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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Christmas...what does it mean today?

What does Christmas mean today? I wonder.

Last evening, we were having the end of year staff dinner, and we got discussing what Christmas means and what it meant. We managed to get several issues to point to what made Christmas something different for us when growing up, but we never quite figured what it means today.  For Christians, Christmas represents the time that redemption started by Jesus coming to earth to be born as a human and live in the human life. It is one of the most celebrated holidays in the Christians calendar while it represents a holiday for many people in Africa as organizations take a break as it is towards the end of the year.

In the past there was something ecstatic about Christmas and the kids knew that was the time when some of the goodies that don’t come every day would come. It was compulsory to get new clothes during Christmas, but today this is neither here nor there, new clothes can be bought any season of the year. There were special meals for the season not to mention the very different way of having the Church service.

I have been reflecting on what Christmas meant at different seasons of my life. While growing up as a kid, in a big family, this was the season that you had to have something new! It is interesting how we never cared or even taught where parents got the money for this for the big family and with life having been harder then economically. I still remember the joy of waiting to see what my dad had in store for us during Christmas, it was different from any other presents at any other time of the year, and we knew Christmas was here. It was unheard of not to have chapattis during Christmas and often roast meat.  Today celebrations happens every now and then. The celebrations came with elaborate church services and different events. There was a vigil walk from one home to the other with Christmas carols   on the 23rd of December. This was an exciting moment when one could spend the night singing and moving from one place to the other. This was popularly called ‘murekio’. I am not very sure what it meant but it was an important even in the Catholic. This was the first casualty to go due to aspects of insecurity  and it was made into a one venue event during the day. I still remember singing and watching the starts and feeling really Christmas is here! Some Muslim friends of mine shared that  they felt the excitement of Christmas and it also meant something to them, some moment of getting together and merry making.

The Catholic had and still does have a way of bringing back the memories of the manger. There is a replica of the imagined Bethlehem with a manger, where the baby Jesus lay, and as a child this meant so much to me. I can still remember the awe I felt every time I found my way to the manger with a lot of colored lights and thinking how it must have been in Bethlehem at that time. The night mass that ended after midnight made the mood complete. With time, some of the Churches have removed the evening mass within the same locality as the Churches geographical locations of the churches are more divided to cater for growing populations and hence a few priests serving the different Churches.  There is still something magical about Christmas vigil mass. Somehow, things are more ‘ordinary’ even during the extra-ordinary season.
One of the most significant aspects of Christmas is families getting together and many people travel at least this once to the localities. I never thought I can spend Christmas away from my family but I did while in campus. Christmas songs carols are quite inspirational hence I was caught in between the singing and being with my family. I love singing, music gets to my soul. Through the universities mass choir we spent Christmas at state house. There is something euphoric about the Christmas carols and I still remember one ‘ my, my, my, Mary’s boy child, Jesus Christ was born on Christ-e-mas day’! I remember the melody and the two tenors one being the late Mr Ogallo, a great musician may he rest in peace’. It made Christmas special.
So what does Christmas mean today? Many Kenyans especially Nairobians travel to the coast region, one can almost hear the coast people saying the ‘tunaomba serikali watu wa Nairobi wabaki Nairobi’. It is the time that many get a break from work hence the traffic is normally heading from the city centres to rural areas and to the coast.  I am still reflecting on what Christmas means to me today.  Do we get to reflect what this means to us, what it has meant to us? With the mobile telephony that has changed the communication, this is the season that one will get text messages even from those who have not communicated in the past year. But this ends at Christmas, until the next Christmas.

Whatever it is, something gets awakened during Christmas, some positive energies.
During this Christmas am inspired by one of my favorite songs in high school, and I believe this will be my relic this Christmas. The words inspire me that ‘Wherever there is laughter ringing, someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there, Love will be our home’.
The message for Christmas has been love, where we can live together in harmony.  During this period I can strive to lock out the negative energy and concentrate on a renewed energy, peace and love.

If home is really were the heart is, And home must be a place we all can share
For even with our differences, our hearts are much the same, For where love is we come together there

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming
We can live together there, Love will be our home

Wherever there are children singing, Where a tender heart is beating, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

With love our hearts can be a family, And hope can bring this family face to face
And though we may be far apart, Our hearts can be as one, When love brings us together in one place

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there,  Love will be our home

Where there are words of kindness spoken,Where a vow is never broken, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

Love will, love will be our home, Love will, love will be our home
Love will, love will be our home

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there, Love will be our home

Wherever there are children singing, Where a tender heart is beating, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

Love will, love will be our home, Love will, love will be our home
Love will, love will be our home

Wherever there is laughter ringing, Someone smiling, someone dreaming, We can live together there, Cause love will be our home

Love will be our home. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kenyans for Kenya- where are we?

By Sophie Ngugi
Kenya has been in the international news for various reasons, mostly some crisis or the other.  Kenya was dominating the news between December 2007 and February 2008, for reasons that we will not forget in the near future.  We were in the worst violence to rock the country since independence popularly now known as Post Elections Violence (PEV). Fast forward, August 2010 and were in the news again, this time it was progressive news; we had peacefully voted to overhaul a constitution!  We can talk about this event forever, the great example that Kenya set to the entire world.
This reminds me of a story I was once told. There was this woman who had tried for long to get a child. Assuming the story is set in the African setting, it is well understood how childlessness is frowned upon, and the women is blamed for it hence it becomes easy to empathise with this woman who was scorned and looked down upon. It would therefore be well understood the excitement of this woman who had waited for so long when she finally got a child. In the excitement as she went sharing the good news she forgot to take care of the child. I am almost sure that this cannot happen to any woman who is a new mother, but the moral of the story is clear; if we don’t nurture what we have it will die. This is the challenge for Kenyans, and we have to keep reflecting back on this, and assessing how far we have come.
‘Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation two years on: where are we?
Those were the words that glared from several banners at the conference hall from 2-4th December 2010. As I sat at the Crowne Plaza where the conference was to be held I could not help but wonder; really where are we? This was the theme for the 2-day conference organised by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the African Union panel of experts. The purpose of the conference was to take stock of the progress made in the implementation of the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation (KNDR) agreements and the recently promulgated Constitution of Kenya, as well as build momentum for the full achievement of the reform agenda. This was an important occasion in Kenya, taking place just as the country is undergoing the pains of overhaul having passed a new progressive constitution and now the overwhelming task of making it a reality is here with us; with a lot of politicking regarding the justice process.
The conference theme got me reflecting on where we have come from as a nation and wondering what we are each doing to make Kenya the nation we envision. On 28 February 2008 following the  political violence that engulfed Kenya after the disputed December 2007 General Election, the two main parties – the Party of National Unity (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) – signed an agreement to undertake several step to end the crisis. Through mediation by the African Union’s (AU) Panel of Eminent African Personalities under the chairmanship of Mr Kofi Annan, the parties committed to undertake actions under four main agenda items agreed at the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation (KNDR) process. These were:
Agenda Item 1: Immediate action to stop violence and restore fundamental rights and liberties;
Agenda Item 2: Immediate measures to address the humanitarian crisis, and promote healing and reconciliation;
Agenda Item 3: How to overcome the political crisis; and
Agenda Item 4: Addressing long-term issues, including constitutional and institutional reforms, land reforms, poverty and inequalities, youth unemployment, national cohesion, and transparency and accountability[i].

The overall agenda of this conference therefore, was to review the progress made by the grand coalition government 2 years on.  The first 3 agendas were immediate to stop the violence and address the humanitarian crisis. The Agenda 4 item aimed at addressing the root causes of the violence through institutional reforms, with the constitution review being one major issue. The different aspects of the Agenda 1-4 had been handled while others remain unaddressed. The delegates composed of government officers, members of civil society organizations, diplomats among others reflected and discussed on various aspects of the implementation of the agreement with a lot of focus on the implementation of the constitution and the transitional justice system.  The chief guests in the event were Kofi Annan who played a key role in the peace agreement in Kenya and the dreaded and anticipated International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo.  These two gentlemen represent peace and justice in the eyes of many Kenyans, Kofi Annan was critical in unlocking the deadlock for the country following the post elections violence, hence representing peace; while Ocampo has been viewed as the representative of justice in Kenya with the prospects of punishing the chief perpetrators. The chief prosecutor’s speech stood out as he outlined the plan for prosecution of 6 individuals who has highest responsibility in the post elections violence.

He emphasized that ‘We are investigating murders, rapes and forced displacements, which constitute crimes against humanity”. This caused quite some ripples in the country with a countdown to the day when the names will be made public. The ICC now looks more real, hence there is political resistance to the ICC process mostly the political class who are afraid of the implications of the ICC, while other Kenyans are mostly hopeful that the ICC process will send a message relating to end of impunity in Kenya.

Does this mean that every Kenyan who suffered will feel that justice has served due to the ICC process? How will the woman and girl who was raped and still live with the scars of the violence benefit from the process? What of the man who sees the neighbour who took his property across the fence while he can only recall how he lost his livelihood and dignity? How does the Kenyan who lost loved ones feel justice in this process?  The future of our nation lies in our hands as Kenyans; we are the ones who can decide to bring justice in our nation, and to ensure that the constitution is implemented in spirit and in word and other aspects of the agreement.

Several issues still stand out; justice for post elections victims and establishing local mechanisms; durable solution to the IDPs issue as many are still in transitional camps and settling them and allocating land has remained controversial 2 years later; reconciliation of communities, who we expect to coexist to name just a few of the issues that Kenyans are dealing with.

As I listened to the various issues that were raised in the conference, I could not help but notice the normal divide of duty bearers defending their role, convinced they were doing their best in the implementation of the constitution and other reforms; while the rights holders expressing the very opposite, there was rarely middle ground in the discussions. On the other hand the voice of many who have waited for justice for long was loud. It was clear that violations have happened for long that people are no longer sure when justice will come knocking. Some expressed that post elections violence has affected them for a long time indeed, in previous elections not just the 2007 elections while others expressed various forms of violence in various parts of the country that generations have suffered.

The international process will not sort out the grievances and pain of Kenyans if not followed by local efforts towards justice, reconciliation and healing.  Kenyans know that the ICC process is just a tip of the iceberg about the over 1, 133 innocent Kenyans who lost their lives, the families they left behind, the hundreds of thousands displaced, some who are still living as internal refugees, and the thousands of women and girls who were raped. Kenyans also realize that the ICC process is only but one step in a several procedures that we must carry out towards enabling effective closure on the Post Election Violence. Other steps ahead include local criminal prosecution of lower profile perpetrators of murder, rape and other criminal activities carried out during that period, as well as processes of national healing and reconciliation. 

The back therefore stops with us Kenyans, with me and you, not with the external processes.

In his closing speech, Kofi Anan uttered conviction in Kenyans being able to manage their nation “I came here to listen. What I’ve heard makes me believe that the prospects are good. You are passionate about your country, honest about the challenges you face; and determined to create a democratic, peaceful and stable Kenya that is rooted in good governance, the rule of law and respect for human rights[ii].
So; how far are we; and, where are we? Are we waiting for the ICC to sort our issues or are we on the path of sorting our mess? Are we keen on the implementation of the constitution that we worked hard towards or are we waiting several years down the line to complain how it has not been implemented as per the wishes of Kenyans?

It is a Kenya for Kenyans, and as citizens we have a responsibility to ensure this happens, that we claim our country back.

[i] South Consulting, Nov 2010, Briefing notes on the conference
Ii Kofi Annan’s closing speech