“The law helps the vigilant before those who sleep on their rights.”
As we mark the 50th year of Kenya’s independence, let us take stock of how we celebrated our “supposed” freedom this year. 50 years hence, have we justified our forefathers fight for liberty? Have we made them proud?
With regard to Children
In June it was reported that a teacher in Thika punished a student by making him drink a cocktail of his classmates saliva. Traditionally in Africa, cultural norms have been the underlying reason for the unquestioned respect of adults and authoritative figures alike, but how can we not see this incident as anything but an asinine, abuse of power. Is it not reason enough to revise these norms, which in the case of the above mentioned student, could serve to be detrimental to his health? Is it not contradictory that a learning institution responsible for the nurturing of young minds, is instead breaching the rights of the vulnerable? If this teacher goes unpunished, is it safe to assume that children are totally void of constitutional rights because they must remain obedient?
With regard to Women
On the 26th of June, it was reported that a 16 year-old girl was brutally gang-raped by six men, on her way home from her grandfather’s funeral. Following the attack the men discarded her in a deep pit-latrine which she managed to climb out of and call for help. After reporting the incident to the local authorities and even identifying her attackers, the officers proceeded to arrest the men, who suffered a once-off punishment of manual labour; this involved cutting grass in the police compound after which they were released. As a young woman, I find it incomprehensible that there could be a worse insult than to know an issue as serious as rape could be addressed with such mockery, as to equate the weight of court ordered justice to that of a callous officer/s poor judgement. If we discount the fact that the young lady already had a reason to grieve, and if we ignore the traumatic experience she miraculously survived; can we really pretend not to see the tragic weakness on the part of our legal system where a woman’s worth is ostensibly equal to that of a gardeners basic chores? Months later, justice has not been done but over a million signatures from people all over the world have called for the law to intervene. However, we must ask ourselves, why does it take international media coverage for something to be done about a problem in our backyard? Are we not our sister’s keeper?
With regard to Leadership
On the 6th of September it is alleged that Nairobi Governor, Dr Evans Kidero, slapped Nairobi Women Representative, Rachael Shebesh. Several videos showing the incident regarding this claim appear on YouTube, in which dialogue can be heard in accordance with what Shebesh has stated took place- though the Governor has denied the allegations. Having watched the encounter on YouTube, I do support the claim that Shebesh was assaulted and for whatever reason this event took place, it is my belief that we cannot afford to condone violence in any capacity. When the people who are supposed to represent our views fail to do so adequately, it is questionable whether we can count on them to uphold what we as a nation should be unwilling to compromise. If we do not protect our societal values and ethics, how can we prove their existence? I am not dismissing the fact the Kidero may have been provoked, I simply ask what qualifies as leadership in a country where a government official would respond in such a primitive and unprofessional manner? What is the role of leadership in Kenya if not the example we should live by?
With regard to Security
On the 21st of September, a group of unidentified gunmen attacked Westgate Shopping Mall, killing approximately 72 people and injuring many more. The attack lasted four days and is allegedly the doing of Al Shabaab terrorists, displeased with Kenya’s military presence in Somalia. While the heartbreak and trauma that these terrorists have caused is unspeakable, perhaps what is most disheartening is watching a video of our own police officers looting where civilian blood has been spilled, and bodies lay sprawled out on the ground. As they looked and witnessed the loss of life, what possessed them to think it was okay to pick and chose their moments of heroism, disassociating themselves from their vows to protect and serve, ignoring the temptations of greed and undue advantage? If the ones we trust to protect us only do so when they think they are being watched, can we trust them to come to our aid in a time of helplessness? Can we preach security when we have reason to doubt our own?
With regard to the Election
Perhaps the most important of reflections must be that of our presidential election which took place in March. This year the international community, as well as Kenya, waited with bated breath for the results of the presidential election. The constant reminders of the devastating 2007 post election violence promoted a welcomed effort at tolerance among neighbors and members of different ethnic groups. Now, months after the nation has chosen a head of state, the imminent ICC trial is looming over our heads, stalking our movements, crippling our ability to address the growing challenges we face in this country. The law stipulates that one is innocent until proven guilty and given the importance of the law, allow me to quote a well known officer of the court. Nelson Mandela stated the following at the Rivonia Trial: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” I have introduced this quote in order to pose a question. Is not the foundation of a great leader the selflessness in which he acts? While I respect the choice that Kenyans made in electing our current leaders, I cannot help but wonder whether true admiration would come from one who waits to clear his name before throwing his hat in the ring; knowing full well the plausible implications that one’s absence could have on their beloved country if said person is found guilty of a crime?
Kenya, 50 years later we have a lot to atone for. What is written above has not begun to touch on the vast amount of problems that currently plague us. I have not addressed the torturous scenes of mob justice that make it okay for a desperate pick-pocket to be beaten mercilessly without the luxury of legal representation in a fair trial. I have failed to detail the greed that has potential to rob the people of Turkana of an opportunity to benefit from the newly discovered oil, in what has been a region previously and unfairly ignored. Where does one search for the reasoning behind the stealing of babies for sale on the black market, or the armed robbery of hard working citizens on unsafe, unreliable forms of transportation? How do we begin to outline the blatant disregard for the law that leads to fatal accidents and a growing culture of bribery?
My point is, Kenya is broken. We seem to have lost our sense of humanity. We seem to be oblivious to the need for accountability. Have we become so complacent or so desperate to fit into this corrupt system, that to a foreigner, we might appear mere savages masked as men? If you disagree with what I have said, I respect that it is your prerogative to do so. But this Kenya is not one I am interested in inheriting and it is one, which as it stands, I am embarrassed to call home. I refuse to find comfortability in its brokeness, and if destiny has it that our sole claim to fame be our great runners, then I should only wish my Nike’s could carry me far enough to a time in the future when Kenya is as it should be. I don’t believe the reality we are living is the dream our heroes died to fulfill. Our Kenya is our responsibility and if we do not progress the work that was done 50 years ago to set us free, we will regress into something regrettable.
We will become the monster we saw in the colonialist.