The Star (Nairobi)

1 December 2012

Kenya: Launching the Love and Protest Movement

opinion

I'm starting a movement. It's called 'The Love & Protest Movement'.

I'll never run for office. It's not my thing. Politics is not the reason I wake up in the morning. But like you I'm worried, I'm angry and I'm wondering if I'm doing enough. A couple of stories to illustrate my point.

"Charity! Si usonge hawa wazee wapite. Don't you see they are carrying heavy things." Charity moves to the side of the stairway on the instructions of her mother, my aunt Lucy, as a group of four men carrying a TV, video and several household appliances struggle under the weight of the objects coming down the narrow egress.

"Poa, Mum," comes a voice from behind the fridge being carried by two men.

"Works tu!" Aunt Lucy says finding it exciting to practice two of the six sheng words she has picked up.

"Eh Mathee. Kung'ang'ana."

"Inabidi," replies Charity's mum who is also my aunt, Lucy.

Two flights of stairs later, Aunt Lucy forages in her bag for her house keys. She finds them, opens the door and is startled at the sight of her empty apartment.

Outside the security guard jokes amicably to the driver of the pick-up about the upcoming football match as he and his colleagues ferry Aunt Lucy's appliances and furniture away.

Earlier this week I'm doing the grocery shopping. I see the son of a highly placed politician come down the aisle. This guy had been in my former school and we've known each other for so long. But I'm not ready to 'play nice'. He's talking on his cell phone and hasn't seen me yet.

So I beat a hasty about-turn and head the other way busying myself in the frozen foods section, holding my phone up to my ear in a pretend conversation.

You see just over the weekend I've heard stories about how he and some business partners have flouted the building code in an area where I had grown up and put up a 10-storey apartment building where the maximum allowed was four. But his connections go so high the guys at the City Hall have not only looked the other way but like me hide their faces in the frozen food section. What am I going to say if a meeting is unavoidable?

Hey NameChangedToProtectMyself, how's it going?"

"Good, Eric. How's business?"

"You know, a bit of this. A bit of that."

And then we'll nod at each other, politely smile and wish each other's families well when what I wish I have the courage to say is:

"Hey NameChangedToProtectMyself. How's that illegal construction coming along?"

"Hmm?"

"You know, the one where you flouted the zoning code?"

And he will stare at me blankly wondering at my audacity.

"Who did you have to bribe to get that approved? I mean like whoa! And you got the same Chinese guys who are building Thika Road to build it for you. How ingenious! I mean, seeing as they were in the area."

That's all in my head. In my head I've got the gift of the gab. I'm quick witted. Arrow sharp Robin Hood tongue. Stealing from the illegally rich and feeding the poor. Me and my merry band of men.

The other week our househelper arrives at her home to find the plot they live in on fire. She and her family escape unhurt but they lose everything. Not to the fire but to opportunistic thieves who attack whenever a fire breaks out.

"Moto ikianza, chenye mtu anafanya ni kuhepa. Kwa sababu unaweza kuuwawa na vijana ambao wanakuja kuiba mabati na kubeba vitu," she said.

"Moto ilianzaje?" I ask

"Haiko clear. Wanasema ati ni watu kwa nyumba ingine walikorofishana na kutupana jiko. Lakini landlord alikuwa amesema anataka kujenga nyumba za mawe. So hatujui..."she says.

"Hakuna utafiti mnaweza fanya? Na polisi, je?"

I get a blank look.

So I'm starting a movement. It's called 'The Love and Protest Movement". Why that name though? Che Guevara said that the revolutionary is guided by feelings of love.

I'm going to jump onto my scooter and begin to ride across the country stopping at communities along the highway; at bus stops, markets, schools.

We'll set up a microphone and allow people to speak. In the past when we've done Civic Education we've spoken to people, giving them a prescribed message. I'm proposing a model where we let the people tell us what they want leaders to hear.

I'll write about it in this article and feed vox pops to a friendly radio station. We'll film it and air it on a friendly TV station. Then we'll play a short concert encouraging the wananchi to join us using whatever they have at their disposal. If they've got sufurias, beat them. If they've got ladles clap them. If they've got karais pound on them.

For the reason that too often, we make way for the thieves while they rob us blind, we confront the corrupt only in our heads and justice is too far out of the reach of people who are just trying to survive.

So I'm starting a movement. It's called 'The Love and Protest Movement'. It's an opportunity for people to ask hard questions, to demand their rights while keeping the peace.

By the time you read this on Saturday, December 1, there'll be 94 days left to the election. Some might say it's a futile attempt to get a conversation going.

But never before have we been on the cusp of this great democratic exercise with so many dissatisfied groups joined together not by ethnicity but by common frustration.

The teachers have been on strike. The doctors, the dock and ferry workers, the police on a go-slow, the chiefs wondering what's next, university lecturers too frustrated to teach, the army turning on its own people.

The conversation has already begun. I'm only giving it a soundtrack. So I'm starting a movement. It's called "The Love & Protest Movement". Join in.

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