End Femicide march held in Nairobi in January 2024

Why Kenyans Need to Embrace Solidarity

The world is experiencing a rollback on human rights gains, with a significant section of the population going through different types of repressions. The media is awash with news highlighting shrinking civic spaces, identity-based discrimination, and other forms of human rights violations. Globally, solidarity actions such as the global #FreePalestine movement can no longer be ignored. Solidarity in the African context is not merely about joining worthy causes; it is about appreciating Ubuntu, understanding that we are siblings and that what affects one of us inadvertently affects all of us, thus the obligation to rise against any injustice anywhere.

In Kenya, what transpires de jure and de facto continues to be worlds apart. Despite an existing teenage Constitution with very progressive provisions, 14 years past its promulgation, clear threats and wanton violations of Chapter Four continue to prevail. Systemic inequality coupled with corruption pushes the less fortunate to extreme vulnerabilities. As you walk, drive or cycle on Raila Odinga Road, Carlton Maina’s mural reminds us how our criminal justice system has a long way to go. Yasin Moyo’s family awaits justice on the other side of town years later.

Recently, flash floods claimed over 270 lives, and others are yet to be traced. One striking case is that of comrade Bena Buluma, aka Mama Victor, who died alongside her family members and neighbour Jacinta Adhiambo. Residents of Mathare had called out for help, making calls and posting on social media platforms seeking help for people who had been stuck and risked drowning. Those who ought to render the emergency and rescue services are well known, but not even one of them showed up in good time. Eventually, people died, and even in their death, the indignity that they were treated to by the same institutions that ought to protect them is beyond verbal or written description. Solidarity within the community allowed them to be retrieved from the rabbles and interred in their final abodes.

Even in the middle of that disaster, authorities saw it fit to demolish the houses of those on riparian land, mostly in Mukuru and Mathare, disguised as an “evacuation” mission, leaving families to the harsh elements of nature, not forgetting that some, including a child died in the process. The brief notice period of 48 hours was inadequate for anyone to organise themselves. Once again, solidarity efforts from NGOs, conscious individuals, Social Justice Centres, and companies that activated their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to some extent restored some dignity to the survivors.

Kenyans have, over decades, been treated to false promises that end up on the shelves as manifestos or policies. As the country currently grapples with bewildering debt that even unborn children will have to repay, the proposals to rid the country of debt don’t seem to align with human rights principles. Meanwhile, those who attempt to raise their voices against inhumane and unjust actions by authorities find themselves labelled, attacked and at times profiled, despite having complied with the laws.

Citizens need to appreciate that any threats to Kenya’s constitutional order will cascade down to individuals’ lives, yet the duty to respect, uphold, and defend the Constitution is expressly provided in the supreme law. In its first Article, the same Constitution deliberately indicates where the sovereign power resides: with the people. This very powerful provision of our supreme law is yet to be fully actualized and experienced by most.

The great news is that the hypnosis caused by politicians is slowly fading away, and Kenyans are gaining their collective power back. As they say, people power is gaining momentum with community organic organising taking shape and form that cannot quite fit any box per se. The question that lingers is, what can citizens do to emancipate themselves from the indoctrination that those in public positions are powerful and untouchable? How can Kenyans begin to appreciate that leaders are literally our servants under the social contract and, therefore, must be accountable for every action their respective offices take? I posit that the answer lies in solidarity. We must learn from our past and take deliberate measures to restore our own dignity by all legal means.

Each individual citizen, regardless of their individual identities, has a responsibility to push back against draconian laws and policies, violations of human rights, threats to social justice and all attempts by the government to relegate some sections of the population to second-class citizens. Those who have access to information need to share the same as widely as possible, demystifying the truth from misinformation and disinformation; those with accountability knowledge, tools and processes have a moral duty to relay those skills to their respective communities for them to participate in collective accountability actions meaningfully. Ultimately, apathy must never be allowed to prevail, and we must not relent in the quest for a just and equitable society for ALL. All Kenyans have to consciously make a decision to exercise their constitutional powers lest we all wallow in the quagmire of unending lamentations devoid of practical solutions.

Zaina Kombo is Amnesty International Kenya’s Equality and Anti-Discrimination Campaign Manager and writes in her personal capacity. Email: [email protected]