A Nigerian-American journalist in Kenya

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Scenes in Kenya: Finale October 14, 2010

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I left Kenya at the end of my residency program on Sept. 14. Kenya, I’ll be back…!

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The ground from whence I come (Goodbye Kenya)

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“One who is climbing a tree, must still come down.”

I am truly grateful for the opportunities before me, for the ability to tell the people’s stories and for the gift of words. Life’s joys can only be actualized by fulfillment and because of the goodness of others, I am reaching fulfillment.

Are you’re wondering what in the world I’m talking about?

“One who is climbing a tree, must still come down.”

I heard this proverb when watching a Nigerian movie one evening. An old Igbo man was talking to his son who had become rich and had forgotten his “roots.” The proverb stuck with me. (Africans are so eloquently expressive and such aphorisms are like ripe fruits in the mouth: sweet, wholesome and good for the soul.) Everyone’s goal in life is to progress, move forward, grow…climb a tree. But, the ground is still below and we mustn’t forget the ground from whence we came…and still come. We must come down, specifically to thank.

I write this for those who have helped me and as much as I can vocally express thanks, I believe nothing is more solid than the written word.

So, there is a man at the Medill School of Journalism named Bill. He is the one who coordinated this one-of-a-kind opportunity to report in Kenya. He worked hard to make it happen and while I crisscross from Nyerere Road to University Way to Harry Thuku Road to Kijabe Street and enter Longonot Place to take the elevator to the 3rd floor and walk into the K24 newsroom, I have to remember Bill. He’s not only a journalist and an instructor; he is a generous fellow whose eyes twinkle when he smiles. I’m serious guys, they twinkle!

Bobby, my longest- running friend; the quintessential, “good” buddy who listens and says exactly what you need to hear at the right time. Bobby, thank you for making me laugh, being my friend, encouraging me and never thinking that my goals are just “too big.” I can never, ever, never forget someone like Bobby; such a friend is hard to find in this life and I know this all too well.

And there’s Tope…. the slender, slim-eyed wonder of a friend whose soft, gentle voice leaves a lifelong impact. Tope has not only helped to guide my goals but has made me feel important. Said that… I’m not weird, but unique. Being the lofty, idealist, dreamer that I am, I’ve lived most of my life with my head in the clouds, and it can, indeed, get very lonely in those clouds. Tope sat next to me in the clouds. Good company. I thank him.

My other good friend is also a high-flying dreamer, but he is also like solid ground. And when he gets quiet, brings his palms together and raises them to his center of his face and just…watches, I know he’s thinking…deep thoughts. My thinking, dreaming, ever-solid friend told me not worry when Bill told me that some of the security concerns in Kenya may affect the university’s decision to approve of my trip. When Bill told me everything had went through and all the paperwork had been approved, my friend was no less excited as I was. The opportunities that he saw for me in Kenya were different, yet just as noble as the ones that I saw for myself. He believes I can do just about anything. Great friends come in divine packages like Uzoma.

And there are others, not a lot because I keep a small circle, but there are others. Shoulders I have mounted so I can grab the tree that I am climbing. Pastor Mike. Uncle Nche. Aunty Ngozi. Aunty Deborah. Uncle Ifeanyi. Dr. White, who exposed me to the beauty of anthropology. Mrs. Hobbs, who, when I was 11-years-old, told me that I must be a writer.

And the believers of God.

My younger siblings-three sisters and three brothers. Though I’m the oldest, I tell you, I’ve learned more from them than they’ve learned from me. We are a silly bunch and the hundreds of hours I’ve spent laughing with them are more valuable than gold. I wouldn’t trade my siblings for anything in this world.

Nurturing. Lifting. Encouraging. Teaching. Correcting. Loving. Valuing. Listening. Learning. Feeding. That’s what my parents do for me. They are helping me to live a rich and full life. I believe that a dog can only be a dog. An eagle must live an eagle’s life. And an elephant must follow elephants. I thank my parents for allowing me to be who I am. They have truly fostered my skills. I do love to write, and I believe that they enjoy reading my words. I remember driving in the car with my dad one afternoon a couple years back and I was scribbling in a notebook. Feeling my dad’s gaze, I looked up and he asked what I was writing. I told him, “my book.” He didn’t say anything else with his voice. With his silence, he was saying he loves me.

I took after my mom; she, too, is a writer-in-spirit. I thank them for passing on their traits, the good ones of course. I have my father’s smile and my mother’s creativity. She gave me her intense personality and my dad passed on his patience. Throughout my years of finding myself, they already knew who I was and who I would become.

I laugh like my mom, and my mom and I enjoy talking “big” together in the living room. And I finally understand that she is the source of my fiery passion.

I’ve enjoyed all my years of sitting beside my dad in the car as he, tired from work, picked me up from school. And like my dad, I am inquisitive. He always told us, “Ask questions! Read! Read everything!”

There is nothing like having a great set of parents. The greatest blessing is having parents who respect you as a person, love you as their child and believe in the gift of your future.

And the beauty of this journalist’s life manifests in meeting more people, telling their stories and thanking them for sharing. I look forward to continuing my climb.

But may I never forget the ground from whence I came…and still come.

 

K24 Day 43: Back to Nyeri September 6, 2010

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I went to Nyeri again last Thursday and stayed until Saturday afternoon. This time, I went for 2 enterprise stories that I’ve been researching for the past three weeks and I am particularly excited about these two stories. In a small town, a youth center houses former street children and teaches them about environmental sustainability. But this center is doing some very interesting things. A social revolution is breeding here.

The socialists principles underlying the foundation of the youth center are evident in a number of ways. Firstly, at the center, the youth are encouraged to take up skills and to be a “good human being,” and by doing so, they gain points for which they can use to “purchase” items such as clothing. The “directors” of the center, Andrew and Paul are what many Americans would call radical. I’ve conversed extensively with both Andrew and Paul and one can’t help but to be inspired. Paul has a economics background and Andrew is trained in technological engineering and by combining the two disciplines, Paul and Okello have formulated socioeconomic principles to help Africans to help themselves out of poverty.

On Thursday,  Kevin (the K24 camera guy who accompanied me) and I observed Andrew and his young volunteers discussing their project called Ujamma. Ujamma means “family hood,” in Kiswahili and denotes the idea of togetherness.

Ujamma, as a concept, was first practiced in Tanzania where the country’s first President, a very afrocentric and leftist leader named Julius Nyerere, advocated socialist ideals, promoting the idea that the land belongs to everyone and such. It didn’t last, but Andrew and his volunteers are convinced that Africans must returned to its tradition of helping one another. Ujamma, African socialism, they believe that this is the best direction for Africa.

So, these are Africa’s new revolutionary socialist.

When I asked the nine of them if they are socialist, I was met with a variety of replies.

“Socialism is a revolution. The value that we have as human beings shouldn’t be attached to money. Ujamma means family. Family is all of us. “ Tabitha Wangari Muchue, 23-years-old

“As much as we are trying to adopt capitalism, we are trying to keep our tradition of socialism. We want to keep socialism in us. This is in us. We cannot run from ourselves.”  Harry Mkala, 22-years-old

“This is the time for another revolution…If you mean African socialism, then yes I am [a socialist]. I belive in Africans taking care of each other. Not the imported ideas from the West. I don’t believe in this debate between Marxism and communism. I believe in the socialism that my grandmother told me that you look after your neighbor.” Susan Nyambura, 23-years-old

“Africa has always been social. The child is brought up by the village. We look after each other.” Andrew Okello-Syata, 42-years-old

“The work of my body, my brain, my hands, that is what I see in Ujamma. That’s the beauty of it. I see money as very dirty but your sweat is cleaner.” Jannath Bhagar

 

Kenya’s Day of pride August 27, 2010

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Around 10:30 am at Uhuru Park, President Mwai Kibaki promulgated the new constitution, making it the supreme law of the land. Dignitaries in attendance included former U.N. Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; former Ghanaian President, John Kufuor; former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo; Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni; Rwandan President, Paul Kagame; etc.

I found a BBC article that nicely summed the story: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-11106558

*                          *                        *

27 August 2010 Last updated at 10:05 GMT

Kenya president ratifies new constitution

Kenya has adopted a new constitution, more than three weeks after it was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum.

Tens of thousands of people watched as President Mwai Kibaki signed the document into law at a large ceremony in the capital, Nairobi.

The debate over a new constitution has lasted 20 years.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was present at the event, despite being wanted for war crimes.

Human Rights Watch earlier called on the Kenyan authorities to either “arrest him or bar him entry” if he were to attend.

Kenya has ratified the statute requiring it to co-operate with the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Bashir.

However, last month the African Union instructed its members – which include Kenya – not to apprehend Mr Bashir.

‘Huge cheer’

The constitution is expected to bring significant changes.

Some have billed it as the most important political event in Kenya’s history since it gained independence from Britain in 1963.

The large crowd gathered in Nairobi’s main Uhuru park to watch their leader promulgate the new document, amid gun salutes and a grand parade.

After Mr Kibaki signed his name, he held the document up and there was a huge cheer from the audience.

The new constitution will bring a more decentralised political system, which will limit the president’s powers and replace corrupt provincial governments with local counties.

It will also create a second chamber of parliament – the Senate – and set up a land commission to settle ownership disputes and review past abuses.

It is hoped that the changes will help bring an end to the tribal differences that have brought violence to the country in the past.

‘Optimism’

The BBC’s East Africa correspondent, Peter Greste, says the debate for a new constitution ebbed and flowed with each new political crisis until the elections of 2007, which were followed by the worst ethnic violence Kenya has yet seen.

In the wake of the violence, everyone acknowledged that something fundamental had to change if the country was to avoid yet more trouble, our correspondent says.

“The historic journey that we began over 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end,” Mr Kibaki said earlier this month after the results of the referendum were announced on 5 August.

“There will be challenges along the way. But it is important that we look forward with renewed optimism to better days ahead.”

Our correspondent says that the previous constitution allowed politicians to exploit tribal divisions, left courts weak, and concentrated power in the president’s hands.

While many Kenyans say that this is just a start – and that things could still go very wrong – most believe it is a fundamentally better document than the last.

President Kibaki won a landslide victory in 2002 promising to change the constitution within 100 days of taking office. In 2005, he held a referendum but it failed to pass.

The previous constitution was negotiated with the British in the early 1960s.

Constitution key changes

  • Reduces president’s powers
  • Devolves power to regions
  • Creates senate
  • Creates a Judicial Service Commission
  • Includes citizens’ Bill of Rights
  • Creates land commission to settle disputes
  • Recognises Kadhi (Muslim) courts

 

Scenes in Kenya (Part 3) August 16, 2010

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I have a date! August 6, 2010

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Every cool journalist is “supposed” to be able to say something like, “I was in Berlin the night the Wall fell on November 9, 1989,” or “I was there in South Africa on February 11, 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment” or “I was on the steps of the Capitol when Barack Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009.”

So…I finally have my first date and hopefully, it will be the first of many great ones.

On Thursday, August 5, 2010, I was in the midst of hundreds of Kenyans in Nairobi’s city center as they celebrated the victory of the constitutional referendum–Kenya will adopt the proposed constitution!

Surely, Kenyans have spoken. With more than 6 million votes in support of the draft constitution, the “yes” team has prevailed. Officials and other talking heads have declared that from this point on, there is no more a “no” team or a “yes” team. Let all Kenyans join the Kenya team!

Throughout the streets of the nation, in Mombasa, Nairobi, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nakuru, Kenyans have been celebrating. And I’m so honored to have witnessed this beautiful and historic moment.

Thursday, I was home recovering from a throat infection, but I was continuously watching the referendum coverage on television. When I saw Higher Education Minister, William Ruto of the “no” camp conceding defeat, my heart raced. “So this constitution will really pass!” And Kenyans throughout the nation rejoiced yesterday, though prematurely because the results that showed the “yes” vote clearly in the lead were still provisional, according to the Interim Independent Electoral Commission.

Nonetheless, President Kibaki, Prime Minister Odinga and Vice President Musyoka addressed the public at the Kenya International Convention Center (KICC) to declare victory. The address was to start around 4PM. I jumped out of the bed sheets, still shivering with cold shills and with painful throbs in my head, and called my trusty driver, Godfrey to tell him to take me to KICC immediately.I grabbed my audio recorder, reporter’s notebook, Canon Rebel camera and Kodak Zi8.

Godfrey arrived in 3 minutes and told me he had just seen Kibaki’s motorcade headed to the KICC. I was as giddy as….as….as a lady named Chika reporting in Kenya!

From everywhere, Kenyans made there way to see their president, many coming straight from their places of work. Jumping out the car, I made my way into the crowd and started snapping photos and asking folks questions:

“Why are you here?”

“Did you support the draft constitution? Why?”

“How will the new constitution help you as an individual?”

“What does this mean for Kenya?”

I truly had a blast. When Kibaki and Odinga presented themselves at the podium, the crowd went wild! I met a young lady name Sheila and she ended up following me. She was cool, but the brightly-dressed, 19-year-old had no idea what was going on. She has just left school and saw everyone headed toward the KICC.

I ran into a K24 colleague, a very kind camera guy named Galgallo. Galgallo was shooting for a K24 reporter named Kagoe. Galgallo and I were pleased to see each other at the event.

Words truly can’t express my glee about this victory. The entire process was simply beautiful. Watching the daily public service announcements on the referendum on television; listening to IIEC chairman, Isaack Hassan, confirming the fairness of the referendum; watching Kenyans standing in the lines at the polling stations for hours; seeing taxi drivers reading the informative handouts on the details of the draft constitution; listening to people singing and chanting “Uhuru!” (freedom) and “Kura!” (vote) and “Haki yetu!” (our rights) throughout downtown Nairobi. This victory is not just for Kenya, but it is for Africa.

Katiba Mpya, Kenya Moja (New constitution, one Kenya)

Kofi Annan stated: “We commend the two Principals [Kibaki and Odinga] for their stewardship… and congratulate the Government and the people of Kenya for this momentous step.”

Barack Obama: “This was a significant step forward for Kenya’s democracy and the peaceful nature of the election was a testament to the character of the Kenyan people.”

Mwai Kibaki: “The historic journey that begun more than 20 years ago is coming to a historic end. Let us now hold hands together as brother and sister…The successful and peaceful conclusion of this referendum shows that our democratic institutions have come of age.”

Raila Odinga: “This constitution is actually for the liberalization of this country.”

But, the victory wasn’t final until declared by the Interim Independent Electoral Commission. Today, IIEC chairman, Isaack Hassan stated:

“Pursuant to the Constitution of Kenya Review Act, 2008 and the Referendum Regulations, 2010, I do declare that the Proposed New Constitution is hereby ratified. Thank you.”

Some provisions of the new constitution:

  • Two levels of government: national and regional (47 counties will be created)
  • Removal of the Prime Minister position
  • free secondary education
  • a Bill of Rights for all Kenyans,; these are rights that people are born with and are protected by this constitution
  • Kenyan citizens by birth may also be citizens of another country (dual citizenship)
  • The creation of two houses in Parliament
  • Limitation of Presidential powers
  • The creation of a Supreme Court which will have the final word on judicial matters
  • The creation of a Senate, to check the President
  • The establishment of a single National Police Service which consists of the Kenya Police Service and the Administration Police Service
  • The establishment of a National Land Commission to manage all public land
  • Requires all people to have access to public land
  • Creates a land policy that allows people to have equitable access to land and secure land rights
  • Foreigners cannot own land but can rent (lease) land for less than 99 years
 

Kenyans celebrate the “yes” team’s referendum vote lead August 5, 2010

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Tabitha Njoroge

“I’m the executive director of Women in Law and Development in Africa. Here in the Nairobi Chapter…I have just come from the Bomas of Kenya, where I slept last night. So I tried to tally the votes and I’m hoping this will really be a new dispensation for Kenya. So when this was announced on the radio station I said I had to come here and hear for myself what Kibaki has to say. And just to see whether the mood that he has is the same mood that the “no” leader has…We are all winners in this. They have considered defeat. They are agreeing that we need to move on as one country and forge ahead and implement which we already have right now.”

“As a woman especially, this is it! We have fought for affirmative action over the years. We have fought for citizenship over the years. I think this is a real package for women. We have been telling ourselves, if we don’t get it now,  we perhaps might never get it. It can never be this close. So, we did our best, we went out there, lobbied people. And I can tell you right now, I am one excited girl.”

“Yes, I’m a very happy Kenyan, especially as a woman. The future that lies ahead in this country is great.”

Geoffrey Kamau, 29-years-old

“We have come as they launch the new constitution, because this has already passed…

Yeah, I was supporting it, for one, it is supporting youth in many ways…in terms of distribution of resources, yeah.”

James, 30-years-old

“I’ve come to see how the new Kenya is born, yeah.”

“Basically I want to see how we are showing the changes and hopefully how the changes will change the whole of Kenya, especially the political aspect, even the economic ones…There are so many clauses which I believe will bring a lot of change in Kenya, especially in line with the choosing of the cabinet ministers and also the issue of devolution. Right now we’re going to have a lot of funds being brought down to the grassroots. Unlike the current constitution, which does not have that provision.”

“It’s historic in the sense that since independence we’ve just been having one constitution that is we’ve never had a change in the constitution. What happened is some amendments which were not so instrumental. But now that we have a constitution…in fact what we’re saying is, this constitution was drafted by Kenyans. So we now sort of think it belongs to us—that we sort of own it.”

Claire, 27-years-old

“I’m here to celebrate the new constitution. The proposed constitution has passed. I voted for it. So I’m here to celebrate…I came from work. I just heard from the media the celebration here, the president was coming to address the public so I said, ‘wow, I must be with my fellow Kenyans and celebrate together.’”

“Yes, peace will prevail and I believe corruption will reduce.”

Penina, 20-years-old and Gladell Mwangi, 19-years-old

Gladell: “We’re hear to celebrate the new constitution that we’ve just passed. And we’re happy about it. It was a very peaceful event and we should pat ourselves on the back because we do deserve it. It’s a first and we are proud of every single one of us who took part in it. We’ve been waiting a long time to see for once an election that will be peaceful and will pass in a positive way and this has been one. Even though it’s not a major one for presidential or anything, it’s important for us because it’s about the laws of the land and all that so we’re very happy.”

Penina: “Gender equality. I think something for the less fortunate, like the IDPs. I think it will do something good… There was like so much corruption in the country, so I think Kenya will be in a better position because Kenya was ranked like one of the most corrupt countries in Africa and the world at large. So we’re expecting changes like that. Plus, it was very efficient and we are very happy. It was efficient and fast, unlike the previous elections. So, basically that’s why we are here. We’ve never been to one of these gatherings but we were like, ‘let’s just go.’ Because we are really happy as Kenyans.”

Gladell: “For me as an individual I can particularly say, okay, the old constitution could not allow me to have dual citizenship but now I’m allowed to have dual citizenship. I can be an American if I wanted to tomorrow, if I get the green card or whatever. So, that’s a chance. That’s a good thing for me because I’m about to go study abroad. So that’s a big thing for me.”

Benwell, 32-years-old

“I’m here for the constitution…Yes I support it.”

“There was peace and that’s what we want to have…It is good because there are a lot of changes that will be happening.”

Edwin, 32-years-old

“I’m here to celebrate the new birth of Kenya…Yeah, it’s a new birth to us. Because since independence, we’ve had a very bad constitution. So, we believe this is going to be a departure from the past.”

“Because it’s going to bring power to the people and resources.”

“I did vote yes because 50 percent of the resources will come to the grassroots. Also our MPs will not have the power to determine their salaries.”

Carol

“Victory. It’s a victory for us. It explains itself.”

Naboth, 34-years-old

“I want to hear from the President, what he says about the constitution and we are also expecting the holiday to happen so we are here to celebrate and also to force him to give us a holiday so we can celebrate tomorrow until Monday…The meaning of the holiday would be to celebrate given that we have struggled for more than 20 years, since 1990 up til now. And because of that one we want to at least celebrate after that long struggle.”

“Yeah, I was supporting the draft constitution more than 100 percent if there is a percentage as such.”

“The reason why I’m happy, I’m happy because it is something that we have struggled for for more than 20 years. And apart from that one, if we get it, then this something of tribalism will be something of the past. In the year 2012, the presidential candidates is going to get 50 percent plus and that one with the tribalism, you cannot get that with a single tribe. So it is going to clear that. And apart from that one also, the resources is also going to be distributed equal. Because after this constitution passes, 50 percent [of resources] will go to the grassroots, that is to the counties. And that will help in building Kenya equally.”

“What is meant for me is ..it is  a new future. It is something, I don’t know how to put it. But I have a hope that in future that at least something of tribalism-for me that is the most important thing- it is going to end. We are going to have a Kenya which is developed equally without  knowing someone. Because right now, you have to know someone in order to get employment.”

Evans, 37-years-old

“I was a presiding officer with the IIEC. The referendum was free and fair. The whole exercise started well and we ended well.”

“This exercise was conducted in a very harmonious way, very peaceful. There was no reported violence so far. There was no misconduct or even manipulation of the results. So, in a real sense here, I want to commend the IIEC and even the people of Kenya. They have done the best to show that we are together. Because at the end of this we need continue to be living as brothers and sisters. They have shown that they are mature, politically, and everything.”

Sheila, 19-years-old

“I’m here just to see the ministers and Raila Odinga and Kibaki. I was in town so I saw them here, so I want to see what’s going on.”

“I was trying to wait to go home, but I came to watch here but there’s no space, that’s the problem.”

Godfrey, 58 years-old (my good ‘ole driver)

“It’s historic for Kenya because for more than 20 years we’ve been looking for a new constitution. It’s been a long journey, many people have died. Others have been maimed. And now, finally we’ve got it. We hope that with a new constitution, things will change for the better…Though it can’t be 100 percent good, it’s more better than the present one. We anticipate good things out of it.”

“Education. Promotion of youth in respect of work. Also, it’s good to the farmers, in many areas, it covers many areas. We prefer it.”

“Individually, due to my work I expect a lot of visitors to come because the country will now be very peaceful. People are now united. They are now more united than before.  Foreigners will come. Investors will come and with that, my business will be good.”

“This [peace] is what has pleased me so much because many people were anticipating violence. But Kenyans have shown a good tolerance. They have shown they like peace and they would not like to repeat what happened in 2007.”

John Kimani, 70-years- old

“I’ve been waiting for this date. I want everybody to give peace. Everybody. Even you. Even me. Everybody. I want peace…I’m very happy.”