Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Burden of Reponsibility lies with YOU

I am heart-sick. And I have a malady of the heart that is not curable through any conventional or non-conventional forms of medicine. The malaise that I am feeling is related to a sense of desperation that I feel about humanity today.

A desperation associated with witnessing the effect of fear, the fear of not having enough, of not being safe enough, of not having enough to eat, to feed ones family, to ride to work, to pay the bills. Of driving down our streets and witnessing besieged individuals struggling to make it through this existence that we call Life.

A desperation associated with witnessing the gross juxtaposition of immense wealth against a backdrop of equally immense poverty.

A desperation associated with witnessing the sometimes inhuman behaviour of human to human interaction.

A desperation associated with witnessing one individual’s determination to bring down another, because in doing so is the assumption that their survival will somehow be ensured.

A desperation associated with witnessing a distinct absence of fundamental and core values such as sanctity of life, honour, dignity and respect – values which would affirm our position on top of the ladder as the most evolved, intelligent species that inhabit this planet.

So I am heart-sick, and I am desperate. I am desperate because I wonder just how this world that we live in going to change. Change seems to be the new buzz word. EVERYONE wants change. Everyone wants things to be different. It is in the name of this change that we look to the future and to our leaders, in the hope that they will bring this about.

One thing this means, is that a lot of people are just not happy with the status quo. But if we were to take a survey of the general population, the list of ‘things’ that people want changed would probably be an endless one – each would put forward what they would feel to be the ‘fix’ for themselves – a new government would mean less rent to pay, another might say food would be cheaper, another may say that taxes would come down, another perhaps might add that infrastructure would improve.

Whatever the ‘thing’ that needs to be changed, it would all inevitably be entirely subjective, based on an individual’s assessment of what it would take to make life better for themselves.

If it is just about ‘fixes’, then we may as well throw in the towel, put our feet up, and wait for the world to burn. Given the current state of affairs, and with the current complete lack of basic human decency, there is no easy ‘fix’ that will help. Lets get this straight – THERE IS NO ONE LEADER OR SYSTEM THAT WILL FIX YOUR WORLD FOR YOU. Period. Fullstop. Understand this, digest it, internalize it.

No-one and nothing outside of you, not even your community, or your family, is going to be able to make things right. Not on their own merit, and not by existing as an island unto themselves. It is not going to matter how much money you have, or how many safe houses you have managed to build for yourselves, or how effectively you have planned for your future.

A decent future cannot be possible, if we do not start looking after the people around us.

A decent future cannot come about, if you continue to look out just for yourself, because nowhere on this planet anymore can you exist within your own carefully constructed fortress, and avoid interacting with the world around you.

The person begging on the street may not be your problem, and you may decide that he or she would be better off getting a job, but there are no such jobs available, because you have not bothered make education available him or her.

The people living in the slums may not be your problem now, but when the tyres start burning in your streets and you can’t even leave your house to go to the airport, they will very quickly, become YOUR problem.

You may decide that because you pay your staff, you have earned the right to treat them like your slaves and get the most out of them per shilling of pay, but when the tide turns, and your staff joins a mass movement and revolts against you, you will understand the fickle nature of your industry’s (or even your domestic) foundation quicker than you can imagine.

You may decide that the world’s hunger and poverty and misery are just not of your own making, but when you decide to leave where you are, and you escape to your foreign destination, you will realize there just isn’t any green grass left on the other side of the fence anymore. Its all gone – destroyed, burnt down and cleared away to make room for the rich and industrialized – all wanting to make more and more, at the expense of the very air that you breathe.

Whether you like it or not, CHANGE is going to have to start with YOU.

So let’s cut out the bullshit. Agreed – that you are doing the best that you can right now, with just trying to make your own ends meet. Agreed – that you are trying to do your best to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your family. All things considered, you’re a good citizen, you keep your head down, and you’re ‘doing your bit’.

Here’s the challenge – if you run a corporate organization and you treat you staff like shit, you’re NOT doing your bit. If you’re a senior person in that organization, and you do nothing to stop injustices in the workplace, then you’re NOT doing your bit.
If you’re part of an organization, and you refuse to work as a team player, looking out fro those that work with you in even small ways, you’re NOT doing your bit.

If you employ domestic staff and you couldn’t care less how they or their family eats, you’re NOT doing your bit.

If you know that the guy who guards your house all night, every night gets paid a pittance, yet you don’t even bother to acknowledge him or give him an occasional cup of tea to help him while away the night, you’re NOT doing your bit.

If you drive down the streets with your windows rolled up, and ignore or look down with disdain upon everyone that approaches you (not everyone’s out to get you by the way), and continue to propagate just how much you’re ‘better’ than the guy on the street, you’re NOT doing your bit.

If you continue to sit on your ass, and not get involved in community initiatives – ANY community initiatives, and then feel the need to rant about ‘just how bad things are in the country today’, you’re NOT doing your bit.

If you live in the ‘developed’ world, but you continue to harbour racist, classist, or bigoted notions, or if you insist upon remaining cultural secluded to ensure your ‘safety’, you’re not doing your bit.

If you live in the West, then you probably already think that you’re not safe anymore, whether from acts of religious extremism, or a volatile market. If you decide to continue to ignore what’s happening in the world around you, because it’s ‘out there’, think again. By ignoring the reality of the global situation, not trying to understand how the rest of the world functions, and perpetuating the myth of ‘West knows Best’, you’re NOT doing your bit.

If you have decided not to get involved in the lives of anyone around you, other than your nearest and dearest, then I am afraid my friend, that you might want to start to wonder about your fate when the shit hits the fan.

Not ONE thing mentioned above would reduce your personal resources by any significant amount, and it may not even particularly take too much of your time to act upon. It’s all about acting like a decent human being more often. The best part is that you don’t even have to wait for anyone or anything before you start.

Just enhancing dignity for example, has tremendous potential; if your primary goal is to preserve someone’s dignity, then automatically, any form of discrimination will fall away – you are now looking at this person in a totally different way and there would be no room for any sort of prejudice. Any perceived deficiency in another would immediately be acted upon, out of simple decency. Any bad behaviour would perhaps not even be considered, and you would probably employ more tolerance, acceptance, patience and general good manners before acting.
Now imagine, if EVERYONE were just to start behaving differently, and not even drastically, just a little here and a little there, what are the possibilities for Change that we can now envisage?


So change your mind set a little – whoever you are, wherever you are. Start with yourself, and then perhaps insist on the same from others – start by treating those around you with a little more dignity and respect, and then ensure that you get the same in return.

There simply is no excuse anymore for abhorrent behaviour and just plain, pathetic bad manners. IT STARTS WITH YOU – the rest is just details.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Onwards....and Upwards

So this is Humanity’s Moment. And the People of the United States of America, together with the Citizens of the World made their Choice.

As a Victory for the people of the United States, and as a Victory for the citizens of the World, it is the starting point - an opening - to chart the course for a different type of world.

The economy, education for our children, safety, food security, basic human rights that include access to primary health care for all, our planet’s climate – these are challenges that the global community faces as a collective.

So what does it mean?

Does it mean that we look yet again to a leader, to solve our problems, or do we finally accept the power that is inherent within each of us to influence and create our own destinies?

Now that we have shattered the boundary of Race, will we continue to use the colour of our skins to assume superiority over each other? Or are we finally prepared to leave melanin out of the equation once and for all, and perhaps recognize it from now on for what it is – a beautifully demonstrative characteristic of the diversity that is the Human Race.

Now that we know that Women Can too, will we continue to utilize domination and oppression to mask our insecurities, or will we finally recognize and celebrate the exquisite and unique characteristics that are inherent to each gender?

Will we continue to use separation and differences to out rank each other economically, socially and politically, or do we recognize that we are magnificently part of a Collective that thrives best when its myriad components come together, each a unique thread that is essential to the overall integrity of the tapestry that we call Humanity?

Will we finally accept that this planet that we call Home, is a living, organic and magnificent wonder of Creation, unconditionally supportive of all that thrives on it, and in it, or will we continue to assume that it is only our species that is somehow more important that the millions of species that have an equal right to be here?

Will we accept and embrace our role as custodians of our planet, or continue to abuse and exploit it for personal gain or convenience?

Will we agree to come together to better understand those that disagree with us, and to put aside our differences to meet on a platform of compromise and tolerance? And in doing so, to recognize and embrace our diversity as intrinsically essential to creating a planetary destiny that is infinitely colourful, infinitely creative, exquisitely textured and fully reflective of the magnificence that is Life itself?

And finally, will we come together to decide, once and for all, what we hold dear to us, what we hold as our Truth in terms of our Core Values – built on a platform that is accessible to all that inhabit the world that we live in, learning from the mistakes of our past, and looking forward to construct the future of our Dreams?

The Moment is Now, and the Work has only just begun.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

To my South African Friends

Watching the news on what is going on in the country I fondly refer to my second home, I am transported back to the events in my country only five months ago. I do not want to go into how similar things are to what happened here in Kenya, nor do I wish to focus on comparing the two.

What I would like to do is to share my thoughts on what I see as a bigger picture, and how perhaps I see how an individual can play a role, from personal experience.

When Kenya erupted in December, we were not alone with regards to election violence. At the time, I remember observing two other elections that were taking place concurrently, and what perhaps struck me is how each scenario played out, it I could use that phrase.

Georgia and Pakistan both went through their electoral processes in the same time frame.

In Georgia, there were widespread claims of election rigging, and it was the popular sentiment that the elected government took office fraudulently. The people of Georgia, whilst disagreeing with the outcome, did not choose to take the matter further in terms of using violence or any forceful means. (However, as of right now, the opposition in Georgia is currently opposing the opening of parliament, claiming that the government was not fairly elected). So, there is resistance, but it is a largely peaceful one.

In Pakistan, things deteriorated to an extent of which the culmination was the assassination of a former Leader.

Kenya erupted in two ways. Most people worked hard to keep things peaceful, but a small minority erupted with sufficient momentum that nearly brought the country to its knees – the country WAS on its knees at one point.

If we were to devise a scale of chaos to depict the three scenarios, Georgia would perhaps fall at one end, Pakistan on the other, and Kenya in the middle.

This is how I see it – if I step back, and allow myself to look at the planet from a distance, it seems to me that I can see certain patterns emerging. The word that comes to mind is CHURNING. It seems that there are pockets of this churning happening in lots of different areas:

In America, the country is on the verge choosing between two members from traditionally marginalized sectors of the general population. America is rallying for Change, and either a Woman or a Black man (or a near Octogenarian) will be the one to take the lead in what has been termed as one of the most exciting election campaigns in the history of that country.

China has shown its eagerness to enter the world arena on a more even playing field by playing host to the world’s top athletes, and in doing so, through sport and entertainment, to hopefully assuage its reputation in the global arena. It has already started experiencing difficulties on more than one level – first there were the Tibetan protests, which brought to the forefront China’s human rights record, and the subsequent boycotting of the Olympic flame’s journey to Beijing, and now an earthquake that almost reached the upper end of the Richter scale in its’ magnitude.

If that wasn’t enough, a cyclone of immense proportion hit an area just south of the epicenter of the earthquake, in a country that has perhaps the worst human rights record of our current time. Also, let’s face it, no-one’s really paid any attention to Burma lately despite their being ruled by one of the worst type of military regimes.

Zimbabwe was next – the fight for fairness continues to date, with the opposition choosing the option of hanging on, not giving up, and taking the battle to court, which has culminated in a hopeful re-run of their election. Who would ever have even considered the possibility of Mugabe being ousted – we all thought he was going to take the presidency to his deathbed.

The Middle East – it seems that we are approaching crunch time here too – oil has reached an all time high of USD 135 per barrel. Analysts are now, surprise surprise, talking about a new world energy order. Al Gore paved the way forward, it won’t be long before we also take that path. Except that now it may be more out of necessity than out of choice.

And finally, South Africa. The issues of Xenophobia, poverty, inequality, and the political leadership manipulating people’s insecurities to achieve their own ends are all coming to the surface (Issues that have also surfaced elsewhere in the world). What is happening is not really coming as a surprise to people, but perhaps what is shocking is just how violent the mode of expression is. The power shortages now seem to be a somewhat lame(?) cause of worry compared to the implications of what is happening now.

Do you see a pattern? This is how I would perhaps summarise it – I see the world in the middle of an opportunity for profound Change – no, I’d rather use the word ‘Shift’. Yes, that very shift that some of you may have read about – of a quantum rise in the collective consciousness of Humanity and of the planet as a Whole.

To expound on my line of thought, I would like to use the analogy of a snow globe – you know, the ones you get at a tourist concession stand – with perhaps the Eiffel tower in it, and as you shake it, all the snow flakes go crazy and you create a little storm in the globe.

The degree of the storm in the globe depends on how hard one shakes the globe. What the shaker has control over perhaps, is how hard and how long S/he wishes to shake the globe. At some point, S/he will choose to stop shaking the globe, and allow the flakes to settle. While the snow flakes are flurrying, it looks like chaos in the globe. All hell is breaking loose. As the flakes slow down some semblance of order starts to get restored.

By the time the snow has settled, it all looks calm, but with one difference – while on the outside all looks the same, each of the snowflakes has settled in a completely different place to where it was originally. The scene looks the same, but the intrinsic environment of the globe is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT.

With reference to the predicted shift for humanity, I see the planet as that snow globe. And as a result of the positive intentions, hard work and energy of millions of individuals who have worked towards and longed for this shift, or for a better world, or a different world, a snow storm has been created in this planet/ globe. And the whole planet will be affected, at some point or another, by this storm.

The nature of the storm, or the churning, as I see it, is this.

In almost every example, I see people becoming restless, people finally reaching the end of their threshold when it comes to how much they can tolerate with regards to how they are governed, asking perhaps whether they need to be governed (??!), looking around them and realizing perhaps that life is just too incredibly hard, that they have been lied to so much, that the values they uphold are perhaps not adequate anymore, that life isn’t working according to this old rule book that has been in place for so long and which they have been following religiously (no pun intended).

That perhaps there’s more to life than just accepting what they’re told – with what they’re being told is the definition of success. That even if they agree with the conventional definition of success, how on earth are they ever going to meet that definition with the numerous challenges that they face on a daily basis – if you’re not the right colour, then you’re too poor, if you’re too poor, then you’re marginalized, if you’re marginalized, you don’t even have the opportunity to pull your self out of your situation, because someone somewhere set the limit of your ceiling and made it almost impossible for you to burst through that ceiling. If you’re not poor, then you belong to the wrong religion. If you’re not from the right ‘Faith’, then you’re an infidel, a heretic, you don’t deserve beneficience even from Divinity. And on and on and around and around we go, in circle after circle.

Perhaps this churning is a result of multitudes hoping and wishing for a different world – of higher consciousness? And if what we are experiencing is the snowstorm in the globe, then the way I see it, is that what we do have control of, is how we choose to play out our roles during this churning. Do we contribute to the chaos, or are there other means of expressing ourselves during the chaos. Do we hold the space with our very firm intentions of how we want the final scene to look, and uphold and brace humanity during the chaos, through thought, action and deed, or do we allow ourselves to get lost in the chaos, and lose ourselves along the way.

Perhaps we cannot be responsible for bracing the entire planet’s churning. But consider this – what if where we are right now, is the exact place that we wish to be on a deeper level? What if, this is where we have chosen to be at this time, whichever region of the world that we may be in right now, because this is where we felt we could make the most difference. Where we are right now then, is our niche, so to speak – the area where we could influence the most, understand the most, be loyal to the most, and be the most effective in.

If that were the case, and if we are in exactly in the right place at the right time, WHAT WILL BE OUR CHOICES?

So it’s no wonder that people are standing up. It’s no wonder that people are choosing to take a stand. Maybe we shouldn’t be too quick to judge those who are resorting to violence because for them, right now, violence is the only means through which they see themselves as having the permission to express their indignation, and their sorrow, and grief, and frustration. It is said that there is no more sacred thing than human life – but what if you were one of those for whom human life has been an experience of the worst kind of misery and degradation – how could you possibly look at that and regard it as sacred? With no benchmark for sanctity, what could you possibly be limited by or hold such dear value for, if you have no mother, father, siblings, family, cultural or national identity, or a sense of belonging to either a community, country or society?

And who has done this? The rich to the poor? The government to its people? The foreigners to the nationals? One tribe to another? The men to the women? The Church to its flock?

How about we consider perhaps, that “I did this to You” – How about “ I did this to You when I acted mean-spiritedly to you, when I thought you were different to me, when I thought to choose pride, anger, jealousy, hatred, envy, insecurity, superiority, exclusivity, ignorance over camaraderie, generosity, kindness, patience, tolerance”.

The way I see it, we have at this time, a massive opportunity to stand up, take FULL RESPONSIBILITY for Who we are, Where we are, How we choose to Act, What we choose to Say, and What we choose to Think.

I read somewhere ‘Choose Change before Change Chooses You’. Change is happening, it always has, and it is said that change is the nature of the universe so change will always happen.

If we can recognize that we are now living in a time where we are increasingly affecting each other with everything we do, say or how we behave, that countries can no longer afford to operate as islands, that ignoring the needs of those around us will inevitably have repercussions on our own lifestyles and livelihoods, then we may not be as inclined to pursue exclusively individualistic aspirations. And perhaps our increasing ability to communicate with each other at the touch of a button is a reflection of how much closer we are to operating as a collective. That being the case, the opportunity that I see in front of us then, is one of taking collective responsibility.

Where collective responsibility has been applied, it has succeeded in bringing about positive change. To name a few current examples which do not even touch the tip of the iceberg - Kenya has a coalition government, the first on the continent; the ASEAN countries have successfully applied pressure to Burma, and aid is now being allowed in; America is participating in a process that is shattering stereotypes and traditional barriers and is inspiring to millions of people.

And how would we do this? Well, we can stand tall, fill up our lungs and send a message to the entire universe, and state with utmost clarity what it is we choose for our future. We can state our choices in no uncertain terms, and then accept nothing less.

And then, we can spring into action, and act out Who We Are. YOU decide who you are and what you stand for. YOU decide what it is you want to put out there everyday. YOU have an influence on every individual that you encounter, interact with, speak to, think about, work with, work for – every person that fills your gas tank, that packs your grocery bag, that you spend your work day with, that you meet in traffic, that you pass on the street , that you buy a sandwich from, that you ask to clean your house, that keeps your garden tidy, that you go out for a meal with.

You see, while you may not be able to change the world, you can certainly BE THAT CHANGE – Gandhi said Be the Change, Mother Teresa said do small things with Great Love. Why not start Now?

All my love,

Farrah

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hope

We open our hearts in Gratitude for Peace,
We open our hearts to Healing for our Nation,
We open our hearts for Courage, Strength and Determination to build our Nation,
To create our Future – A Kenyan Future.

We have Peace - We have a platform to Create,
But we cannot afford to forget,
We still have refugees in our own country,
Our institutions are still weak.

Nurture each other,
Show little kindness to your fellow Kenyan everyday,
Reconstruction and re-building our Nation starts with You and Me.

Our journey has just begun,
Your country needs you more than ever NOW.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

'Leadership' my ar**!

I just watched Kofi Annan’s update on the Kilaguni talks. We will be forever indebted to that man. For the sake of the country, I have to continue remaining optimistic that a successful outcome will be reached. And it will. There is no other viable possibility for the present time.

But I just cannot help feeling angry at the way our future is currently being horse-traded. Keeping my optimism levels high is becoming more and more of a chore and extremely difficult to do.

To you, Mr. Politician, I wish we could tell you to you to your face how we really feel about you.

I wish you could see the disdain and the lack of respect with which we regard you. I wish we could somehow find a way to let you go, and not waste any more of our precious energy resting our hopes with you - always hoping and praying that you’ll do the right thing.

What exactly is it that we owe you? Why do we even look up to you? Why did I even bother allowing myself to be momentarily uplifted by your fake and deceitful promises? Why did I invest any faith in you?

You, all of you who claim to lead us today, have, as a GENERATION have failed us. You have allowed our communal values to disintegrate. You have allowed us to become a people divided by greed, self-interest and exclusiveness.

While we wait out every day with bated breath, you continue to haggle with each other over who will retain the most power, trying to ensure that you maintain your upper hands and your control. You’re STILL not seeing the real picture – you are so blinded by your self importance, and your inflated egos, and you really don’t give a damn about what happens to millions of us.

Oh how I wish there was some way to get rid of the lot of you. How I wish we all felt more empowered, more able, more confident, more enthusiastic, more determined, because if we did, trust me – you wouldn’t stand a chance. But you know that already, don’t you? It’s why you use what you use to oppress us, to keep us down, to make us fearful, to make us insecure and uncertain. You try to destroy our strength every opportunity that you get.

What goes around, comes around. No power lasts forever. No family is always safe. The sins of the fathers will always be revisited on future generations. Maybe you’ll keep your children safe, but perhaps you’ll be around to see the legacy that you left your grand-children. You will only have yourselves to judge.

So go ahead – fill your bellies to bursting, steal as much as you want, fulfill every self-serving desire, because your grandchildren will be the ones to inherit a world that is so bursting with poverty, that they will not be able to step out of the safety of the palaces that you built for them because their security will be threatened with every step that they take. They will not be able to step out of their palaces because the environment that they live in is so filthy that a mere breath will make them ill. They will not be able to walk and live freely because there will be no concept of neighbourliness – you had them all killed.

Their lives will be filled with boredom, because you eliminated diversity when you brought about your divisive thinking.

So go ahead – negotiate, horse trade, make your deals, and stick with your myopic and petty thinking.

You will pay the price, and no amount of cash is going to help you settle the bill and you certainly won’t have built up any credit.

Enough said.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Creating Our Future - A Kenyan Solution

We are all hoping for a successful outcome from the mediation talks. As of Friday last week (8th Feb), there are signs of both sides backing down from their hard-line stance to a more optimistic consensus, perhaps with regards to a possible power-sharing arrangement. So far, this is probably the closest we have come to a coalition of sorts, albeit for a short term period.

The interim period, with possible power sharing, will perhaps now lend a platform from which we will be able to discern and determine how we want to move forward formally. By formally, I mean that we may now perhaps look at constitutional changes that will allow for a decentralised presidency, an independent judiciary, and new legislation that will address land policy reforms, resource allocation, and increased accountability within the constituency framework.

All of these have been addressed at some level or another during the constitutional review carried out a few years ago. Perhaps now is the time, and an opportunity for our leadership to actively address these concerns.

The aspect that I would like to bring to the forefront in this piece is one that is perhaps less tangible and more ‘informal’, if I could call it that.

At the start of the ‘crisis’, the violence, looting and turmoil was ascribed to a reaction towards a flawed and stolen election. A couple of weeks later, there were claims that the ongoing violence was a result of a reaction that stemmed from retaliation to the initial violence and displacement of people from the Rift Valley region. It seemed at the time, that the violence was tribally motivated. Two weeks after that, in yet another apparent reaction, gangs of young individuals claiming an affiliation to a specific militia group went on a rampage in revenge attacks, again in what seemed to be yet more retaliation in an escalating situation.

There is some truth in each of these claims. I say some, because whereas the reasons given in each instance are valid, I do not think that they reflect the entire truth of the overall situation.

From the numerous editorials in the daily newspapers, most will agree that the problem facing Kenyans today is one of greater complexity. On the surface, we may deduce from the turn of events that there are tribal divisions and underlying resentments relating to an inequitable division of national resources. Fair enough, but I think the problem goes deeper.

Like most developing countries, Kenya’s evolving democracy has had to address a myriad of problems and issues relating to power and governance, resource allocation, and poverty alleviation to name a few, against a back drop of cultural, traditional and ethnic diversity. If the challenges arising from the colonial ‘divide and rule’ methods have not been addressed adequately, it is perhaps because we assumed that economic empowerment would be the great equalizer in the long term. The notion that economic wealth will eventually ‘trickle down’ from the upper and emerging middle classes has been a long standing development theory.

In the last four years, it seemed that the theory would be proved in the Kenyan example – our country had achieved 7% per cent growth, and most sectors in our economy were thriving. We were a ‘busy’ nation, there was a discernable buzz in the air, and investor confidence had improved markedly. Our emerging ‘bourgeoisie’ – or middle class, were doing just that – emerging. Yes, there was still gross inequality and poverty, but we were not much different that most developing countries in our path of evolution. We all felt that we had come so far – after all, defeating an autocratic system and a free press were huge gains that we had made in the last seven years and this contributed to our sense of national pride. In addition, surely our security was guaranteed to some extent, given how far we had evolved democratically.

It didn’t take much to bring down the house of cards. And in retrospect, this is not surprising either. Because there were still too many imbalances in the system to allow us the ultimate guarantee of security. There was a point when we were almost relegated to the status of 'yet another African a country on the brink of civil war', and therefore not much different from our African neighbours.

But here’s the thing – there is something that sets us lightly apart as Kenyans, and makes us a little different.

Not only did we as an African nation defeat a post-colonial autocracy peacefully, but we defeated a government referendum and SUCCEEDED IN RESTORING PEACE at a time when we were almost written off as a country that would lapse into civil war.

I wonder if we realize the immense power and strength of what we have just accomplished in the past few weeks. I wonder if anyone truly understands just how important and powerful we are as a People, how the VALUES that we uphold as a People have saved the day for us? And this is just the tip of the iceberg – if this is what we have managed to achieve when under pressure, just how much more can we achieve if we truly unite as a COLLECTIVE in ‘peace-time’?

The events of the past few weeks have affected EVERYONE. There is not one single person that can claim to not have been affected directly. If you stayed at home in the first week, you were affected directly. If you were afraid to go out, you were affected directly. If you wondered about the safety of your future and if you asked the question ‘Where will I go?, you were affected directly. I say this because in my discussions with various people, now that we have restored ourselves to some semblance of calm, I can already see signs of the familiar dissipating interest in the situation.

And it is this familiar ennui that scares me. As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, the human memory of pain is short – the memory of the pain lingers, but because the intensity has dissipated, we tend to become complacent about the cause of the pain.

I would like to use the analogy of a boil. A boil is a sore on the skin which can be an extremely painful and an ungainly condition. It may not be apparent at first, by if left untended, it festers and becomes infected, grows in size and may lead to many secondary complications. And I would use the analogy of the boil to describe what has happened to us in Kenya.

We had a boil on our skin. Our boil is the hopeless poverty, inequality, frustration, hunger, desperation and suffering of at least two generations. For a long time we hid the boil under our sleeves, hoping it would either go away or heal over time. Without invalidating the suffering endured over the past few weeks, I would like to point out that perhaps all that has happened is that the boil finally burst. And it has been excruciatingly painful and messy. I would like to think that all is not lost - not yet anyway. We still have a chance to treat our wounds, and to ensure that we remain blemish free in the future.

So let's examine the cause of our condition. We are quick to invalidate urban settlements such as Kibera by terming them as as illegal, but do we realize that an entire generation has been born and raised in these settlements?

Think about it. Individuals from the rural areas are forced to migrate to urban centres seeking a means to earn a living because the infrastructure in the rural areas is simply not adequate to allow the community to thrive in a sustainable manner. As this happens, the rural structures that have allowed communities to survive in the past are gradually eroded, as the community is broken up. This leads to a disintegration of the value-system in the rural village, as elders and women are forced to fend for themselves, and children are increasingly considered as a resource rather than the community’s wealth. And this is just the beginning of the story.

As the individuals migrate to the urban centres, the cost of living simply does not allow them to establish any meaningful mode of existence, and small informal settlement begin to form which are regarded as illegal.

I don’t need to go into the developmental model of the consequences of rural to urban migration, but I think you get the picture. In twenty years, we now have over one third of the city’s residents living in such informal, illegal settlements. The government will not do anything about this, because technically, they are illegal. The same is happening in all the other towns. The generation that has been born and raised in these settlements has done so in the absence of a communal value system.

Most children have been abandoned, or have parents that struggle beyond normal human endeavor to provide for their children. Almost all have had no access to a village or traditional culture which would provide a level of safety and a value system or framework that would contribute to a sense of identity and belonging. The absence of elder members of the community and of general communal responsibility would only enhance their sense of disengagement from society.

The issues run deep, and there are no apparent or immediate solutions.

I am not about to propose that we change any of the above. Neither am I going to propose that we tackle the issue of government responsibility, or that we tackle the issue of slums, or that we tackle the issue of rural to urban migration. I’ll leave that for the policy makers and for the politicians and the NGO’s.

All I am attempting to do, at this stage, is to try and paint the picture as it is. I will even desist from making a judgment on the ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’ of this picture.

All I am trying to do is to bring to the forefront a representation of what I see as the consequences of all our collective actions and choices as a Nation to date.

Let me repeat that. Where we are and what we are today, is a product of all the choices and actions that we have made as a combined collective. That’s all. No more, no less. Some may say the overall picture looks good, some may say it looks bad. Some may say there’s lots of room for improvement, some may defend their position and say we’ve done the best that we can – we can argue about this forever, and that is why I would just like, at this time, to step back and look at ourselves form a distance, and take stock, if you will, of where we are today.

If we do that, then perhaps we’ll be in a position to assess ourselves carefully. If we’re able to do this, without getting caught up in defensive positions, if we can do it without pointing fingers at each other for the things that we see that we don’t like, perhaps we’ll be able to look at ourselves critically, and without placing any blame anywhere, discuss what we like about ourselves, what we don’t like, what serves us, and what doesn’t.

Perhaps we can even go further, and decide what we would like to take forward with us, what we would like to discard forever, what lessons we have learned, and how we can use those lessons to assist us in mapping out a future of our own making.

I see in front of us at this time, a huge opportunity. They say that there are two ways to teach a child – either you can teach it lovingly, with patience and care, and if the child responds, you have done well. The second way is to allow the child to learn from its own mistakes. This method can be more painful for the child, and is filled with greater uncertainty, but the lessons learnt are more ingrained as they come with the scars of experience.

We can either sit back and learn from the wisdom of the lessons of our African neighbours, or we can move forward with the courage of those children who will learn from their mistakes and suffering. We will get there, either way. We need not look at our suffering as a set-back. We can sit up, lick our wounds, pick up our brothers and sisters who have fallen in the process, and decide as a collective to move forward together.

We can, right now, say that we have had enough suffering, and come together immediately to decide our way forward, or we can allow time to go by and wait for our lessons to come in the Future. Either way, lessons must be learned. When and how we will learn them is only a matter of time, and a matter of CHOICE. So the big question is: What do YOU choose?

At the time of writing this piece, we have been assembling a media campaign that will address the question of our values as a nation. The media campaign is one that will address the question of VALUES – what are our values as a nation, as a community, as an individual, as the middle class, as the private sector etc. It is a campaign that targets all individuals on an even platform to address the concepts of taking responsibility (and what that means), creating accountability (and identifying who is accountable and how) and identifying our common values.

Our hope is to reach out to people through print media as well as radio stations. We are asking all interested individuals to get in touch with us and all are welcome to participate. Our goal is also to reach out to civil society groups and individuals working in the legislature to effect change based on a system of commonly adopted values.

WE CAN CHOOSE CHANGE, BEFORE CHANGE CHOOSES US.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Practical Spirituality - An enhanced way of Living

The first two blog posts were both about Kenya and I guess I don’t really want my blog to be all political and so I decided to post this article which I had intended for a column in daily newspaper. It basically follows the principle of ‘Be the Change you wish to see’ (I just love that ol’ skinny guy).

Spirituality – a word that perhaps conjures up images of Monks, Mystics and an Ascetic way of Living. Almost all of us today have come across numerous aspects of the New Age movement including transformational workshops, Yoga, meditation, breathing techniques and visiting Ashrams to find that elusive inner peace and happiness.

Yes, wonderful for all those people who may have the time to devote to inner search and the meaning of life, you may say, but perhaps its not something you consider adding or adapting your current lifestyle to for many reasons – time, practicality or simply the current circumstances of your own life.

Well, this article demonstrates how you can perhaps transform a simple, mundane task that you perform on a regular basis, into a more meaningful and enhanced experience.

Whereas we may regard or expect spiritual experiences to be of the profound, near-ecstatic, potentially out-of-body kind, I suggest that ANY experience that brings an individual greater Joy, or an enhanced sense of well-being, or even a generally ‘feel good’ sensation could perhaps be regarded as a spiritual experience.

Consider this – any experience that makes you feel good in your body, that brings about a sense of heightened awareness, (as long it does not bring about any harm to the individual or to those around, and as long as it is done with integrity and with good intention) could be considered a spiritual experience.

After all, it is now often heard that we are perhaps Spiritual Beings having a Human Experience – a little too far out? Well, let me give you an example.

Take Driving, for instance. Those of us that do drive, are all aware of the general ‘un-state’ of the roads, and the traffic, and the inconsiderate drivers etc. Most of us brace ourselves for a traffic jam at some point in time during the day, and most of us even end up getting stuck in an inadvertent traffic jam at a most unexpected hour. So how could driving in this city, possibly be turned into a so called spiritual experience that brings about joy and all those other lovely emotions?

Well, here’s a scenario – you brace yourself for a two hour wait on Mombasa Road at about 5.00 pm. This is something you do everyday. Its something you wish you didn’t have to do, but short of leaving work at 3 o’clock, you pretty much know that this is what its going to be like for today. So you’re in the traffic, and there’s a car in front of you, and one behind you, and a ditch to your right, and well, another car to your left. So you’re stuck. It’s hot, the radio’s on the blink, and the traffic cop seems to be favouring all the other directional traffic lanes but yours.

You have two choices. You can work yourself up into a silent, seething rage, with shallow breathing and all or……take a deep breath. Just that - take a deep breath, then another one, and another. As you calm down, you realize that you sink back into your seat (this pretty much happens naturally). As you sink back into your seat, something amazing happens – you suddenly start to care a lot less about the traffic! A part of you resignedly accepts the situation as it is. So you sit back, and perhaps start tapping your fingers lightly on the steering wheel, and as you do so, you start looking around.

You notice the street vendors, the people on bicycles precariously trying to weave their way through traffic, and the numerous others trudging home on foot. Perhaps you now appreciate the fact that you have a car to drive home in. You also now suddenly start seeing the insanity of the other drivers who, just like you two minutes ago, are still trying to cram themselves in through the one foot gap between two cars! As the insanity becomes apparent, you immediately give way to someone in front of you.

Now, because of your new state of calmness, you realize that you’re here for the next 20 minutes or so at the least. So you do a really crazy weird thing. Forgetting about how unsafe it is to roll down your window because of crime etc, you actually allow yourself to do so for a breath of fresh (or fume filled) air. As you do so, one of the street vendors comes up to you, but now you’re feeling calm, and so you don’t regard him as a potential deviant. Instead you strike up a friendly conversation with him. Because you’re in good spirits, you manage to convince him that you don’t want to buy your tenth pack of peanuts for the day, and the most surprising thing happens - he smiles back at you – and tells you to have a great day! You say something similar to him and the traffic starts to move, and suddenly you’re moving forward, but now you’re feeling really great!

As you move forward in traffic, the feeling carries forward with you. Now, all you have done is shifted your perspective on the situation. But you’re left with a net result of generally pleasant feel good sensations. You probably will end up getting home feeling better than you did then when you left work.

So, you have now felt, in order of appearance – calm, accepting, observing, grateful, considerate, free of fear, patient, smiled at a stranger, and optimistic. I don’t know about you, but I call that Spiritual.

Have a little patience today – and show a little consideration. It’ll go a long way.

Who will Save Kenya - Part 2

It’s been just over three weeks now, and we, as Kenyans have been through an extremely trying and turbulent period.

We have experienced, outrage, anger, indignation, sorrow, shock, numbness, disbelief, fear, and sometimes, just a certain quietness.

The trauma to our psyche is apparent everywhere. However, whilst acknowledging the anger that has been felt, and without invalidating the deep indignation towards the injustices that have been carried out, I would like to shift the focus to what I can only term as a certain kind of ‘Magic’ that has happened:

  • The outpouring of support from Kenyans TO Kenyans has been phenomenal. There are people who have gone out on a limb to share and give of their time and their resources, to help in any which way that they can.
  • Companies have actually gone out and paid for advertising that calls on Kenyans to Help save Kenya, and have donated large amounts of money and resources to help with the relief efforts.
  • There are brave individuals who have risked everything to shelter those that were fleeing from violence.
  • Media companies have collaborated with each other to propagate relief efforts and to call for peace. The messages that they have sent out are bold, honest and defiant towards any kind of divisive behaviour or attitudes.
  • The Institutions coordinating the relief effort are actually now trying to figure out the best way to get the aid to the people, and not primarily worrying about whether or not they have enough to go around. (I am not saying that they have more than enough, but am merely pointing out just how much has been donated to the Red Cross by Kenyans and her Friends).
  • I just saw a message from the Tourism Board in the newspapers today that was honest, direct, and laid the cards on the table in a forthright manner that one would never see ordinarily – it mentioned how the MP’s attended parliament, went about their business, came to their conclusions, and adjourned, thereby securing their salaries etc for another term. It then asked Kenyans whether they could expect the same for themselves. There are many more companies being similarly non-conventional, honest and direct in their approach.
  • Kenyans from all walks of life have called for and have rallied for Peace, both in word, and in action, barring the actions of a misled minority. And this perhaps has been the most consistent, prevalent and unifying aspect of the past few weeks. If Kenyans have spoken, then surely this has been our most significant and resounding statement.
  • With incredible resilience, courage and determination, and in the in the midst of uncertainty, insecurity, inconvenience and severe constraints, Kenyans have gone back to work, in order to try and restore, with whatever means they have available, some semblance of order to our everyday lives.
In the first week, it really did seem that we were on the verge of sinking into a situation that so many of our sister countries have found themselves in – one of civil war, ethnic divide and incredible chaos. It almost seemed, for a time, that the situation was spiraling out of control at an unstoppable pace.

We were so numbed by the sheer momentum of the turn of events, to the point that we were almost incapacitated into helplessness.

However, what has emerged is what I have pointed out above, and this is why I have called it nothing short of MAGIC. Despite the international media sensationally predicting genocide and ethnic divides, despite the doom and gloom painted by outside observers (not completely invalid but certainly in my opinion inflated), despite the immense amount of fear that we have experienced and despite the immense suffering that we have undergone in such a short time, we have yet again, SURVIVED..

FOR NOW.

And I’ll say it again – FOR NOW.

We have come this far and we have survived, but it would serve us well to remember, that the temporary comfort that we have fought to bring about in the past few weeks is still a very fragile and transient comfort. To illustrate the point that I am trying to make, I will use the analogy of a multiple injury accident.

At the time the accident happened, there was a colossal amount of pain, acute shock, and without being glib, lots of blood loss and acute suffering for the first few days. After a few weeks, (not withstanding the continual pockets of violence that we are still hearing about), the worst of the PAIN seems to have lessened. What we are now experiencing, is akin to post traumatic pain. The wounds are still sore, they may still bleed from time to time, and there are a lot of emotions related to the injury itself that have yet to be dealt with. In addition, we are still accident prone, with the risk of further injury a very real possibility.

Human memory of pain in itself is short. And I don’t mean this in a bad way – perhaps we are programmed to forget the intensity of the pain to facilitate our moving on. The grief or sorrow that replaces the pain is perhaps a lesser burden to bear than the pain itself in that it is not as debilitating as pain. I say this because for now, it seems that with the lessening of the pain, some semblance of order has been restored. And perhaps I am afraid that the temporary relief that we are experiencing will lull us into a false sense of comfort about the risk of further injury being a possibility, and lead us to underestimating the fragility of our situation.

A political outcome at this stage is completely uncertain and unpredictable. In addition, there is a general consensus that the continued unrest is not even the result of genuine demonstrators protesting against the election results, but the opportunistic endeavours of a misled, dangerous and criminalistic minority determined to disrupt and destroy lives and livelihoods in a senseless manner.

It would seem, to the outside observer, that our future today largely depends on the actions and decisions of a handful of individuals who are holding the mere title of 'leadership'.

I see it very differently. We have, in my opinion, available at this moment a tremendous opportunity to harness the phenomenal amount of goodwill, courage, resilience and determination, and to USE this TO TAKE OURSELVES FORWARD INTO A FUTURE OF OUR OWN MAKING.

It has already been proven to us that those that we call leaders do not really listen to what those they are trying to lead are calling for. It is being continually proven to us that the institution that we call government never really has, and is certainly not at the moment doing its job of providing a safe and enabling environment for its citizens. In the midst of the greatest of hardship, and with very little resources, Kenyans have continued time after time to wake up every day and, with or without transport, with or without roads, with or without security, with or without services gone about in the best way that they know, to make a living. It is Kenyans who put food on the table for their families – Kenyans, in this time of crisis, who have come to the aid of fellow Kenyans, Kenyans who have come together to call for peace, and through conscious inaction and non-violence brought about that very fragile Peace.

We have come this far. With almost no means at our disposal, we have come this far. We have so much goodwill (in the form of positive intentions) and potential at this moment. Add the third magic ingredient of rightful action, and we can have forward movement.

The question now perhaps, is not so much as Who will save Kenya, but HOW will WE save KENYA?

This is the time for us to come together to decide on what our values are. This is the time for us to come together to decide as a Nation, what we truly stand for. This is the time for us to come together to decide what is genuinely important to Kenyans. This is the time to come together to REMEMBER BEFORE WE FORGET. This is the time for us to come together to acknowledge the value of Peace. This is the time for us to come together to make promises to ourselves that we will never break. This is the time for us to come together to make a commitment to our children and to our future generations that we will not fail them. This is the time for us to come together to decide how we want to be led.

This is the time to come together. Is there anyone out there listening?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Who will save Kenya?

Speaking to almost everyone that I have an opportunity to engage with in the past two weeks, this has been the common consensus:

* Kenyans stood in long lines for hours on December 27th 2007 to exercise their constitutional right, and voted.

* Everyone that I have spoken to, without exception, is shell-shocked – both by the senseless violence and the killings, which no Kenyan would ever had expected to happen in our country in this day and age.

* Everyone, without exception, wants Peace. And that’s Peace with a capital ‘P’.

* Almost all feel that both parties are to blame, and the general consensus is that the politicians are merely power hungry, and looking to serve their own interests – which primarily involve the Number One Seat and power.

* When asked if they would go out on the streets, all again, without exception said No, because, they asked, who would feed us the next day?

* On the question of tribalism, almost all that I have spoken to, simply cannot understand the intentions of the groups that have propagated the violence in the name of tribalism. How can we be tribal? One woman even went as far as to say that being a Kikuyu herself, she was primarily concerned with the welfare of her colleagues, who are from different tribes, and during the unrest, she kept calling and checking up on all of them to see if they were ok and if they needed anything. The thought that they were from different tribes did not even cross her mind.

What is emerging, is that over time, our interactions with one another have ‘humanised’ us – we have come to regard each other as a colleague, an employer, a neighbour, a friend, or just someone whose services we may use from time to time.

And that, in my opinion, is not from the evolution of democracy, resulting in a government that looks after and feeds it people, but from a People or population that has evolved by embracing the diversity presented by a multitude of races, cultures and tribes. This diversity has included the acceptance, adoption and propensity for a multitude of lifestyles and interests, as well as resulting in the evolution of a culture unique to the People of this country.

Kenyans are bound by their loyalty to their Nation. We are primarily a friendly People, blessed with a sense of humour and an intelligence that allows even a less economically fortunate individual to appreciate the nuances of politics or the idiosyncracies of human nature.

Which is why we have all been so taken aback by the turn of events in the last few weeks. Kenyans are not fools. Being an eternally optimistic People, we are always seeking change – change which hopefully brings about forward movement, be it economically, personally, politically, or even culturally. And it is with this optimism that Kenyans turned out in huge numbers to vote. We are not a foolish people. If we were perhaps na├»ve enough to believe that our future could be governed by one man, I would like to say it is because of our innate optimism. Realistically, not many truly believed that there would be a huge leap forward, but for us, even a little change would be good.

It is with this optimism and determination that we defeated an entrenched autocratic system and bought in ‘Mabadiliko’(Change) in 2002. It is with the same resilience that we defeated a Government Referendum, put forward by a government that thought it could fool the people into voting for a flawed constitution.

In both instances, it was not the politicians that brought in change – IT WAS THE PEOPLE. Of course, we must give due credit to those that spoke out and allowed us to come together with one voice. And perhaps we can be forgiven to think that the person who speaks out the loudest should naturally be the one to lead us. But I honestly do not think that it will ever be about one person leading us. How could that be?

For a society that thrives IN Pluralism, with so much of a mix of different interests and cultures and lifestyles, how could just one human being be responsible for overseeing, managing, and nurturing all the millions of differences?

And this is why I put forward the opinion, that for Africa, and I’ll be specific to Africa for the present time, with its history of traditional tribal culture, colonialism and diversity, COALITION can be the only way forward.

Having spoken to many people over the last week and a half or so, many say that if asked to vote again, they would not do so! Who would we vote for, they ask. And why should we vote if this is what the ultimate result would be.

And so, in the final analysis, all political parties are to blame, and all have proven in some way or another, that their personal ambitions supercede the desires and welfare of the people they wish to lead. Sacrifice a few now, and all will reap the rewards later.

And in doing so, they have proven, that they do not truly understand the Pulse of this Nation. That they do not understand the extent to which Kenyans have evolved not just as citizens, but as a branch of humanity itself.

I said before the election, that I was making a CONSCIOUS choice not to vote. Not because I wasn’t bothered, or that what would it matter if I did anyway. But I said that if there was a box on the ballot which said ‘none of the above’. Then that is where I would place my ‘tick’. When asked why, I simply said that I was not willing to give my vote to another human being who I simply did not have any faith in. After all, if things did go wrong, I would only have myself to blame, because with my vote, I endorsed that individual and gave him the power to lead in me in manner as he saw fit.

When asked who I would vote for, I said that I would vote for that person, who would have the economic acumen and experience of one of the candidates, the passion of the other candidate, and the diplomacy of the third. Impossible? I don’t think so – after all, isn’t that what defines a Coalition?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hello!!

Having just set up this Blog, I don't really want to launch into long explanations of who I am, or what I do. This is a medium through which I will choose to express my opinions and ideas on various issues, and you are welcome to share in them, engage in discussion about them, discard them or simply read and move on.

Either way, I am sure that those that know me will breathe a sigh of relief now that I have found an alternative medium to express myself, and I look forward to using it to share my thoughts, opinions and ideas with all of you - Old and New Friends.

So.....WELCOME.....to my 2 Sense!!! :)