The Thieves In Uniform

Last night I went to see a movie with a friend (Star Trek Beyond if you’re curious). There was some weird mix up at IMAX and we ended up at a later showing than we had intended. When we left the theatre, it was around midnight.

When I think of scary places at night, the image that often comes to mind is full of darkness, shifty strangers and narrow alleyways. That’s not what this night was like. We were on a wide street, it was perfectly lit and while we didn’t know the people on the street, most of them were policemen on patrol; recognizable figures. Perhaps in some places in the world that means you’re safe — Nairobi is not one of those places.

We weren’t really panicked or anything. We only had one street to cross after all. A minute or so and we’d be on our way home. We just acted casual and walked. That’s the thing with situations like this, you see the police and you want to believe that these are the good ones. There’s always that little bit of hope that things will turn out well this time. You’re not doing anything wrong and so they won’t bother you, right?

One of them stepped right in front of us and asked to see our IDs.

When I was telling this story to my boss today, he stopped me before I got to that part to ask “Police? Did you have your IDs?” He asked because he knows what most of us know. There’s a kind of step by step to an encounter like this with the police and this is where it usually begins. They don’t want the ID to identify you, they’re just probing. They’re looking for a mistake, an error on your part. Your ID is a bit of a shield. Having it won’t protect you exactly, but it will likely determine how far they’re going to push you, how much they feel they can squeeze. If you don’t have it, you’re likely in for a long and terrible night.

We pulled out our IDs and he didn’t even pretend to look at them. When an ID is only interesting in its absence, you know what kind of story this is going to be. What happened next might as well be part of a script or a handbook.

There was the leading question: “What are you doing walking around at this time of night?”

The false incredulity: “A movie!? What kind of movie shows at this time? No no no. I don’t believe it. Let me see the receipt.”

The first hint: “Oh, I see, you have a lot of money to be spending on movies.”

The handcuffs on my wrists followed by the threat: “Lorry yetu iko pale. Mtalala cell.”

The I’m-doing-this-to-teach-you-a-lesson speech: “You people make our work very hard, you know that? Your friend here, if she were to be walking at this time and she got raped, you know we will be blamed? When you report, will you say you were coming from a movie, eh?”

A mix of threats and meandering speeches suggesting that some great crime was committed, though never specifying exactly what it is, all leading to the finale. The ask for a bribe. “If you want to go…you have to pay a fine.”

At this point I started getting angry. Not because we were getting robbed by police but how familiar it all was. I knew this, all of it. I’ve heard of and seen and gone through so many variations of this scene that I know the steps. I’ve been robbed more times like this by policemen than I have by what we normally call thieves. It’s just how it is. And surely, how can that be normal? How can that possibly be so normal that I was getting impatient for him to get to the punch? To just ask for his bribe and then leave us alone?

So, I thought about calling his bluff. Seeing what happens if you don’t capitulate. I wanted to fight, to push back, to do something other than the usual song and dance. But a quick look around told me to do none of that. First, there were a lot of them. I think there were 10 on that street alone, and we had seen others walking around. There was almost no one else. Second, they were in military garb with no identifying number or anything I could see. I don’t know what that means and I didn’t want to find out just then. Third, My friend was somewhere to the side surrounded by about 4 of them. I don’t know what they were telling her but I figured maybe today was not the day to be testing boundaries. Best to end this as quickly as possible and leave.

I paid, he gave me a stern warning about this vague crime I should never repeat and uncuffed me.

I’ve heard people say that the police get a bad rap. That people only report the negative, never the good they do. This is probably true. But I know that my image of the police is not just from the media, it’s from experience. It’s from how I, and the people I know, have interacted with them. Because, when you think about it, what happened last night was a robbery wasn’t it? It was a shake down … and it was business as usual. Even as we talked with the policeman, he knew I knew what this was and he expected me to act accordingly. It was a role he was familiar with and he accepted it easily.

Just this Friday, a friend’s workmate was stopped by the police in Westlands. He and his friends were leaving a club going to look for some food. It was pretty much the same story but he didn’t pay up and so they locked him up for being drunk and disorderly. He doesn’t drink.

One of my friends has been in the same situation twice recently. Once he got arrested for running to the police because he was being chased by thieves.

None of this is new. We have all heard and seen things like this. But for some reason, last night actually got me thinking. Not of solutions, I have none. It made me wonder the last time I didn’t at least in the back of my mind think of the police as some kind of danger to be avoided. When it became so commonplace that I stopped noticing how crazy all of this is. And most of all, it made me wonder if I can even imagine this country when the police not only feel safe, but like they’re the people protecting us. Wouldn’t that be something.

Of Schools and Students

This year has seen quite a number of fires in schools and it appears the students are the ones setting them. I’ve kept up with the questions asked and the solutions discussed but I don’t intend to throw my hat into that particular ring today. I will only say that, as many have already suggested, if you actually want to get to the why of the fires, you must involve students in that conversation. What I do want to discuss is a spin off topic that’s grown from all of this; the relationship between schools and their students.

There is something very wrong with how Kenyan schools view their students. I am of the opinion that many don’t see students as people. At least, not really. They see them as potential, as expectations, as blank slates in need of shaping and direction. More often than not, they are ‘almost people’ with no wants and desires of their own. Any frustrations and grievances they may have, so long as no law has been grossly violated, are irrelevant. When their futures are being determined, they don’t get a seat at the table. When they are accused of something, they rarely get the opportunity to even state their own motive; that too is decided for them. Any attempt to protest any of this is filed under the catch all phrase– disrespect of one’s elders.

“There’s a word for people our age. They call us children and they treat us like mice”

–          Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card.

This does not always start at the schools mind you. The older generation would have their children believe that they were all first in their class, that they wasted no time on frivolous entertainment and that their school lives were spent studying at all times except when they absolutely had to do something else. While the ubiquity of this story among Kenyan parents is actually kind of funny, the hilarity tends to fade when it presents very real expectations. Impossible levels of focus and dedication to school work are often demanded without regard for how ridiculous they actually are. No one, let alone people of school going age, can possibly sustain that kind of thing. Yet, it is treated as failure if they don’t.

If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they start to fidget.

–       Sir Ken Robinson

The school system is founded upon impossible expectations towards a group of people that we don’t acknowledge are in fact, just that, ordinary people. It’s why so often we subject students to conditions that we would not willingly agree to endure. Parallels have been drawn between some schools and jails. The leadership systems that many schools employ lean heavily towards fascist ideals (Strong leaders who must be harsh to the point of violence and resort to rule through fear in order to maintain social order).  It is a mess.

But how is this the case? How has this system not only endured for so long but actually been defended as right? I suppose it comes down to the fact that most of it is not malicious but is actually well intended. Children are complicated and not renowned for their fine decision making, this is no secret. They are a challenge. Those charged with the responsibility of educating and taking care of them often see the difficulty of the task, want to do the job well but there is just no clear path there. And, it would be so easy if there was one, wouldn’t it? A one size fits all set of solutions that could be reached for any time. A profile of the student mind that could be referred to whenever necessary. Simple motives that could be attributed in any situation. This would all make every school’s, and even parent’s, work so much easier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist. Even more unfortunately, we like to pretend that it does.

If we do not do these things, we will get undisciplined, lazy brats who do not respect their elders. There is no other way that works. Spare the rod, spoil the child. That is often the root of the reasoning. It’s a good story, a safe one. Safe because it gives control. It simplifies the matter into actions and consequences that make for easy decisions. It becomes the only easy thing in a complicated, high stakes matter. It makes the responsibility bite sized and more palatable, especially if you are in charge of other people’s children. Tempting as it is, the story is flawed and must be rejected.

But if we are to dismiss this story, then what is the alternative? What has to be done? Well, first one has to accept that students are individuals. To listen to them. To treat everything on a case by case basis and find the answers that are most helpful to the people involved. I don’t say that lightly by the way, I understand just how complex that would be. The workload alone would be near impossible, not to say anything of how to do it right. And because they are young, and don’t make the finest of decisions, the students would no doubt try and take advantage of such a system. I acknowledge all of that. But this matter will never be easy. And if anyone is to accept responsibility for educating and raising children, shouldn’t they aim for the very best regardless of the difficulty?

The truth is, the easier way is clearly not the best. Worse, it encourages behaviour from teachers and figures of authority in schools that tend to create new problems. An example that holds in most schools is that If a teacher punishes someone for something they didn’t do, they are not allowed to protest. If they think they were wronged, they can only bring it up after they’ve done the punishment – if they dare.

I’ve always found it somewhat amusing that many teachers who subscribe to this principle will also turn around and complain about similar aspects in the politics of the country. As if they are not spending years demonstrating that truth and justice must come second to authority and power to their students. And this is not a one off. Many of the problems that we face in this country not only exist in the school system but are actively reinforced there. It is where we start to learn that accountability only goes down the chain and respect only goes up. Where we see that things that are otherwise wrong somehow become right if you have enough power.

All of that being said, my intention is not to slander teachers and schools; they do important work. Many Kenyans spend a great deal of their younger years in boarding schools and in truth are brought up by these people. But this is precisely why it is important to acknowledge the problem and it cannot be denied that there is one. The interaction between students and their schools is so often characterized by hostility and enmity that one wonders how much damage is caused by enduring such things for so long. It is a problem. A whole host of problems.Something has to give.

We often forget that as time passes, we know more. Students grow up knowing more than we did at their age and as a result they see the world differently. Our past is not truly their present. We do not know them; we do not know their experience and we cannot unless we listen.To ignore them is to invite consequences for all of us. Because, when you deny somebody a voice, ignore them unless you want to put them to work or to punish them, it cannot possibly end well. Eventually, they will find a way to make themselves heard. A way that you cannot continue to ignore. I cannot say that this is why we have been seeing these fires but we’re all paying attention now, aren’t we? It would not surprise me that if we keep ignoring the words of students, we might have to contend with learning to read smoke signals.

The Decolonisation Project

Decolonisation! A term I got acquainted with when I first commenced my studies at the University of Cape Town. It’s rather a peculiar term that I had never heard before and I must say, I was confused at first about its meaning or significance. How do you undo something that has already manifested itself?

My idea of colonialism stemmed from the vague education system I received in high school. The chronological events of colonialism: the Berlin West African conference, the partitioning of Africa, the arrival of missionaries and the colonial administration systems. Therefore, with such a layman’s understanding of colonialism one that emphasized the course while neglecting the cause, the consequences, implications and effects I really wondered what people meant when they spoke of decolonisation. Did it mean we ought to reverse the whole colonial process? As in go back to Berlin and redraw the borders and build ships and take back all the descendants of the white man? Take back all they stole from the hinterland? It sounded rather unrealistic for me.

There ought to have been more to this, perhaps I was missing out on something and was oblivious to a more conscious understanding of what colonisation was exactly and its implications.

Exploring the concept of Colonialism

Have you ever heard of the poem “the white man’s burden”? This is a poem which grasps on the idea that the white man was burdened with the task of trying to civilise the dark continent of ‘savages’. That is what they called us. To them, civilisation involved causing a paradigm shift in the mentality of the natives. It was a doctrine that regarded the natives lost souls in dire need of redemption, education and a new language. One wonders what was to be left for the natives to take pride in.

Therefore colonialism primarily involved addressing the mind of the native in a way that would lead to a people with an inferiority complex. A people who might unconsciously disdain their uniqueness, colour, customs, culture and heritage, discarding it for the culture of the white man.

Another important aspect of colonialism was the issue of divide and rule. It all started from the macro level by dividing territory without the consent of the ethnic tribes. This proved to be problematic for it meant imposing unity among different tribes and perhaps separating tribes without any consultation with those tribes. On the micro scale, this division entailed enticing enmity among the natives, tampering with and undermining their existing customs and elevating the ‘good boys’ at the expense of the traditional chiefs which resulted in tension between the former and latter.  

Then, the most apparent aspect of colonialism was the extraction of Africa’s raw materials, which further boosted the economies of the metropolitan states of the colonisers while impeding Africa’s growth.

Therefore what does decolonisation entail?

If we are to address the issue of decolonisation pragmatically, in a way that does not make it ambiguous and cause confusion like it did for me when I first heard of it, we ought to begin by addressing the key elements listed above. This means for the purpose the article, trying to achieve decolonisation first entails deconstructing the mind-set and mentality of Africans. Dispositioning them from a state of inferiority to one of self-pride.

Decolonisation also entails promoting the ideology of unity and Pan Africanism. This might assist in fixing our continent which is deeply entrenched in intra conflict within states of which Politics, ethnicity and religion remain the genesis of the conflict. Decolonisation also means addressing the major problem of Africa’s resources which seem to benefit external players. We dwell in a neo colonial system that has found inconspicuous means of continuing to suck out Africa’s wealth while disguising itself as the functional global economy.

Well, is the Decolonisation Project Practical, Viable and Possible?

  • Knowledge is Power.  Addressing the mentality of the African people will take a great amount of effort on both the people instilling this knowledge and the people receiving it. With the education system pervasive in Africa, one that emphasizes primarily on making people potential job candidates, we might not reach the level we want as a continent. We need to incorporate elements in our education system where we expose students to different narratives of African literature, ones that are also intellectual and not primarily academic. Ones that do not enforce a white supremacist doctrine.  

    Now, we are forced to depart formal education with the mentality that civilization and modernisation is western and affiliated to whiteness, neglecting the fact that Africans and black people have made major contributions to the world’s modernity. So what we need is an education system that exposes the detrimental effects of colonialism and its impact today, while promoting a culture of breeding think tanks and problem solvers with solutions on how to fix the problem. Only then can we envisage the decolonisation Project’s success.
  • The problem of Unity. Unfortunately, we have not excelled on the topic of unity and we might not have taken any steps in this journey of a thousand miles.  This is linked to the previous point as our education system can also endorse the agenda of uniting and appreciating each other as Africans in our distinctiveness.
    I am also convinced that unity should not be a concept that is only ideological but should carry practicality in it. If Africa does not promote a culture of interaction between states, through regionalisation, trading and more multilateral and bilateral relations we will always remain a delusional continent. This notion stems from the neo liberal school of thought and the ‘prisoner dilemma’ notion that states are likely to cooperate together when there are institutions that promote practical interactions and trade among them. I was impressed by the recent development as there might be an introduction of the African passport. However, its implementation remains in question.
  • Thwarting Neo-Colonialism. Today,  Africa remains a continent that boasts of its mineral wealth but shies away from the fact that it remains an impoverished continent up to date This is the incongruent nature of Africa’s current affairs. Many will blame the international system for continuing to undermine Africa’s potential however I must state that the endurance of the enemy’s oppression is partly determined by our tolerance and acquiescence. The main problem remains political. Africa suffers from the cancer of unscrupulous leaders, who enrich themselves at the expense of the economies of their respective countries while serving the interests of the western and eastern giants hungry for Africa’s goodies. Therefore decolonisation in this regard will depend on the willingness of the leaders to prioritise national goals and the national and African vision above their self-interests.

Decolonisation

My next article will carry the same theme as I analyse the African Union’s contribution to the decolonisation Project.

 

Shhh: A Step by Step Guide to Silence

Sometimes, you can almost admire the skill with which our rights are being stripped from us. There is a kind of finesse to it, a mastery that you don’t see very often. It would be impressive if it wasn’t so goddamn terrifying.

*

If you’re a government that wants to arrest people for speaking against it, and you’re unfortunate enough to be in a democracy, you’ve got to pick your words very carefully. You cannot say that you were insulted, that would seem petty – you call it undermining authority. That has weight. It sounds important, dangerous even.

He’s in prison for insulting the president. No. That just screams dictator.

He’s in prison for undermining the president’s authority. Yes. Now you’re onto something.

How a slight can undermine the authority of the most powerful man in the country is, as these things always go, something that need not, and will not, be explained.

Once you have the right words, you now have to pick the right targets. You can’t just round up any old critic. You’re trying to send a message and set some precedent. If you choose badly you won’t accomplish either. For example, take Gado. It is unlikely that you will find anyone who has depicted the president in an insulting manner more often than Gado. If an insult can undermine authority, then Gado is public enemy number one. In the face of Gado, the president is very nearly out of authority to be undermined. But you cannot arrest Gado. At least, not at first.

You really cannot justify arresting a popular satirist without turning everyone against you. He’s too easy to defend. He’s too well liked. Charging him with anything, even something as important sounding as undermining the president’s authority, is just too clearly wrong. You cannot sell it. So you need another kind of target.

You need someone not very sympathetic. Someone guilty of something else, preferably something they said. Someone difficult to defend because no one really wants to be associated with them. You need to find yourself a Wadi Okengo.

Once you find and arrest a person like Wadi, you’ve already won the first battle. Dissenters will find that they cannot defend the right they think is important without defending Wadi as well. He is someone an injustice is being carried out against and they have to defend him, it’s all part of the responsibility. But, the very moment they do, his hate speech will come up. The disgusting tribalist things he said will inevitably become linked to the whole case and it will all seem like part of the same issue. His defenders will find themselves in the untenable position of both defending and distancing themselves from him. Predictably, this is not a very effective way to convince people you’re right. They’re in a fight and they don’t have sufficient ammunition. You win.

But you can’t stop there. The message needs to stick. If you really want them to watch what they say you need to show them that no one is safe. That no fish is too big to fry. That’s where someone like Robert Alai comes in. Extremely popular but not very sympathetic. A man with such an even distribution of allies and enemies that any debate involving him will quickly descend into noise. And should anyone be willing to put aside their loathing of the man to defend him, what of it? He is the man who prays for women to be raped. Who said he would strip scantily clad women himself? Etcetera etcetera. Defending him is just as difficult as defending Wadi if not more. Again, you have them fighting an uphill battle to get anyone to even care about the issue at hand.

Lastly, the smaller players need to get in on it. Maybe a Governor somewhere should have someone pulled in and level the same kind of accusations. Let that kind of thing crop up and spread about for a while. And when you’re done, one will have to ask whether what they want to say about you is really worth going through what Alai did. What every other person you go after will. Because it’s not about insults, it’s about undermining authority. And because no one truly knows what that actually means, they’ll have to watch themselves.

People are going to ask if they can afford to have hundreds of thousands (or any significant amount) held up for months during court proceedings. They’re going to wonder if they can stay employed if they’re accused of undermining a public official’s authority. All of that risk? Just to make a criticism? They’re going to look at the effect of one person talking versus the potential cost it could bring and do the math. They’re going to ask the kind of questions that make people afraid to talk.

When you finally start going for the people you really want to get, you wont need tricks anymore. You’ll have legal precedent on your side and the entire process will be normalized by then. It’ll be like police taking bribes, just another ugly facet of Kenyan life they accept as unavoidable. The way of things. Blasé. You can even let them talk a little then. It won’t matter because those who complain will not meet a willing audience. They will meet the face of defeat. They will hear those three little words that both excuse and explain away everything. They will be told…this is Kenya.

Causing Damage For Popularity

Now, before I start, I feel I should say that I’m not necessarily opposed to celebrity news/gossip sites. It’s not my cup of tea but a lot of people are clearly interested in what they do. There is a market for it and they have moved in to take advantage of that. Good on them. That’s not something I have a problem with. What I want to talk about is how some of them do it.

This is not going to be one of those articles where I tip toe around who I’m talking about. While they are certainly not the only guilty ones, I’m going to be focusing on Ghafla. They’re one of the most popular and if it has to start with somebody it should probably be them.

Over the past few days, there’s been talk about the whole Tony Mochama incident. In case you’ve somehow missed it, here’s a quick summary. Tony Mochama (aka Smitta) is being accused of sexual assault. The general accepted version of the accusation is that he was at a fellow poet’s house, he committed the assault on her friend and that there are a few witnesses. He has since denied any wrong doing.

Now, whether you believe this or not, I think you should see the problem with Ghafla’s headline.

RAPE!! Standard Group’s TONY MOCHAMA Accused! Here Is The Story!”

There’s no other way to put it, this is misinformation, plain and simple. They are unashamedly being sensationalist for the sole purpose of getting views. You can see this from how the actual article is phrased. It is, more or less, accurate…if you’re already aware of what’s going on. But if you’re not then you will come away with a twisted version of what is actually being said. I’ve already seen people on twitter peddling this ‘Ghafla’ version. By selling the story like this they’re making it easier for Mochama to deny the charges and harder for people to believe it.

I have already seen someone say “you’re telling me she was raped as everyone watched? Yeah right.”

Ghafla is a popular platform where a lot of people get their information. I don’t think that should be the case but it is. And as such they have a responsibility not to pull stunts like this. They do not get to stir things up so they can get hits. This situation is not theirs to manipulate for click bait!

Look at this headline.

“I DID NOT RAPE A WOMAN IN WAMBUI’s HOUSE”!! Standard Group’s TONY MOCHAMA (Smitta Smitten) Responds!”

This is one thing we can say for certain that Tony Mochama has not done. He did not say those words. The only ones actually pushing a rape narrative are Ghafla. No one accused it. No one denied it (because it was never leveled.) We are talking about a sexual assault. Yet, here is Ghafla shaping their own version of a story that will cause more people to visit their site. How fundamentally sick is that?

Listen up Ghafla team. Maybe you believe he is (or could be) guilty in which case you are derailing the conversation and making life harder for everyone else who does. Or you think he is (or could be) innocent, but then you are just fanning the flames by raising the charge. Most likely, I think you don’t care either way. You are literally just causing damage because it helps you meet your quota. STOP IT!

Here’s a few things you need to start working on.

One. You need to reevaluate how you view women.

Two. You need to stop trafficking in human misery.

Three. If you are already doing one and two then you need to get to a place where no one has to tell you why a tweet like this is wrong.

“Sexy Photos Of Natalie Tewa Who Was In The Accident With Wangechi the Rapper!! Must See!!”

Is that really so much to ask?

The Mess in Your Home

Children are like budget psychiatrists. You can talk to them and they’ll pretend to listen to you. Better yet, if you remember to give them food then you’re not restricted to one hour sessions. They’ll hardly say anything back which is another mark in their favour.

I speak as a former victim of this practice as I’m sure most of you are. You probably have some vague memory of long car rides with one sided conversations you were not expected to understand and, all in all, you didn’t really try to anyway. They were only interesting in that they guaranteed some kind of reward at the end. Usually ice cream.

Sometimes though, you remember what was said in fragments. They can be amusing, they can be scarring or, if you’re really lucky, you can end up with some really good black mail. Rarely, you can actually learn something from them. This article is about those rare times.

“… these fools who run away from the mess in their own homes to try and fix other people’s problems.”

My mother said that. I don’t know why she said it largely because I wasn’t really listening but that particular phrase stuck with me for years. I’m not sure if I actually thought this at the time or if it’s an embellishment I’ve woven in over the years but I remember agreeing with her. They were fools. What kind of person would actually do something like that?

Time, in it’s general humorless way, has revealed a rather distasteful answer to that question. As it turns out, I’m the kind of person who would do something like that.

To me, home has a variety of meanings. I have many homes. Where I actually live with my family is just the most obvious one. Nairobi is my home too. So is Kenya. As is Africa. And it’s become clear that I’ve been running away from their problems and their complications for a long time now. Not entirely. But enough that I need to reevaluate what I’m doing.

There’s something unsettling about the fact that over the years, I’ve talked about racism more than I have about tribalism.

That my most readily available images of classism do not easily lend themselves to the Kenyan or even the African context.

That when you weigh how much I’ve talked about Gaza, Syria and Iraq against something like Kasarani, the latter pales in comparison.

I’ve been running.

Home is not just a place though. It is a community. It is your connections. What keeps you rooted even if it’s not in one place. Friends and family are part of that. And if there is an area where I have truly failed, this would have to be it.

How many exam is rape jokes do I let my friends get away with?

Could I even count the number of homophobic remarks from relatives that I let pass without comment?

How many “that’s retarded” statements do I just ignore from people I know?

Yet, I can easily write about these issues when I’m talking to strangers and I think there is something fundamentally wrong with that.

The truth is, I can do more about Kasarani than I can about Gaza.

I’m more likely to change how a relative or friend sees an issue than I am to do so for a stranger.

There are no problems that I understand quite like the problems at home. And that’s the issue. I’m invested. There can be consequences here. This isn’t my neighbor’s place. This is mine. If there is fallout, I will have to bear it. If I fail, I will feel it. There is something that can be broken if I confront the problems here too much. It is in every way easier to look away and just run. Looking only to deal with problems that do not directly affect me. Safer problems.

But…that’s foolish.

I can’t keep doing that.

I could be wrong but I think a lot of you are like me. It’s all too easy for us to get angry at the start but let that fade and ignore the issue even if it isn’t solved. Even easier to never bring it up at all. It’s how we keep the peace in our little home.

Only, it isn’t really peace is it?

There is only one logical conclusion that I can see. What to do is really rather obvious but I find that even now I still want to run from it. The image of talking to my parents about homophobia will not leave my mind. It is one of the most frightening thoughts I have ever had. I can’t imagine how such a conversation would start let alone how it would end. I don’t think I want to.

“Oppression can only survive through silence.”

– Carmen De Monteflores

A choice has to made. For each of us.

We cannot let the government wait us out on things we care about knowing all the while that we’ll fold first. We have to keep at it. Even when the numbers start to dwindle and it’s no longer easy to do it anymore. We have to keep at it.

We cannot continue to watch people around us doing things we know are wrong and stay quiet. Our silence isn’t just inaction, it makes us part of it. Accessories to a crime.

We cannot claim to be for change if we see the clearest path before us and never take it. Even if it’s not an easy one. We have to take that step.

We cannot keep running.

The Unbiased Pocket Encyclopedia: Understanding Zionist Terminology

Civilians: 
Israeli citizens whose protection justifies any and all extreme measures.

Palestinian civilian
See Human Shield

Defense:
Attack

Humane:
Should Israel plan to attack a location they will  (sometimes) warn the civilian population to evacuate the area. This is what we call conducting war in a humane fashion.

Humane refers only to the act of not killing. Things humane does not refer to may include:

Where the civilians will go after evacuation. That is a personal matter and none of Israel’s business.

Complaints that Israel has left thousands homeless and destitute. These are signs of the ungratefulness that typifies Palestinians. Alive and still complaining.

Human Shield:
Innocent people Hamas militants are hiding among.  Killing or causing damage to their lives with as little restraint as possible is permitted.

Examples of acceptable ratios.

Over 600 deaths and more than 100,000 Palestinians displaced to kill 160 Militants

25 deaths (including 19 children) in order to kill one person is also within the justifiable range.

Restraint:
A UN sheltering school for housing the internally displaced in Gaza being bombed twice might seem like a lack of restraint. Especially if you consider that it’s nature was formally communicated to Israel three times.

But this is not the case. [end of explanation].

Rights of Israel:
As America has stated on several occasions. To do what is necessary to defend itself.

What is necessary’ is never truly defined. It can safely be assumed that it is somewhere in the ballpark of anything they like.

Rights of Palestinians:
Unclear.

Terrorism:
Many believe that terrorism involves the use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political or ideological aims. This is incorrect. That is actually called self defense.

Terrorism can easily be defined as an act attributed to what Palestinians are doing at any given moment. If a Palestinian 12 year old child throws stones then they are a terrorist and Israel can, in good conscience,  imprison them.

UN Resolutions:
What Israel understands, that the rest of the world does not, is that to be condemned in a UN resolution is a great honor. It is a competition and Israel will always aim to win.

2013 saw 21 resolutions against Israel and 4 against the rest of the world.

The US position:
Everyone has the right to respond to violence against civilians with violence that mostly harms civilians….except Palestine. Palestine can’t do that.

We Need Kenyans on Wikipedia

Let’s all join Wikipedia.

Why?

If you want to know about Kenyan history, you have a surprising lack of options. The only good one I can think of (correct me if I’m wrong) is paying for membership in Kenya Archives. The annual fee is pretty cheap and they have an amazing collection of books and old newspapers. It’s always surreal reading a paper from 1969.

Beyond that, you don’t really have much recourse.

Now, I’m not sure we can do much about what’s already passed but what we do have is the opportunity to improve the ease of access from here on out. Future generations should be able to at least get an overview of what happened during our time. We should be able to look up fairly recent events with some degree of accuracy. That’s where Wikipedia comes in.

Wikipedia, while being a powerful tool for pooling information, has a terrible weak spot. It needs participation from a lot people. It needs discussion, fact checking, updating, curating etc. If it doesn’t get that then what you end up with is a biased incomprehensible mess. It’s why your lecturer doesn’t/didn’t trust it as a valid source.

I’m going to quote a few Kenyan Wikipedia pages and you’ll see what I mean.

ALFRED MUTUA:

“Najivunia Kuwa Mkenya was a patriotism enhancing campaign that was aimed at making Kenyans appreciate their country and be more patriotic. This was and still remains the most successful public campaign ever run in the country. Today, Kenyans can give thanks to Dr. Mutua for the patriotic spirit around the country.”

“Dr. Mutua is a man of action, one on the move and one working hard to improve the lives of his constituents.”

CHARLES NJONJO:

“In December of 2013, Njonjo ensured the laying to rest of his sister, Margaret Waithera Njonjo, a Queen of quiet/inconspicuous dignity ( mother of Elizabeth, Alice, and Eunice Kariuki, grandmother of Cira, Josef, James, Jason, and Lule Kariuki) occurred in a manner that her beautiful soul deserved.”

CHARITY NGILU:

“… in 1992, Charity Ngilu pulled off a big surprise by capturing the Kitui central constituency seat on the Democratic Party ticket.”

“Ngilu was seen as a new school member in the government, as opposed to old school members like John Michuki and President Kibaki.”

KALONZO MUSYOKA:

Controversies: This section is empty

These quotes are accurate as of 7/7/2014

From an inconsistent tone to clear bias and the utter lack of citation, it’s safe to say a lot of Kenyan pages need work. Some of them serve as advertisements and others are sorely lacking important information. There’s rarely any discussion in the talk page even for disputed content. Surely, we can do better.

Join Wikipedia. Learn how it works. Get a good grasp of the rules and contribute.

We need Kenyans on Wikipedia. KOWs If you will (yes, pronounced cow).

Join Wikipedia because it helps and because it’s funny to say that your country needs you to become a KOW.

Milk that joke for all it’s worth while you’re at it. Ain’t no beef. What, are you dairying me?

Join Wikipedia if for no better reason than to make sure the guy who made that quick succession of lame jokes is not one of the main contributors.

Men, Sexism and Denial

“Sexism is a big problem in this country…” started a woman.

“NOT ALL OF US ARE SEXIST!” Interrupted the men in a booming chorus.

“Yes, but we need to talk about…”

“But we’re not sexist. We think you’re equal. See? Not sexist. I agree you should get all that stuff you’re asking for.” And thus the men patted themselves on the back for not being sexists and avoided the conversation entirely. After all, it should have been had with all those crazy sexist men out there, not them. Certainly not them.

***

I have something to say. I’m sexist. Before you act all surprised, if you’re a man, so are you. In case the message was lost in that phrasing what I’m saying is that ALL MEN ARE SEXIST.

Before you skewer me in the comments, consider this, sexism isn’t always obvious. You don’t have to slap your wife around or throw insults at women. You don’t have to outright view women as lesser or even be against equality. All you have to do is live in a sexist society and pick up sexist attitudes without even considering what they are.

Consider two stories. One, the president has an affair. Two, the first lady has an affair. Which do you think will be the bigger scandal? You know which one it is. You know where the moral outcry will be loudest even if they’re both the same thing. You were brought up in that society and whether you like it or not you picked up some traits from it that determine how you treat women.

Most men have given some form of preferential treatment to a pretty girl as if looks were an indicator of how well someone should be treated.

Most men have said something to the tune of “you know how women are.” As if half the people in this county (or in the world) could fit into such a narrow behavioural pattern.

Most men have reduced a woman’s interests down to how they relate to men (“She likes football/top gear/ video games. She’s wife material.”) As if everything you find good or interesting about her is really just a criteria for whether or not she can be married.

All men have done and do things like this not out of malice or some intentional bigoted agenda but because the significance of these acts never even occurred to them. This is what I mean when I say you’re sexist. Perhaps you’re not A sexist. I acknowledge that difference. You don’t go out of your way to do it. Nevertheless the underlying tendencies are there and the fact that you hardly notice it is why this conversation is so important. Until you start listening you might never see how you’re mucking things up and you can never do better. Not hitting, insulting or openly looking down upon women is not an accomplishment. You don’t get a cookie and a free ride to skip this class.

Inevitably someone will point out that women are entirely capable of doing some of the things mentioned and of being sexist at large. That’s true. Here’s the difference. As a man you have certain privileges that women do not have. You do not have to feel any fear when walking down the street simply because you’re a man. When you’re assaulted you know what you’re wearing cannot be used to dismiss your claims. You’re not likely to be paid less because of your gender. Being a man means you’ve probably never had to worry that you’ll be forced to have sex to be able to do your job.

When it comes to sexism and men, in well over 90 percent of cases, you can simply walk away and be done with it. Women cannot walk away. They have to live with it. They lack that choice that you have. And when the problem is so systematic, of course it’s going to get priority. It affects half the country’s population directly. Any way you look at it that’s a national crisis. That’s why you (should) hear about it all the time.

Now, if my point still sits wrong with you here’s an analogy to help you along. You’re like a tourist on his first visit to an African country. Everything he knows about “Africa” is based on books and shows and hearsay that have a skewed slant to say the least. As a result he keeps offending people. For some reason the “you don’t live in trees!?” and the “I was expecting wild animals everywhere” don’t sit right with people.

The tourist isn’t a bad person. He’s not trying to offend. But what he knows is inaccurate and inadequate and it comes across. Many of us can find it within ourselves to have patience with him. It’s not entirely his fault. If he’s striving to actually learn something then we can even let his slips go by. But if he responds to every correction or confrontation with defensiveness, you’re less likely to be understanding. “It’s what I know!” Is not a particularly good defence if you’re not trying to know more. Nor is “I respect Africans as equals.”

So, in summary, just because you’re not a sexist doesn’t mean you’re not sexist. Those “you’re letting a girl beat you in school” speeches and their ilk among other things probably influenced your world view when you didn’t know any better. Your problem, and my problem, is largely ignorance. We can know more and we can do better. Don’t cling to your ignorance. Don’t defend it. Accept it, catch it, correct it and with hope, we can pass a lot less of it to the coming generations.

KENYA & SOMALIS: “Saving The Country”

“We have to do something! We can’t just sit back and do nothing!”

This is something you’re likely to hear if you bring up how Somalis have been treated in this country. They may phrase it differently but it always has the same components. There is an urgent, drastic something that needs to be done immediately or an apathetic nothing. There is never anything between those two options. It is a situation of extremes. One or the other. Now or never. Terrorism or oppression.

If you ask them if what’s happening is right they will sigh impatiently. They will give you that look they give people who do not understand the world and explain, as if to a child, that:

“Sometimes you have to do what is necessary. You should know that.”

If they are older than you they might add,

“You’ll understand that one day.”

Perhaps I do not understand the world as they so clearly suspect but that seems like a non-answer to me. Is it wrong but necessary? Or is it right because it is necessary? More to the point, why is it so necessary? Ask that last question at your own risk. The answers will often carry a thinly veiled accusation.

“Do you just want to let Kenyans die?”

“You have to consider the survival of our country!”

I have had this argument many times now. Sometimes with smart people. With people whose opinion I respect. And from what I understand, this is the summary of what they’re trying to say. Because we’re facing a crisis on a scale we’ve never seen before we have to take measures that some may find unpleasant. It is an ugly but necessary sacrifice. Put like that, it almost seems to make sense. Here’s the problem with that. The first part, the justification, isn’t true. That’s the effects of terrorism talking.

Terrorism works because of fear. It’s supposed to make you overreact, to think the problem is bigger than it is. It inspires the kind of fear a drowning person feels as they act against their own interests and try to take down the person rescuing them. This is why so many people are talking about terrorism like it’s the biggest threat in the country. It isn’t. It’s not even close.

Think of it this way. How many people get killed in homicides every year in Kenya? According to UNODC, in 2012, it was about 2,700 people. To put that in perspective, how many people get killed in terror attacks in any given year? In 2012 it was somewhere in the range of 4,500 people – worldwide. When you add up all the recorded terrorist attack fatalities in the world, inflate the number by a few hundred for any that may have been missed or underreported you get less than two years of one country’s homicides.

It’s a lot more disturbing when you consider that the 2012 rate of homicides has more than doubled when compared to what it was in 2007. If you want to rate crises, you can see which the more pressing Kenyan problem is. Yet, we would never stand for suspension of laws or profiling in that area. You’re never going to hear about an inquest into what community people who commit the most homicides are most likely to come from. And even if the information were available, we certainly would never act on it in the way we are towards Somalis.

I-am-not-a-terrorist-6

All this is not to say that terrorism isn’t a pertinent threat. It is. And I’m certainly not saying that the deaths caused by the terror attacks don’t matter. They do. What I am saying is calm down, take a breath and relax a bit. Our survival as a nation does not hang in the balance. On the list of things that are likely to kill you, terrorism is very low on that list. Which means we have time to think this issue through. To come up with proper solutions that will actually yield positive results in the long term.

We can’t continue to pretend that a lot of the people being persecuted for not having legal papers would not have them if the system was working properly. Or that we’re seriously combating terrorism when our anti-terror unit is still underfunded. And most importantly, we cannot deny that the state hasn’t been acting within legal boundaries.

You can see hints of the law being sidestepped in this UNHCR press release. If you want to see a more blatant legal breach you need look no further than this ruling the High Court made in 2013 relating to refugees and insecurity in the country. You can read the whole thing and see just how its directives are being violated. It’s almost prescient:

 “The State has not demonstrated that the proliferation of the refugees in urban areas is the main source of insecurity … Security concerns must now be viewed from the constitutional lens and in this regard there is nothing to justify the use security operation to violate the rights of urban based refugees.”

Sometimes saving the country means preserving our national identity. What we do. Who we are as a people. That means looking past the fear and making decisions that are ethical. Decisions that will help us in the long term.  That’s not easy, but it’s not meant to be. Or, to quote that ruling again:

The cost and burdens association with deepening constitutional values does not lessen the obligation of the State to,“observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.”   Every State organ is called upon to be creative within its means in order that every person enjoys, “the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Bill of rights to the greatest possible extent.”

Need i say more?