• Irũngũ Houghton

A country or chaos, choose.

First published Saturday Standard, December 29, 2018. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

It is exactly fifty years since Martin Luther King Jnr wrote “Community or Chaos: Where do we go from here?” Re-reading it in the closing days of 2018, I am always struck by the relevance of King’s reflection and prophetic vision for Kenya half a century on.

2018 will be remembered like 2008, the year of another post-electoral handshake. Both moments saw our political elite attempt to repair the damage of a bruising electoral season with new administrative arrangements that accommodate those left out of state office. Past their line of sight, growing inequalities, displacement and discrimination continued to fuel public despair, bitterness and the sense that all is not well.

52 per cent of Kenyans no longer believe that Kenyans are equal under our constitution and laws. Our inability to arrest corruption and close the wealth inequality gap conspire to keep opportunities skewed in favor of the minority. A woman who had lost everything in the Kibra demolitions put it more bluntly in July, “Are we children of a lesser God than others?”

How then does this country hold in the face of this sense of discrimination, neglect and hopelessness? Why do we still retain confidence in the various arms of Government, religious leaders, the mass media, civic agencies and communities? There is something enduring in the Kenyan spirit that is not far from the courage and conviction of the civil rights communities that MLK wrote about.

From the family of baby Pendo to the 22 families of young men killed in our informal settlements, Kenyans continue to believe in and seek justice through our law courts. Stepping past the personal comfort of “just moving on”, their courage reminds us that unlawful policing endangers us all. Their courage and the combined action of law enforcement agencies like IPOA saw an unprecedented ten officers convicted for killing civilians or other police officers this year.

Tragically, the terrible death of Kibra resident and Leeds University student Carliton David Maina this week indicates that not all our officers have understood fully the lessons from the ten convictions this year or the promise by Directors of Criminal Intelligence and Public Prosecutions to hold them individually culpable for human rights abuses.

Communities have continued to protest, re-build their homes and seek justice for forced evictions and displacement from forests and urban informal settlements. Parliamentarians, civil society activists, journalists and some state officers have found ways to work together to find humane alternatives to the demolitions in Kibra, City Carton, Kwa Jomvu Mombasa, Embobut and Mau forests. They do so, knowing that displacement without the option of resettlement or compensation abuses our national values and undermines any progress on the right to adequate housing.

Sexual minority communities also pressed their legal case for same sex intimacy and sexual orientation to be decriminalized this year. As arranged marriages die out in many heterosexual homes, perhaps we should drop the idea that society should arrange relationships for others also. While some still seek comfort in the idea that sexual orientation is unimportant, it worth noting that more people watched the lesbian love story “Rafiki” than Black Panther in the week it was unbanned. There is still no evidence that it converted the sexuality of those that watched.

Rising teen-age pregnancies and the dangers of unsafe abortions flooded our public conscience towards the end of the year. Concerted efforts by reproductive health rights organisations managed to persuade the Medical Board and the Health Ministry to lift the ban on post abortion emergency life-saving services by Maries Stopes International. While our girls remain at risk from sexual violence and involuntary motherhood, this reversal remains an important one for us all to celebrate.

There is perversely something to celebrate also in the endless headlines of corruption scandals, arrests and court cases. Behind every one of them are women and men who refuse to live in a society of sleaze and selfishness and are taking a stand. We must do more to support them. The scale of our involvement in this contest for our country also matters.

It is these deeds and others that underpin our cautious optimism in Kenya. Keeping our society open, tolerant and non-violently activist on the issues that matter to us, is what will have us choose our country over chaos.

Happy activist new year all.

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