Friday, February 23, 2007

contradictions and frustrations

Its so weird that today, Rotary International (Kenya) had a lunch. Present were both the current president Kibaki and the immediate president Moi!! At the same event!!!

It must have been so weird for Moi to sit by and watch his successor enjoy the trappings of presidency that he had enjoyed for 24 years. It takes guts to sit back and and watch that. He’s gotten so much older and thinner!

Its amazing that this man I loathed so much, who headed Kenya since I was born, is now someone that I can recognize as good, even admire!

I do wonder though, in his secret thoughts, what made him step down. Why give it all up? Was it the winds of change blowing across the continent? Was it pressure from foreign governments? Is he ill and he knew the end was coming? WHY? Was it easy? It can’t have been. Its always hard to give up power…. For that reason, I admire the man.

Simon Matheri has been killed. He was the most feared criminal in Nairobi suspected of being behind the much dramatized crime wave that hit the city. Instead of being arrested and taken to court, newspapers report that he was shot in the head from behind in a standoff with police at around 3am. I wonder if he really did brandish an AK47 as alleged or if the police just decided to shoot him down to prevent him getting out on Bail or bribing his way out of justice. Much as I have a crush on the commissioner of police, I am skeptical on this one. Speaking of which, the commissioner was on T.V. again tonight. What an eloquent man! I think he definitely deserves his job. He is the best advocate for the police force they have ever had.

But back to the question of justice in Kenya The justice system here takes so long that eventually one will find a judge to bribe….

Delamere, the grandson of our former colonial terrorizer, Lord Delamare, is still languishing in jail after making sport of shooting Black Kenyans. Apparently they are taking their time hoping that Kenyans will forget what he did. Twice in two years he shot and killed Black people on his farm. How sad is it that 40 years after independence race is still an issue for us. And Delamare, what was he thinking, did he forget for a second of his colonial history. It’s the last thing I would do if my last name was Delamare and I lived on the Delamare farm, is get into the habit of shooting Black people whenever I felt like it. He was able to wiggle his way out of the first murder but surely, he was stupid to commit the second!

Its not just the justice system that drags its feet. So last year I officially changed both my first and last names. It was a long time coming and I’ll spare you the details here. After going through the legal part of it I submitted my application for a new identity card and passport in March of last year. I got my passport two weeks later!! I was totally blown away by how efficient the immigration department was in terms of passports. The National Identity card though is a different story. I kept checking up on it last year and finally gave up deciding to give the government one full year to sort the whole thing out. I went to pick it up last week, convinced that a year latter it should be printed and waiting for me. I was further prompted by a story in the news that the government department was overwhelmed by the number of uncollected ID cards. The card was not ready!! A whole year latter the guy had the nerve to tell me to try again next week!

Convinced that something else must be the matter, I went today to the headquarters of the ID department; the source, so to speak. And was informed that their computers were down and to try again tomorrow!

Now, let me place this in context. You need a National ID to do virtually anything in Kenya. That includes access major buildings in the city. You hand in your ID card upon entrance and are issued with a visitor’s pass. Not having access to a national ID really limits one’s life in Kenya. Virtually anything you ever need to do required and ID card! If I lived in Kenya full time my life would have ground to a halt by now. And being told to keep coming back week after week is the most frustrating thing ever! I am having a hard time wrapping my brain around how cumbersome it is to access some government services.

But again remember, I got my passport within two weeks as I was supposed to. So its not all government offices that are inept and cumbersome, just some. And unfortunately the ID folks are some of the most important offices that really cannot afford to be inept. That I think is the true cost of doing business in Kenya. In my experiences about half of the government machinery works and delivers quality services to the public (led by the passport folks!), the other half does not (and that includes the ID folks). Then there is the juxtaposition between the commissioner of police who is my hero, and the traffic cops who will solicit a bribe unembarrassed and shoot a criminal in the head from behind; The courts which hold an open house but then take seven years to hear the case of a stolen chicken. This is a country of contradictions.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

Dear Wanjiru:

Thank you for your insights - always interesting (and entertaining!).

You have been curious about Moi's departure for some time, and I recall you asking the same questions over a year ago at least. I think that the answer was actually provided by the lunch to which you refer. Why did Moi give up power? So that, rather than being hunted down like Charles Taylor, or die an old and despised man ridiculed on the world stage like Mobutu, or be sanctioned as he dragged his country into the dirt like Mugabe, Moi left long before he passed the line of no return. And it appears to have worked! Can you imagine Mugabe being able to show his face in public, were he to give up power to his rivals at this point? Moi essentially appears to have secured his future in a way that many other African leaders (probably not all - but you'll have to excuse my ignorance) have not tried. He didn't exactly leave "on top" but there aren't any international warrants for his arrest, and widespread protest just isn't an issue. At least not that I am aware of (perhaps there is a lot of protest in Kenya?). On the other hand, perhaps simply giving up power before things got "too bad," relatively speaking, isn't enough and there should be more of a call for justice. That's something Kenyan's would have to decide. It sounds from this lunch that Kenyan's have already decided.

Indeed, the wheels of justice do take time, in the US as well. I have been absolutely stunned by the documentaries on TV this month, Black History month. Having been born in the late 70s, I didn't live through any of it, and I am amazed by how little I know of it. We are subjected in school to quite a lot of "history," most of it, however, is more "global" - i.e., ex-US. Lots of WWII and European history. Even my US history class spent 90% of the time on pre-20th century history, and only a tiny bit on more recent events. I cannot believe that, only 10 years before I was born, it was illegal for a black person to marry a white person.

And today, it's mostly illegal for a man to marry a man, or a woman to marry a woman. Is it the same thing? Well, biologically speaking, no, not really. Taken to it's logical extreme, the argument for gay marriage might end in the conclusion that "any person should be able to marry any other person." But I can't marry a 10 year old girl, even if she is totally in favor of it. Nor should I be allowed to! There must be rules as to who can marry who (whom can marry whom?). We set an age limit, which in truth is fairly arbitrary, and I hear almost no complaints about it. We set race limits, and the Supreme Court ends up involved. We set gender limits, and again, it goes to the courts (undoubtedly to the Supreme Court). If a line must be drawn, the location of that line is clearly debatable.

Meowser is snoring! Now I know what you mean...

I certainly cannot criticize the Kenyan govt for inefficiency. The US takes up to 10 years to decide on some refugee immigration matters. When I was volunteering with LSS to fill out immigration forms for refugees in Minnesota, nothing was more painful than to watch the refugee's face as I explained that it will most likely take 2-3 years or more before their case is take up by the CIS. Now I watch the conflict checks from the immigration lawyers at my office - there are a lot of these conflict checks - and I wonder, which immigrants have enough money to pay the kinds of fees that we charge? Certainly not the immigrants that I met in Minnesota. I think they're mostly either skilled workers and a company is paying the bill, or they are high-profile political refugees. That's fine, but it sure leaves a lot of more "normal," everyday people with no help, and no way to expedite their case. America, too, has a long way to go before it is a just society....

I guess the fact that we have such immigration issues means that something here is more desirable than in other countries. No doubt. America does a lot of things right. If only we could extend such pleasantries to everyone in the world who would like them!

Well, have a good day/night, whenever you get this.