Saturday, 29 March 2014

Time to raise awareness on Autism in Kenya

A devastating story in one of the local dailies tells of an autistic girl who was raped in Kariobangi. This is just a glimpse into the world of autistic children in Kenya. Autism is a condition that children are born with. It affects their behavior, social skills, and learning and communication skills. An autistic child is often incapable of expressing themselves so as to be easily understood. Often times the child does not speak as in the case of Anne from Kariobangi, who could not shout or scream when her rapists attacked her. It’s just tragic that people with mental health issues often fall prey to sexual violence.
This country isn’t known for its progress in the mental health sector, in fact Kenya government has shortchanged the population for decades when it comes to mental health. According to a report by Dr. Lukoye Atwoli, Chairman of the Kenya Medical Association, Eldoret Division, it is estimated that upto 10-15% of our population suffers from common mental disorders including depression, anxiety and somatisation. See:
For parents of children with mental health challenges like Autism, life is hellish in Kenya. For starters, it’s very difficult to access the right doctors who can help give a diagnosis on the child’s mental health status.  A lot of autistic children are misdiagnosed around the world. In Kenya the chances are very slim that an autistic child will receive the right medical attention at the right stage in their lives so that proper care and treatment is administered.
The statistics on Autism in the US say that 1 child out of every 68 children could be autistic. There are currently no reliable figures from Kenya and no way of knowing just how many children have this condition because they are hidden away from society by their families.
Abigail (Abby) Brooke is a talented young photographer who has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of Autism in individuals who are considered “High functioning”. High functioning autism means that the individual may have similar challenges with other autistic people but they have managed to overcome those challenges or some of the problems have stopped manifesting over time.
Abby missed out on being properly diagnosed at an early stage and was diagnosed at age 13. Since then, Abby and her supportive family have done everything they can to learn as much as possible about Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome. Abby is now 30 years old, and is working on her own awareness project called Walking Autism.
When you first meet her, Abby is a bit shy, because she still struggles a bit in social settings. But once you get her talking about Africa and her project to raise awareness that is when you see the fire and determination in this beautiful young woman. Abby hasn’t had an easy life – she suffered such great discrimination and depression that at age 21 she attempted suicide. It was not easy for her to recover from that low point in her life, but she strives harder every day.
While a lot of autistic people have challenges when it comes to being able to look after themselves, Abby is surprisingly independent. Walking Autism is a project where she intends to trek across Kenya and later across Africa to raise awareness on autism and also to fundraise towards educational programs for autistic children. She began her first trek from Rumuruti to Nanyuki in Laikipia County this week and is expected to arrive in Nanyuki on 2nd April, in time for World Autism Awareness Day. Abby will have covered over 100 kms in her trek.
It’s no secret that mental health issues are largely considered some kind of taboo in this country and that abject neglect and horrific conditions will meet you when you dare to visit Mathari Mental Hospital. It’s just saddening and maddening that Mathari is the only government facility of its kind and that access to mental healthcare for majority of Kenyans is next to impossible.
In his ‘State of the Union address’, President Uhuru Kenyatta did not even mention mental healthcare rather a reiteration of a promise to give free maternity care for women. It’s been a year full of theatrics, intrigue and suspense surrounding the Laptop project for children and the sum total result of that endeavor is that finally the tender issued was cancelled.
Why not forget about giving laptops to kids who don’t even have classrooms? Why not put all that energy and funds into providing adequate healthcare and support to families with children who have mental health challenges? That would certainly make more sense!
Never the less, even where the government refuses to meet its obligations there are some brave individuals who try and do the best they can, and Abby Brooke is one such individual.  It’s time to raise awareness on Autism in Kenya, and that is exactly what Abby is doing. Bravo!

The Somali-Ogaden protest at the Pan-African Parliament

On 18th March 2014, A small gathering of protesters outside the buildings at Gallagher Park in Midrand, South Africa shouted “AU where are you? Down, down, Ethiopia down!” during the inauguration of the 10 years Anniversary of the Pan-African Parliament.
The protesters were members of the Ogaden-Somali and Oromo ethnic communities who live in Johannesburg, South Africa. They had convened to protest the actions of the Ethiopian government and massive human rights abuses inflicted over 20 years by Ethiopian troops.
Despite the fact that the police in Johannesburg had allowed these protesters to convene, the very same police decided to directly interfere with the protest. Under the Gathering Act No. 205 of 1993 the police gave permission to the protestors to convene at the Pan-African Parliament. 
Attorney Ziyaad Patel explained. “I would like to state for the record, that the Johannesburg police department had provided for the Ogaden community to protest outside the Pan-African Parliament and particularly it states under clause( 2): ‘100 metres outside the Pan-African Parliament’.  We have been pushed 500 metres away from the PAP. It is a clear sign that those who have given authority have decided to hide that these people have a legitimate case.”
This may have been a small gathering of voices. Nonetheless, these voices speak volumes of the utter hypocrisy behind the message propagated by the African Union, which states, “One Africa, One voice.”
Not only did the PAP refuse to receive the memorandum created by the Ogaden –Somali people, but they also asked them to re-schedule their protest, and failing that, pushed them as far away as they could from the center of the 10th anniversary celebrations.
The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) proudly boasts the slogan “The Pan African Parliament represents all the people of Africa.” Established in March 2004, by Article 17 of The Constitutive Act of the African Union, The Pan-African Parliament is one of the nine Organs provided for in the Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community.
This past week, the Pan-African Parliament commemorated its tenth anniversary under the theme “10 years of existence of the Pan African Parliament: Reflections on its roles”. Pan African parliamentarians are expected to represent all the peoples of Africa, and the vision of the PAP is well documented in a statement underscored by its president, Hon. Bethel Amadi.
Speaking specifically on the engagement of African governments with the youth, the President of the Pan African Parliament Hon. Bethel Amadi pointed out the grave gaps in governance on the continent. “Investing in youth education is the key to development in Africa. Regrettably our governments have not shown leadership in engaging the youth," he said.
During the Youth Dialogue, Dr Olawale Mayeigun noted that least two thirds of Africa’s population consists of young people aged 25 and below, yet unemployment among those with secondary education or above in Africa is three times higher than among those with similar educational attainment on other continents.
Despite the numbers being in their favor, young people are the least represented in the Pan-African Parliament. During the Youth Dialogue, Sindane, a student from University of South Africa, made this observation quite succinctly. "On tables in front me and behind me I see so many old people; it’s disturbing."
While one Member of Parliament valiantly tried to argue that youth is a matter of attitude and not age, it was clear that the young people who had the fortune to attend the PAP celebrations were not only outnumbered by older MPs but were also struggling to have their issues concretely addressed.
Sindane, the student from UniSA, put it best. “I am not trying to disrespect this sitting, but it should be about giving solutions and not problems".
If the Youth Dialogue was anything to go by, then the PAP is incapable of truly representing the vast majority of the people of Africa, despite having members drawn from national assembly in the various AU member states.
This is not just about 60 per cent of the continent anymore. It is also about a political decision by the Pan-African Parliament to disregard the cries for help by an ethnic minority in a country that houses the headquarters of the AU.
It is also about justice. The fact that many young people were unable to attend the 10th anniversary celebrations due to discriminatory policies that enforce visa requirements from residents and citizens of member states to travel to both South Africa and Ethiopia speaks to access and visibility, and being heard and taken seriously.
Ten years down the line, the Pan-African Parliament is not able to even give the time of day to African people who are unrepresented; yet it claims that through the parliament, all African people will be represented. This isn’t just about electing the right leaders at the National Assembly in each country, but about the AU and its different organs recognizing that it is indeed one of the last resorts that oppressed communities have to turn to. Failing this, the people of Africa may turn to the International Criminal Court.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Polygamy has financial implications too!

It’s amazing what occupies the floor of parliament. Take the amendments to the marriage bill for example. One wonders why male MPs thought it is crucial to put into law the need NOT to seek consent from wives when a man wants to marry more – it’s not like they were asking women to begin with anyway. The fact that the clause on consent was put in there in the first place was meant to allow their wives the option of knowing when their domestic situation was going to be expanded PRIOR to its expansion. Eventually of course, most women do discover the second/third wife.
The way polygamy was defended you would think that any man can actually afford a second wife and family – they can’t. To repeat the words of one MP – “This is Africa.” Most of the population in Kenya is living under the poverty line. To demand /not demand consent in polygamy is a non-issue when you are trying to survive, nay EXIST. You can demand consent till you go blue in the face, if he can afford a second wife he will get one. If he can’t, what’s the point of a law that allows him to marry again without consent?
These are useless undertakings quite frankly. The only admirable thing about the marriage bill is that now every single marriage needs to be registered legally. See that? You want to marry as many women as you can afford but you have to do it legally meaning that if you can’t afford these wives you will be in deep trouble soon after you say “I do.”
I can only imagine the sort of trouble an “African” man is looking for when he seeks a second wife whom he shall be legally obligated to. It’s almost comedic – the matter of being just and equal and fair to all wives while single handedly providing for them, their children and all your in-laws is such a herculean task that polygamous men in Kenya can honestly consider their full time occupation as “being married.”
In some ways – it’s almost romantic that men who should genuinely be focused on being the providers for their families can take THAT much interest in being attached to yet another woman and yet more children because “This is Africa.” I think that if a man has that much love and commitment no woman should be overly concerned about whether he asked for her consent or not; clearly he is keen to be dominated by you, your co-wives, your children and domestic affairs 24/7 for the rest of his life. That’s real love, ladies!
I applaud these MPs – for making polygamous marriages legally binding and also for inadvertently forever committing themselves to all the wives they wish to marry. It is quite admirable that these legislators have chosen to bind themselves to the “old ball and chain” willingly. Usually you have to get a shotgun to make some men marry, here in Kenya they WANT to marry!
So, ladies, there is no need for getting worked up over the consent issue – to be frank, they weren’t asking for your consent before while supporting the second or third family and thus far you were still being catered to as is your right as his wife. If he wasn’t catering to you, you had the same legal channels as always to enforce your rights.
Speaking of legal channels – which many will argue are skewed in favor of men, the same courts that will recognize polygamous unions will also have to issue orders on family rights. Such that, even though “This is Africa” polygamous men will definitely have to do right by ALL their women. For example, If you are polygamous you have to provide housing for all your wives. That’s two houses if you have two wives. Or a really big house if you choose to live under the same roof. You also have to make sure you provide for your children fairly so that’s school fees, clothes, and healthcare multiplied by the number of offspring your loins can produce and that is into infinity seeing as you can marry as many as you wish.
It’s just absurd to even have a clause on consent when you really think about it. Your husband has to be a really rich person to go round marrying women and legally binding himself to a second family in Kenya, where the cost of living is considered among the highest in Africa while at the same time being bound legally to provide for you and your kids as well. As far as I can tell, rich men don’t stay rich by spending their money – never mind splitting their money and time between so many people who are legally entitled.
I am certainly not against polygamy – in fact I agree, marry as many women as you can afford. The key issue here is “afford.” Just like you didn’t need consent to marry, you also don’t need anyone to remind you that your bank account just got halved and that you have shrinking resources due to your desire to acquire wives as though they are appreciating assets. When you consider these implications, I dare say that clause on polygamy could very well mean the end of clandestine affairs, absentee husbands, mistresses and eventually will lead to the end of polygamy which legally speaking is quite an expensive matter. So thank you, dear MPs!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

For many, there’s little to celebrate on International Women’s Day

8th March, was International Women’s Day.
In Kenya, this auspicious event marked a continued state of injustice for women and inequalities at the legal and social level.
Significantly, the fact that hardly any cases of sexual and gender based violence from the post-election violence (PEV) of 2008 have been prosecuted speaks loudly of the state of persistent injustice in Kenya for women and girls in particular.
In so far as common law is applied in Kenya, the DPP indeed cannot be faulted given the circumstances he has presented as reasons why he cannot proceed with these cases.
However, ever since we promulgated the Constitution in 2010, statute laws under treaties Kenya signed and ratified were domesticated, and this includes the Rome Statute. Within article 7 of the Rome Statute, sexual and gender based crimes such as rape, forcible circumcision, genital mutilation and sexual slavery are prosecutable offenses falling under International Crimes, yet there seems to be a clear lack of political will to pursue justice under these laws.
This is evident in the response to application 122/2013 by the DPP. To put the DPP’s response in perspective we have to revisit the situation back in 2008. After election disputes erupted over the presidential election results, there followed a period of 2 months during which violence and insecurity was pervasive throughout “hot spots” in parts of Rift Valley, Nairobi, Kisumu, Mombasa and Western Kenya.
Widespread, systematic violence took on ethnic proportions in which people from ethnic communities perceived to belong to rival political parties ODM and PNU were targeted, attacked, brutalized and killed. Out of this vicious conflict, the story of one particular young man’s experience should haunt us all.
At the time, this young man was only 12 years-old, Luo and living in Naivasha area. He says that he and many other young boys were dragged to a field, stripped naked, and held down by four men who then used a machete to “circumcise” him. He passed out from the brutality of the ordeal, and later woke up in what he describes as a field of blood.
Out of the tens of boys who were attacked that day, this young man believes he was the only one who survived because none of the others left that field. He does not know who his attackers were, nor can he identify them.
It has always been the argument in common law, and indeed the prevalent attitude that the victim must present evidence of a crime being committed and also to identify the perpetrator of the crime. This is a skewed version of justice where the crime did not occur if the victim is not able to report the crime or identify his attacker.
Yet, in statute law, the onus of proving that a crime occurred is no longer placed upon the victim, but upon the prosecutor. It is the prosecutor who is mandated and expected to conduct investigations, and who is responsible for seeking justice on behalf of the victims.
It is clear that as far as statute laws in Kenya are concerned, the DPP has failed victims abysmally.
It may be that the culture of impunity is vested in the culture of the people. It’s a fact however that when it comes to women and girls, the prevailing cultural attitude is that they are assets, such that if a woman is violated or raped, then a man’s asset has been violated. Does the DPP then expect some man somewhere to come forward with evidence that his female assets were violated and for that man to identify the other man who violated his assets? In the entire discourse, the woman, her body and her rights have ceased to exist.
That same discrimination and impunity regarding sexual violence has in turn affected boys and men who are also subjected to crimes such as forcible circumcision, genital amputation and sodomy.
The truth is that as long as this society practices entrenched patriarchy that denies human rights to women, that same patriarchy will create victims out of men as well.
We choose to belong to the international community by signing treaties and ratifying them. We also choose to celebrate international days alongside the rest of the world. But we as a nation refuse to recognize that half of our society is even human.
This is not just a problem at the societal level but an ingrained policy that is finely expressed through the patriarchy in our laws.
That prevailing patriarchal attitude and disproportionate discrimination against women and girls in particular defines the implicit state of Female Justice in Kenya.
Twitter: @bettywaitherero

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Nairobi Should not be Held hostage by Touts

Kenyans seem to have a collective problem and that is IGNORANCE. Granted, being ignorant is not necessarily a bad thing; I am happily ignorant of what cocaine “high” feels like, and I don’t want to know. It’s a fact that there are some things on this planet you would much rather never know about, but certainly the LAWS of your country do not fall under that category.
Dr. Evans Kidero really is a man under siege. You would think, given the sort of chaos that erupted on 5th March in the public transport sector, that he was a person who is unreasonable, a bully and an oppressive dictator who woke up one day and decided to impose a 200% increase in parking fees overnight. Certainly, that is the message that the public service operators (PSV), SACCOs and touts were sending; that they were compelled to protest, to disrupt transportation and to force thousands of Kenyans including myself, to walk to work.
My legs have recovered from the trek, which turned out to be an unnecessary exercise even though it may have been much needed. These PSV operators chose to hold the whole city hostage instead of adhere to rulings on their own petition 486 of 2013 in which the court found that the Nairobi Governor and county government had indeed consulted the public before increasing fares and instituting other measures that the PSV operators were protesting about.
Somewhere along the way, the general public was held for ransom by corrupt PSV operators whose sole intention was BLACKMAIL. Their view was simple; if the court cannot rule in their favor then they can easily disrupt public transportation and create chaos until the county government does exactly what they want.
The last time these PSV operators did something similar that was equally illegal, barbaric and an attempt at blackmail was back in 2003, when the government instituted new transportation laws better known as “Michuki rules”. Simply because the government, for the first time in the history of Kenya, showed some superficial concern for the lives of passengers and implemented rules on the provision of safety belts and speed governors, the PSV operators decided that all commuters in Kenya should walk to work. For 3 days, Kenyans valiantly walked, 3 days of excessively exercising previously sedentary legs, only for the PSV operators to balk and realize that they live hand to mouth and need to pay their rent.
This is the curse of ignorance. It doesn’t matter for how long PSV operators decide to strike, at the end of the day; they are the ones who are disrupting their OWN businesses. We are simply passengers; our sole investment in commuting is by virtue of the need to get to work without being exhausted. So deciding that the best response to a ruling on parking fees is to disrupt your OWN businesses and bring chaos will only inconvenience thousands of people for a few hours and then you will have to get back to earning your daily bread, which is what happened.
I think Dr. Kidero was being rather magnanimous by negotiating. He certainly was in a really compassionate mood when he decided to do that. If John Michuki was governor of Nairobi this week I assure you that we would still be walking to work 3 weeks later. So in a sense, I am grateful to Evans Kidero for agreeing to sit down and work things out with PSV operators.
As for the argument that the Nairobi County government did not engage the public adequately prior to enactment of the new laws concerning parking fees, it’s clear that ignorance caused PSV operators and their umbrella bodies to miss the SEVERAL gazette notices and advertisements put into the newspapers asking the public to attend forums in which the legislation, fees and implementation procedures were discussed.
It’s been 4 years since the Constitution was promulgated, isn’t it time that we all read it and internalized the various rights, privileges and responsibilities accorded to us? It’s not up to Dr. Evans Kidero to make a speech on TV each time the county government asks the public to engage in participatory forums. Actually, it is the citizens DUTY to seek to participate in governance issues at the county level as is mandated by the Kenya constitution article 10 and article 174. It may be a Kenyan thing to be ignorant, but to be ignorant of your own duties and then to run riot when you are left out of governance process is a sign of plain idiocy.

DRC’s failure to arrest Bashir deals injustice to Darfur victims

Since 1998, the Democratic Republic of Congo has struggled with bitter successive conflicts affecting vast regions of the country, especially in Kivu and Ituri regions during and after the Second Congo War.
Despite several peace agreements made between combatants in 2003, the extreme atrocities committed against vast numbers of the population soon became internationally acknowledged as possible crimes against humanity, including genocide, rape, forcible transfer and sexual slavery.
When the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) referred the first cases to the International Criminal Court in 2004, it was President Joseph Kabila who signed a letter written to the then ICC Chief Prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo requesting him to investigate the DRC situation in order to determine if any person within the territory of the DRC should be charged with crimes as stipulated in the Rome Statute.
The state authorities have committed to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.
The DRC authorities have so far exhibited cooperation in the cases of six indicted and charged individuals, having arrested and delivered three of them to the ICC for prosecution.  
It is Joseph Kabila’s signature that began the first investigations ever to be conducted by the ICC, and today it is Joseph Kabila’s government that stands in the path of justice by refusing to arrest an indicted fugitive from justice, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, the current President of Sudan.
On February 25th 2014, in total disregard of its legal obligations under the Rome Statute, the DRC hosted President Bashir at the 17th Heads of State and Government summit of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA). Despite calls by the President of the Assembly of State Parties, H.E Tiina Intelman, and a request by the OTP that the DRC arrest Bashir the moment he arrived in Kinshasa, the Congolese authorities refused to comply, stating that they were following the wishes of the African Union (AU).
To date, 90 civil society organizations have added their voices to the demand for the arrest of President Al-Bashir.
“Congo as an ICC member has an obligation to arrest and transfer President al-Bashir to The Hague, where he is wanted for crimes against humanity and war crimes,” said Georges Kapiamba, president of the Congolese Association for Access to Justice, based in Kinshasa. 
For the DRC to turn their backs on the Darfuri victims and to side with the man charged with horrific crimes against them is not only a devastating blow to justice in the case of Sudan, but also a clear hypocritical stand taken by the very initiators of the court processes and functions in Africa.
“Having long worked closely with the ICC, Congo should demonstrate that it stands on the side of Darfuri victims, and arrest al-Bashir,” said Descartes Mpongo, executive secretary of Christian Activists Actions for Human Rights in Shabunda of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Unlike other African states like Kenya, Zambia, South Africa and Malawi that have avoided state visits by Bashir by cancelling events, inviting other government officials or relocating events, the DRC was brazen, choosing to host Bashir and then purporting to justify its actions.
The DRC has refused to comply by Assembly Resolution ICC ASP-12/Res.3 adopted in November 2013 by the Assembly of State Parties which categorically states among other measures that “contacts with persons in respect of whom an arrest warrant issued by the Court is outstanding should be avoided when such contacts undermine the objectives of the Rome Statute.”
When it comes to the weak argument that the DRC is complying with the wishes of the AU, it is only fair to note that the July 2009 Resolution concerning the arrest of President Bashir was passed without a vote, and holds no legal weight over the Congolese authorities.
Since the indictment of President Bashir, the AU has developed a strained relationship with the ICC, one that began with the now pervasive myth of the ICC being an “imperial and neo-colonial court” funded by western nations. It is important to note that when it comes to funding of the court, all state parties are obligated to contribute to the financial requirements of the ICC, and that includes the DRC and Kenya.
More importantly, the clear antagonistic demands to withdraw AU member states from the Rome Treaty en masse appear to stem primarily from countries that have refused to sign the treaty. Indeed, the increased insistence on non-cooperation with the ICC comes from most notably from AU member states that are not state parties to the Rome Statute. Madame Tiina Intelman, President of the Assembly of State Parties was quite categorical.
“As President of the Assembly, I deplore the visits of persons subject to arrest warrants of the Court to any State Party. I urge the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fully comply with their obligation to cooperate with the Court.”
It is unlikely that the Dafuri victims will ever see justice given the fascist and insidious nature of the current Sudan regime and the ICC may indeed be their only hope to not only see justice for crimes already committed but a possibly more stable political future in the absence of Bashir’s government.
It is indeed deplorable for persons’ with arrest warrants to visit any state party in the first place. But it is without a doubt the rankest mockery for the State party that has thus far seen the most action taken on behalf of their victims to turn around and deny the victims of Sudan that same chance at justice from the ICC.