Friday, 23 October 2015

This Monster we created called “Diplomatic Immunity” aka "License of Impunity" and IPV Prevalence in Kenya

There is this monster we bore and raised called diplomatic immunity that rears its ugly head many a time. Anytime it comes to play it is when the proverbial sh*t has hit the fan….

Recently I came across a disturbing new article that reported that #UNEP employee Alphonse Kambu based in Nairobi from Papua New Guinea who has been accused of physically assaulting his estranged partner Ruth Gakii on Sunday night at Jacaranda estate, as their three-year-old son looked on.

The United Nations Environmental Program - UNEP has expressed its willingness to assist with investigations into an incident where one of its staffers is accused of assaulting his estranged Kenyan lover and causing her grevious bodily harm. In a statement to newsrooms, the UN body has clarified that its employees are only immune from prosecution in actions or words spoken during the cause of their duty and not personal actions. The statement came even as police launched investigations into the matter, with doctors at the Nairobi Women's hospital revealing that the 26 year old woman identified as Ruth Gakii, is out of danger.

Not every case gets to hit the media’s radar and hopefully something useful and meaningful that ensures that justice here is served swiftly and decisively it also begs the question around the need to have diplomatic immunity if it is sued as a weapon to spread impunity. The statistics in Kenya are startling.

About 45% of women aged 15-49 have experienced either physical or sexual violence in Kenya. So much work is going on to shift this dynamic. For one, critical reforms are needed in Kenya’s public health sector to ensure we have well-paid, sufficiently staffed and well-equipped facilities in every county to bridge the disparity caused prior to devolvement of state functions. Currently the Kenyan health sector is plagued with strikes, go slows and lack basic workable updated equipment. It is also critical that every county have healthcare facilities that are proportionate to the population demographics ensuring that every Kenyan’s constitutional right to quality healthcare is met.

We must also push for heightened advocacy efforts around law reforms to ensure marital rape is not exempted from the Sexual Offences Act. Section 43 (5) , as IPV is very prevalent and insidious in Kenya.

That being said, it is hard to ignore the vile and misogynistic comments and sentiments shared on social media that fault those who fall prey to GBV. When we are talking about gangsters and thieves who prey on things that are not there own is our first sentiment,  “You shouldn’t buy stuff if you know it will get stolen!” We should create an environment that allows us all to have security and freedom to choose where and how we want to live and what we want to buy free of prettying, prying and sticky fingers…. that’s why we have laws! And these laws need to work for us and we need to continue to put pressure on government to ensure that people are safe and those who go against the law are punished swiftly. In the same way when it comes to violence, we cannot start this discourse around ‘what the victim out to have done/worn/said to ‘avoid’ such a violation of their person…. no one has the right to do that diplomatic immunity or not!

I also want to challenge those with the audacity to insinuate that ANYONE is deserving of violence. EVERYBODY has a right to live a life free of violence regardless of who they are.
So many sentiments on social media are down right victim blaming rather than focus on the issue here which is to ensure that justice is served and we are all assured that violence meted out on another will not go unpunished! It is in itself another this kind of violation which is barbaric that only serves to push a lot of people (both men and women) who face similar maltreatment further in the margins as they feel as they did something wrong or are responsible for the violence they are subjected to WHICH THEY ARE NOT!!! The only person who is wrong here is the one who thought he or she could wield power by causing physical, mental harm or threat of it over another. That is the wrong here. Period.

On the other, the push back from Kenyans who see the injustice in such cases and are lobbying and calling for the perpetrators to be held accountable is a good sign that we recognise that GBV has no place in our society and that violence in public or in private is a violation of rights and this must end!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Technivism and a Random Paragraph About Shoes

L-R: Me, Melissa - MAVC, Mercy BHESP, Maya & Hannah - Tactical Tech and Nida - MAVC
I got to know (and love) Tactical Tech in 2013 - its  a great non-profit organisation that advances the use of information and digital technologies used by advocates and activists worldwide. I particularly love and subscribe to the very cool toolkits they have developed for activists and NGO's around how to take stock of their advocacy or activism work and their digital security (or lack of it for that matter). I particularly love the Security-in-a-Box Toolkit with a multiplicities of cool tips and tricks on internet and web vulnerabilities that we encounter in daily tech lives as activists.

I recently took part in a discussion and sharing of research findings that Tactical Tech undertook with the Kenyan LGBTI community (with support from a very cool organisation called Making All Voices Count Fund.) The study is called The Möbius Strip: How LGBTQ Kenyans use technology to negotiate visibility and anonymity

Here is an excerpt of the summary of the study:

"Technology in enabling development (often referred to as ICT4D), activism and in transparency and accountability initiatives (T4TA), are the subjects of new interventions and innovation......However, they aren't the users of T4TA initiatives as recent research by the Institute of Development Studies suggests; that it is the 'usual suspects' who are most likely to engage in these kinds of technology projects, that is, usually middle class, educated men who are part of the social mainstream. What are the factors that limit the use of technology by marginalised people? And, if so, what are the possibilities for overcoming them? How do these factors manifest across lines of class, gender and sexuality?...."

It was interesting and unusual to get this feedback. I now realise just how many studies and research tend to be conducted in global South on women's issues or key populations from all corners but none of them make good of the pledge to report back its findings once the study is concluded. I would particularly like to laud Maya Ganesh and Hannah Smith from Tactical Tech for making this pledge good by scrapping up tight resources to come back to those who informed their study. I also felt that the quorum for this session could have done with more participants from the Kenyan community, especially those who were involved in the actual study but then again, I am sure like me, they would not have expected follow through of involving all stakeholders in a study beyond pure 'extraction' for information involvement. Kudos to Tactical Tech for setting a great standard.

One interesting element I took away from the discussion was the need for more technology support, resources and infrastructure for 'dumb phones' rather than the constant push and pressure for new, for innovative and 'very smart' ICT... Overall, there are close to 4.5 billion world phone subscribers, meaning that nearly 65% of the world’s population has some sort of phone which isn't smart (thus the word dumb :-) )...So who exactly are we trying to reach if we are always looking for newer, sleeker, tech-ier ways to connect the world?! I also feel that we totally downplay 'old techie' like radio as ways to engage wider audiences around advocacy, awareness building and activism efforts. There are over 2.4 billion radio receivers and over 51,000 radio stations worldwide. At least 75% of global south households have access to radio.  We need to ensure that the evolving of our activism and the use of techie to anchor this work carries the old and new; If we do this we are likely to bridge gaps of information, access and build a more meaningful discourse and engagements around human rights work locally and globally.

This week we have a huge converging of Techies and human rights activists in Sweden attending the Stockholm Internet Forum 2015. Hopefully the meeting is useful in making more connections, sharing, learning but also taking stock of the old and the new! I look at old and new techie like shoe shopping, some of us can't wait to dump our trusty old shoes into the shoe box and leave the store with spanking new ( !!!and not broken into!!!) shoes....I just hope we do not entirely lose the gains and traction drawn from old by getting distracted solely (ok that was a cheeky pun slotted there) with the new innovations around ICT!

Have a great tech week! Like your shoes, embrace ALL your tech be it old or/and new!

Highlight of my Week! The Inaugural Tamasha Festival in Nairobi featuring Eric Wainaina, Muthoni the Drummer Queen, Shishani among others!!!

Sometimes you have those weeks when you have nothing to look forward to...well, this week isn't one of them! A random public holiday on a Tuesday to mark Mashujaa Day was pretty awesome....Monday became the new at least this week that is...

Well another amazing thing to look forward to is the Tamasha Festival which  is a biennial celebration of Africa and African media makers in the mediums of film, photography, music and literature. In 2016, the festival will bring together creatives from across Africa and the greater African Diaspora for a series of performances, workshops and conversations around the arts. 

The Tamasha pre-festival showcase will host some of East Africa's most inspiring, trendsetting and innovative artists as a launchpad to the main festival in 2016.
And so if you are like me, you have bought your Advance Tickets and saved some cash! If you havent please do that right away via MOOKH for Ksh. 800: (Pay via MPESA or Card).

Gate Tickets @ Ksh.1,200

Join the conversation on Facebook tamashafestival, Twitter @TamashaFestival and Instagram using #TamashaPreFest to get real time updates on featured artistes, tickets and how you can GET INVOLVED.

Looking forward for an action packed weekend!

See you there or be a square!



Wednesday, 3 September 2014

My Fight is My Dream

I was having a conversation with a friend on our personal and collective ideas around belief, religion, and traditions. Reflecting back, I marvel how much we humans are so preoccupied by the way we do things, how and why, and for who and for what?! It is as though these thoughts really take a large proportion of our time and preoccupation. Well, for me at least and perhaps more than I would care to admit…

And so today, I am pondering about my ideas, around my sense of purpose and the things I think that I am meant to achieve in this life. As I dwell on this and draw a quote from a rather famous Kenyan Oscar winner who said, “.. our dreams are valid.” I am curious to know how much of what we hope and dream for can weave into every day talk of our life’s purpose and ambitions.

 To read the full story click on:

Of Conformity, Boxes and Bodies......

The following is a talk I had on 31st July 2014 in Amsterdam Netherlands. I

Melissa Muthoni’s on choices in Kenya

Melissa 'Celebrate Freedom Summit 2014' Credit RNW/Michiel Bles

Friday, 8 August 2014

Sikiliza Speaks....

Its been rather quiet from my end. I felt the stillness as I searched for words that articulated my thoughts and many times drew a blank...and so I was left with no choice but to take my time and wait....

Silence can be helpful. Its very humbling too if you are the kind of person who thinks they have a lot to say. It forces one to calm down after a frantic fretfulness feeling helpless at the mute sounds of my voice. All in all, I am glad I went through that, it allowed me to declutter and remove my head from my self absorbed clouds.

And so...I take in a deep breath and say hello world...

Its so good to be reacquainted...

And now,

Sikiliza seeks to speak ...


Monday, 3 February 2014

Of Droughts & Friends - Water Separates Us

A few years back, I came across a typical post on an LGB page about a new emerging group in North Eastern Kenya. I was drawn to this post, and spoke to a much-surprised Brian* who ordinarily had most of his posts ignored.

Getting to know him and the group Upper Rift Minorities which mainly comprised of nomadic LGB group organizing and growing and finding ways to occupy spaces that are hostile in every sense of the word. I took it upon myself to write about this very inspiring group and their story caught the attention of many.

I guess after that, the rest is history. The group has really managed to grow from strength to strength; and it has even managed reach out to even more vulnerable populations, LGB refugees based in the area and they have support groups.

Over the years, we have become great friends.  I do not write much anymore but today I would like to share with you some rather grim news from my friend.

He sent me this text yesterday,

Imagine, due to hunger in the north, I have been sent to the mountains to rescue my grandparents who are trapped in this scenario.  What the news are showing is just but a small portion of the real situation on the ground.

Melissa, people are dying from thirst, leave alone hunger. The is no water and all the wells are dry, people are forced to move kilometers to look for water, on the way they meet their death. You can’t believe one of my Aunty’s had to leave her two dead children on the way coming. She was forced to leave our grandparents on the way as the could not walk…………

……..I will be out of network for three days. I will go by foot with my aunt coz she is the only one who knows where she left them…..

What a horrible situation! Even more disturbing is that this region has recently discovered two huge aquifers!

 “One, close to the main town of Lodwar, is said to have a proven reserve of 10 billion cubic metres of fresh water. The other, the Lotikipi basin, further north, towards the Sudanese border, is even larger, holding at least 200 billion cubic metres of water. Kenya water discovery brings hope for drought relief in rural north – The Guardian

So it turns out oil was also discovered in the North! Two guesses what has been put as a priority for drilling and pumping - you got it, oil!! So now we have a drought where so many needless deaths, pain and suffering has to be endured by our fellow countrymen and all this barely 4 months into discovery of huge water reservoirs! When is the government going to prioritise the needs and rights of its people as a matter of urgency?

And to think, there are so many complaints against the governor and his warped up priorities on what they are spending money on (like several land-cruisers!!) instead of investing in community based initiatives to allow everyone the ability to make a good and decent life for themselves! And all we know is how to give AID and give heroes, put up millions worth of silly Ads and billboards…wtf! We need to find a way to force the government stop leaving some Kenyans at the fringes of existence! The North does not need aid, it needs infrastructure, it needs equal opportunities like the other parts of this country. Let us stand together and fight for our fellow country men and women to have a live with dignity!
Being the second day our friends is on his trek to rescue his family, I send positive vibes, safety and peace of mind at such a gruesome trip....

“It is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we must do what is required.” ― Winston Churchill

 *Not his real name