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Posts Tagged ‘corruption’

Harris 1While participating and being actively involved in development work, a bilateral exchange usually occurs whereby the Westerner learns more from the community than aid or help is actually given. During these bilateral experiences, people use clichés such as, “enlightening, life altering and change.”  This idealism, and “do-good spirit,” quickly transforms, when one actually sees the harsh reality facing the developing world. As an African American, I was completely ignorant about Africa before coming to Kenya. My knowledge consisted of a romanticized view of old culture and ancient wisdom. Before arriving, I promised myself to fully throw my being into the culture and the ways of the people in Kenya. I knew I wanted to work in human rights; as a lawyer in the States, rights are coveted, and we are trained to zealously defend people’s rights. Once I arrived at my host family’s home, visions of Africa were streaming into my mind; some of the images were stereotypical but there were also colors, bright ones, with mamas selling sweet breads and fruits. There were men with the arduous task of pushing carts of produce, with the fierce sun blessing their skin, along with graceful Swahili women wearing bui bui and hijabs.  I completely emerged myself into my family life; I gave up my vegetarian diet and I dedicated myself to learning Swahili. For me, Kenya started to change from the stereotypical picture of Africa being a dirty place, corrugated iron roofs, and idle men, into a burgeoning culturally complex country with a lot to offer the world. My volunteer experience truly started at F.I.D.A (Federation of Women Lawyers) office in Mombasa. F.I.D.A is an international well-funded organization that promotes equality and due process of law for women.

Kenya is a country fighting its colonial history and present day social and economic problems.  Many of the economic calamities facing sub-Sahara Africa are rooted in cultural, social, economic and legal upheaval that occurred during the colonial era. Many of the citizens in Kenya believe corruption is rife and that ethnic tensions are thwarting economic and infrastructure development. All of these issues came to head during the 2008 elections with full-scale ethnic violence and the creation of the Grand Coalition Government.

Currently, the citizens are growing weary of the Grand Coalition government. The citizens want more transparency and accountability. Food prices have surged and the local newspapers are inundated with stories alleging corruption by government officials.  Local organizations and NGOs are actively engaging in dialogue and addressing issues pertaining to human rights and good governance. In fact, G10, a prominent women’s group, urged fellow female citizens to boycott sex to pressure the government to act more responsible and accountable to the citizens. Many citizens are discouraged. The resonating theme of doom and self-destruction is all too common as Kenyans discuss their plight. Speculations of extra-judicial killing and assassinations are troubling to the citizens and the human rights activists’ community.

Harris 2Constructive dialogue is the precursor for ideological and paradigm shifts in society. Sustainable development has to be rooted in fostering and creating safe spaces for dialogue, in order for true change to take place. My work with F.I.D.A is inextricably link with empowering the local citizenry, primarily women. Kenya, like some other African societies, is patriarchal. Therefore, certain cultural customs can at times violate Kenyan law and Western perceptions of fundamental rights.  As a western trained lawyer, it is difficult to juggle cultural autonomy and fundamental rights. Many women are solely supported by their husbands, which can place them in a precarious situation if their rights are violated by their spouses. F.I.D.A offers an avenue of legal advocacy and a safe space to foster dialogue to empower women.  It is an awesome experience to actively advocate for women to take ownership of their lives and watch them challenge their spouses in court by exercising their legal rights. A voice, an avenue, a safe space to challenge and debate is essential in equalizing society and addressing the imbalance of power in Kenyan society.

F.I.D.A concentrates on women’s right, but women’s rights are not exclusive, nor does the topic operate in a vacuum, but in a civil society, everyone must have equal protection under the law. F.I.D.A , at times, is viewed as an agitator or “un-Africa,” but the dialogue and discussion the organization fosters concerning human rights is vital. Mombasa, Kenya is perfectly blended with various cultures, ethnic groups and religions. Discussions about rights can easily be muddle with discussions about cultural sensitivity and religious freedom.  Well, the issue of human rights is not an easy discussion and answers will not be black or white but with dialogue and constructive debate cultural sustainable answers can be reached to address the legal ills facing Kenyan society. During the historical Obama presidential campaign, I witnessed Kenya come together under the umbrella of pride for the son of a fellow statesman, such zeal and energy was magical. I firmly believe that same energy can be used to transform society. And with organizations such as F.I.D.A , the dialogues about empowering women and women’s rights are opening doors and challenging the status quo. Granted, F.I.D.A’s work is just a small piece, but that little piece will fit in the large piece of creating a society that can adequately provide shelter, clothing, food, health care and sanitation to its citizens, while ensuring that people live with dignity.

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BlackwellJI had no idea what to expect during my 9 weeks spent in Kenya. I decided it would be best to keep an open mind in order to best handle any situations and experiences that lay ahead of me. All that was certain was that I would be working at MIMA, the micro-finance arm of an organization called LICODEP in a town called Likoni. Shortly after my arrival, I was inundated with a wave of new sights, sounds and emotions. Everywhere I looked it seemed to be chaos with poverty sprinkled in between. As I began to get settled with my host family and MIMA, I saw Kenya for what it truly is: a quickly developing country with positive change all around.

Kenya has a long history of corruption that is embedded deep into its culture; from the elected officials in government to the community run Non Government Organizations (NGOs) that are in place to take over where the government fails. There are many different causes of the deep rooted corruption, but the reason it is allowed to continue is the lack of empowerment of the people.

Immediately upon my arrival in the country locals inform me on how fed up they are with this corruption. They tell me that the only way to rid their society of this corruption is to have individuals begin to organize and speak out. Soon enough I began to see this type of activism by a shocking move at the federal government level. Justice Minister Martha Karua resigned her position citing her frustration with the government’s inability to enact change due to corruption. This shook Kenya as it was one of the most bold and controversial moves by an outspoken female official.

This type of activism is the catalyst for change, but development at the macro level is not possible without empowering the people of the community. My work with LICODEP’s micro-finance program is directly related to empowering people of the community. The majority of MIMA’s clients are female entrepreneurs. Because Kenya has a male dominated society, it is important for MIMA to focus on females in order to balance the power between the two sexes by providing these women with financial opportunities. As I continue to work with these women I have been amazed by their natural business sense. Having seen this first hand it just further confirms that all that is needed is someone to lend a helping hand and provide the opportunity.

While the primary goal of MIMA is to provide credit to promote growth and reduce poverty, the larger goal is to provide people with the confidence and means to promote change. Kenya is a country that is ready to take the next step in development. This next step will be made possible by NGOs such as LICODEP and their work within their community.

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