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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

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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

 

Kenya’s literary giant returns August 23, 2010

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Last Thursday, Ngugi wa Thiong’o launched a new book, the first in a four-volume autobiographical series. It was an elite affair, with Kenya’s intellects, activists and educated citizens. You can definitely expect such a crowd since the event was held at the National Museum of Kenya in the Parklands area of Nairobi.

Let me take a few steps back, back to the beginning.

*                        *                        *                        *

Reading is an important part of my life, a habit formed in my childhood and nurtured by my parents. In my father’s old collection of books, I saw Things Fall Apart and other titles, some more obscure than others. I began reading my father’s books and then collecting my own to begin filling my own bookshelf. In these African books I could escape into a land of thick forests, mud huts, ancient ceremonial traditions and emerging urban centers. Day after day, week after week, my nose was often hidden between the covers of a book. Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease; Michael Veal’s Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon; Buchi Emecheta’s  The Joy of Motherhood; Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower; Nancy Farmer’s A Girl Named Disaster; Ama Ata Aidoo’s Changes: A Love Story; Beverly Naidoo’s The Other Side of Truth; Cyprian Ekwensi’s Jagua Nana; Fauziya Kassindja’s Do They Hear You When You Cry?

These books weren’t just words on papers. They really were my friends. And I took them with me…on playgrounds, in school cafeterias, in public restrooms, in my bedroom, at church, you get the picture.

And among these great books, I’d always see the name Ngugi wa Thiong’o and in every list of great African books, I saw Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Petal of Blood. Though I had never read any of Thiongo’ books, I knew he was held in the same regard as Achebe, Soyinka and Aidoo.

So, when Moraa Gitaa (Tom’s sister) told me that he is launching a new book, my curiosity led me to begin researching more about this man.

Thiong’o is well loved by Kenyans and was at one point feared by the government during the tumultuous years of the Daniel Arap Moi administration, an administration that efficiently suppressed opposition for more than two decades. Ngugi was a like a thorn in the side for the Moi administration. His words aroused fiery sentiment among the rural poor and society’s intellectuals. Thiong’o became popular when he began writing in the Gikuyu (also known as Kikuyu) language. He is credited for being the first to write a modern-day novel in the Gikuyu language. By writing in Gikuyu, Thiong’o was speaking directly to the people, as the Gikuyu comprise the largest ethnic group in Kenya. His first book, Weep Not, Child (1964) launched his career as an African writer to recognize. Then came The River Between in 1965, A Grain of Wheat in 1967, Petals of Blood in 1977 and over a dozen other works.

For fear of his life, Thiong’o left Kenya during Moi’s presidency. He is now a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director of the International Centre for Writing and Translation at the University of California at Irvine.

The event began at 7pm.  Accompanied by Tom and Moraa, I joined others as P.L.O. Lumumba, guest of honor and the new head of Kenya’s Anti Corruption commission, spoke passionate words of praise about Thiong’o.

“I am amazed by your ability to always discover yourself…If you were an animal in the jungle, you’d be a lion…those of you who want to learn greatness, read Ngugi’s Dreams in a Time of War, greet him and don’t wash your hands for several days…I  also encourage you that when you read Dreams in a Time of War, that you should also wake up and realize your own dream.”

Lumumba greatly impressed me. He’s a fiery, petite man with a strong jawline and a tight, round mouth, the type of mouth that seems to be holding something large inside. A colleague of mine at K24 and I have been trying to get an interview with Lumumba to do a story about his rise, but he is a busy man. Tom greeted him and gestured toward me. Lumumba smiled at me and I introduced myself as a reporter with K24. He raised his eyebrows and said he knows we have been trying to get in touch with him.  His speech reminded me of that of an African-American Baptist preacher, with rich crescendos and dramatic pauses. He made references to Patrice Lumumba, Dr. Martin Luther King,Jr., Gandhi and other freedom fighters.

Back to Thiong’o.

The book, Dreams in a Time of War is a childhood memoir that movingly captures the zeitgeist and political happenings of the time. He also writes about the Mau Mau, a revolutionary, now legendary, army of Gikuyu guerrilla freedom fighters who sought to preserve their African traditions in the face of colonial suppression and hardship.

Thiong’o introduced his wife, Njeeri, his brother and sister-in-law. I just may be overtly sentimental, I know, sometimes even maudlin, but I couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed watching Thiong’o and his elderly relatives. These people were among the many who fought for black Kenyans while their black brothers and sisters were in bondage by the white colonialists who were taking away the ancestral lands of the blacks.

So, of course I bought the book and grabbed another, more-lighthearted read entitled, How to Be a Kenyan by Wahome Mutahi.

 

Tom Gitaa, A Kenyan based in Minnesota

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In the first quarter of this year, I received an email from someone named Tom Gitaa. In the email, Gitaa said he wanted to post one of my video stories on his website. I responded positively and that is how our friendship began.

Tom Gitaa is the publisher of Mshale News, a website and monthly print publication for African immigrants in the United States. www.mshale.com With it headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mshale also has offices in Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia.

The site features news about Africans in the diaspora and Africans back home. While in Chicago, I did a story on a Liberian-American soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. The story was picked up by several publications, including Mshale.  View the story here: http://www.mshale.com/article/Features/Features/Remembering_a_fallen_LiberianAmerican_Soldier/18465

In April, Mshale picked up another one of my stories- one about Nigeria’s then Acting-President, Goodluck Jonathan, as he made his first visit to America to attend the nuclear summit in Washington, D.C. I researched Mshale News and learned that Tom is from Kenya, though he has been based in Minnesota for more than 20 years.

Later, I told Tom that I was planning to go to Kenya, but security warnings may prevent my school from allowing me to go. Immediately, Tom offered assistance, saying Kenya is safe. He even offered to talk with someone from my school to assuage their concerns.

Since I’ve been in Kenya, Tom and I have been in communication via email and two weeks ago, he said he was coming to Kenya for a family emergency.

I finally met Tom for the first time, last week, Tuesday. Upon seeing him, I immediately thought he looked Nigerian and when I told him this he laughed, saying that may be why he gets along with Nigerians and has so many Nigerian friends. We had a pleasant lunch at Java House on Koinange Street. After he finished his Swahili curry chicken meal and I had satisfied myself with a veggie samosa and a plate of rice, I pulled out my camera and audio recorder. I wanted to hear about Tom’s experience as a Kenyan in the Diaspora.

*                                    *                                    *                                    *

Tom: I’m Tom Gitaa and I live in Minneapolis Minnesota. I’ve spent half of my life in the states now because I left Kenya pretty much immediately after high school. I left college, started working after college, got married, started a family. I’ve always been in the U.S. I come as often as I can, at the minimum, every couple of years. I think in the last five years, I’ve been here everywhere for a month or so. Some of it for business, some family visits.

There have been a lot of changes in Kenya. To be honest with you, I think in the last five or six years, it has actually been more fun to come to Kenya in the last five or six years than in previous years. A lot of things seem to work. Actually, it has been really nice to drive. I try not drive in Nairobi traffic, but when I’m going to Mombasa, the road is like driving from Minneapolis to Chicago because there are no potholes! (laughs) So it’s fun.

Chika: Is it safe to drive from city to city? What about bandits along the road?

Tom: This is the thing, since I’ve not been a victim myself, I’d say it’s pretty safe. Nothing has happened to me. I’ve always gotten from point A to B. I’ve heard things. Nairobi Mombasa road, especially as you approached Nairobi, near the airport from the Mombasa side, I know that used to be a really bad stretch. Of late I hear things have gotten better.  They’re very open and happy that things are getting better. I don’t think we have what might be called the ideal government yet, but there have been strides to something better than what we had previously. I tend to find there’s a sense from a lot of people in government that things need to be better. Which is a big change from before.

The one thing I love is the internet. That has been a big change. I can normally do a lot of my business between here and Minnesota. At least I know when I’m in Nairobi or Mombasa, I can get high speed internet.

Chika: When did that come about?

Tom: Actually in the last three of four years. When I was here back in 2004, that’s kind of when the cellphone explosion was taking place. You could come here and I could not meet anyone who didn’t have a cellphone. When I came back in 2006, for unfortunate circumstances…that’s when we came back for my wife’s funeral. My wife died in 2006, so we were here in December again. So it wasn’t quite high speed yet, but you could do what you wanted to do. Go to a cyber café. And you’d find different classes of cyber cafes.

Fast forward now, I can come with my laptop and go to what I call a top-tier cyber café. I think the locals consider it expensive, but since I’m only here for a short while, I can pay for the high speed and the nicer, cleaner environment and conduct some business. Those have been fun developments.

Now, we just came for my father-in-law’s funeral and I’ve been able to keep up with my colleagues on the other side. I know what it going on in the office and what my writers are doing. You know I do a newspaper.

Chika: What do you think of the passing of the draft constitution?

Tom: You know I’m a diaspora guy, right?  I don’t know any Kenyan diaspora guy that was a ‘no vote.’ All of us, well many of us, at least those that I know where in favor. You have to know where this is coming from. Some of this was in self-interest, obviously. One of the things in there is dual citizenship is finally being recognized. There used to be a thing called the Kenya Community Abroad which was sort of a lobby group of Kenyans in the U.S., Canada, but used to encompass a lot of Kenyans in the diaspora. You know, this is actually something for a long time they’ve been pushing for- the implementation of dual citizenship. So when it was passed, it was a realization for a dream of many. Because a lot of Kenyans [abroad] where forced to give up there citizenship. I know some Kenyans, for example, who have not taken up the citizenship of other countries. Because they say they are not comfortable giving up their [Kenyan] citizenship. So, it was a big, psychological thing, to tell somebody, ‘give up your citizenship.’ So, even from that perspective, I know there are other things, accountability to the people and the like, which we all love, but for a lot of diaspora people, that was like a key thing.

Chika: What are some of the myths and false perceptions that Kenyans have of those in the diaspora?

Tom: There are two things actually. One of the biggest things is they tend to think people in the U.S. have  lot of money; that we are not struggling like everybody else; that we have a bottomless pit of resources that we can type into. I think of late, more and more Kenyans have been getting a correct perspective of what happens in the U.S. But there are still a lot of people, most people that you pull on the streets of Kenya will tell you they don’t mind going to the U.S. I have a few friends, they try to give advice to a parent to save their money they say to send their child to a Kenyan university. The parent will say, ‘you, you have already gone so that is why don’t want my child to have the same benefit.’ So that is what they still say.

Of late, especially in the last 10 years of so, Kenya has been considered an emerging market. A lot of people have come back. Business has been booming. A lot of people say, ‘You people in America…’ It’s kind of  dual thing. Some people think America is glamorous, but some have dimmed view. They say ‘all you guys do is odd jobs,’ so there is also that perspective. But over the years, I think the local people have realized that the diapsora plays an important role in the society.

Especially since the Kibaki administration came into office, there has been an aggressive pushing of Kenyans in the diaspora. They have sent ministers. I remember a few years ago they sent a minister to a conference we were having in Atlanta. They were encouraging Kenyans in the diaspora to invest. Especially in real estate. When you exclude the Somalis that have been investing a lot here, the other biggest investor in real estate in Kenya is actually diaspora Kenyans. So there has been that perception. There has been a slow evolution to say diaspora people are very important in the economy. We send a lot of money and there has been a question of if that money has been used properly. But lots of progress has been made. There’s this big project that is being done in northeastern Kenya. It’s a big project. It is the biggest project that the diaspora community has ever been involved in.  And part of those efforts actually came when the government started attending our conferences.

Chika: What are some of the misconceptions Westerners have of Kenya?

Tom: Oh, it’s a lot, a lot. You know Westerners, not all, but a good lot, there perception of Kenya and Africa in general is that, nothing works in Africa. They have heard the stories of you know, if there mind is not still in the stone age then, you’d be eaten by lions and whatever, it’s either ‘oh you know Africa man,’ ‘will I be robbed? Will I come back in one piece? Corruption?’ Yes, there’s corruption but there’s also a lot of Westerners making a lot of money here as you might have seen. I think that is the biggest misconception.

I’ve met some people who do not know there are big cities in Africa. But you have a choice. You can choose to say you want to see the old Africa, which is still there. If you want to get attacked by lions, we can arrange to go somewhere and they can eat you. (laughs) Or if you want to stay in the urban environment and experience the modern life, then all the conveniences are there. What you can get in America, London, Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg, all of that is there. A lot of people don’t know such big cities exist in Africa.

Chika: My last question, in Nigeria there is something called ‘colo-mentality.’ Do they have such here, where you praise white people? I’ve noticed that where I live here in Nairobi, the guards don’t greet me, but they will greet the white person behind me. Is that mentality prevalent here? Preference for lighter skin and that sort of thing?

Tom: A lot of Africans are brainwashed. It’s a legacy that continues to haunt our people, especially people who have not left this country.  For example, I was at Safaricom. When I landed here, I landed on Thursday night and the funeral was Friday. I went to one of the Safaricom outlets to get a sim card for my phone. So, you know me, I don’t jump the queue. I go line up and this other person comes. A black person comes, attempts to jump the queue and ask the clerk a question. You are not supposed to jump the queue. You are supposed to ask the guard if you have a question and he will direct you. I know the procedure so I lined up. Two three black Africans came and they intended to go straight to the clerk. I think they had a quick question but you are not supposed to do that. The guard stopped them right there  and said, ‘hey hey hey, you need to line up.’ This white person, light skin, I think he was half and half. You know a mixed person. He comes and does the same thing the other guys were trying to do. He tries to go to the clerk, straight without lining. And the guard hesitated. He’s not as aggressive with this person as he was with his brothers. You see? So he hesitates until even the mixed person asked the guard and that’s when he realized he should be equal to everybody.

When I come, sometimes I stay at the hotels. When I go to Mombasa, you know that’s the tourism capital for Kenya because of all the beach hotels and the like. So when you go to the beach hotels, that is when you will see the brainwashing in full force.  I’ll approach the gate. You know they try to make these beach properties very exclusive. They see me, they automatically think I am not staying at the beach hotel. You see? When I’ve already maybe paid full fare. And I even have white people working for me. (laughs) See our people don’t know this. They try to stop me. They have to go the extra step to verify, ‘are you really staying here?’ So you will experience the blatant brainwashing, colonial mentality. You’ll normally experience them in the service industries: hotels, airports. You know you have some people in the airport who try to help with luggage. I come with my children and you sometimes see the helpers falling over themselves trying to help the white people that we just rode on the plane with.  You know things like that, it’s very unfortunate. But, we are hoping that our people will realize that this is our country. We are not saying that you should treat blacks better than whites. Treat all people the same. If a black person approaches, you don’t know what it there. For all I know, he could be the one owning the beach property or could be your boss. I could be the one owning 50% of that property. You never know.

Chika: Are white women highly prized?

Tom: I think they are, especially older white women. We have what they call, I don’t know what they call them now, but back then, we called them white sugar mommies who come here for what we call, sex tourism. At the coast it’s very prevalent. At the coast they are highly prized. In fact, in some of the newspapers even here, if you look at the personals section, you will see people directly, plainly stating, ‘white man’ or ‘white woman.’ Sometimes  you can just read between the lines.

I came back, for a sad occasion, but it’s always good to be home.

Tom’s sister, Moraa, later joined us. His sister is a writer, a nominee for the Penguin Books Awards in the fiction category, and featured in the July issue of the East African women and lifestyle magazine, True Love. I’d been trying to interview her, so it was great to finally meet her face to face.

 

I have a date! August 6, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations,the journey — Admin @ 3:06 pm
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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

Filed under: cultural observations — Admin @ 9:40 pm
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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.”

 

Referendum 2010 August 4, 2010

Filed under: cultural observations,K24 — Admin @ 6:22 am
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Today is the day, August 4, 2010, when more than 12 million Kenyans are expected to go to the polls to vote “yes” or “no” for the passing of the latest draft constitution. It’s a day Kenyans have been waiting for since the re-writing process of a new constitution began in 1998.

More than 27,000 polling stations are manned with troops and police officers deployed from around the nation.

Whether the draft constitution passes or not, today is a historic one for the nation of Kenya.

Memories of 2007’s post election violence are still fresh in the national memory. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have called for peace and yesterday evening, hundreds of Kenyans carried fire-flamed candles at a peace rally organized by Uwaino Peace Initiative.

The common message: We are all Kenyans. Let us have peace during and after this referendum process.

Violence, well…everyone is praying against such. The hot spots are mostly in Rift Valley Province, where ethnic tensions run deep. A friend named Jayshree told me to be sure that I get a ride to work this week because it may be unsafe to walk. She also told me to stock up on foods. On Sunday night, we went to the grocery store, Nakumatt in Westgate mall, and the milk and cheese were gone. Many other common items were gone as well and Jayshree said people are storing up just to be safe. During the 2007 post-election violence, Kenyans were forced to stay inside as blood spilled in the streets….literally.

I asked one taxi driver is he thinks there will be any violence. He said no, but if there were to be, it would come from the students at University of Nairobi. If the draft doesn’t pass, they may go to the streets in protest. From what I hear, these are quite aggressive students and their protests involve burning buildings and turning over vehicles. Fortunately, my apartment is right next to the University of Nairobi’s student flats! How…exciting!

As a visitor to this country, I’ve been quite impressed with what I’ve seen during this whole campaign. Democracy is alive and well in this country. The media and Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) have done an excellent job in educating Kenyans about the details of the draft. Nearly every night, the popular news stations have broadcasted feature shows about the referendum. Sometimes the shows are funny, sometimes serious, but always informative.

Those who are in support of the referendum, the “yes” campaign have been parading the country wearing green and the “no” campaigners have draped themselves in red. Kibaki and Odinga are in full support. At one press conference, Odinga said that this constitution is for the liberalization of all Kenyans. He called for Kenyans to prove the world wrong by conducting a peaceful referendum voting process.

But, former president Daniel Moi does not support this draft and many analysts say that he is worried that he may not be able to keep all his land. This draft constitution makes a provision for distribution of land ownership. Moi owns an extensive amount of land in this country and it seems no one knows just how much.

An overwhelming majority of those I’ve spoken to (students, taxi drivers, journalists, teachers, doctors, business owners) support this draft constitution. The passion of the Kenyan people is surely a sight to see. Yesterday and the previous day, I heard music in the streets and saw three vans painted in green driving slowly along University Way. Inside the van, people wearing green t-shirts, some with face paint, danced. The “yes” campaign theme song blared loudly to what sounded like a soukous beat.  Last Sunday, I heard shouts of people in Uhuru Park and a voice from a megaphone calling for the peaceful passing of the draft.

Among its many provisions, this draft constitution calls for equal representation of the ethnic groups in the government, gender equality and the creation of a new chamber of Parliament to check the President.

In 24 hours, we will see what happens.