Sunday, March 28, 2010

non violence in Kenya


You can’t change Kenya only because tomorrow you want the biggest office in the land! I respect those who want to go for big offices but let them be sure it change not only for them to get there!) That might not make any difference to system so deranged!

Summary of a talk at a public forum, sponsored by WAJIBU, at the Goethe Institut, 2 July 2009

Philo Ikonya

I think that we are no longer asking if a revolution will come to Kenya. The question we are asking is: how will it come about? Will change be peacefully achieved? Will it be non-violent? I am here to talk about non-violent options.
But we must take note of where we are. I see a Kenya that always has had violence somewhere: for instance, the violence represented by the disappeared and the assassinated. And then there is teargas to meet you if you speak out about the many commissions investigating the violence and which have not brought an end to it.

Beyond that, there is the violence of poverty, of deprivation.Those hit by this type of violence may even be totally unaware of the violence of corruption, of greed and inefficiency in the management of public funds. These people are daily covered by the dust the big vehicles of our MPs blow on them as they pass them to represent them in Parliament. This is the same Parliament that rejected the formation of the Local Tribunal investigating the post-election violence and unanimously defended its hefty salaries and perks. It is also the Parliament that refused to have any extraordinary sessions around the country or to agree to bury the dead together after post-poll violence.
What are our options, faced as we are with the fact that our inability to heal such deep rifts might spark renewed violence?

My option

I believe in justice. I have faith. I believe that other people have and have had this same conviction and that their faith has helped to bring about change in the societies where they lived and live and that they have brought some measure of peace to the world. I believe in searching for peace even in the eyes of a policeman hitting out at you. For they, the police, are victims. I am going to be blunt and say that the peace and stability that Kenya experiences today, the small measure of peace and stability if you prefer, is actually a result of violence. For when some people see violence in terms of blood and spilt entrails, they start working for peace. But if the types of violence surrounding them are invisible to them they may not act.

Seeking justice

Ignoring situations only breeds more violence. Those who turn a deaf ear to injustice fail to see that they cannot expect good things only for themselves. For it is has now become obvious in Kenya that people would rather die than remain poor for generations. Their dignity is daily experiencing an affront that they cannot tolerate. In the past in Kenya, about 500 people were killed for the rape of two Maasai girls during the construction of the railway. We do not go for death but where is this burning sense of punishing gone and left us with a huge stone of impunity on our plates? In Senegal, some women opposing slavery committed suicide. Kenyans do not need to do this. Here we die everyday in many ways and we have already had too many martyrs dying for this nation. Do you know how many people die monthly from consummation of illicit brews and how many in our hospitals and homes from neglect?

But, when seeking for justice, there is no place to hide. All of us should work boldly to obtain it, for, as J.M. Kariuki said, we cannot afford to have a government for the few. Part of justice is the right to livelihood: that we can eat well, sleep under a decent roof and have access to sanitation that does not ruin the environment. We must allow ourselves no matter if we are in comfort now, no matter how peaceful things might be for you just now, to cut deep and see if we are enforcing justice all around us for without it, we cannot expect peace.


We may get somewhat disconcerted when we hear the words peace and non-violence. Living as we do in a violent environment, we must make a definite intention to seek peace. We cannot afford to be passive while others are preparing violent ways.
Alternatives to violence exist and they include incessant action so that everyone may possess:
• Reminding public office bearers including the principals that they are humus… for this nation, just manure. Humility in office to serve.. and all the ministers and people in power are humus from which the word humility comes and humility here means living the truth, not a funny posture or inability to assert one self. It does not mean preaching to others all the time and doing nothing ourselves. We elect our leaders. We are to blame when they are poor.

• Enforcing a new type of leadership that shuns corruption through an election
• Renewing fearlessly our governance arrangements in education and health
. changing the minds of those who would police and meaning of policing as service....
• Finding ways of leading disenchanted young people to connect their plight of deep unhappiness to hope and faith. If you think they are in militias for fun you are mistaken.
• We must open deep inside the heart and mind of every citizen to love a return to self and to African ways of democracy and peace and plant the longings that we take for granted for hope and faith that it is possible even if it takes reggae.
• Transformative power must be accessible to all and that includes creativity.
• Renewing our commitment to the values and laws in the new constitution ( if we get it and if we do not get it, finding spaces to repeat and reconnect with these values.)..
• Media agenda setting for justice and hearing of all.
• Enforcement of rule of law
• Proactive willing and open communication on how we feel about others.

• Non-violent communication.
• Principles and techniques, that is obtaining peace knowledge, both traditional and new.
• Pro-activity in the prevention of new power-related violence.
• Ability to deal with cultural conflicts.

The Kenyan context

When we talk of Kenya, we mean Kenya as the entire nation; we look at the haves and the have-nots and at those who could have had more but instead have helped the have-nots to move up. We also look at those who put up barriers that prevent others from moving up.
We look at the marginalized. They face poverty, political marginalisation, discrimination related to ethnic origin, tribe, age, sex, beliefs and everything else that can make one different from the majority and therefore vulnerable. On the other hand, we are also looking at the individual person as a driver of change. In other words: we are not asking, what can we do? We are saying this is what I, we will do. We are accepting that individuals act in thousands of ways against situations that are unjust. We are taking into account that our small actions matter and when done in their thousands, that they can trigger an unstoppable momentum. Each person may prefer to do their own thing with regard to what they face individually as human beings. However, when we find we are facing similar problems we need a major joint solution to give greater meaning to our small efforts.
We have poverty in terms of what to eat and drink. But we also have poverty of ideas. Every day, all of us, anywhere, can wake up with an idea that will help us and our children get through the day. Let that bind us together and not tribal origins.
Upon waking up in any slum, a person’s first concern is where to find a toilet. One can find that toilet peacefully or fight with someone else to use it first, the way we used to see people fight to enter a matatu. (public-service vehicle) Similar fights are going on every day with respect to space, food, privacy, work. We are always struggling to serve those close to us because we feel our dignity needs this. Yet, these are the things that can fuel violence.
It is estimated that in Kibera there is one toilet for every 200 people. This is violence. Violence does not only happen when you pick up a machete. It happens whenever you have poverty, a deep and hopeless poverty, a poverty that is tolerated by the powers that be to the extent that the person born into it knows he will die in it. It is when people are trapped by this kind of poverty and at the same time surrounded by a show of affluence by the haves that physical violence becomes a means of self-expression. It is at this point that people no longer care if they die, how they die and who dies. It is not a matter of putting projects in Kibera and Mathare. It is urgent to put a project into the hands of all Kenyans who are soon planning to move to Mathare or Kibera because of rural poverty and to rehabilitate and close slum life standards. Yes, it is.
Someone says it: “a child who dies of hunger today, it is murdered.” We cannot have peace in a world where people are regularly murdered in this way. Many poor people die, either slowly or violently, simply because they are poor. The statistics tell us that 100, 000 people die of hunger every day, and every seven minutes a child below ten dies of hunger. Going to such places to say, “Peace be with you!” does not work if there is no jihad against the causes of injustice.

What drives change?

Change does not happen without millions of movements taking place first in the mind, then physically and finally in our national decision-making and government action. There are serious unresolved socio-political issues. Why do we have so many failed states? Why are people creating wealth at the expense of others all the time?
There is a possibility of overcoming these barriers so that social justice and stability are reached. And there is a way of overcoming inequalities through a non-violent approach.
We need individuals to embrace the prospect of change, especially change for the poorest and for the most marginalized. We must have a government that understands its people and listens to them because we say we are a democracy.
You saw how people in an area called Kiserian in Marigat spoke about the pain of violence caused by fifteen people dressed in black, who came into homesteads and killed cattle. One man said; “ My shamba lies there dead, for this livestock is my shamba. What am I supposed to do and I have a family to feed and children in school?” When you see dead cattle and, at the same time, children who have had to quit school because they were forced to close, you touch and smell violence.
It was refreshing to listen to Wangari Maathai on a BBC forum challenging us by asking why Africa tops in most negative things: disease and poverty and (I guess) ignorance.
Acting in a non-violent way is not breaking anything. In fact, in our circumstances, being non-violent actually means being prepared how to handle violence all the time. Violence is here and I cannot wish it away. We know it. We see reports of abductions, murders, militia operations, grisly road accidents. We go to places like Kenyatta National Hospital or our own district hospital and find violation instead of healing.
There are ways in which anybody – including those in power – can stem violence and create peace. Regardless of who you are, you can benefit from what the organisation, Alternatives to Violence offers: training to people to act in a non-violent way.

Transformative power- Creativity

We have power that lives in us, is around us, something that speaks to us without words, no matter our educational level or class in society. Do I trust in my own power? My first word in this sharing was “I”. Do I trust in myself and in the power in others to seek peaceful solutions?
How? We should make it clear that we not only expect the best from ourselves but also that we expect the best from our leaders. Accepting personal responsibility for situations is vital. What role did I play in the last election, either before of after? Do I truly care for my country, for people in this country? Do I affirm them? One way of caring for others and affirming them is listening to their concerns for they also have knowledge.
People are not lesser human beings because they are poor. In fact, Africa is not a poor continent. We should not be ashamed of ourselves; we should believe in ourselves and in our African ways of solving conflics. Violence is active… you have seen what horrible photos you can get from it. Reconciliation must also be active. The plight of the internally displaced is too evident of the fact that we are not serious about proactive reconciliation.
Non-violenct communication
Right now you can opt to have the kind of dialogue that either creates peace or reminds others of the things that create discontent.
Think before reacting. This is especially necessary with our politicians. No one is supposed to follow another blindly. Try unexpected solutions, including humour. Let us laugh at ourselves and at our strange ways of acting or being. Let us try to enjoy our strengths and weaknesses together.

Transforming leadership and media

Whatever else happens we must transform all the levels of power in this country: the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature. We cannot afford to continue in the same mould. We need bold radicalism in our choice of leaders. We must dream of eradicating the slums, creating jobs in millions. Stand up, you visionaries, industrialists and act for your country today.. Do not begin by doing it in order to get a post in government or parliament. Let the people re-define parliament as bunge la mwananchi (people’s parliament) have done; let the people redefine what they understand a parliamentarian to be: namely, a mjumbe, the bearer of messages to government. Let our Parliament reflect the true face of Kenyans.. not just the rich and connected!
We must participate in our media and to be the ones who tell our local radios when they are being tribal. After all, only if you speak the language broadcast can you catch the nuances! I would have wished to see a program of reconciliation produced and followed by every media station in this country and especially by those that led people to violence. What non-violence programs or ways are being put in place? Who will be allowed to dominate Kenya’s public space tomorrow? The fourth estate must play their role, just like community radios are doing. They must play a major part in turning this pyramid of a few rich people on top upside down!

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