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.