Tag Archives: Human rights

April 2015 – Always Remember.

Terrorists walked in to Garissa University College and massacred students who were only there to get an education. Students who were the beacon of hope for their families. Students who, like most Kenyans, were determined to get an education regardless of their school’s location or proximity to their loved ones. You see, the thing is, unless you are well-connected or you come from old money, education is typically the main way through which you can uplift your family and change your circumstances.

Parents and guardians do everything within their power to make sure their children get an education. Sacrifices are made, loans are taken out, fundraisers are held and furniture sold so that children get an education and a chance at a better life. The families that sent their children to Garissa University College are no different from the rest of us. They did what they had to do, with the resources that they have, in order to ensure their children where educated and had the opportunity to get ahead in life.

For these families to go through this…sigh…there are no words. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror they are experiencing as they try to trace their loved ones. The numerous questions that they are asking themselves. The what-ifs and whys. The uncertainty about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

I read the names of the students who were killed out loud. It reminded me of graduation ceremonies and the fact the students won’t get to graduate. They won’t experience that feeling that you get when your name is called on graduation day. That singular moment that reminds you of the challenges and triumphs that got you to that point. Their loved ones won’t get to sit in the audience and cheer them on on that day. They won’t experience the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of the sacrifices they made for the student.

How could this happen? How? All the promise and potential that each of the students killed carried within them…gone. Why would this be allowed to happen? Why weren’t the students protected? Why wasn’t the university adequately secured? This was a preventable situation, so why wasn’t it prevented?

I hope our leaders are awake and alert now. This cannot keep happening. We need an effective security strategy. We need well-trained and adequately equipped security forces. A system needs to be put in place for security personnel to be able to act on intelligence. Paying lip service to insecurity will not keep any of us safe.

#147notjustanumber is a hashtag that was started on Twitter to memorialize the students who were killed. Please check it out. Behind the statistics are human beings who had hopes, aspirations and dreams.

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#MyDressMyChoice : SOME PUBLIC PERSONALITIES AND MEDIA STAY FAILING WOMEN

The past two weeks have really been dark in Kenya. A woman was stripped naked by a gang of matatu touts because they claim she was dressed “indecently.” She was wearing a skirt and a tank top. Someone recorded it and put it online. Another video circulated after that of yet another lady who was stripped naked by another gang of men. They also claimed she was dressed “indecently.” She was wearing pants and a tank top. Just this past Monday, another lady was stripped naked. The gang of men who did it claimed she was dressed “indecently.” One of them used social media to brag about his active participation in violating the woman. This is what our country has come to. This is the kind of hostile society that women have to live in.

Kenyan women have been using #MyDressMyChoice to not only decry these acts but also express their outrage, share their personal experiences, demand better treatment and advocate for the upholding of women’s rights. From this hashtag, women organized a protest that was held this past Monday.

Of course, as with anything that involves women, you know the foot soldiers of patriarchy where ready to march in and blame these violent acts on women.  Because obviously the sole reason that women are violated is women themselves. It has absolutely nothing to do with men and the entitlement they feel towards women. Nothing. Yes, that is the chewed up grass that such people are trying to sell us, and expecting us not to recognize it for the bullshit that it is.

A media personality wrote a blog stating that “…”My Dress, My Choice” Movement, though with it’s heart in the right place, will only be an excuse for some girls to dress skimpily…” Ha…because the only thing that women want is to “dress skimpily.” Never mind that #MyDressMyChoice is about more than just dressing. It’s about fighting for our rights. It’s about demanding the respect that should be accorded to us regardless of our outward appearance. It’s about upholding our presence in this world as human beings and not objects. It’s about putting an end to violence against women. But these are all minor details to this particular media personality.  Plus they don’t quite fit well into her “be a good girl, show self-value by covering up and you won’t be attacked” narrative.

She then claimed that protesting is the wrong approach. She added, “Don’t fix a wrong with a “wrong” & by that I mean taking to the streets will not change much, just today these street hooligans are at it again! the strike could just make these foolish men fight even more.” Fighting for our rights to JUST BE and walk around without fear is apparently wrong. Protesting is an important step in the change that we all want to see. But hey, why should we protest when we can just stay silent and hope that our silence will shield us from assault? That has clearly worked out well for us in the past.

Another personality tweeted, “…scan your environment and dress accordingly.” Basically, you are to blame if anything happens to you and the perpetrators use the way you are dressed as an excuse. Why didn’t you scan your environment? Why didn’t you dress according to it? Ha…you better get familiar with the handbook on dress as per your environment, woman! Better yet, consult the men in your environment about what you should wear.  The truth is, a woman might scan her environment, and decide to wear jeans and a t shirt to be safe, and still get stripped because they will say “her jeans were too tight,” or “she was enticing us with her walk.”

A gospel artiste wrote, “However, am also against women walking around half naked. Let’s not argue with facts well known to us… we are Africans, where nakedness is shameful.” What is half naked? Is it when our legs can be seen? Or our knees? Or our arms? Maybe our shoulders? She doesn’t clearly define what it is. That second statement is funny in the ignorance-is-real type of way. “…we are Africans, where nakedness is shameful,” is a fact!? How so, when there is numerous evidence, pictorial and otherwise, showing that our African ancestors did in fact walk around in various states of nakedness!? They really must have been steeped in shame then, huh!? Good thing the missionaries and colonialists threw some clothes on them and reminded them that as Africans, nakedness is shameful.

She then adds, ” No matter how much we may argue about this, exposing your body is not right,” and “If all of us women dress in a respectful manner, chances of being stripped are very very low.” Exposing your body is wrong!? According to who? What counts as exposing? Showing your toes? Or maybe palms? What is a “respectful manner” of dress? Who determines this? So our chances of being stripped are diminished based on how we “dress in a respectful manner”? Oh wow…how come we didn’t think of this before? Obviously all that women need to do is “dress in a respectful manner” and all the violence we face will magically disappear.  Of course she had to end her comments with #YourDressYourCharacter. You hear that all you dress-in-a-disrespectful-manner types!? Your character is defined by nothing else but your choice of dress. Ah ah…please spare us.

It really is a problem when your opinion puts others in danger. The above personalities say they are against the stripping of women. However, they proceed, in the same breath, to make statements that uphold the very same systems that have for years harassed, assaulted, violated, trampled upon and silenced women. To say that women should dress “decently,” “in a respectful manner,” “according to their environment” is to say that we, women, call the violence upon ourselves. It is to tell women that we have no right to personal choice. It is telling us that our choices must be tweaked and reworked until men find them acceptable. It is to say that our bodies do not belong to us and therefore we have no agency over them. It is to shift the blame from men, where it belongs, and place it squarely on  women. It is to shame and blame the victims.  It is to explain away the assault. It is to preserve rape culture. It is to deny what the stripping really is about – power, control and patriarchy.

The media also seems to be invested in this blame game.  K24,  hosted Robert Alai, a person who tweeted that he would strip or sponsor the stripping of anyone dressed “indecently,” on a panel to discuss dress code. Really!? Because there is a discussion to be had about this? Because his tweets about endorsing violence against women weren’t harmful enough? Because his views and those of people like him need to be amplified on a national stage? K24, to host such a person and air his views is basically you saying that you in one way or the other support them.

Not to be left behind, Nation FM had a discussion on one of their shows. The question, “Is it right to undress a person in public for dressing “indecently”?” They had a number for people to call and chime in. Seriously, that this is even a question is a problem. Is there really a debate to be had over this? I know media houses are all for the “two sides to every story” but when it comes to violence against women there are no two sides about it. It’s not debatable. You can’t rationalize violence against women. The choice of pictures that Nation FM chose to use in reporting the protest on Monday was also quite telling of their stance on the matter.

The media houses are clearly more interested in ratings than using their platforms to advocate for an end to violence against women. What do they care though? As long as they get their paycheck at the end of the day.

Kenya’s Red Line Train Ride

Hmmm…after the events of this week, I am now convinced the Kenyan government is taking us on a tumultuous train ride to Nowhere Land. They are playing us like the ukulele while at it too. We currently have a digital government whose key security (and everything else really) strategies are speculation and the blame game. I am not sure how they figure they can propel a country forward based on such. How are we expected to continue entrusting them with our lives when they have repeatedly shown they cannot be asked to ensure the safety of Kenyans?

This past Sunday, al Shabaab linked militants attacked Mpeketoni, a Kenyan coastal town, killing at least 49  people and injuring several others. They also set buildings and other property on fire. That attack lasted for hours. On Monday, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Mail & Guardian, in a statement sent to Reuters, al Shabaab said, “Commandos last night carried out a successful raid on the town of Mpeketoni.” They added, “Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril.” The reasons they gave for the attack are the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia and the extrajudicial killings of Muslim leaders.

Joseph Ole Lenku, the cabinet secretary in charge of interior security, came out with the full force of a circus act, describing the attack as “heinous”, calling the attackers “bandits” and stating that they had crossed a “red line.” Which red line, you ask? Well, guess we might never know since Ole Lenku didn’t display any of Netanyahu’s illustration skills, but I digress. He then claimed that security had been beefed up across the country after the attack, and the attackers had been chased northwards by security forces. Basically, rest easy Kenyans, the government has your back NOT.

The militants called bullshit on this security facade by returning a day later. They must have known what we now know…the government stayed asleep. This time they attacked Poromoko, a village close to Mpeketoni. They killed at least 15 people and set houses on fire. Residents told the BBC that at least 12 women were abducted in the latest attack. They also said that the government did not send in enough forces to protect them after the first attack. Evidence that Ole Lenku was putting on a show. Only he knows who it was for.  Al Shabaab also claimed responsibility for this attack.

This is where the circus plot gets lost.

In an address to the nation, President Uhuru decided that this was an opportunity to gain political mileage. He went in on “reckless” and “divisive” leaders hell-bent on creating hate and intolerance. He also said that such leaders make it easy for terrorists to operate in our country. He then stated, “The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons. This therefore, was not an Al Shabaab terrorist attack.”  Eh…say what!? Wait just one minute Mr. President. Didn’t al Shabaab claim responsibility for both attacks!? Or are they lying to us? If so, to what end? We have had several unclaimed attacks, why would they pick this one out of all of them to claim!? Something does not add up here. Who is fooling who, sir? And while we are on the subject of profiling and evicting people for political reasons…isn’t that the same thing your government is doing to ethnic Somalis?

President Uhuru further added, “Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks.” Ok…you have evidence but yet no arrests have been made? What is being done to ensure that those involved in the planning and execution will face justice? What about the abducted women? Do the local political networks have them? Are security forces looking for them?

Perhaps one of the most disturbing statements that President Uhuru made is. “It is now clear that intelligence on this attack was availed to the security officers in Mpeketoni.” What!? In short, the attacks could have been prevented but they weren’t. Why, Mr. President, why? Why was there no action taken? What were security officers doing? Sitting on the intelligence and hoping nothing would happen? Or do they lack the resources required to act on such intelligence? Just what exactly is going on Mr. President? Or intelligence isn’t acted upon until the “red line” has been crossed? I would assume that the possibility of Kenyans losing their lives would result in action but apparently the government would rather cling to inaction.

Of course the President had to throw in this usual statement, “I am satisfied that for the most part, our security agencies have performed well and thwarted innumerable terrorist and other criminal conspiracies and attempts.” Every time there is an attack, the President makes a similar statement. He makes it seem like the security agencies are on top of their game. So how come they missed all the attacks that have happened!? Why weren’t they able to thwart those particular attacks? If security agencies are performing well, why aren’t some of them acting on the intelligence they are provided with!?

At the end of the day, President Uhuru and the rest of the government, all we want is to be safe. We want to be able to move around the country without fear. Security in our country has gone to the dogs…that is undeniable. Whether the attacks are orchestrated by local political networks or terrorist groups, the bottom line is insecurity is on the rise. It is your responsibility to protect the inhabitants of the country that you lead. We can be each other’s keepers, as you suggested in your address Mr. President, all day every day. But if we have security forces that fail to act on intelligence and a government that couldn’t care less about its citizenry, then how is that useful to us?

When a handful of countries in the West issued travel advisories, our government was up in arms. “We will find tourists elsewhere,” they said. When it became obvious that more countries were unwilling to remain silent as their citizens travelled to our attack-prone nation, the rhetoric changed to “Tembea Kenya.” Domestic tourism is great and should in fact always be encouraged and promoted.  However, it does to not deter attacks.

Now that you have realized that Kenyans are after all not bulletproof, what are you going to do about these attacks, dear government? How many lives have to be lost before you cut the BS and actually come up with an effective plan to put an end to these attacks!?

 

Westgate Revisted

It’s been six months since the Westgate Mall in Nairobi was attacked by four gunmen affiliated with Al Shabaab. We still have as many questions as we had when the attack happened. The government’s handling of the matter does little to help.

From the get go it was clear that we, as a country, are ill-equipped and completely unprepared for such attacks. Initially there was a lot of misinformation both from the government and the media. The government claimed that there were about 15 gunmen in the mall. It turns out there were only four. The siege lasted four days. In those days, the Kenyan forces oscillated between cornering the gunmen and not cornering them. Senior security officials tweeted that they had control of all the floors in the mall. However, the operation was only officially declared over more than 30 hours later. Post-attack reports shed light on the infighting that was going on between the police and the army. There was no clear chain of command, a lack of communication and ego clashes between the two groups. This level of disorganization could only have worsened the situation. Here is one of the more comprehensive day by day accounts of the attack.

A more recent news article based on interviews with some Al Shabaab members shows that the attack had been carefully planned for three years. One of the members had this to say, “One thing that the media does not tell is some of the weapons had to be sneaked inside Westgate before the attack. Everyone has to be searched by security. There was a connection that helped get the weapons in.” He added that the reason the attack was so successful and lasted so long is that other members of al Shabaab were already positioned inside, having infiltrated the Westgate as vendors, bribing police and mall security to look the other way. He further claimed that bribes were paid to both private security guards at the mall and Kenyan police — “no less than 100,000” Kenyan shillings (about $1,156) all together — to get the weapons through.

People, security forces at that, were bribed to look the other way. Bribed to collaborate with Al Shabaab. Bribed to get the weapons through. Makes you wonder what they were thinking. Did they imagine the mall was simply being used as a weapons storage facility? Did it not occur to them that something more sinister was being planned? Did they simply not care? Were they just desperate for money? We know how our security forces are severely underpaid. Bribes are usually a side income generating hustle for a good number of them. Whatever their logic and reasoning was it is scary and disturbing. Where else are they going to accept a bribe and look the other way? Which other terror group are they going to work with?

Perhaps this helps explain the level of looting by Kenyan security forces that took place in Westgate Mall during the siege. This footage shows empty alcohol bottles on tables and the bar at Artcaffe, one of the restaurants in the mall. According to reports, the only people who had access to it were security forces. So, as Kenyans were anxiously waiting both inside and outside the mall, the security forces were sampling beer and liquor? Clearly they had time to kick back and relax. Why then did it take them four days to end the operation? Why didn’t they arrest the four gunmen? Shopkeepers and store owners reported that laptops and money had been taken from their properties. Of course the security forces took the deny, deny, deny approach. However, just recently, a police officer was charged with possession of goods suspected to be stolen from victims of the Westgate Mall attack. Read more here.

An investigative piece by a Kenyan journalist showed members of the Kenyan army walking out of a supermarket with healthy shopping bags. In other scenes they are seen rummaging through drawers in stores. After being exposed, they claimed that the shopping bags contained water. Really!? After many a Kenyans had been continuously donating water and other beverages to be given to the security forces as they carried out the operation? People came out in their numbers to give and support them. They were really trying to tell us that it wasn’t enough and they had to get more from the supermarket? If that was the case why didn’t they send two or three of their members to ferry the water in a shopping cart to the rest of them? Wouldn’t that have been easier than many of them going to do the same thing? Hmmm…they really must think we are some kind of dumb. Oh and they were rummaging through drawers looking for hidden threats, apparently. Huh? That’s how people look for threats? OK…yeah…sure.

The government promised an official inquiry into the handling of the attack. Not holding my breath for this one. We all know how official inquiries work in Kenya. Investigations will be conducted, people will shed light on happenings, a report will be written and we will be given the highly sanitized version. Finally, nothing will happen…well…the wrongdoers will probably be rewarded. Just look at Goldenberg and Pattni.

One would hope that our security forces would have learnt from the Westgate attack. But that hope dwindles when you see such – “Kenyan police failed to realise that a car that they impounded from a Somali man and stored outside their anti-terror unit offices for a week was packed full of explosives already attached to a Nokia detonator.” …sigh…no comment.

Of all the questions many of us still have the key one is…where are the missing people? What happened to them? Authorities had initially said 61 people were missing and then revised the number to 39. Is there a search operation for them?

The case of the anti (part 2)

I am convinced that some of our leaders are quite simply anti-women. Yes. Why else would people support and sign into law an act that has such vague descriptions of terminologies and puts women directly in harms way!? I am talking about Uganda’s anti-pornography act.

The anti-pornography act bans women from exposing their breasts, buttocks and thighs, and from “ dressing indecently in a manner to sexually excite” In order to comply with this law then it seems that you just have to wear a sack. You might wear your fitted clothes and someone decides that they are too tight and constitute an indecent act that will corrupt their morals. What exactly is considered indecent!? Are they going to circulate infographics on types of dressing that sexually excite people!? The act is extremely vague on definitions. It really is subject to the interpretation of the reader and the self-appointed keepers of societal moral codes…and that is a very dangerous thing.

The act has already resulted in the assault and sexual harassment of many women in Uganda.  There have been reports of women being undressed for wearing miniskirts as they are considered indecent. These violating acts are carried out by groups of vigilante men who obviously thrive on harassing women. Why else would they be so readily engaged in stripping women!? They justify their behavior with statements like “well she wanted us to see everything,” “it’s against the law,” “this will teach other women to cover up,” “why did she leave the house in such indecent attire?” There have also been reports of police harassing women and forcing them to remove their skirts in public. I thought the police are supposed to protect and serve!?…sigh

It’s infuriating to hear the so called leaders take on the matter. Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister, last year said that women who wore “ anything above the knee” should be arrested. Really Lokodo!? Why should they be arrested!? Is it because their uncovered legs are going to detach from their body and run off to rob a bank!? Or because they are going to interfere with the progress of development projects!? Perhaps women’s unclothed legs are going to engage in corruption…empty the public coffers and what not. Except politicians already have that angle covered. So why exactly should they be arrested!? Lokodo is also the same person that said “One can wear what one wants, but please do not be provocative.” Hmmm…so women are supposed to have the feelings and potential reactions of men in mind when they dress every day!? You can be covered from head to toe and there will still be someone who will be provoked by that. Why should women be assaulted/harassed/arrested because men cannot control and curb their sexual excitement!?

Yes, the act applies to everyone not just women. However, it is primarily women that are in danger because of the act. Why? Well, words such as “indecent” and “provocative” are more often than not used to describe women’s dressing. When is the last time you heard a man’s dressing being described as “indecent” or “provocative”? Even men who sag their jeans so low that you can see their knees aren’t typically described as being dressed indecently or provocatively. Makes you wonder, who is this act really against!?