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.

Oyunga Pala and The False Victim Complex

Oyunga Pala recently published an article entitled “Why I Am Afraid of Female Bigots”. In it he talks about how he was a panelist at the Future of Men discussion panel and how the men there were vilified by the women and pushed into a corner when they voiced their opinion about the issues that were being discussed. He also discussed how certain men’s issues were being pushed out of discussions and that we should address them more often instead of always focusing on the bad things men do.
I was at the Future of Men, in the second row. I sat there and I listened to all the comments that were made, at least for the first hour then I walked out in protest. I’ve written about it before, and I am going to write about it again. When I read this article it pissed me off to high heaven and I felt that just tweeting about it angrily was not going to help very many people so I decided to dissect the entire article and explain just WHY I was so mad. Because Oyunga Pala did not say anything new, he simply jumbled up several YouTube comments and stringed them into a deceivingly eloquent mess. I’m going to pick up key sentences from his article and break them down into what they really mean.

It soon got confrontational and any man who so much as dared to speak his mind (be politically incorrect) was shouted down.

Oh yes, the talk at Future of Men did get confrontational. The men who did become politically incorrect were shouted down. What Oyunga Pala fails to mention is WHAT EXACTLY made women so confrontational. Maybe it was Tony Mochama (a man), famous author who is currently under investigation for allegedly assaulting a woman, saying that women should be beaten if they decide to get too vocal. Maybe it was the fellow (a word for man) in the back who questioned why there were so many women present when this was a talk for men. Or the (same) guy who denied there even being a problem in the society. Maybe it was the dude who said that women shouldn’t dress a certain way and expect not to be treated how they dress. I mean if  you sit in a room where ludicrous comments like these are being thrown at you, are you going to sit there quietly?

Do you want a free pass to be politically incorrect? Do you really know what entails political correctness? Why would you want to be on the wrong side? Are male thoughts synonymous with political incorrectness? Is that the normal way in which a male mind functions? Please explain because as a woman I may not understand this.

Now in case you didn’t know, political correctness is the attitude or policy of being careful not to offend or upset any group of people in society believed to have a disadvantage. As human knowledge progresses our language changes in order to reflect our understanding of what is appropriate to say. Now you may not owe the world an explanation for everything you do say, nor do you have to change everything about yourself so that you can accommodate everyone; that’s impossible. You’re not here to please everybody. HOWEVER making the decision not to promote language that harms a large group of people (and clearly as he said, we were more than the men present, so I’m not lying) is not that hard. The way we talk to and about people is a reflection of who we are. So if you want to be rude and insulting to women, you better expect someone to get confrontational and shout you down.

For as long as women feel unsafe and aggrieved, ALL MEN are to blame and any man who doesn’t express open solidarity with women is a sexist. Therefore in order to avoid an argument, most men withheld their opinion and left the forum feeling vilified, attacked and guilt ridden.

*sigh*
Sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. It is a system that puts a gender at a disadvantage while raising another. This is a system in which ALL men benefit from. It is because of this that women hold men accountable when they are speaking up against sexism. Not all men are responsible for all the horrible things that happen to women however some are. Women are not harming themselves; they are not being harassed by imaginary creatures or being raped by wood nymphs. It is men who are responsible for these acts.
I can see through your self-flagellatory tactics though, where someone has to jump up and pat you on the back and tell you “not all men are sexist! I can’t believe they would say something like that about everyone in the room! Poor baby, have a cookie.” It’s a childish tactic, comparable to a kid who throws himself on the ground in order to appear injured. You’re not fooling anyone, what you’re doing is refusing to take responsibility for your male privilege.
It’s not your fault you were born a man. There is nothing you can do to eliminate your privilege, not unless you have a magic wand that will crush the patriarchy in one wave (and if so why haven’t you?) What you can do is accept that you benefit from a sexist society because the odds are most likely always in your favour. Instead of wailing like a prepubescent toddler about how mean women were to you, you could take stock of your privilege and try to offset the imbalance of power. If you were actually aware of your male privilege, you would be helping stop the perpetuation of misogynistic beliefs, but instead you want to try to pose as the victim.

Men feel the need to be apologetic and adopt a change of behaviour in order to maintain decorum to suit women’s expectations.

Oh really? What exactly is the problem in maintaining decorum?
Men SHOULD be apologetic. They should at least note that they are in a more advantageous position and just by simply existing they get to experience certain privileges that women don’t get to. When you are in a privileged position, you shouldn’t be an ass to the people in positions lower than you. That’s not a very nice thing to do. I figure the idea of losing your privilege must be so terrifying and I empathize. However if you don’t believe men, yes, each and every one of them, HAVE to adopt a change of behaviour (and not for women, but for societal and cultural progress) you’re drunk off your privilege. Must be nice, eh?

The first step to avoiding confrontation in this contemporary reality is policing one’s speech lest you get accused of being sexist and disrespectful to women.

Yes. Very good. You should have put your pen down at this point.

In many professions, this is about as a big a blot on one’s reputation as being called a racist in a US presidential contest.

But instead you choose to continue. Hmm. Okay.
A man being called a sexist has almost no effect on his life. Hell, even assault and rape accusations do nothing. In this patriarchal system anything you do to a woman, can be swept under the rug. Look at Tony Mochama’s sexual harassment case. Whether or not the allegations are true, he has not lost his job, his books are still being sold, he is doing just fine. In fact, Tony Mochama was defended by hundreds of men even before he responded to the accusation while Shailja Patel was subjected to online abuse, trolling and insults. Her character and the character of the woman who initially reported the story, Dr Wambui Mwangi were dissected and their lives put up for public scrutiny, instead of the life of the person who was accused of the crime. In the case of rape accusations, Senator Wamatangi was accused of raping his househelp, he’s still a senator, still going about his daily business. If these examples aren’t sufficient enough, let’s look to Hollywood. Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, Kobe Bryant, all these men have been accused of rape, I don’t see anything wrong with their careers. They are not crying in a ditch somewhere, victims of their actions, they’re still making money comfortably.

I’m so glad you decided to bring up the parallels between sexism and racism. So so glad. Sexism and racism are equal in the fact that they limit one group while simultaneously raising another’s status. Men benefit from sexism the way white people benefit from racism. Both deny the privileges of one while oppressing others. When it’s a discourse on racism, we’re ALL oppressed because as Africans, male or female, we are at the bottom of the structural pyramid, united by descent and race. When it comes to sexism though, it’s no longer a problem. Now, you may not see sexism as being as bad as racism because sexism benefits men, so it’s okay for them to perpetuate it. If you look at it objectively you’ll see that the same silencing tactics white people use (not all white people!) are the same ones men use when silencing discourses on sexism.

Men are often labelled beneficiaries of a patriarchal system that accords them privilege over women and children on the sole basis of their genitalia. Yet what is often not mentioned in the same breath is that patriarchy is a system perpetuated by both sexes. They are several women who milk the privilege of a male based support system.

Men ARE beneficiaries of a patriarchal system. It’s not a label, it’s the truth. And it is true that women also perpetuate it. However in the case of men, they perpetuate patriarchy because it benefits them because what is patriarchy, other than the systematic order in which MEN hold primary power and everyone else is excluded. Therefore the women who perpetuate patriarchy do not do it because they are ‘privileged’ but because they are being complicit and it may have some (debatable) advantages. For you to suggest this is to suggest that the beggar eating the breadcrumbs you dropped on the table is eating a balanced diet. The male based support system is a product of patriarchy, because women statistically make less than men, are instantly questioned when they get higher positions at work (did she sleep with him?) and are shunned from careers that are male dominated. The safest option is to rely on men, because patriarchy makes it hard to rely on yourself.

And what exactly is this definition of “female privilege”?

The role of father for example is being rendered obsolete because it is something that can be stripped away by a woman at any time. A woman can have a child without male consent, deny a man access to his child and make him disposal. Father’s day for instance is now a tramping ground for women who feel they deserve accolades for single parentage.

WITHOUT MALE CONSENT? Because everything that must be done in this world must undergo the watchful observation of a man? If a man says yes to something in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does the thing still happen? Women can function without male consent, it is possible.
It reached a critical point in our society that women had to log onto Facebook, join a group and publicly expose men for failing to support their children in order for it to be addressed. Now before you go off the obviously derailing tangent off NOT ALL DEAD BEAT DADS (ooooh wait there’s already an article like that on your website) let’s focus on the matter at hand. Women who FEEL THEY DESERVE accolades for single parentage? Are you aware of the negative attitudes that follow single mothers?
No? Alright, lets Google.

Single mothers are....
Single mothers are….

 

Now single dads....
Now single dads….

When the internet alone has such horrible suggestions for your existence, you DESERVE an accolade simply for waking up in the morning and facing a world that has been conditioned to hate you.

We have created a unique problem that constitutes a generation of men who do want to be labelled sexist like their fathers were, thriving on female subordination.

How is this a problem?

Anyway, if you don’t want to be labelled sexist, DON’T DO SEXIST THINGS. DON’T PERPETUATE SEXISM. DON’T THRIVE UNDER FEMALE SUBORDINATION. BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE. It’s that fucking simple.

In essence most men are feminist. They advocate for the rights of women for the simple reason that they owe their growth and development to female intervention and have daughters to raise.

NO. Most men are not feminist. First of all how could they be, when feminists seek to push men out of their comfort zones? There are so many negative attitudes that surround that term. Its normally associated with angry women who apparently hate men. They call us man haters, militant lesbians, misandrists, reverse sexists, FEMALE BIGOTS.

How are you a feminist when your entire article is based on calling us bigoted? It is a tactic of the oppressor to force harmful definitions onto subversive movements. It derails all forms of discourse because in this case, you have forced me, a feminist, to go into the defensive. Instead of moving forward and having useful conversations about what we can do to stop the perpetuation of patriarchy, I have to explain that we are not bigoted and how harmful that description is.

You can’t be a feminist if you define it using the patriarchal standards it rejects.The simple reason you think men support feminism is based on contextual empathy. That the only reason they care about women is because they were raised by them? So what about those not raised around women, do they get a free pass? Why do women’s rights only take center stage in someone’s life because their relatives just happen to be female? That’s… a problem. Its selective and isn’t true. Either you’re fighting for all women or you’re not. There’s no middle ground.

While we acknowledge that the fight for the rights of women is absolutely essential, it is not a license to lash out at men in this recycled narrative of collective blame.

It is a recycled narrative because nothing seems to be changing, or if it is, its not changing fast enough. Besides who are we going to blame? The wood nymphs from before?
Your first reaction to the demand for change is defensiveness. That’s the biggest impediment to progress. Nobody wants to believe they’re the problem. But you being told to do better is not bigotry! You HAVE to do better because you are in the position of privilege. Calling women bigoted is as mature as a student cussing out his lecturer because they were told to redo their bad assignment.

If you REALLY believe that the fight for our rights is essential, then a few harsh words shouldn’t make it less worthy your attention. Our tone of voice shouldn’t deter you from it. The idea that feminists should speak in a nice tone is nonsensical. You only want us to speak in softer tones because we’re easier to ignore that way. Spare me the idea that we should be palatable to suit your feelings. Are you saying that you were about to care about vast inconsistencies in the treatment of women but because someone was mean you won’t? Empowerment is not candy that you hand out to the best behaved women in the classroom. Get that very clear.

Unless we tell the other side of the story, of men rewriting the masculinity script, who take care of business, secure their homes, remain present in their children’s lives and are supportive partners, we shall continue to normalize bigotry against men for no other reason than their biologically assigned genitalia.

Oyunga Pala, you have consistently run a column entitled MAN TALK for several years, in which you have had an opportunity to do this. Again, I reiterate, for SEVERAL YEARS. You have had the platform to do this for ages and if you squandered it to write other things then that’s YOUR fault. And anyway let’s say you were a simple man with no platform or social influence, you would simply have to put on the television or pick up a paper to see your side of the story. The patriarchal world is a male centered one, never forget that. Everything, from politics to business to even professional cooking, is male dominated.

Do you REALLY want to talk about normalized bigotry for NO REASON other than biologically assigned genitalia? Have you ever heard women complaining about sexual assault? Street harassment? Rape? Have you heard of women being denied positions simply because of their gender? Have you not seen the sexualisation of breast cancer simply because it’s a cancer that starts in the breasts? SAVE THE BOOBIES? Are you not familiar with rape culture?! SHUT UP AND THINK AGAIN, before you talk about “normalized bigotry because of assigned genitalia.” This is what WE face every day as women.

Below all this there was a weirdly placed section on the plight of short men that I didn’t fully understand because it kind of just came from nowhere. BUT I have a few points.

Joshua Sang isn’t overlooked because he’s short, he’s overlooked because not many people have heard of him and not very many people are that interested in looking him up. His diminutive stature is just his most defining feature. Is that problematic, yeah sure, but it’s not a male crisis. Yes, your dating options may be limited when you’re short but so what? Everyone has arbitrary physical standards; if women don’t want to date short men you’re not going to force them to. Don’t pretend that men don’t have harmful standards that hurt women. That’s the entire basis of the cosmetics industry!

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.

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.

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.

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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?