Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Kenya's War On Its Kids

Today’s teargassing by police of pupils from the Langata Rd Primary School protesting the grabbing of their school playground, has drawn condemnation from across the political divide. At least it has on Twitter. If there is one thing around which Kenyans can be relied on to congregate, it is their kids. The welfare of the young ones is routinely trundled out as a justification of governmental action and societal outrage at everything from corruption to homosexuality. However, it is all a charade.

In truth, Kenya is a country at war with its own children. Children are the denizens of the future. And Kenya is busy destroying the future. Government policy, elite greed as well as citizen apathy and disempowerment have combined to rob our kids of more than playgrounds.

What the police did today was deplorable. But it is no more deplorable than the violence of poverty, ignorance and disease that many children are forced to live with on a daily basis. Or that the education system is a complete shambles.

It is no worse than the fact that kids in Baringo have to cross croc-and-hippo infested waters in skimpy rafts to get to school. Nor that when they do get to school, half the time, their undermotivated, underequipped and underpaid teachers don’t even bother to show up. 

If they cared, Kenyans would collectively hang their heads in shame over the fact that over 100,000 youngsters die annually before their fifthbirthday, most within the first year of life and most from easily preventable causes. Or that our current spending spree is robbing the future to pay for the present, saddling kids with debt even before they have had a chance to earn their first shilling. According to the opposition CORD coalition, when the Jubilee government came to power, every Kenyan owed Ksh.44,000. A year later, each owed Ksh.66,000 and by 2017 each would owe Ksh.140,000. It is disgraceful that their futures are being mortgaged away so a few can have opportunities to eat now.

Kenya lives in the present, and in the moment. Little thought is given to how we got here and where we are going.  We studiously refuse to learn lessons from the past. Our contempt for historical accuracy leads us to fete the villains and condemn the heroes of our past. Our ignorance makes us easy prey for ravenous politicians and cements their impunity. To date, for example, the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, our first real attempt to lay bare the bones within our common closet, continues to gather dust.

As the saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The constitution, meant to be the single greatest governance achievement of the past quarter century, is being systematically undermined in the same manner its predecessor was, its strong guarantee of freedoms effectively reduced to mere suggestions. Similarly, we are condemning our kids to a future that will be no better than our past.

Along with their history, we are also robbing them of their heritage. Wildlife poaching, which has now reached crisis proportions, continues unabated and with the acquiescence, if not active support, of the government. We have already pretty much lost the fight to save the legendary tuskers and, according to one study, across the continent, more elephants are being killed each year than are being born. At this rate, within a century children will only be able to see rhinos and elephants in books or a museum.

Values too seem to be going extinct, especially in the public sphere. Watching the adults practice politics, our children learn that honesty and integrity do not matter are words emptied of meaning. They learn that a good, well-reasoned argument is no match for demagoguery, bullying and violence; that your last name is the greatest political and economic asset (or liability) that you have.

Further, youth is constantly reproduced solely as a place of either innocence, ignorance or incitement. Youth cannot think for itself. Youth can have no agency or politics. That must wait till tomorrow. Thus children protesting the theft of their playground must be incited. Young adults who take to the streets to challenge power must be drug-addled. The cannot articulate legitimate grievance. They can have no ideas or solutions to offer. They cannot offer leadership today, only tomorrow.

All this is a form of violence. A betrayal of the inter-generational pact that parents provide for, support and protect their children. That we should leave for them a better world than the one we found.

So today we will shed tears over the treatment meted out to the kids of the Langata Road Primary School. Today, we will raise our voices in anger. And it is right that we do so. However, we must also protest the violence our kids are subjected to every day in our name and resolve to undo the world of hurt that we have been storing up for them. Otherwise, it would all be an exercise in hypocrisy.

We must realize the truth: that our children face far worse things than teargas canisters. And that the adults must stop fighting them and start fighting for them.

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