‘It was one of the best days of my life,’ a participant shared in my training referring to the protest called the ‘State Burial’ organised by Boniface Mwangi and his organisation Picha Mtaani a few days before. We had carried a coffin together for a while as most of the protesters had run off too fast to the parliament. I was now meeting some of the protesters in their home ground, Mathare. After Kibera the second largest slum in Nairobi. Around half a million people live here. I was invited to give a training on human rights and youth advocacy to the Kenyan Youth Advocacy Network.
This Network wishes to do civic education for young people in Kenya, starting in the slum areas. The civic education is directed at explaining people how to vote, why it is necessary to vote for leaders that have the best qualities, and not to vote along tribal lines, because they promise to take ‘care’ of their tribesmen. The members of the Network come from the slum areas themselves. In the past days they have been very busy as well trying to do peace negotiations between different groups in Mathare, to ensure no houses were torched. In the run up to the elections upcoming March, tension in different areas is rising again. Joseph, one of the members explained to me that in the area where the training was held, the Luo had driven out all the Kikuyu owners of their shops in the post-election violence in 2007. The Kikuyu have not returned since then.
And the risk of the violence recurring is certainly there. The ‘State Burial’ was a response to members of Parliament trying the week before to pass a Bill where they would remunerate themselves with 9,6 Million Kenyan Shilling per head as golden hand shake, the guarantee of a state burial and a paid security guard for the rest of their lives. President Kibaki eventually refused to sign the Bill, but the sheer outrage for trying and the blatant greed and arrogance to ask for this in a country where the majority of the population lives in poverty, was enough to say enough-is-enough. The protest had the following message:
‘We shall have 222 coffins one for each Member of Parliament to protest the MPs golden handshake. We are holding our leaders responsible for their actions, hence the coffins symbolising death to impunity and bad leadership.’
The protest was orderly, enthusiastic and full of energy and ended with the coffins being set on fire in front of the Parliament. This positive atmosphere and spectular end led to good media coverage who understood the message, but most of all protesters that felt they had made their point.
In the evening I found myself at a function which displayed political cartoons and met another woman who had participated in the protest. She had protested already in the 90ties to make an end to the ruling of the dictator Arap Moi. She was raving about the positive atmosphere in the demonstration and the liberty they had experienced to do this. This certainly wasn’t the case during the Moi era, ‘You had to at least let 5 people know you were going, you brought a sweater in case you got arrested and had to spend the night in the cell and prepared yourself for the beating by the police.’
In the training I asked participants to explain where they were on the road to realisations of human rights, starting with no rights at the beginning of the road and all rights for all at the end of the road. One group said, we’re actually at a crossroad, all we need to do is make the right turn. Kenya has come a long way and will continue to do so. Hopefully this is reflected in the next elections and at least one MP will be elected that truly represents all the people of Mathare as for the first time in Kenyan history somebody from the slum of Mathare is vying for the position of MP.