Sunday, August 19, 2007

Are We Women For Women?

I have often thought that the purpose of a myriad of local meetings and international conferences that women have held in the past has been to seek equal opportunity, and liberation from oppression at the hands of a patriarchal society. In my view, the recent ‘affirmative action’ proposed by Martha Karua rubbishes the purpose of all these meetings, making it seem like the education and empowerment of women is never really part of the agenda and if it is, a trickle-down effect has never been felt by the majority, the worker and peasant woman. As a ‘faceless’ woman who has never been invited to these meetings, I ask, what exactly do they discuss?

I’m glad that men, who are the majority members of the Kenyan parliament, shot down this action. Once again, Kenyan men lived up to women’s expectations, that despite seeing many ‘third world countries’ with a large number of women in their parliament, our men are still afraid of what a high percentage of women in the Kenyan parliament would denote. It is important to note here, that many a Kenyan man’s view of a woman, however educated, is with a ‘mwiko’ in one hand and a baby clutched tightly in the other. That view is not only held by many men in the rural area, but also a high percentage of ego-inflated male members of the Kenyan Parliament.

I’m glad that the action was shot down for several reasons. The most important reason being that the instigators of the action are of a totally different class from the women they purport to seek liberation for. The power seekers, not having lived the lifestyle of the women majority, spoken to them outside conferences where these women are token ‘representatives’ of the poor and are tutored on what to say, or even visited and spoken to them in their dwellings in the rural areas and slums, are in no position to speak about the struggles of these women. History has shown that women who have gone this far, once elected and in Parliament, are soon taken over by incessant power struggles, resulting in the main agenda being put on the back burner as they fight to stay politically afloat through the usual empty rhetoric, instead of action leading to change.

The bourgeoisie lady, who is the wife or relative of the rich businessman or political bigwig, seeks power for all the reasons their male counterpart seeks it; power for money and power’s sake. With this in mind, and the man’s lowly view of women, the recent reaction from the male MPs was not unexpected. It just goes to show that the so-called cake is too small, even for the upper bourgeoisie class. No guessing who will have to suffer to make the ingredients that increase the size of this cake! The bourgeoisie women should be satisfied handling the almost equally lucrative NGOs and the MP owned ‘small’ businesses funded by government contracts. As the fight between the men and women of the upper bourgeoisie class continues, the peasant and worker woman, whose rights the bourgeoisie women claim to fight for, remain tightly in the clutches of poverty and oppression.

So what is a woman to do, should we meekly ask? An enlightened woman should educate the disillusioned woman. This includes our own very close friends and confidants who still believe that men will bring about change for women. I will reiterate here, there has never been any change without the oppressed feeling pushed to the limit and rising! Nobody will ever know, however articulate you may be, how painfully your high heels pinch. Women have to rise up to bring about their own change. How? By organizing women in their own settings and groupings. Yes, let us, who are aware, reach out to the woman in the city and rural areas, in their Women’s Guild meetings, their merry go round, their prayer meetings. To what end? To educate them on class and empower them to speak out for their own class. To make our fellow women aware that however safe we may feel in the blanket of tribe, Kenya is a class nation and no matter how sincere sounding our current ‘women leaders’ are, they will ultimately empower and enrich their own class, and each election will leave us more frustrated.

Lastly, let us who are aware stand by our less fortunate sisters by elucidating the fact that only women in the worker and peasant class understand best the struggles of their class, and therefore only they can make lasting change for their class. Now, from where I stand, that is what by the people, with the people and for the people means. Until the day that women stand up for, trust and vote in women, all call for affirmative action will end up in the bin.

PoP 19 Aug 07

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Fish Stinks From the Head Down

I watched the thief writhe in pain on the ground
blood trickling down his left ear
His eyes were swollen shut where a large boot mark
had imprinted firmly on his face
The crowd bayed for blood, enraged
The golden chain he’d stolen dangled from his broken wrist

That golden chain triggered thoughts of stolen rights
Stolen rights to superior education
Stolen rights to health services
Stolen rights to good roads
To quality public service
To Electricity

How could we beat a petty thief to the nth of his life
yet shake hands with a bigger thief with the temerity to stand
on stage and feed on big man praise,
not caring whether the man on the street lives or dies?

How could we kill one who’s probably at the end of his tether
and not ask the pompous con artist on the stage how he sleeps at night,
knowing he’s stolen the future of an entire nation?

How could we bathe him in ululation and cheer
when he’s the carrier, nay, the author of the negative
stereotypes about Kenya and Africa as a whole?

How could we vote him in
year upon year, the same wolf, wearing a different face,
yet channel our anger to the thief with the golden chain
in his hand?

Inspired by a discussion with JK

PoP 18 Aug 07

Burning The Midnight Oil?

A slight change from the norm... a rant

The pre-election night meetings currently being held by Members of Parliament remind me of the recent Mungiki’s dead of the night oath taking sessions. For a lot who haven’t had time to attend parliament during sessions, or when they have attended, have almost fallen out of their seats into the embrace of slumber; for a lot who time and again have failed to fulfil promises made to constituents or even stay in their offices long enough to be available to Kenyans, it’s amazing to what lengths they will go to retain power. The similarity is in the different classes fighting to garner power using deceptively alluring methods. Promises of security, be it societal, individual or economic, will always raise the hopes of the marginalized, providing the bearer of the promise an almost sure ticket to parliament. What better tool to use than tribe?

Looking back at the previous regimes, and especially at their electioneering methods, one can almost pre-empt the next move of our now desperate MPs. Opinion polls indicate that only 10%, or a mere 21elected members, out of 210 have any chance of getting back to parliament. What happens to the remaining 189 distinguished members of parliament? It goes almost without saying, that this is the lot who will go back to the drawing board, drawing heavily on historically proven electioneering methods that work on the majority of the populace. Their target is the peasants and workers, who are the most marginalized and downtrodden in the country.

Time and again, this vulnerable lot have been looked in the face and lied to, while their votes were bought by divisive talk of ‘our tribe’. Campaigns are filled with empty rhetoric like ‘it’s our time to dish out the cake’, ‘when will we ever sit in the big chair’, ‘how long will our people be followers instead of leaders’, etc. Each time a new party is created, the people perk up anticipating fundamental changes that will bring definite and visible transformation to their lives, alleviating poverty and empowering them. They literally place their lives in the ODMs, NARCs, and FORDs, only to hear a slightly modified version of the same old muddied ideology! All new parties claim to be a party for the people yet the people’s participation seems necessary only as givers or sellers of votes.

Back to the nightly tribal meetings, it’s painfully amusing to see these same MPs wine and dine together, after publicly trading insults that leave members of different tribes at war with each other. Hearing President Kibaki heap praise upon Dictator Moi should be an eye opener to all of us who still think that tribe is the greatest unifying factor in the country. In my opinion, it is one of the most divisive tools used by our politicians and a key contributory factor to the underdevelopment of Kenya.

In Kwa-Maiko, Wambui’s house is next to Otieno’s on the right and Musyoka’s on the left. During the last elections, Njoroge, Wambui’s husband would not talk to Otieno for a few months leading to the elections. This was because Otieno insisted that Raila should take the presidency. He gave a myriad of reasons why, Oginga Odinga should have been president, and therefore Raila should now be president. It was definitely the turn of the Luos, he said. Otieno said his lifestyle would improve this time and he promised to assist his neighbours if the Luos came into power. Njoroge felt strongly that Kikuyus were better leaders and would improve the economy. He said it was their time, seeing that the other Kikuyu leader took over from colonialists and didn’t have a fair chance at making any changes.

Five years after that election, Njoroge has since lost his job and moved to an even cheaper part of the slum. Otieno and Musyoka are still neighbours, still playing cat and mouse games with the city council askaris while attempting to earn a living as hawkers in the capital city. Kibaki’s reign has not brought any change in the lifestyles of the three families, all from different tribes. In fact, the prices of must-buys like sugar, flour, cooking oil, etc has leapt like a striking snake, paralysing their lives with each price increase.

After a good day, with fewer running battles with the city council askaris, Musyoka and Otieno will visit Njoroge who has since taken to drinking illicit brew, bearing a small paper bag filled with ‘mafuta ya kupima’, sugar, tea leaves, a one litre plastic bottle filled with paraffin and sometimes even a loaf of bread for the children.

In the meantime, the Railas’ and Kibakis’ lifestyles have improved. Like the proverbial dog’s crumbs, a little money thrown to the middle classes makes them believe that the economy has greatly improved. Individualism reigns supreme as they think only of their class. In the meantime, corrupt deals are the order of the day. The government takes on additional debt in the knowledge that these debts will be paid by increased taxes on workers. Payment to farmers for milk, vegetables, and meat is increased on one hand and taken on the other by in increase in levies and the prices of basic necessities. The Railas increase their salaries, drive flashier cars, and take more expensive family vacations, all paid for by workers taxes.

Is it any wonder then that they are meeting in the dead of night to strategize?

PoP 17 Aug 07

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Drums and Saxophones

Hand unlatched
He’d quickly turned into the one-way street
Stolen by the lure of colourful uniforms,
Shiny trumpets, drums and saxophones
The rhythmic sound of army boots stamping
The sudden chill that clutched my heart

Rapid turns of my head
into tiny alleys that break
the monotony of the one-way street
furtive glances, looking for hope
in drug filled faces too bored to care

I start to trot,
breaking the careful pace of the parade.
Marching soldiers stumble, losing the rhythm of the band
My heart is beating louder than the mighty drums.
Cold sweat is pouring down my unfeeling arms.

Colours seem brighter,
silver tambourines are clinking
like a million pieces of broken glass inside my head.
The sound of boots pounding
is quietly driving me insane
I realize my mouth is open
in a silent scream.

Despair attacks
and I sit in the middle of the road
watching the parade go.
People turn and stare
wondering at the weight of my load.
Through the corner of my tear filled eye
I see the shiny red of his little shirt.
I start, and then stop, seeing the terror in his eyes
Drained of excitement, my four year old
has realized he’s lost.
PoP © 8 Aug 07