Monday, December 26, 2011
Dear Mohammed Bouazizi,
Ever since you struck that match the flame has not died. We saw the flames it has been difficult to rest, Mohammed. Then you were 26 years now you are an ancient giant. You should be as present as yester- history. It is Christmas time and you kept ringing bells in my ears, Mohammed. I weep. I meditate on you, Mohammed, during this Christian festive season. I cannot detach myself and watch history. I am sure we should be lacking in foresight if we thought you only died for Tunisia and for Arabs. In my mind you died for many. Many had died silently before. Maybe others had chosen fire alone too. But your fire was the one chosen to be loaded with meaning, to spark a revolution, an Awakening that the world should not turn away from. An awakening that must turn the world. An Afrikan Awakening too.
See Nigeria. Questions of faith too. Christianity and Islam. Burning the other. You immolated yourself. Is it true that we are so lost in small divisions where the Northerner in any country claims difference with the westner and the southner with the centralist and eastner? Is it true that belief in God must kill us? Is it true that it is us who speak peace in churches where we do not turn to our neighbour because she is Sudanese and Nubian and not of our Arab ancestry? See India's castes. Division is built on economic trouble, inequality of opportunities. Incapacity to live with differences. Our view of the 'other' is so complex. You taught me that to make room for the other I may need not be present everywhere but tribe in Kenya cheats me the opposite. I take the teaching, I try to leave the cheating.
Is it true that at home tribe marks tribe and in Europe race and tribalism live on? Is it true so many people wanted to change the world when they were teenagers? Is it true that old men and women are meditating? Is it true that we light candles on graveyards and place wreaths of peace?
I hear the name word Tunisia and my thoughts turn to you. I hear Libya it is the same. I hear of Syria today engaged in such massacres and killings and Assad will not hear and I wonder about why you did not live and others died. What have we done to bring the Awakening that must happen in so many lands. Where are our values as humanity?
In the backdrop of what is happening in Syria, Egypt and many lands we may not find in our media because they seem to fall of the map of the world's attention, I think of you. It is for the Arab Awakening that you Mohammed Bouazizi struck the match. Your flames are still burning for the world needs them. You doused yourself in petrol and went up in flames. You were saying you had enough of a world full of injustice not just in Tunisia. Mohammed, we are not able to light up our minds. Dictators hold on as so many people die. The world has betrayed Syria. Sakharov, Vaclav Havel and you and many others are disappointed. We buried all of you? Do we not ignite ours then? You challenged us with a match Bouazizi and you left your mother crying, and us. I sometimes so wish that we could see you watching the world. See your spirit. Touch it.
|From Al Jazira. Mohammed must live in our minds. I do not want to see this again!|
I do not like it that matyrdom was forced on your psyche. You were seeking to live. I praise you for your courage because sometimes there is no other language possible. You did not take the life of another. I remember your name suddenly hit us as between the 17th of December and the 4th of January, you struggled for your life in hospital all bandaged up. Doctors had done their best. They stood by your bed with nurses. Some important people visited you and took photographs and the whole world was paralysed by this at Christmas. I know now that my Christmas in Norway, in Kenya, in wherever I may be will never be the same again.
I listen to carols at this time and every little boy, every child, every market woman offering bananas lifting them high to a traveller on a bus window reminds me of you. Those men I have seen in Nairobi pulling a cart with their stomach as if they have horsepower remind me of you. My cousin pulls one in a smaller town. I know that life. I know his children waiting for Christmas. I know his faith and effort.
Someone killed two vendors in Firenze on 15th of December. They said he was right wing and angry. He killed himself too. The news was splashed for a while. It is practically forgotten. Those two vendors from Senegal who were shot dead in Firenze, Florence, the other day remind me of you. Four people were injured. The mothers' of those vendors received corpses at home.I was thinking about this when I read in La Stampa, which does not yet carry posthmous postal stamp that indeed his colleagues said, Someone will have to tell Samb's mother. La pieta comes to mind again and no pity. How long with a mother with broken limbs, dead children in her hands, a mother holding ashes at the Ganges, a mother weeping have to live? This mother lonely and filling the face of the earth. This mother holding out her children to us hungers for justice. We cannot sleep. We must unmask our feasts and ask the world what our children will celebrate tomorrow.
I saw photos of Senegalese men on the street demonstrating. I did not see demonstrations anywhere else in the capitals of Europe. I did not see people come out as human beings: Not race, not religion but people who care about the life of another. This event was very close to the UN International Human Rights Day, 10th December.
I know that the mayor of Firenze reacted fast and condemned this. I remembered that I was in Firenze on 9th December 2010 at the Nelson Mandela Forum. I remembered young Italian children 14- 18 filled a stadium with love. I remembered how they celebrated Mansur Raji and I. I remembered one boy who just wanted to call my name and when I looked up he smiled and run away. I remembered hope. I felt pain because I know there are many people who would not have this happen but a few who seem to work harder than the rest of us to be heard.
I know a young boy who was killed here on 26th January 2001 in Oslo for being Benjamin Hermansen. In the 2010 demonstration that my friend took me to, there were very few people compared to the beginning. We are weak. There are many things we shall not root out. Our self immolation does not require that we set fire on ourselves. We need to set fire on our thoughts, on our souls and hearts. We need to act. Nothing is over yet, everything remains from slavery to bombings. The world must show us who is leading it today. Where is the bigger voice. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church reflected on Syria on Christmas Day and asked for prayers, but in Northern Nigeria in Jos, someone killed many Christians in a church. Which language shall we speak Mohammed?
If you try to Google shooting of boy.. . without his name, no matter what year you put, your finds will be filled with Anders Breivik and Utøya. Here, where I live for sometime now, we like to console ourselves. We say that our racism is hidden? Is it? I see it not only on Benjamin but in many places. What is hidden to the world and why? Mohammed, thank you. May we learn to burn bright that which is still hidden in darkness. May we just at least try, to step out for humanity. You inspire me even as I hurt deeply seeing that we do not have enough with the awful natural disasters.. in the Philipinnes, Somalia, U.S.A, Australia and Japan. What are we learning and doing? Why are those against ideals so much more active than those of us who are pro humans? Ask us Mohammed, ask us. We owe you many answers.
|Hermansen was 15 years old when he was shot just before midnight on 26th January 2001.|
Friday, December 9, 2011
|Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Patricia Howell from Jamaica in Oslo 8th Dec 2011|
Saturday, November 26, 2011
There are many people in Afrika who are angry enough. They normally throw out the whole western concept or any deed from the west, sometimes even individuals as evil to be rejected by all means. But we need those people in the world who know and see the origin of some of these problems. And I miss deep souls like Dag's! Shame! Thank you John Jones for keeping the flame alive and sharing with us. Here is your article.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Kenya kills her neighbour reducing 20 years of help to death
Children die alone, weak and helpless, starved:
Africa's flag in the world.
Mekatilili wa Menza was imprisoned there as was Harry
Thirsts break my soul.
mists, sands and soils and heard the secrets of nature.
You shoot yourselves.
About Somalia and Kenya
For circulation and open posting on all media platforms
STATE KENYAN WRITERS AND PUBLIC INTELLECTUALS
We, the undersigned, register, in the strongest terms, our opposition
to Kenya’s military incursion into Somalia.
We note that several months at minimum is required to plan a military
operation that involves crossing borders. Therefore the reasons put
forward by the Kenyan government for this operation are demonstrably
Statements from the French Government (see link below) and Medicins
Sans Frontieres contradict the Kenyan Government’s allegation that Al-
Shabaab is responsible for the kidnapping of Marie Dedieu and two
We will kill Somalis and call them Al-Shabaab. We will all feel very
They die, so we can create a national amnesia about 350,000 internally
displaced Kenyans, missing World Bank monies, missing Education
Ministry funds, the ICC-Kenya trials, 2012 elections, the
implementation of our new constitution.
The army will claim, as invading armies always do, that they have
courageously engaged the enemy, when they have really killed innocent
All Kenyans paying already for this bout of blood-thirst. We will go
on paying, for many years to come. We will pay with our taxes, our un-
built schools and hospitals, our unpaid teachers, our still-jobless
youth, our rapidly deteriorating security situation, our shattered
relationship with our neighbours.
We do not require the death of Somalis to know who and where we are.
SIGNED: (in alphabetical order)
Paul Mwangi Maina
Dr. Firoze Manji
Dr. Wambui Mwangi
Benjamin Wambua Ndolo
Sunday, October 2, 2011
Generations of Courage: Women lead against ethnicity in Kenya and with brilliance!
We are bereaved in Kenya. Below are thoughts desired to reflect here before the sad news of the deaths Wambui-Otieno Mbugua and Wangari wa Maathai came in quick succession. Both these are powerful women.
Their demise must leave us in Kenya more united. We shun those who try to divide women into elitist vs the rural. Women who live in the cities against the ones in the villages. Women scholars versus women who are not learned. Nobody does this to men. It is done to women on purpose.
Some male journalists keep at this. They say that women who speak up are feminists and so? But they proceed to question their moral fibre and say things about them and their families. This is not new. Wambui-Otieno Mbugua and Wangari Maathai would reject this kind of simplification. Only a person who has not tuned their ear to the ground in rural areas does not know that women there also recoil from injustice. Fiercely defending justice, they ask questions. These are the rural women that some journalists in Kenya so love to deride by imagining that they work with other women against their will. No! Have they even read Wangari Maathai's quotes?
It was easy to persecute me without people feeling ashamed. It was easy to vilify me and project me as a woman who was not following the tradition of a 'good African woman' and as a highly educated elitist who was trying to show innocent African women ways of doing things that were not acceptable to African men.
We need to rage for these women and others. We cannot let their beautiful 'light go quietly' as Dylan Thomas put it for men in the days when the word men is said to have included women but actually systematically left them out in that verbal silence. We must keep our focus on our beautiful nation Kenya and the promise of change to do these women proud. We must, like John Donne a metaphysical poet remind: Death be not proud .http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/death-be-not-proud/
The season has been relentless. In this same period we have lost author and paeditrician Dr. Margaret Ogola and earlier Dekha Ibrahim. We grieve that two of these women, medical doctor M. Ogola and Wangari Maathai (Ph. D) and environmentalist, have died of common cancers. We abhor the rate at which women the whole world must be subjected to diseases sown upon us by those who do not care about polluting us even with medicines. We rage! We remind the Kenyan government that cannot lose people to road accidents in droves and continue as if nothing were happening. Dekha Ibrahim died in a crash. Wambui struggled with a heart condition for years.
It is hard for our reason to find meaning in these deaths. We try to because if not life seems to be a vicious betrayal. We rage again and again for our women. To think of the contradiction that Wambui -Otieno Mbugua was all heart and of course intelligence too. Sh re-married only a few years back passionately displaying her love without hindrance inspite of great misunderstanding from her society. It is hard to believe that our environmentalist would not be spared of cancer. But I believe these women died of love for our nation and for love's sake we must speak clearly. I have to say that many activists in the world do succumb to cancers. Well, they mean it when they say they are unhappy. They mean it when they say that things are wrong. We are all in this together.
I hope the poem in which Shailja Patel asks the daring question of why all these women have gone so early when Kenya needs them so and why in such quick succession as old men continue to ridicule many hits us here. http://www.shailja.com/. The poem is dedicated to Dekha Ibrahim, Wangari Maathai and Wambui-Otieno. All of these women and those mentioned above were youthful in a amazing way. The way of service in leadership. We feel that in their departing we have lost a currency we are normally almost bankrupt for: intelligent, resourceful and humble leadership.
The thought that Kenya would have been different if her senior politicians had been women or if the women of our times had a better hand in government never leaves my mind. But history shows that for many reasons they did not make it there. Some will say what is the use of thinking about this since history is already done. In that case I would say there is room for noting that history was not always written correctly in our hearts. Books leave the spirit out of names and dates. Many women are sidelined and that is a fact. The media got used to building or making male leaders. A leader can try to do their best but the media plays a big role in amplifying voices.
Of course this may not have been democratic but then again it is the people who would have cast the vote. There are many men in government simply because the powerful wanted it. I know only of one woman whose results came partly because the wife of the president visited one of her last campaigns. Wangari and others had no such chances. In fact, they tried the opposite which was to put in a good word for people like myself up against millionaires. Wangari broadcast my name on radio for election in 2002.
For Wangari it was the opposite. I have to say that it is actually Wambui-Otieno who shared this thought with me. I was concerned that our Nobel laureate would not go back to Parliament in 2007 after her first election in 2002. Wambu-Otieno told me about delegations of old men trooped to State House to defame Wangari, for they knew that she had presidential ambitions in the past. Perhaps that is why she understood Raila Odinga's tribulations so well.
Looking back at how women worked for institutional change with the coming of the new dispensation in 2010 with a new constitution after years of struggling for their gains in representation at decision-making levels one is appalled to note that women have been the first to suffer the drive to curtail what is safeguarded in the new constitution. True that the change of the law is reasoned for much more and women but an excuse but who about that? It was Atsango Chesoni http://www.aaddkenya.webs.com/who called us to order on the new constitution. Women end up being made to look like they are taking all the space from people with disabilty when it is the opposite.. everyone seems to know what the women need better than they do.. that is a shame.
Jael Mbogo is another pillar of awoman still at work in Kenya. I was thinking about her recently. That was before the sad news of the demise of Wambui-Otieno and following that closely of Wangari Maathai was announced. Jael is a humble giant. She once told me of her story. She vied for a parliamentary seat back in the sixties in Kenya, and against Kibaki who then was not the president then but the MP for Bahati in Nairobi. Jael did a sterling job. I believe she won but was rigged out. In later years, Kibaki would only run in the rural constituency of Othaya. I quote Wikipedia where the first line on the history of Wambui-Otieno is by the grossly mistaken ( I could not access to edit but will try later for her first husband was not buried in 2003 as it says).... but this is correct on Jael Mbogo whom Wikipedia hands should place in her own right..
..."In 1974, Kibaki, facing serious competition for his Doonholm Constituency seat from a Mrs. Jael Mbogo, whom he had only narrowly and controversially beaten for the seat in the 1969 elections, moved his political base from Nairobi to his rural home, Othaya, where he was subsequently elected as Member of Parliament."
But when I was listening to Jael Mbogo I could feel her decisive mind.. cutting like a sword. She was telling me never to stop talking and standing for what I believe. I could hear her passion in between the words on her tongue. She is so brave she contested elections back in the sixties when she was pregnant. I told her that I thought she in her times could have made a great president. Not just a Member of Parliament. I encouraged her to write a book. She said she would. She is running a project for women. I found it on the internet since am not in Kenya or in touch with her. Jael studied in Kenya, in the USA and in France as you can see here:http://mamajaelcenter.org/ogombe.html.
A decisive mind and passion are vital for leadership. Kibaki is indicisive still. No passion. Everything I saw lacking in President Kibaki, Jael had enough of and to spare. I am not just interested in saying this because she is a woman. Jael actually never run for the presidency. Instead she lived to work and actually be punished quite harshly by a former woman diplomat who had wanted to be a Member of Parliament herself. It was a pity to see this. See, am not saying that all women are perfect as some people tend to read. There are those who will always be too arrogant and mean. Both men and women.
And that brings me to humility. I have not seen much of that in powerful men that I know quite well in Kenya. I have seen it in many strong women. They had world recognised intelligence and virtue which here means power. And yet they were not elitist. Wangari was not. Wambui-Otieno, two women death has stolen from us were not.
We are grateful that Wangari lived and did so much for us in Kenya as well as for the world. She was refined and down to earth. She saw things with a certain oneness so that being a professor did not prevent her from being a very wonderful activist who achieved a lot. Yet some in Kenya lately and even in her days did deride activism.
Wambui- Otieno married across ethnic groups. Not only that, at the time, between these two groups such action.. and even today was looked down upon. She was brave in many ways. Google her name if you want to know her better. I wanted to reflect on her and Wangari because they have been great women.
In 1999 Kenyan judges courts went morally wrong by denying Wambui-Otieno the right to bury her husband. It was a shock for some of us. All we could do was to weep. Wambui -Otieno Mbugua told me she did not weep. She knew that life is a harder battle than most of us imagine, especially for women. These two women were full of energy for all of us. I cannot think of them silent but they are. On earth they used their lips and actions speak up. They loved their lives and lived to the full. We suffer their loss. But such people do not die? They live in their works and the inspiration they leave with us.
Wangari whose name means of the leopard.. Wa (de, of ) Ngari (leopar)...told me how horrified she was at how men cheated for power. She was horrified and the press reported it when President Kibaki failed to honour the MOU, the Memorandum of Understanding that he had signed so that Raila Odinga could support him for the presidency in 2002. She said this in Tetu her home area where most of the people would defend Kibaki blindly because blocks of ethnic groups in Kenya have been reduced to political wagons.. supporting only their men.. their people in a region and showing open hatred for people of different ethnic groups. This regardless of the fact that the vote is secret. This problem is fuelled a lot by male polticians I dare say.
In the MoU, Kibaki had promised to share power with Raila Odinga something he did not even want to do in 2007 when Kenya burned and 1 333 people were killed. Many women were raped. Children died. Even the crops refused to grow. There was a famine that followed. Farmers could not till the land, there were ober 50000 Internally Displaced People almost overnight. All this was in 2007. But in 2003 Kibaki breached the MoU.
I met many people who seemed to rationalise his deed. Some of them are learned. But not Prof Wangari Maathai who because of her ethnic background would be safer backing Kibaki. I know this very personally for I commented on the news item that I had read to Wangari at the Bomas Of Kenya where we had constitutional meetings. I had taken the opportunity to sit next to the great icon dressed in green.She was simple. She simply told me in he mother tongue.. a proverb which means that Raila Odinga was cheated. It states that (even if not literally )upon being called for a ceremony of manhood people turn up but once the the hard part is over they are told that all that had to happen is over and there are no celebrations..
(Thiga ni arua gutiri mararanja!).
Dr. Julia Ojiambo is another vibrant woman. She has adapted herself to Kenyan politics ceaselessly but politics has not adapted itself to her and other women. It is a hard field where powerful will come to a political party like the one she leads The Labour Party of Kenya and use it and then run over her. I talked about this with her when she teamed up with a faction of ODM. I felt she was reading the situation wrong and much as I had wanted to work with a woman leader like her I could not. Raila Odinga is an astitute an experienced politician and it was clear as daylight that The Kalonzo faction which Dr. Ojiambo worked for could not unseat him. Some people just do not have what it takes to win the peoples' imagination. They try everything, even religion but it fails miserably. Dr. Ojiambo was in the wrong club but at least she showed she could work across ethnic divides. No matter. If she shows political interest, this is one woman who deserves an appointment without further delay. She is smart and learned and giving one example that many people would shun her for. You will hear them tell her she is old. Let her say it for herself. Men have incredible staying power in our politics. She is one of the few who will not give up. We must respect her take. She has been for a while quite active on facebook in 2011. That is remarkable.
Well, these women have done their best. One hopes that their legacy will still mean a better Kenya. I do not mean all powerful women should be in political power. Not at all.
I think of three things. First, it is so vital that we also have alternative voices of power who are not politically aligned. We need them badly and men, when ethncity is so strong a factor in our politics. In learning from the humility of these women, I think it is a high time some well -known people susained their presence, voice and visiblity in society even without political intent.
Secondly that women who try and tried in politics are such treasures and should never lose sight of that. Losing an election as many did.. I did, Ann Njogu did, as did Muthoni Kihara recently in Kamkunji by election in Kenya, meant more positive than negative things. For the women, this should not mean that one is silenced.. Ann is a recipient of the Woman of Courage honour from Hilary Clinton. She never stops. She is writing and talking and working even off the cameras. Recently she has studied her M LLB, and is on the way to greater heights. No to confusing your voice and votes my sister! Muthoni, you know the work you have done in the City Council in the past. You know how you tried too to campaign for other women including me when I was in competitive politics.
NO fears! They must speak to all with the same strength, letting them know their excesses and making the check and balance. Being fully well informed of our constitution and laws. It seems strange but the nation is lacking in such people. We felt it very painfully when Kenya was burning in 2007. Since the strong women had taken a political position suddenly the nation was reeling with no local voice to be heard across the divides. It was painful. I learnt then that poets are mightier than politicians. We met and encouraged one another through poetry. Let us all find our positions and together weave Kenya for a brighter future!
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Above: Chief Justice of Kenya: Dr. Willy Mutunga
Below: Catholic John Cardinal Njue who opposed
the new Kenyan constitution and Mutunga for Chief Justice.
Religious voices in Kenya: Unending contradictions
Kenya is celebrating. We have a new Chief Justice. He is among many positive things, magnanimous, unlike the leaders of faiths. I am particularly engaging the Catholic Church as you will see below. They are among those who tried to rescind his successful nomination for this post. Yet, Dr. Mutunga had applied for an advertised post, presented his credentials and been shortlisted and eventually he triumphed. Interviews by the Judicial Servive Committee had been aired live on TV. He passed. Nancy Baraza is the Deputy Chief Justice.
The whole thing is worth forgetting and even consigning to a side show but no. There are interesting consequences of the move by the faith leaders and also for others. There are also important levels of engagement we must get to. When Mutunga got through all these dilemmas, he went to a slum to celebrate his victory. He went to a Catholic project too.
Dr. Mutunga had reason to give a cold shoulder to all. He could have chosen to hit back at the churches that had tried to prove him unworthy. He chose, even whilst confessing Islam as a faith, to turn the other cheek. He chose to visit a slum and pointed out that home for him is where all communities are engaging. In Kenya ethnic polarisation due to politicization of origins and votes has been a big problem. He chose 'home' for a place where all religions are represented. He chose to call 'home' a place where people are dignified in spite of having to endure endless problems. And it is not their fault. Here the poor know that if Kenya had justice they would live a better life. They would have less problems.
He chose one of Nairobi's slum areas known as Korogocho. Our society is riven by a sharp division between the wealthy and normally politically connected people and the poor and 'voiceless'. The Catholic church has some who voice for the poor all over the world. Some who ask for justice. And some who engage bishops, the Vatican and secular society about justice. They do it at their own risk. They are normally poor priests. There are rich ones there too. Vocal and poor priests are not tolerated all the time. I know this. I have been told by some of them. I have seen what happens to them. It may not always be the case. I am talking about some priests. Bishops belong to another class. If not always in wealth, at least in voice.
John Cardinal Njue of Kenya, led his flock against the new constitution which the people inspite of the church's disapproval voted for, including many Catholics oon August 27th 2010. It is Kenya's constitution today inspite of that. Many pentescostal and other churches rejected it too. They said the new constitution of Kenya, allowed for abortion, divorce and supported homosexuals. They argued that the coming of this document along with some lay people brought with it all evil in morality. They said it had to be amended. Sample this as one of the articles they found problematic.
(d) the right to an order of habeas corpus.
Part 2––riGhts and fundamental freedoms
26. (1) Every person has the right to life.
(2) The life of a person begins at conception.
(3) A person shall not be deprived of life intentionally, except to
the extent authorised by this Constitution or other written law.
(4) Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained
health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life
or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written
27. (1) Every person is equal before the law and has the right to
equal protection and equal benefit of the law.
(2) Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights
and fundamental freedoms.
(3) Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including
the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and
(4) The State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against
any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status,
health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion,
conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth.
(5) A person shall not discriminate directly or indirectly
Dr. Willy Mutunga supported this constitution. He now says that he is bound happily only by this constitution of Kenya and service to Kenyans. Not by any politician, not a political party, not gender, not class but only by our Mother law. He holds a stunning record as a lawyer and fighter for human freedoms. He is a man of the struggle. His record is clean. He is ready to work. He knows his job.
One man, a lay Catholic and social activist Okiya Omtatah Okoiti opposed this document. He went to court. Others also did. Here are a few. Moi did. Koigi Wa Wamwere did. Wanyiri Kihoro too. Moi was the president who had Raila Odinga detained. He also detained Koigi Wa Wamwere who was in exile in Norway for some years, and Wanyiri Kihoro. Both of them have been Members of Parliament since. Moi tried to influence for the draft to be rejected during a referendum. They all failed miserably but they are entitled to their own ideas.
Dr. Willy Mutunga was also detained by Moi. Now he is the Chief Justice of Kenya. Some people are terribly uncomfortable with this reality. Many wish Dr. Mutunga the success. It is for Kenya. I am impressed by his thoughts and works so far. He has started on a very positive thought. He is appealing to the best in us, a task that many who have been in leadership and are paid overly well to do so, have failed in. I am speaking about most politicians in Kenya.To begin with, when politicians win positions they have huge 'homecoming' parties sometimes their colleagues flying over to their constituencies. This has always hit many other Kenyans as unnecessary and a sign of the acceptance of a lifestyle of excesses amidst tough poverty. It had not occured to elected MPs too that home can be many places in Kenya. Leaders had failed to see that in our societies we do not need people who keep flashing their wealth at us while most of us go hungry daily. This is just one of the ways in which they do it. It makes no sense. The big feast is justified as a voter's treat. But not all voters can even participate. Besides are we not seriously charged with sobering up political work. We have enough problems with alcohol, pun intended, with so many drinking almost pure alcoholic brews to their deaths to forget their misery it is not even funny. This is a nation that requires much wisdom and leadership. Unlike the religious leaders failure- the Catholic and Protestant churches included, Dr. Willy Mutunga's meritorious win of the position after a public interview is historic in many ways.
First to note is that he could have lost it. Initially, the current president of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki and the Prime Minister had attempted to ignore the new constitution and to nominate as Chief Justice Githu Muigai whom many Kenyans rejected. It was the people, many civil society activists and the media and all the sensitive people who blew the whistle on Githu's nomination. It was not the churches. The churches did not tell the president that he had to follow the constitution. Why, they still do not believe in it. They have not made the president accountable in the past. He breaks bread on the Catholic table of the Lord especially whenever the elections are near. Dr. Mutunga's win would never have been. This was a truly a result of vigilance and courage.
Dr. Mutunga moved many of us on taking his 'homecoming' moment to the slums of Nairobi, Korogocho. Besides he went to a Catholic Church centre run by a priest he had worked with 20 years before. It was there that Dr. Willy Mutunga spoke to Kenyans about giving a better chance to reconciliation and not always rushing to the law courts for all disputes. He said that people should try first to settle scores whenever possible: in churches (actually just remembered that this is recommended by Christian teachings), schools, homes and so on. It may look like he is a strange Chief Justice who gets to the top and tells people to look elsewhere for justice but he means it whenever possible. I think this spirit of reconciliation is so needed in Kenya. It is so important that people at different levels of leadership tell many in a country so torn apart by suspicion and also by history and the enrichment of a few at the expense of many, that we must increase our space for reasoning.
Saying it clearly like Catherine of Sienna!
I wonder if the Cardinal and his people, the pastors and the Imams heard the deeper message of Mutunga's homecoming? It is at home where we listen to and love one another regardless of differences. Are we sitting up? I wonder do the Catholics they remember that in Rwanda nuns and priests are included in guilt for genocide? Do they remember that? Do the bishops? Do they see the great responsibility they have to stop antagonising ethnic groups and sometimes even taking sides with their own folk ruling out the others on tribal basis? This is true, not hearsay. Do they know what keen listening and wisdom we need? I do not think so. I have seen them kowtow to presidents for too long. I have seen them not able to say to the powerful that they are just like other worshippers even inside churches themselves. I know quite a lot first hand.
I really think that bishops of the Catholic church whom I know best must re-examine what they have been doing in Kenya. When the discussion on the constitution went so poorly, when a stud became a big obstacle to the churches, I remember wanting to write to all publications on earth. I wanted to ask them to tell specifically the Vatican that its bishops are retarding our growth. I had previously been thinking that all small states are run well, and I remembered shaking my head when it came to the Vatican. Every now and then, the Pope receives news and even bishops from other countries. Visita ad limina. This church operates on hierachical authority. It is very important that the bishops selected for Kenya and other developing nations be people who are able to engage with issues at a wise level. In some nations the lay have a say in the making of bishops. And them packing from time to time. We need to think about that.
If only there were enough fearlessness and honesty in this church even just in Kenya, many of them would confess how bishops have taken partisan and political sides often. This is not new in the history of the church but it cannot be allowed! It must stop.
Often heard in Kenya is that in the 80s and 90s, Cardinal Otunga and for a time Bishop Ndingi Mwana'anzeki had the people of Kenya at heart. That they spoke almost like Cardinal Sin of the Phillippines who led the people to people power. It is regretted that after sometime the church lost this. Cardinal Otunga died. Bishop Ndingi lost his sharp ways. This bishop received a Mercedes Benz from politician Njenga Karume and took it. It was a public matter. Surf the pages. Some people say it had lots of bank notes packed in the back. I might not believe that but I do remember A Man for All Seasons. I remember that it was not only about divorce. Thomas More would not take gifts given to him as he considered them bribes.
Why was I then to be scandalised that a parish priest told me he took 30 000 Ksh (300USD) from a politician I was opposing for a suit and a pair of shoes? He told me himself. He said there is no difference between 'money' and 'money'. I told him in this case this was not just money. He was actually telling to stop running against this politician, work with this politician and get my first two million shillings and be left rich. He was also saying that when I spoke on air about the constitution the old men I was opposing had sleepless nights. He had discussed this with them surely. To call me and find out my price. I know he lost his moral authority.
In 2007/2008 when Kenya was aflame as Kibaki had claimed victory and gone on to his swearing with the ex Chief Justice Evan Gicheru almost in the dark just to have the swearing in done, all religious leaders had lost moral authority. None of them could calm the country. What surprised me is that they should have seen this coming. They were involved. One priest I spoke to at Our Lady of Guadalupe, Kibera, Nairobi was very upset with Bishop Njue's visit there. He had spoken in a way as if to suggest everyone was going to vote for Kibaki.
Had the bishop lacked decorum or was he doing this deliberately? Kibera is represented by Raila Odinga the current Prime Minister of Kenya. Raila Odinga was the man the church and others had demonised. I still remember a Catholic priest giving me a letter that was supposed to be a memorandum of understanding that the previously atheist Raila Odinga had apparently signed with the Muslims. Just looking at the paper itself and scanning it fast, I was horrified that a priest should have believed it and even hidden it as a document to file. These struggles for a healthy nation are very deep.
We hope that we will all be willing to sit up and talk openly. That we shall embrace justice. That reconciliation and justice will be common terms in our churches, villages and mosques. Dr. Mutunga has acted like all these and many more instutitions should be doing. How we respond to his transparency and love for Kenya is up to us. We shall not tolerate the old tactics of taking those who speak clearly off their tracks by inventing issues against them and worst of all by silencing them. We want to speak and hear one another in a clear space. I want churches to allow us to tell them what is wrong and that they confess it and give justice if they can. In some cases as with the issues of abuse at different levels it is almost impossible for churches to make enough amends. It is therefore imperative that they be humble and listen for sometime. In any case, relevance is a challenge all the time!
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Minister for Immigration, Otieno Kajwang, a former progressive and one who accepted to be referred to as a human rights activist in the past signed her deportation.
Freedom of expression does not begin to be supressed when a book is banned from the public – a useless move these days of internet even if some try to slow cyberspace down - but when people who ask questions become unbearable. When a government deports a researcher, fear is spread. In a very sure way, this action says something to all minds. It says that it is not good to find out. Finding out normally leads to expressing. What we see and hear is very much part of our lives and even fiction. Fiction is not far from truth. Many, such as Clara Gutteridge write non-fiction.
Clara Gutteridge, a British national, was deported from Kenya on the 21st of March 2011 in the name of national security. Clara G is an International Open Society Fellow researching on terror laws. She says something dark has been happening in Kenya in the last decade regarding secret detentions and tortures.
What national interests would Clara, working with the Kenya National Comission on Human Rights threaten? Does the Governmenf ot Kenya, for example, imagine that when due process is abused as in the case of renditioned Kenyans including those lying in Ugandan cells among them human rights activist Al Amin Kimathi we shall sit back and when we stand up, say three cheers for our national security, hipp! hipp!?
Does anyone think that I, that we, shall close our eyes witthoug dealing with the fact that people do disappear in Kenya through the work of the police and are never seen again? Is that national security? In whose interests are we being governed? Have we as a Kenyan people not given ourselves a new constitution just last year August 2010?
I am alarmed that Kenya will not allow an Open Society Fellow to do her research. I am appalled that someone I was in debates with on a program named Cross Fire, as progressive voices in Kenya in the years 2007 and who was a human rights lawyer, The minister for Immigration Otieno Kajwang should be the one to append his signature to this deportation.
In Kenya, layers of power rub too closely. The visible symptoms of this so far include unfortunately, intolerance. In Kenya, we see enemies everywhere. We now have a new constitution (August 2010) and we should be opening up, but there are dark secrets we want to guard.
My standard of openness is not America or the west ... but Ubuntu which is so African. My standard for injecting levels of reason on human rights and ways of being with dignity and pride are taken from my ancestors who include: Nkurumah, Mandela, Nyerere, Rosa Parks, Senghor... Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and many others. Put aside the weak notion that I stand for what is human because of the west as we know it today.
In Kenya, Our so called ‘enemy’ is seen to be too close for comfort. Next door. I mean for example that just a few months back on 12. Dec. 2010, both the Kenyan Prime Minister and the President expressed openly the fear that the American Ambassador Michael Ranneberger was funding young people to overthrow the Kenyan government. Not long before that some discussion had come up pointing out that the Kenyan Open Society, and a listserve called Kenyans for Peace Through Justice which was formed during Kenya’s post election violence of 2007- 2008 was connected with trying to change the Kenyan leadership and had caused the post poll violence we witnessed.
And so I remember Julie Ward, A British girl who was killed in Kenya’s Maasai Mara park in the 80s for we have not yet had an answer for her father. I am reminded that the Attorney General of Kenya, Amos Wako, spoke of the incompetence of Philip Alston who made a report on human rights in Kenya and mainly collected evidence on the disappeared of Kenya. The Attorney General, the police and armed forces all ridiculed this report as did many politicians. In whose national interest was all this or is all this often done?