‘Haki yetu!’ the Kenyan slogan for ‘our rights’ has lately been receiving mouth time from angry Kenyan workers. And no, they weren’t swallowing these words, but expressing their heartfelt complaints to the sick Kenyan government which has absurdly maintained a silent carpet play at their never ending demands. Trust me there are so many people in Kenya who are not happy at their jobs but due to one reason or the other, do not have the courage to demonstrate in the streets. I must salute those who have it as it is nothing close to enjoyable. Nobody loves parading the streets with noisy applauses singing to an ignorant government and the innocent immediate public who are on the receiving end yet can do nothing about your problems. It’s disturbing to note that workers’ grievances have not really changed since the days of the French revolution. They are still singing the same old song.
But something notable happened this time round. The workers at Kenya’s national broadcaster, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, downed their tools for the first time since its inception. I could hardly believe it. KBC on strike? That’s a big joke! But it was the harsh reality. Citing arbitrary appointments, corruption, sexual harassment, inadequate equipment and a 360 million salary and allowance arrears, the striking staff hit the streets of Nairobi to the shock of Kenyans. I never quite confirmed if the radio ran, but normal programming was certainly interrupted on TV. They didn’t cast news and only ran repeats of past programs all day long, save for the time they brought in a skeleton staff when it was evident that the crisis would persist. But I was happy they were fighting for what they believed in, and what was necessary.
All of us interested in the media admit that the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation has problems; problems which the government showed it was not ready to face when the Information Minister Mr. Samuel Poghisio, ordered the workers back to work or face the sack. He actually did that on national TV to the awe of our citizenry. I mean, which Kenya do you threaten people when they are fighting for their rights and you very well know that their reasons for doing thus are legitimate? Certainly not the Kenya we have today. Our former president, Daniel Arap Moi ruled with an iron fist while many national departments were rotting away in terms of service because then, all that politicians wanted was to have everything going their way without really having Kenyans at heart.
The British themselves could not suppress the Mau Mau, how about a good for nothing politician who’s only hungry for power trying to make us eat stone while what we want is bread? Gone are the days when a leader would just wake up to recommend another for a political post or force something down the throat of Kenyans and expect to get away with it. We have come of age. And it felt sweet to see the Information Minister eat humble pie just a few days after making those very insulting statements. KBC is up and running now.
It’s surprising to know that people had actually applied for the 2,500 positions that had been declared vacant. We are surely all sick. I can only hope that the government will show some goodwill for once and just take care of the problems that face our national broadcaster. For heaven sake, KBC should be the best channel in Kenya but it’s sadly our last priority especially to many who live in urban areas where there are alternative TV channels to watch. All that owing to poor picture and sound quality, somewhat boring news and programs. Believe me, that’s what an average Kenyan would tell you about them.
As if that was not enough, the public health workers could not take it anymore. It was the nurses’ turn to air their voices; March has been a funny month this year. We lost two prominent politicians and then all hell broke loose. It was not long before we begun watching images of helpless patients who had fallen off their hospital beds with no one to help them, expectant mothers suffering in their unfortunate condition and reports of patients dying. Okay, there was nothing cool about that. It was even more difficult to take it when I learnt that there is a woman who has stayed with a dead fetus in her womb for a whole week. Now that was scary.
Their grievances? Well, poor working conditions, under-staffing, lack of adequate equipment and medicine at health facilities and of course, low salaries. You and I would with no doubt wonder what instinct got into the health workers to the point that they had the audacity to leave patients at the mercy of fate. I guess they have seen death enough times that it no longer scares them. Or maybe they decided to make some people look like a sacrifice so that the government can know that they are actually serious. What a strategy that would be.
But looking at the quandary with a pragmatic approach, they had a valid reason to hit the streets. The government is sadly slow in implementing agreements. Public workers are virtually paid poorly while our so called servants of the people languish in the lush lustre of money sea and bliss. It all goes back to the government. Well, it’s unfortunate that when such a problem occurs, it’s Kenyans who suffer, and poor Kenyans to be precise. Who wants to see their family member die just because there was no doctor to attend to them? Last week a man buried his wife after she gave birth but needed medical attention. Apparently the baby also died. How do you console such a man by telling him that we were fighting for our rights while he has lost the most important people in his life?
Perhaps our education system is also to blame. You might want to think that Kenyans by default go to school solely in order to earn money and be rich in future, not really to fulfil a particular purpose in life. The structure of our education system emphasizes on competition rather than the relevance of what we learn in class on our day to day lives and how we can use our education to create new avenues of development as well as solving or simply tackling our societal problems. When you take it from that perspective, you won’t be surprised by the inhuman reaction that the health workers took in response to the government’s inefficiency. I don’t think it’s right for people to be left to die.
That was not the end of Nairobi’s woes. 3rd March is an interesting day on the calendar, or perhaps was in this instance. While the Moroccans were celebrating their National Day, our commercial sex workers were the marching minnows in town with placards reading, ‘Sex workers are workers not victims’, while wearing these red masks. Prostitution may be the oldest profession like they all say, but really, am still waiting to hear anyone coming out forthright to say they would be proud to know that their wife, daughter or female friend is a ……….. I am looking for the best words to use.
We talk like it’s only the women who are involved in it. I just found out the other day that we have sites where you can find male prostitutes. Here in Nairobi. Well, on this day they were demanding that they be allowed to operate freely because they are also willing to pay taxes. This is a societal challenge to Kenya right now. While some people are of the opinion that the trade will still continue to thrive despite the government’s persistence to keep it illegal, majority of Kenyans are conservative about prostitution. It is for a fact that we are experiencing severe moral decadence; the whole world is anyway, but am not sure that we will tackle this matter to its root simply by saying yes or no to the trade. We need to do more than just that.
In all these stories, I was intrigued by the fact that Kenyans came out to voice their problems in public like an ocean wave. In all these instances, it’s the people versus the government. I want to imagine how things would be had the workers been out there at the same time. Perhaps everyone else would get the courage to air out their problems in the same manner. Already the teachers have begun rumbling again. Well, am thankful to God that ours is a democratic republic. Had all these been happening in some places I know, we would be talking of bloodshed and deaths right now.
But Kenyans are saying they are fed up with the government’s complacency. Year in year out they live in the realms of unfulfilled promises and they want that to change. It is no doubt that we are going through a metamorphosis. This is our revolution. We have no time for bogus leadership and reckless governance anymore. It is time for change. We passed a new constitution two years back but it seems our leaders have not yet risen to the occasion. We might not go as one pack like the revolutionaries of the Middle East did, neither am I soliciting for the same, but anyone with a sensible common sense will sense that things are not that alright.
Save Kenya now. Don’t wait for future disasters.