give our opponents a platform to express their views honestly without fear of attack, even when we do not respect what they are saying.

Then, we must counter their stance with knowledge. One should be able to argue the opponent’s position and why they think that way as well as the opponent can, or even better. Know their position as well as you know yours. This prepares you for what they will say, and probably how they will act. This helps with the calm language and attitude suggested by the researchers at Cornell University.

Second, he says you need to focus on having a conversation, not a debate. What’s the difference? A conversation is more focused on listening. A debate is something to win. There is a winner and a loser, and nobody wants to lose. In a conversation, the fact that one is open to hearing the other side means that they will probably reciprocate and be open to hearing one’s side. As he says, “when you are actively learning about someone else, you are passively teaching them about yourself.”

He recommends that we look for similarities. As we focus more and more on what we have in common, what we don’t have in common matters less and less. He also reinforces the importance of dialogue. When two opposing sides are talking, they are not fighting – they are talking. It is when the talking stops that violence has a chance to take root, so it’s important to keep talking. The more we keep conversation going, the more we find common ground.

All this requires patience. Patience to sit or stand there and hear things you don’t believe in and know aren’t true. To have the conversation without being condescending. Patience to keep going through this process because people’s minds rarely change instantly upon hearing a good argument.

Davis says that we must not explain people’s movements for them – we must let them explain, and then address the points in their explanation. Take note of them as they explain – let them finish, and then address these points. This only works if you have done the work, so do the work. He emphasizes something important. Most times, people are just afraid of the other. Of what’s different. Or who’s different. Which is why we must practice empathy. According to The School of Life, the key to empathizing with the other person is to understand that they’re actually the ones in pain. The only reason they are hurting us is because somewhere deep inside they are hurting themselves. They are not well.

How do we practice empathy? First, be curious. Actually want to know the other person’s point of view, their struggles. Be curious about why they think that way. Be curious about your own point of view. This curiosity is what will inspire you to seek knowledge on both sides. Second, listen, not with the intention to reply, but with the intention to genuinely understand. Ask follow up questions where you need more information. Practice stepping in their shoes and taking their view point. Then, go further and see how you would be talked out of that viewpoint.

Hopefully, if enough of us in our respective societies do this, we may be able to see a change, and live in a society where love, inclusion and acceptance thrive, as opposed to hatred, division and intolerance.

Writing Sunsets

Michael Onsando
17 April ,2018

Suppose I wanted to write about a sunset. How would I do that? Would I begin by describing the colours? The smell? The sounds? I ask because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to start this essay and the most apparent way was to write about a sunset. But how would one go about writing about a sunset without making it seem like they were writing about another banal thing. Even if it were the most fantastic sunset that they had seen – it would still be another banal thing to write about, because we know, as a thing, that the sun will set – fantastically beautifully at times too.

“They are here.”

Little has to be said after that. We will remember Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

A fragment of something I’ve been failing at writing:

I miss my grandfather. In many ways I imagine this is when our relationship would have been strongest. United by a common misunderstanding of the world. Except he’d lean towards hope – and I to despair, or the other way round. Maybe this is a romanticisation – it is the only thing you can do to someone who only lives through fragments of memory.

This is not a tribute.

“She will forever be revered and remembered as a social worker, a consummate leader of our Struggle, a mother not only to her daughters but to us all and, most important, our firebrand shero.”

Maybe only a little.

Another in a series of notable deaths:

“As folks mourn Matiba, it must not be forgotten that he was one of that class of Kenyans who used public office to enrich themselves; and while he did take a brave stand for multipartyism, it was he who wrecked the original FORD, condemning us to an extra decade of Nyayo.”

As the sun sets on the independence generation and we see icons fall to nature (rather than to the other brutal ways in which we have seen icons fall) we are pressed every day to see the world through their lenses. Increasingly we are forced to ask ourselves – is this the world for which was fought and bled?

And, in holding ourselves to this light we find ourselves returning to the vision of freedom.

“You need to talk to Kenyans, explaining why you did this [deal] and what is the objective of it all. And this must not be about power-sharing”

To remember that freedom is a negotiation. And that the question on freedom must be asked to all. And that the answer, in truth, will always be complicated. And, because we know it is complicated, we know we must ask – for to ask is to interrogate further towards the truth. Because we know that those that lead us can, and will, let us down.

We look at ourselves – the ones who were supposed to be free. And we find ourselves still unfree despite it all. Despite an entire generation having gone past.

“But what do you know of the freedom that you seek?”

Now one can ask – but what is freedom? Well, freedom is a multi-faceted concept. Just like oppression, freedom is custom made. So to that question one responds “fees must fall” and another responds “repeal 162” and so forth and so forth. But freedom is not something that is given to you. And so the paradox – of being told you are the free and yet feeling unfree.

It is this space between where we are and what is free that their vision allows us to see. In holding ourselves to a nation that could only be dreamed, we see the places where our reality just fails to live up.

Still, even as we hold ourselves to these visions (and pursue accurate representations through research, debate and google) we must remember that these dreams were also just dreams for a time. And that we need to also actively shape what we have for a future that might not look like where we are coming from (despite moi era alarmists. The alarm might be necessary, but the moi distracts).

We are not afraid of the darkness, we trust that the moon shall guide us.”

Which is why I ask about a sunset. Like death, we know there will be a sunset tomorrow. And so to write about it would be to say, “This thing. This thing that we knew was going to happen. It has happened, as things happen. Except this time; it was fucking beautiful.’

In Pursuit of Power

Michael Onsando
3 April ,2018

What is power?

I ask because we need to look closely at this thing that we spend a lot of time assuming we all understand. We say that people have power of others and what do we mean? One could say power is the ability to allocate resources (financial, emotional, opportunities). Perhaps it is the ability to influence the way people make decisions using a variety of tactics. Still, these definitions seem to be a result of power rather than the thing power itself.

Without becoming overly philosophical – I ask this because there are assumptions we make in conversations that might be hindrances to the truth. We assume, for example, that the priviledged person will have power of the less privileged one – but is that true?

And if so, what is power?

“In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. ‘Do it,’ says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man, ‘and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies?”

It becomes evident that power lies in will. In this case, who the sellsword wills to kill. Will is, of course, the initial driver of ability – we will ourselves to do things. It is the collective will of the people that moves societies. This will comes from authority. We will ourselves to do what we want but we bend our will when faced by an authority(real or perceived). The thing about authority is, there are few places where we must bow to authority. In the office, for example, we must follow what the people in charge want. In society, we must follow the law – but there are few others. All other ways in which we succumb to the will of others are voluntary. Or beyond voluntary, transactional. For example, you still bend your will sometimes for your parents because you would like to continue to receive their good graces.

And, of course there are people who bend their will to suit what you want – tis the nature of life.

Hence creation of authority creates an illusion of power. And, because power itself is an illusion then it might as well be the real thing.

The reason this is important is perhaps in realizing this we can begin to see how we have assigned authority based on our definitions of power and how that has affected our interactions with people. For example – how does your assumption that all women are emotional affect how you interact with women? Do you thus perform actions that provoke an emotional reaction and confirm your theory? Or your idea that all men are cold and emotionless – do you go around being pre-emptively microaggressive and thus making sure people keep their distance from you and confirm your theory? What authorities have we given people (how have we organized the worlds in our heads) and how does this authority shape who we think people are (and who we think we should be)?

Perhaps now it becomes clearer that when we speak of “reclaiming our power” we are not necessarily talking about moving in opposition to something, rather than moving towards actualization of our own will. And in order to know what our own will is we must start by trying to see the world we are trying to create – what it looks like, who can live there and how to get there. It might seem like the same thing, but is very different from simply identifying the things we do not want in the world.

Because many times the very thing we don’t like is a reflection of ourselves, and positions based on negatives often lead to debates about exceptions. For example “we would like to eliminate murder from the world” leads to questions like “what about self defense? Or manslaughter?” Whereas building from a place of “we would like a world where people are not pushed to violence” allows us to have the conversation from a place of laying the groundwork and creating the environment for the non-existence of murder.

The second statement starts from a place of before the murder has happened and begins to address the root cause, rather than begin from “okay, a murder has happened – the person who murdered is bad, how do we punish them?” Rather than destroy what has already been willed it begins with the bottom – what moved the will in the first place? And this conversation leaves room for solutions that could be more sympathetic rather than punitive towards the murderer and hence leaving room to break long term cycles. This is because the first position assigns that murderer the authority of evil. All evil begins and ends with the act of murder. Whereas the second position distributes the violence – allows for the murder to be part of a larger picture.

Just to clarify that I’m not saying that this should be how we write laws. Rather it is how we should approach conversations. Rather than assign privilege the authority of evil in a conversation, how would it change if we walked into conversations and stripped people of the authorities they are supposed to have – and ourselves of the ones we assumed ourselves to have – and tried to reach/understand? Where would conversations go? What kind of solutions would show themselves?

“…get firsthand information. Know for yourself what it feels like. And then you too can become a superhuman empathetic person. You can care about people you never met, and worry about problems you don’t even have.”

So this week, maybe a question. Who have you given authority? Who have you given your power? Where do you bend your will? And how can you stand up straight?

Why Kenyans Should Worry Even More About Facebook

Brenda Wambui
27 March ,2018

Facebook has recently found itself in hot water after a whistle-blower came out to talk about how Cambridge Analytica, a firm associated with both Uhuru Kenyatta’s and Donald Trump’s elections, mined the data of about 50 million users of the platform and used it to target them with often divisive political messaging. This is far greater than the initial estimate made in 2017 of 30 million accounts. This cannot be considered a breach of data, as they did it using the tools that Facebook gives third party developers access to, but a breach of users’ trust on Facebook’s part. They did not even bother to tell their users about this breach until March 2018 when the whistle-blower came out.

Hot on the heels of this information, it was recently revealed that Facebook, now known for being irresponsible with user data, has been storing extremely detailed logs of the date, time, duration and recipient of Android users’ calls when they have Messenger or Facebook Lite installed on their devices. It is worth noting that most Kenyans with smartphones are on Android. However, our concerns about Facebook should be even greater.

I recall clearly when Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder and CEO of Facebook, came on an “Africa tour” in 2016 and stopped by Nairobi to “learn about mobile money.” Before that, he had been to Lagos to meet with local businesses and developers to understand how Facebook “better support tech development and entrepreneurship across Africa. While he tried to portray his visit as altruistic, it was anything but.

Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative has invested in Andela to the tune of USD 24 million, and, Facebook’s Free Basics Initiative (under their Internet.org arm) is active in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Angola, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia, among others. Free Basics is a platform provided by Facebook in association with various telecom operators in different countries (in Kenya it’s Airtel), where certain basic websites are available free of cost. They hope that “by introducing people to the benefits of the internet through these websites, we hope to bring more people online and help improve their lives.”

According to their website, it provides people with access to useful services on their mobile phones in markets where internet access may be less affordable. The websites are available for free without data charges, and include content on things like news, employment, health, education and local information. They go on to say: “the internet is essential to growing the knowledge we have and sharing it with each other. And for many of us, it’s a huge part of our everyday lives. But most of the world does not have access to the internet. Internet.org is a Facebook-led initiative with the goal of bringing internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the two-thirds of the world that doesn‘t have them.”

Free Basics, however, is not all roses. It only allows users to access a very small section of the internet, and that portion is under the control of a corporation that chooses what services will be accessible for free. Since when can corporations be trusted with so much power? It offers unequal and biased access to the internet. The people at Facebook have to think your website is a “useful” basic, using standards that are unknown to the rest of us, and then allow free access to it on certain carriers. The selectiveness of the whole thing is amazing. Facebook partners with select Internet service providers to provide selective access to select websites. And then, they call it Free Basics, yet the very implication of the word basics is access to all.

This goes against the principle of net neutrality, which is the belief that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites. Through this service, Facebook becomes a gatekeeper: all web traffic generated on Internet.org goes through their servers, which spells trouble because it creates room for surveillance and privacy violations, since so much data is being concentrated in such few services.

Spying governments and hackers are now able to target very specific websites to get your data. This is made even worse by the fact that Facebook does not allow encryption on Internet.org (because the websites need to be light and load fast), yet this is one good way to protect users from online attacks. This is every hacker’s dream. To make matters worse, people worldwide confuse Facebook with the internet, while many others do not know that Facebook itself is on the internet. Isn’t it problematic if they become the main gatekeeper for the majority?

Free Basics also lacks transparency. What are the policies regarding user data? What happens when governments request for data access? What are the partnership terms with the telcos they are partnering with? How are core services for the service selected? What about the ones that are rejected? Why are they rejected? Who exactly covers the costs incurred by the telcos for providing this service? Are they being paid more or less than what they usually get paid by consumers for data? And most importantly, why is Facebook creating a walled garden? What about companies that are unable to, for some reason, meet whatever vague requirements Facebook has for being on the platform? Are they dead on arrival?

Perhaps the plan is for Facebook to increase its dominance in the market, get customers hooked on this free stuff, price others out of the market, and do whatever it damn well pleases after that. But how well is this plan working? Not too well. Buzzfeed did a piece on who is actually using Free Basics, and as you can imagine, the results will shock you. Most of the mobile operators in question that responded to their questions, and not Facebook, were actually the ones subsidizing the data because they believe it is a good customer acquisition and retention strategy. However, most of the people using Free Basics were not first time internet users. Many of them already have data plans and just use Free Basics to reduce their costs.

If Facebook really cared about providing access to the underserved, why not use its massive influence to urge telcos to offer data plans with low data caps to marginalized communities? Or, why not pay for this themselves? Then, everyone can have equal access to the internet? This fight has now been brought to Africa’s doorstep. Facebook lost this fight in India, and we must not let them win here. If a country with over 1.2 billion people can resist this giant corporation with a unified voice, so can African countries.

In India, they had a rallying cry against Free Basics: that it was poor internet for poor people. This is essentially what it is. They marched on the streets, protested online, and they targeted companies that had agreed to partner with Facebook, rating them poorly, until one by one, they dropped out of the programme. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India put out a letter to Facebook that ended with important questions, and the way Facebook handled this was terrible, and resulted in Internet.org being banned in India. They went on with a ham fisted approach, taking out billboards, newspaper ads, and sending millions of SMSs. They even asked people to call their telcos, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Zuckerberg learned from this very public humiliation, and this no doubt was behind his charm offensive in Africa. We have to be smart about this; we too must say no. We are at an important crossroads. The next billion can go online like we do now, and enjoy unfettered, nondiscriminatory access to the internet, with all the knowledge hosted there and the tools available for them to express freely. Or, they can get a second class experience. Poor internet for poor people, with limited access to the web as dictated by big blue.

It’s up to us to choose.

Why We Should #Repeal162

Guest Writer
20 March ,2018

by Elizabeth Kabari

You may have seen the hashtag #Repeal162 on your social media feeds recently. Some of you are sure that it concerns you; others are sure that it doesn’t. However, it should concern everyone because it is a human rights issue, and the denial of rights for one is a denial of rights for all.

The #Repeal162 movement is a part of the struggle for the recognition and protection of the rights of the LGBTQIAPK community in Kenya. It consists of 2 ongoing court cases: Eric Gitari v Attorney General & another (Petition no. 150 of 2016) and John Mathenge and 7 others v Attorney General (Petition no. 234 of 2016).

The main purpose of these petitions is to ask the court to declare Section 162 (a) and (c) and section 165 of the Penal Code (Cap 63) as unconstitutional and therefore inapplicable in Kenya.

Section 162 of the Penal Code makes it a felony, punishable by 14 years’ imprisonment, for any person to:

  1. have carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature; or
  2. have carnal knowledge of an animal; or
  3. permit a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature.

Additionally, where the above acts are performed without the consent of the other person or where consent was obtained through force, coercion, lies etc, the prison sentence goes up to 21 years.

Section 165 is similar and states that:

Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, or attempts to procure the commission of any such act by any male person with himself or with another male person, whether in public or private, is guilty of a felony and is liable to imprisonment for five years.

Both sections fall under the chapter 15 of the Penal Code which provides for “offences against morality.” The Penal Code we have is basically copied and pasted from 19th Century Colonial English criminal law. This chapter in particular exists to ensure that Christian principles, which were very important in England at that time, could be more thoroughly enforced. This is illustrated by the language used in the chapter.

For example, Section 151 criminalises the “detention of females for immoral purposes” while Section 153 criminalises persistently soliciting or importuning for “immoral purposes”. The phrase “immoral purposes” as used in these sections means a sexual purpose. This conflation of morality and sex is a very Judeo- Christian idea. Furthermore, Section 165 criminalises “gross indecency” between men. The term “gross indecency” is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “a term formerly used to denote certain criminal offences, in particular sexual activity between men (before this was decriminalized) and sexual offences against children”. The Judeo-Christian influence shines through here too.

The purpose of the law should not be to enforce morality, Christian or otherwise. Law should be a means by which people’s behaviour is regulated to ensure they do not harm each other and can co-exist peacefully.

What’s the difference? Morality is a fluid and subjective code. Every culture, religion, group has its own moral code, and this code is constantly changing and evolving to suit the needs and context of the people. Therefore, the law cannot be a tool for enforcing morality in non-homogenous societies such as Kenya which consists of at least 44 tribes, at least 6 religions (if you cluster all the various Christian denominations into one religion and traditional religions into another), 3 main economic classes…the list goes on.

With all this diversity, it is impossible that we will all subscribe to the same moral codes, and even more impossible that we will all agree on Christian morality as the way to go. Thus, the law should be neutral.

This concept is acknowledged in our Constitution. We note that one of the reasons we adopted our Constitution is because we are “…proud of our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity, and determined to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation.” We recognize that to live in peace together, we need to come up with a common set of supreme rules which bind and protect everyone. We accept that we cannot depend on our individual moral codes if we are to co-exist because if we do so, we exclude Kenyans who do not subscribe to the same code from protection and recognition by the law.

In the case of Section 162 and Section 165, we have not only excluded the LGBTQI community from protection by the law, but also justified their persecution.

Furthermore, there is no definition in Cap 63 of the phrase “against the order of nature” which is used in Section 162(a) and (c). If we were to interpret is as lay people, there would also be no way to determine what the “order of nature” is. Nature is as nature does and thus varies from species to species and from time to time.

However, the Kenyan courts have accepted that whatever this phrase means, it includes sodomy, more specifically, anal penetration of one man by another. This interpretation is one that was inherited from England, just like our Penal Code. I used the phrase “includes sodomy” because, from my understanding of the Kambi case referenced above, sex that is “against the order of nature” does not seem to only be limited to sodomy. Hence, case law only gives us a partial definition.

If we are to assume based on this partial definition and our understanding of the origins of the Penal Code, and purpose of Chapter 15 in particular, that the natural order of sex is sex for procreation, then any sex that cannot result in reproduction is outlawed by Section 162(a) and (c). This includes: oral sex, hand-play, anal sex etc. It is irrelevant whether the sex is between heterosexual participants or homosexual participants.

Section 162(c) makes it clear that consent is not a defence as it expressly outlaws consensual sex merely on the grounds that it is “against the order of nature”, that is, against the Christian idea of what sex should look like. Meanwhile, Section 165 criminalises all sexual activities between men regardless of whether there is consent or not, because that is not how Christianity envisions sex. The criminal element in these sections is derived purely from the kind of sex being had, not because there is anything inherently wrong with said sex, but because the Bible decreed it to be wrong.

While there is nothing wrong with subscribing to Christian ideals when it comes to sex or anything else, this is a personal and private decision in which the state should not interfere. Similarly, where people choose not to subscribe to Christian ideals, the law should not interfere. The law only comes in when, in upholding their beliefs, a person goes against the supreme rules that we have all agreed on – the Constitution. For example, in the case of sexual relationships, the law should only come in where a constitutional right is violated, such as nonconsensual sex, which violates the right to human dignity (Article 28) and the right to freedom and security of the person (Article 29).

By forcing Christian ideals on all Kenyans, Section 162 (a) and (c) and Section 165 violate the right to freedom from discrimination (Article 27), the right to privacy (Article 31), and freedom of conscience and belief and opinion (Article 32).

Finally, there’s the issue of enforcing these sections. When addressed promptly and efficiently, it is easy to prove sodomy (in this instance, I use sodomy to mean the nonconsensual anal penetration of one male by another) and bestiality. However, in the case of the consensual sex criminalised by Section 162(a) and (c) and Section 165, how can you prove anything happened?

In the first place, you have no victim(s), thus no complaint to the police and no P3 form. This means no material evidence.  And, unless this sex was had in public, you have no witnesses and consequently, no oral evidence. How can you prosecute such a case? You can’t; at least not successfully.

Because of the difficulty in actually proving these cases, the police seldom bother to follow through with arrests made under Section 162 and 165, unless the offence complained of is sodomy or bestiality. However, this does not stop police from raiding gay bars and other gay-friendly spaces to harass patrons, threaten them with charges of prostitution and sodomy, and in some cases, arrest and extort them for money. This is a blatant violation of human rights.

Chapter 15 also leads government officials to believe they have the power to outlaw events that they think promote homosexuality. While such declarations have no standing in law because they are procedurally defective, they are still effective and interfere with the lives of Kenyans generally, be they part of the LGBTQI community or not.

Whichever way you look at it, be it from a validity standpoint or from an enforcement point of view, Section 162 (a) and (c) and Section 165 of the Penal Code have no place in Kenya. They call for the State to insert itself where it does not belong and interfere with Kenyans’ enjoyment of their rights. They also enable the harassment and extortion of Kenyans by police. 

Most importantly, they threaten the diversity we cite as a point of national pride in our Constitution. which is why we all need to support the #Repeal162 movement.

Elizabeth is an advocate with a passion for human rights and a love for research and reading.