Saturday, 31 December 2011

Holiday season - the halfway point: what has happened and what is going to happen (Draft)

This was supposed to be a long post about what I've done so far, what I have enjoyed, and especially a bit of a predictive look at what to expect in 2012.

Well, I can report that on Dec. 20th, my apartment was burglarized and my valuables were stolen.  Chief of which was my laptop, which had all the important information that I was going to pass along to you.

So, the Christmas break was a mixture of dealing with the police, decompressing after the infringement of having our abode broken into, and trying to readjust our plans. 

As a silver lining, I have been advised that I have a job offer to work with ICJ Kenya, so hopefully I can arrange things properly, and make the most of this opportunity!!

Hope you all had a good holiday and a happy new year!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Beaches, Bashir and Democratic Transitions

So the 2011 Annual Jurists' Conference has wrapped up.  It was a complete whirlwind.  I'll try my best to sum up what happened over my time there, but I can say for sure that it was jam-packed with so much work, and so much intense issues, and so much beautiful weather, that it would be difficult to capture the whole thing in one post.  I've added some pictures, but even with the extra thousand words they add, it's still probably not enough.

Day 1:

The drive to Malindi started at 6am.  Bleary-eyed, we bundled into the van, to start our 8-hour drive to the coast.  In Nairobi, it was a chilly 24 degrees.  As we moved east, it got progressively hotter, until we reached Malindi, which was closer to 35 degrees.  It was entirely unnecessary for me to bring most of the clothes I did.

On the drive, we passed rally cars entered in this race.  Most were obviously in pit stops, and just hanging out.  But after few kilometres later, we hear a loud motor in the background, and one rally car passes us.  Driving on the highway. In traffic.  Well, turns out our driver is better at navigating the Kenyan traffic than this rally car racer, and we overtake him.  Driving in a van loaded with hundreds of pounds of books, merchandise, and me (and I'm fairly substantial).  Eventually the rally car pulled away from us, since it (a) was a straight stretch with no oncoming traffic, and (b) it was in a race, and we weren't.  That was pretty much the highlight of the day.  We arrived (safely, no donkeys), unloaded our cargo, sweated, and went to bed.

[This happens today, but I don't find out until later]

Day 2:

Day two started with a run on this beach:

The run was good.  Sweaty, of course.  But well remedied by a dip in the ocean.  The Indian Ocean is unbelievably warm.  It was like a salt water bath.  For those of you who know me, I loved it.

After the morning exercise, we went back to the turtle bay resort, and set up the conference room, and got all the publications, merch table and administration desks set up.

For anyone who has done event coordination in the past (my past history is with this), you'll know that everything takes longer than expected, that it's uncharacteristically stressful to do simple things like put t-shirts on a table, and you are guaranteed to finish the day late, grumpy.  This was no different, except it was in a tropical paradise. So I didn't stay grumpy for too long.

Day 3:

After my morning ritual (run, swim in the fantastic ocean, somehow persuade myself to stop), the conference finally starts.  And starts relatively on time.  Over 100 jurists from Kenya and abroad attend the event, so the conference is at full capacity.  The conference is themed on Electoral Reforms, looking at various areas of elections (including things like Electronic voting, security sector reform, constitutional guarantees, among other topics), with a particular focus on the challenges and issues leading up to the 2012 Kenyan elections.

The first, opening talk was given by the (Ret.) Honourable Albie Sachs.  Of course, crisis! We didn't prepare a 'bio' for him, so our chairman had nothing to introduce him with.  I scrounged up a bio for him, terribly handwritten, and passed it to the ICJ Kenya chairman, as he was standing up to begin the introduction.  I think it went well, but I'm sure I raised a few eyebrows with one of the facts I included in the bio: Mr. Sachs was the deciding judge in the landmark South African Case where it was found that defining the legal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman was unconstitutional.  I thought that was pretty awesome, but not necessarily everyone in Kenya agrees with me.

But otherwise, his bio reads like a movie plot.  Freedom activist from age 17, human rights defending lawyer during apartheid, exiled from South Africa because of his work, survived an assassination attempt, but lost part of his arm, helped enact the new South African Constitution, and was appointed to the Constitutional Court as a judge by Nelson Mandela.  Read more here and here. Inspiring talk about his struggles, his successes, and what he considers the essential facets of successful electoral reform.

I ran into him over tea, and (very) briefly chatted with him.  As is my M.O., the conversation was awkward and full of uncomfortable pauses.  But, really, I'm a bit rusty in the 'making small talk with renowned human rights defenders' department, so give me a break.

Day 4:

The conference continues.  The focus today was on making sure elections were in line with the Constitution. But, to be honest, my focus was not on the conference today.  This was the day that things really heated up about the Al Bashir Arrest Warrant issue.  The press were around, and our Executive Director, George Kegoro, had one foot in the conference, and one foot trying to deal with the media about the fallout of the case.  If you aren't aware of what happened after the Kenyan High Court decided to issue the arrest warrant against Al Bashir, well, read here.

Needless to say, in addition to the conference, there was a lot of scurrying around and research going on about the Al Bashir Decision.  It was also a major topic of discussion, especially since the judge that issued the decision was also attending this conference (which may not have been the most savvy move).  But it made life in small talk land a lot easier for me, as everyone had an opinion about the matter, and once you break the ice, well, lawyers like to talk.

It's a pretty fascinating issue.  Kenya has already tried to get out of its obligations with the International Criminal Court, when it found out 6 prominent Kenyans were to be tried at the ICC for connections to the human rights violations that occurred during the 2007 post-election violence.  The ICC arrest warrant against Al Bashir is the first time that the ICC has attempted to prosecute a Head of State, which raises all sorts of interesting issues about State Immunities and similar things.  Of course, Al Bashir categorically rejected the arrest warrant, claiming it is a western plot to control African countries.  In a sense, he's partially correct, since (up until the Khmer Rouge case), the ICC has solely brought charges against African nations.  Based on that, Sudan, Kenya and other African Union members agreed not to cooperate with the ICC.  Hence the reason Kenya tried to rescind its obligations when the 'Ocampo 6' where brought to the ICC.

Now, with this court case, the ICC arrest warrant is given legal traction in Kenya.  In effect, Kenya has created an arrest warrant for Bashir, based on the ICC arrest warrant, and if he ever ventures into Africa again, he will be arrested.  The judge has essentially ruled that Kenya's international legal obligations, ensured by the new Constitution and the International Crimes Act, trump issues of diplomacy and informal agreements within the African Union.

It's an important development, and really shows just how much of a political agitator one small civil society organization can be.

At the end of the day, there was an organized boat ride for all the participants.  We went around in dhows and glass-bottomed boats, riding around near mangrove forests, and just generally relaxing after a long day.  The boats took us to Sudi Island, where we were greeted by a sandy paradise, Dawa, and some of the most amazing grilled meats, fish, prawns and octopus I've ever had.

Day 5:

The last day of the conference was very relaxed.  A young Zimbabwean lawyer, who I befriended over a bunch of dawas, gave a nice talk about security sector reform.  Afterwards, a bunch of IT people talked about the possibility of e-voting.  The lawyers were all very excited about this.  I was especially excited about the solar-powered laptop that cost KSh 23,000.

I went for an afternoon swim, and thoroughly enjoyed dinner, drinks and chats with colleagues.  I was sitting at a table with three judges from Swaziland, including Judge Thomas Masuku, who was fired for allegedly 'insulting' the king of Swaziland, and other trumped-up charges (most of which were dropped in an incredibly irregular disciplinary hearing).  The other judges, out of solidarity, resigned or went on strike.  It's actually a massive deal, but I never even would have known about it if I hadn't met them.  Interestingly, the conversation definitely wasn't heavy - mostly we spent dinner joking about some of the ridiculous cases of failed communication in court.  Very lawyerly, but still hilarious.

Day 6:

Woke up way too early, and drove back home.  The drive took 8 hours, but because of traffic jams, once we got to Nairobi, it took me 4 hours to get home.  I'd rather be back in Malindi.

For now, though, back to work.  Christmas is coming, and other exciting things/people!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Greetings from Malindi

Well, thanks all of you for reading along.  I am working on a nice post about institutional reforms in Kenya (scintillating, I know).  But, while I was working on it, this happened:

Long story short, one year ago, the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir paid a visit to Kenya.  Al-Bashir has an outstanding case in front of the International Criminal Court, for his part in all the atrocities that have been happening in Sudan over the last...well, decade.

ICJ Kenya, when they found out that Al-Bashir was in Kenya, immediately applied for an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir.  Well, the judgment coming from that petition took a year, but from the sounds of it, the court made the correct, if tardy, decision.  If Al-Bashir ever enters Kenya again, he will be arrested.  That is a very, very interesting development in international Criminal Law, and is a fantastic positive move towards combating the scourge of impunity (that is, the fact that so many dictators manage to violate so many human rights, and then never face any consequences).

Enjoy reading about this issue, and I would suggest reading a bit more about the background of the terrible situation in Sudan.  After that, I should have another post for you!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Solidarity: Moving Ahead to Meaningful Change

I attended a meeting and press conference a week ago about police reforms.  Above is the picture from the press conference, which shows me joining in the slogan at the end of the meeting (didn't know exactly what I was saying), and, oddly, with a light fixture over my head, slightly reminiscent of a halo.  I will not read into that in any great detail, mind you.

The issue of reform is a very hot topic here.  The 2007 post-election violence, in a lot of ways, was a major catalyst in the reconsideration of how public institutions were set up in Kenya.  The first step was constitutional reform, although this had been at the top of the list sometime, with a 'first draft' new constitution failing to be enacted in 2005.  With the coming of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, however, there is now a push for broad, sweeping changes in the institutional landscape of Kenya.

Those are very weighty and impressive words, but I think they also come with a bit of ambiguity and uncertainty.  What kind of reform are we talking about?  And how can such a huge amount of reforms take place, especially with an election looming in 2012?

A few of the major institutions that have been targeted for reform include:  the judiciary, the police, the electoral system, and county/local governments.

A very positive note has been the steps taken towards Judicial reform.  Unfortunately, the Judiciary has been regarded skeptically in the past, plagued with issues of corruption, inefficiency and incompetence.  With the new Constitution, major changes are occurring, first with the establishment of a new Supreme Court, and a new law for vetting all judges and magistrates.  In fact, I'll be travelling to Eldoret to participate in a live radio talk show about the vetting procedures, as well as a public forum, in an effort to engage the public and educate them on what to expect with the whole process.  I am nervous.  I will try and get a podcast, or some sort of recording of the radio show and see if I can upload it.

Police reforms, and reforms in the security sector in general, are a vital part of ensuring a peaceful transition through the elections in 2012.  Often, the 2007 PEV is attributed, in part, to police activity.  That is, the police force was seen as a major instigator to some of the violence that occurred.  This was tied to issues of corruption and political influence over the police.  While this is true, I think an important thing to realize as well was that the police were massively unprepared, underfunded, and under-equipped to deal with the conflict and problems associated with the elections.  While the conversations about police reform often focus on removing the 'bad eggs' from the police force, and vetting other members to ensure the integrity of the institution, I think it is also just as important to make sure the police force has the proper training and resources to ensure that members of the police force are capable of handling the types of problems that arise during elections, that they have proper education on human rights, and that they have appropriate salaries to make sure that taking bribes is less of a temptation.  The police force is often seen as being linked to violence from the State.  But it also has the capacity to keep peace, order and security.  How these police reforms are carried out will provide a good measure of how effective Kenya's institutional reforms are going to be.  I am excited to be a part of developing a toolkit, with other CSO partners, for the police vetting board to use in order to ensure that the process is carried out properly.

Electoral reforms is also a massive topic.  Poorly regulated elections processes, especially with regards to monitoring political parties and the strategies that they used to elicit votes have been a flashpoint for violence.  This is a focus of the 2011 Annual Jurists' Conference, which happened last week and which I will finish blogging about soon.  Stay posted!

Finally, Kenya is making a move towards a 'devolved government' scheme.  I haven't fully had a chance to work out the details of the scheme yet, but I am getting the sense that it will be somewhat similar to the idea of division of powers between the Federal and Provincial Governments in Canada.  It's not a Federal system, however, so I'll have to get back to you on that matter.

Anyways, I recognize that that was a fairly dry post, about legal happenings going on here.  However, I hope you understand the gravity of the situation here.  Kenya is in a transitional phase.  And the government, despite some of the bad press it is getting, and the relatively irrational decisions (for example, the incursion into Somalia for reasons not quite known) it can make, has been diligently trying to implement this new Constitution.  Nobody wants a repeat of the 2007 tragedy.  And the attitude is very positive that Kenya can set a great precedent for the entire continent  in terms of successful institutional reform.  Legally, very exciting times.  Hope you think so too!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

UPDATE: Kenyan Student Duties

A small update of my Oct. 29th post about filing the Notice of Petition.

After all that, we filed in the wrong court!  This information was found out by the acting lawyer, who showed up in court, on the day of the hearing, and got an earful from the Magistrate.

I felt really bad about this situation.  I asked my colleague James about what we did wrong.  I thought in my head of all the steps.  We went to every registry office at the court house to file, before finding the right one.  Did we miss one?  I really don't think so.  And at every stage, people were telling us that there was no file that existed like the one we were trying to file, until we went to the high court.

I refuse to surmise about how I get it wrong, but it definitely left me a little frustrated about a court system that makes it difficult to file a document.  Perhaps, as a little life lesson, I can understand on some level how frustrating, confusing, and illogical court systems are for the lay person, even in Canada.  I will now do my best to avoid the court houses at all costs.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

But for the Donkey: Life Lessons from a Beast of Burden

[Disclaimer:  The donkey didn't make it.  No use denying it]

As some of you are aware, I was slated to run the 5K fun run at the Masai Mara Marathon on Nov. 19th.  That was step one in my 'get fit regime', which was to culminate in the Kilimanjaro Half-marathon in February 2012, and supplemented with me training with the Impala Club Soccer team.  All of this was to be supplemented with a personal work out routine.  That was the idea, at least.

Let me rewind, first.  The whole idea for signing up for this 5K run came out of a 'carb-loading' dinner, at a friend's house.  They were carb-loading for their pending run in the Nairobi marathon the next day.  I was just there to eat.  During the conversation, people started wondering what race they should do next.  I personally thought that they should just focus on finishing the Nairobi Marathon (safely, given the penchant for random grenade attacks at the time).  One person piped up and said that there was a marathon in the Masai Mara.  This piqued my interest.  Not the running part, you understand, the opportunity to check out the Mara, which is a world-famous landmark, and home to some of the stunning wildlife that people associate with Africa.  I am fairly sure, at this point, that I was the person who insisted that this Masai Mara Marathon was something we should do.
Whether or not I was the ringleader, I was definitely interested, and spent the next week looking at the website, reading about the course, reading terrible online 5K training regimes, and generally getting pumped up about the whole thing.  As is per usual, I began to package this whole idea into something that made sense to me, that I could control.  Or so I thought.

Firstly, the number of people that jumped onto the Masai Mara Marathon Mzungu Parade was large!  It started out as a group of 3 or 4 friends, and swelled to about 15 people, most of whom I think I knew.  And as the group grew, I became less and less centrally involved.  All sorts of interesting things started to happen.  Two of the group hooked up at a party, but one of the 'participants' wasn't fully interested, and decided to head home from the party early.  The other 'participant' was thoroughly upset about this.  So, she decided to hire a taxi, follow the gentleman home, and give him a mouthful of abuse about the whole situation.  To the point that the guy had to lock himself in his own apartment.  Sign #1 - these two people somehow were selected to ride in a car together, and that car happened to be driving me as well.

But, this story should really start with the logical starting place - registering for the race.  Or, at least our repeated attempts to register.  First we tried the easy way - register online, and pay with 'M-pesa' (the revolutionary way of transferring money over cellphones).  But, when we tried to get an M-pesa account, the 'network failed'.  Or something.  No worries, let's try and register the old-fashioned way.  Wait, the deadline is 2pm, on a weekday.  That was impossible for me, but my friends try and go anyways.  But wait, the registration place DOESN'T TAKE CASH.  Or credit card.  So we miss the deadline.  But no worries, we can register late, we're told, come tomorrow, we're told.  We go to the main office the next day (Saturday).  We wait.  We wait.  We are told that the office is not open on weekends.  Finally, on Monday, a friend managed to get her M-pesa account to work!  Sign #2, when a race is impossible to register for, maybe you shouldn't, after all.

My preparations for this excursions were typical.  I put my running shoes in a corner, piled my socks, shorts, tshirt, and other random 'running' things together.  I packed the bare minimum of food, and as much water as I could.  I weasled my way out of having to buy anything substantial, as I could borrow a tent, a sleeping bag and a mattress from my work.  I was packed, and ready to go, two days in advance (basically).  Over this time, things at work continued to be utterly awesome.  I got a few assignments - on Police reforms, Judicial Reforms, and got drafted out to a trip to Machakos, the day before we were to head out to the race.  Sign #3 - Work, seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly gets more awesome (if that's even possible), but you are forced to only produce superficial results, because of feeling pressured to leave early for this race, consider what one's priorities should be.  Sign #3.5 - On the way to Machakos, if a professional driver narrowly avoids getting in an accident, call yourself lucky, and try and avoid bad driving situations in the future.

I show up at the meeting point, late, slightly stressed.  No worries, our ride is out getting a spare, spare tire (good to be prepared).  The rest of our group is there, not really getting along.  I've already mentioned the awkward love situation.  It was not helped by the fact that my roommate got frustrated with the other girl, and in a fit of exasperation, sent a text saying 'this girl is driving me crazy'.  That is, sent it to the girl in question.  Perfect.  Good vibes.  Sign #4, when your rag tag group has conflict before you even hit the road, perhaps engage in some form of dispute resolution before venturing on.

We finally get on the road, after somehow managing to fit 5 people's belongings into a small car.  Good thing we bought enough food for over a week (that's being sarcastic).  Spirits are high, this is an adventure!  Until we hit a huge traffic jam.  As we crawl along, it becomes apparent that the major hold up is a massive collision between two lorries.  As we drive by (after hopping onto the sidewalk), I notice a cart with grass on it.  I ask my colleagues - 'isn't that a donkey cart?'  They all laugh.  Sign #5 - Don't laugh at car crashes with donkey involvement.  Sign #5.5 - horrific crashes = be very afraid of driving in Kenya.

Now we are on the highway, flying.  Things are going well, but I think people are a little anxious to get to the Mara - after everything, we've left an hour late.  Sign #6 - don't rush, because there are relatively few things worth rushing for.  Travelling at about 120km/hr, on a straight stretch of road, three donkeys sprint onto the highway, about 100m in front of us.  Our driver does a great job of slamming on the breaks and keeping the car in control.  Two of the donkeys keep running, and are well away.  The third donkey decides to stop, or slow down.  We hit the donkey, travelling at about 70km/hr - fast enough that bounces off the hood and slides up off of the car, but not so fast that it crashes through the windshield.  Fast enought that a spray of brown sweat/dirt from the donkey slops against the windshield.  Fast enough that the radiator system is destroyed, sending radiator fluid gushing out of the bottom of the car, like it's bleeding.  But not fast enough that there is any noticeable damage to the engine.  Fast enough to fatally injure the donkey, but not fast enough to kill it quickly.

Time passes.  We sit on the side of the road, waiting for assistance, unable to get through to the police, or when we do get through, struggling to communicate properly.  Our rag tag group is struggling to stay together.  Well, not struggling at all - there are certain people that are dead-set on continuing on to the Mara, and others that don't want to leave the scene, and our poor driver, who is distraught, both about killing a donkey, and totalling her car.  The mood is slightly lightened by the steady stream of maasai farmers, goat herds and cattle herds that wander by and stop to chat.  It is also helped by digging into the mountain of food that we stockpiled for a weekend trip.  The donkey has passed, and we drag it off the road.  A herd of donkeys approaches their fallen comrade, and the ensuing braying is both heart-wrenching and nerve-grating.

Time keeps on moving.  We still are uncertain about how long a tow truck, or the police, are going to take to come, or if they are even coming.  I flag a matatu, and persuade two of our group to leave.  They continue on to the masai mara and to the race, and hopefully have a good time (or at least a better time than they had sorting out their unfortunate (non-)love story).  I have now befriended a 25 year-old Tanzanian Witch doctor, who is showing me random herbs that can cure gout, others that are used for psychotic and/or epileptic episodes, and the small cuts on his arm that prove his powers.  He's actually really nice.  Samson, a mechanic, is suddenly now a part of our group.  He tells us he can fix the car.  He is carrying two wrenches and a vial of super glue.  Our driver gives him some duct tape, and he starts banging away at the car.  The car starts, but the attempted fix of the radiator fails (surprise!).  I end up paying Samson for his troubles.

The police finally come.  At the same time as the tow truck.  Haggling ensues.  The person that does vehicle inspections is off for the night (by this time the sun is gone, and we are fully feeling out of our element).  We are going to have to stay in Ntulele.  No, we really, really don't want to do that.  Luckily, a woman's tears are a good bargaining tool.  They agree to drive back to Ntulele, fill out at abstract, and write a letter to the police in Nairobi, who can do an inspection later, on Monday.  The car is loaded onto the flat-bed tow truck, and we drive, sullenly, to the police station.  Amazingly, the police are fantastic, affable, and, it seems, not corrupt.  We leave after 15 minutes.

Our driver and I are forced to ride back to Nairobi in the wrecked car, on the back of the flat bed.  I find a bottle of gin, and we pass the time.  Not too far into the ride, we notice that there is a flashcard taped to the dash.  My roommate, who is learning swahili, just for fun, had made a bunch of flashcards of swahili phrases (rated R), and plastered them all over her dashboard.  To avoid embarrassment, our driver had taken all of them off, all but one: "punda wewe" ("You Donkey").  Sign #7 - Language is powerful - don't put swearwords on your car involving donkeys.

We are all healthy, and everything is ok.  The donkey is not.  But my thoughts go out to it.  Next time Ganesh will be on the dashboard, and I will make sure that I don't travel with such a motley crew.  On the same day, our driver finds out that she has to restart paying her student loans, under the following logic:  if she was making less than 15k in England, she qualify for low-income deferral, but because the 'standard of living' in Kenya is 'so low', they've reduced that amount to 6k.  I don't follow that reasoning.  Regardless, terrible timing.  And then she has her camera stolen later on in the night, so no photographic evidence either. You'll just have to take my word for it.

(Picture courtesy of my roommate, and Javier Merelo)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Like Water for Chocolate

Well, I am almost at the two-month mark of my stay here in Kenya, and it's finally happened.  You have to understand - I have been very, very engaged with the work I have been doing at ICJ Kenya and I have been incredibly fortunate to come here, at this particular time, doing this particular type of work, when it is really the soul food of the political maturation of Kenya as a community and as a State.

But, the truth is, as much as the work has been firing up my brain, functionally, I am still basically sitting at a desk, staring at a computer every day.  My body was only going to let me do that for so long.

So, I am now doing this (just the short version), probably this (the half version), and have officially started training with the Impala Club Football (soccer) team.

Here are my first impressions of attempting to get back in shape in Nairobi.

  1. I have no idea what time is a good time to run.  I thought that getting up for a run at 6am would be good, but the roads are literally packed with people.  I hear through the grapevine that these people make the walk, early in the morning, from their houses, towards the Central Business District, in order to see if they can pick up casual work for the day.  If they don't manage to find anything, they spend the day relaxing in Uruhu and Central park, before heading home again.
  2. I feel incredibly self-conscious about running here.  Am I just another crazy Mzungu on parade?
  3. The possibility of it starting to rain is a really good motivating factor to make me kick the last kilometer of my run.  Fortunately, it's never started to rain, because I don't have the capacity to sprint for a kilometer yet (or ever).
  4. Trying to play soccer with a bunch of 20 year-old kids who are in the Nairobi top-flight division is humbling.  BUT, when you score a goal in practice, even if you were actually trying to pass it to a teammate, don't be stupid and actually tell anyone that.  You scored a goal.  Celebrate, and let everyone think you are a fantastic soccer player that is 'just a bit out of shape'.
So there you go.  Please send your positive vibes my way, as I undertake a personal project to get fit.  The outcome is still very tenuous.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Civil Society in Kenya

One of my earlier experiences working in the ICJ Kenya offices was sitting outside, sharing lunch with a few of the staff.  They were chatting about the vicissitudes of vetting processes, how to make sure police officers and judges weren’t corrupt, and things like that.  Good, interesting stuff.  But one thing I learned quickly about the Human Rights work over here is that they absolutely love acronyms – CRADLE, CHESO, KNCHR, KHRC, IEBC, IIEC, etc.  It’s a bit jarring initially.  But after a little bit of dutiful research, it becomes easier to follow along with the conversations.

So, here we are, chatting about the vetting process, chatting about how ICJ Kenya was involved in some of the initial work on the issue of vetting judges.  Then the conversation turned more general – they explained to me the role of CSOs in fighting for democratic rights, for the rule of law, for good governance, for accountability, for Kenyan prosperity.  It sounds fantastic, but I have no idea what a CSO is.

CSO is the acronym used for Civil Society Organizations.  This is a phrase that is not used in Canada.  Or if it is, I am not invited to those parties.  The closest concepts that we use are ‘non-profit organizations’, which are now ‘not-for-profit organizations’ (NPOs), or ‘charitable organizations’, or even ‘Non-Governmental Organizations’ (NGOs).  But my conception of a CSO does not match any of these things.  NGOs, or at least ones that people generally talk about, are generally international organizations – think Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or Greenpeace.  NPOs and charitable organizations are generally domestic in nature – The Rotary Club is a charitable organization, and the Edmonton Folk Festival Society is a NPO.  A CSO is similar to all these entities, but the one major difference is what I think is a commitment to improving society at the local, provincial or national level.  NGOs aim to promote certain concepts (the environment, human rights, right wing libertarianism) on a global scale, NPOs and charitable organizations may not function to better society at all.  CSOs, at some level, are stakeholders in the policies and laws that govern the land.

It’s a curious distinction.  A law firm is not a CSO, even though it may occasionally undertake public interest litigation that betters society.  But a Law Society, the regulatory body of lawyers, is invariably a CSO, even though a particular Law Society may rarely engage in any services that are directed to improving society.  It has less to do with the type of work that is done, and more to do with the goals and mission of the organization, and its standing in society at large.  Law Firms, at their core, are money-making enterprises; Law Societies regulate not only individual lawyers, but, more broadly, the role of lawyers in society.

Anyways, over and above what a CSO is, their role in Kenyan socio-political life is massive.  As a major draw for foreign funding, CSO jobs have become highly sought-after by the best and brightest Kenyan professionals.  Obviously, at least in the legal field, there is still good money to be made in private practice, but the fact that there are real, viable alternatives has created a much different legal community than is found in Canada.  

In Canada, public interest is served by a few, committed, persistent groups of individuals, often working in a volunteer capacity.  The first thing that comes to mind are organizations like the Autism Society.  Wonderful, necessary organizations, advocating for change, but that are often marginalized because they (a) lack sufficient funds to engage the government, the media, and the general public, and (b) they lack the political 'clout'.

In contrast, the sense I am getting here is that CSO are not fringe players in the movement towards democratic and rule of law principles in Kenya.  They are the prime catalysts.  They are the organizations responsible for educating the public (both international and domestic) on what the government is doing.  They are actively engaged WITH government, on the development and implementation of important legislation and decisions (including, say, the Constitution, for example).  And they have a large and loud voice when things are not going well, especially in the media.

ICJ Kenya is one of the CSOs that is at the forefront of Kenya's developments.  CSOs have a massive role to play over the next year - elections are coming up (and no one wants to see a repeat of what happened last time), there is an 'incursion' in Somalia that is raising some flags, there is a massive case in the ICC about the 2007 post-election violence, there are massive legislative reforms underway thanks to the implementation of the new constitution, and all the while, there are still human rights concerns and issues around the country, both from past grievances and ongoing problems.  There's really no time to pause and breathe - it's full-steam ahead, all the time.  

I'm glad to be a part of it.

Monday, 7 November 2011


Sorry for the long delay in posting.  It has been a fairly busy time over here.  But before I report on that - I mentioned early on (here) that, for about $10 a month, I get lunches everyday at the office.  Here's a photoblog of my weekly eats.  Yum!


Rice, red beans, meat stew.  Delectable - the beans and rice by themselves would be good enough to sustain me for years.  The meat stew adds a little bit of heaven.


Ugali, Sukuma, meat stew and 'spaghetti'.  Ugali is the white block in the picture - made out of maize flour.  It is dense and has the texture of a good pound cake, minus all the sugar.  The sukuma is what they sometimes call 'spinach' here, but is probably closer to kale.  It is slightly bitter, but they cook it with onions, and it goes really well in this meal.  The pasta is a bit of a delicacy to my colleagues.  And the meat stew is the icing on the 'cake'.


MY FAVORITE DAY OF THE WEEK: Chapati wednesdays.  Chapati, with pea stew and meat stew.  Seems simple, but east africans have a particular way of making chapatis (different from the way they are made in India), and I find them addictive.  This is a no utensil meal - chapati dipped in sauce.  The meat stew gives it a bit of a kick.


Rice, beans & carrots, cabbage and meat stew.  This is a curious mix, actually.  As above, the rice and beans are so good, I could just eat them non-stop.  But, this time, the cabbage is added, and its crunchy, yet cool and refreshing effect on my palate makes me feel like I could jump up and run a marathon.  The meat stew adds a subtle bit of oomph to the mix.


This is much the same as Tuesday's meal - Ugali, sukuma and meat stew.  However, the absence of the spaghetti is covered up by piling on a huge amount of sukuma.  I feel like popeye when I eat all the greens, but it's the meat stew that really builds the muscle.

So, there you go - that is a report from my stomach.  I personally really enjoy the food here.  Especially the more traditional stuff.  I don't have any pictures of my nights out eating Nyama Choma, though, that will have to wait.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

ICJ Kenya: Student Duties

OK.  I am writing this late on a Friday night.  I was pondering what I should write about next.  There's been too much news about the Kenyan push into Somalia to root out Al-Shabaab.  At least in the media here (I'm not sure what it's like at home).  But, to be honest, it's slightly depressing, and it is really confusing.  So, I was really hoping to find something else noteworthy from my experiences here.  Sure didn't have to wait that long.

On Thursday night, I was pretty amped up about what Friday was going to bring, as a day at work.  It's not a feeling that comes around often, when work is associated with it, but, to be honest, I'm getting involved in more than a few things that are tickling my fancy.  Thanks to my work monitoring the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, not only am I hopefully going to continue that work, but I am starting to get involved in researching and writing on the incredibly complex issue of reparations for victims of human rights abuses.  Given the immensity of Human Rights issues that have occurred between independence and present-day, any reparations scheme for Kenya has to be done adequately and appropriately.  So I have volunteered to get involved in working out a plausible reparations scheme for Kenya's situation.

Despite how awesome that might seem, I am also stoked about this secondary issue that seems to have fallen on my lap - helping finalize and implement a Legal Aid scheme in Kenya.  Those of you aware of my past legal shenanigans will know that I spent 2 years working for Law Line, which was a subsidiary of Legal Aid Alberta (and has now been subsumed into it, among the many changes that have occurred).  Anyways, I am a big believer in Legal Aid initiatives.  And for those of you who know me, the only thing I like more than Legal Aid systems is STUDENT Legal Aid schemes.  So, imagine my delight when a coworker decided that he was 100% stoked on working with me to create a student legal aid framework for Kenya.  Call that a pet project.  We'll see how it goes.

Anyways, more on point, I was completely excited about what Friday held in store, and the fact that it was the end of a week and a great time to relax and plan for the future.  I should have taken the torrential rain as a sign.

When I walked into the office, and made my rounds greeting everyone, James, one of the Kenyan interns, asked me if I would like to accompany him to the High Court of Kenya to file a Notice of Motion.  Seemed like a great idea - tag along and take some pictures and get a feel for the Kenyan justice system at work.  Plus, it's something I have a close affinity for, after being a well-worked articling student, who had a fair share of Student Duties (any odd job, ranging from making applications in Chambers, filing documents, to ordering food for afternoon hand out sessions).  Sounded like a great experience, and besides, how hard could it be to file a document?

The current Court House in Nairobi is located in Milimani, across the street from the old Commercial Law Courts.  The new building is quite impressive:

The security system is also pretty good - they confiscated my camera, so unfortunately I was unable to visually record what happened once we got inside the building.

OK.  First I should let you know that a large portion of what follows is owed particularly to a poorly written email.  I think that probably would have saved us an hour of our time.  Maybe two.  But regardless, this is how things shaped up and shook down.

James, Frida and I left in the ICJ-Kenya van, to go to the Court houses to file a Notice of Motion with the Court.  What exactly the Notion of Motion was about isn't such a huge deal, but it is interesting nevertheless:  ICJ-Kenya was preparing an Amicus Brief in order to be an interested party and to provide expert commentary into the issue of immigration and refugee rights.  In particular, the organization has a good background in the rules and issues surrounding extradition.  So we were filing a Notice of Motion to have our time in court to argue why we should help in the extradition proceedings.

We entered the Court, not exactly sure where we should go.  Frida suggested we try the first floor Chief Magistrate's office.  We did.  I noticed on the initial walk-through that this was an incredibly nice courthouse. Far from the cement somberness of North American law courts, this was a vibrant building, with many windows, and open areas (which were later to become waterlogged, once the torrential rain started).  It was bright and bustling.  A legal bazaar.

The first place we checked was a long, narrow room, lined with metal bars, to separate the court clerks from the filing minions.  It was empty, almost sleepy.  The Chief Magistrate's Registry.  After a brief chat with an employee behind the bars, we were directed to go upstairs to the Magistrate Court Criminal, Civil and Traffic Registry office.

This registry office was architecturally identical to the Chief Magistrate's Registry.  Functionally, it was a bit different.  There were about 200 people jammed into the narrow space, jostling for position in front of the metal bars.  Not much different than trying to get a drink at a dance club frequented by all the frat houses.  I couldn't readily discern any particular organizational structure to it - you shoved your way to the front, and waved your document to be filed at the nearest clerk, who did his or her best to act as disinterested as possible.  James wiggles his way to the front, but gets told to move to the other end of the room, where those clerks are in charge of finding the case files associated with whatever you wanted to do.  More wiggling ensues.  People are remarkably pleasant, given that this is a court house, there's a lot of physical contact going on, and little privacy - we hear a man arguing with a clerk about his traffic ticket that he is trying to pay, but they are moving slowly, and he doesn't want to have to spend the night in jail for late payment.

Finally, James gets someone to take our Notice of Motion.  The guy walks away, and we wait.  And wait.  One hour later, the man reappears, and says (a) he can't find the file, (b) he doesn't understand what this Notice is for, and (c) that the file might be in the Old Milimani Commercial Courts, where some of the files for the Magistrate's Court are held.  The Old court house is across the street, so it doesn't seem like a big deal.

We walk across the street, assuming that this should be a bit easier, since there is less going on at the old court house these days.  We enter the registry office, and instead of 200 people, there's 100.  Ok, not bad.  Even better, James recognizes one of the clerks, as a classmate.  We jump from 100th in line, to first.  She finds a file with the same number as ours, but different parties.

Let me fast forward a bit, because the story becomes repetitive.  We go to a total of 5 different offices in the Magistrate's Court area.  Each time we wait, each time the service is dismissive, and each time people can't help us, and direct us somewhere else.

We're now it a slight panic. The last person we talked to told us that they didn't really want to help us, because it was almost lunch break, but directed us downstairs (back to the first place we tried).  It was time to improvise, or be caught in a vicious perpetual cycle in the offices of the Magistrate's Court.  We walked to the other side of the building, to the High Court.  Divine intervention!  The first person we bump into just happens to be involved in the filing department, just happens to recognize the case name, and just happens to be willing to help us out, before going on lunch.  Great!

We find out the following:

  • The matter is in the High Court, and not the Magistrate's Court.
  • The matter, while being labelled 'miscellaneous', is being dealt with in the Criminal Division, and not the Civil Division.
  • The matter is actually two separate matters.
  • The matter number that we have is wrong (for either matter), and regardless the numbers have been changed in any event.
  • The names of the parties on the matter are spelled wrong and are incomplete.
This is what I meant when I said that the email would have saved us a lot of time.  As it stands, we have some homework to do.  The friendly man gives us until 2pm to get back to him with the stuff.  He's leaving at 3.  The office closes at 4, technically, but it's Friday (I'm not sure if that really explains it, but that's what James tells me).  It's now, after all that, 1pm.  And it takes about 30mins to drive back to the office.  Great.   

Intermission:  While you imagine what kind of lunch I had, I noticed something else at the court house.  Tons and tons of paper, binders and books.  Relatively un-noteworthy, for a legal institution, you might think, but here's the interesting bit.  No computers.  When people look up a case, they grab a book the size of a medium bathroom mirror, and as thick as the fourth Harry Potter book, and leaf through it until they find the handwritten entry.  I ask why they haven't updated to computers (the technology is definitely available in Nairobi, and the Courts are not poor).  James tells me that the employees voted AGAINST technological upgrades.  They were afraid of losing jobs, and, more importantly, from the sounds of it, from losing the large financial bonus of bribes.  But that's an unverifiable, unofficial account of that issue.

Anyways, we arrive back at the court house at 3pm on the dot.  That's right, an hour late, exactly.  It took us 30 minutes to get back to the office, 15 minutes to make the changes and get the documents ready (and eat lunch), 30 minutes for the cab to arrive, and 45 minutes to get back to the court house.  When we get through security and back to our benefactor's desk, he is, of course, nowhere to be found.  The office itself seems like a legal parody movie - rows of wooden desks, stacked eye-high with files and documents, and in the middle of it all, court clerks reading the newspaper, listening to Christian music, or joking with each other.    There has been a lot of attention paid to hiring more judicial officers to help strengthen the judiciary, but I would think that this inefficiency itself contributes to the one-million case backlog and institutional frailty of the Kenyan Courts.  

Nevertheless, we find ourselves in front of a very unimpressed clerk, who, we are told, can stamp our documents for us.  Perfect.  OK, she says, first things first - proof of payment.  We don't have this, and, truthfully, we don't know how much it will cost.  Neither did the office secretary, who gave us 1,000KSh.  The total is 2,810KSh (it's double because the case was split into two actions).  We start to dig in our pockets, but she ushers us out.  We have to pay at the bank.  We go to the bank, and pay (we have, collectively, 75 shillings left between myself and James).  We get our receipts.  We go back.  No, we get sent to deliver copies to the court cashier.  No, we need 4 copies of the receipt.  No, there aren't any photocopiers here we can use, or even pay to use.

We run across the street to find a copier.  I look at my watch - 3:45pm.  We have 15 minutes before the Court closes.  We start running.  The Copying Shop is small and cozy, and very efficient (-25KSh).  We run back.

We wait in front of the Cashier's desk - which is located in the same Magistrate's Registry Office where there was the 200 person scrum earlier in the day.  It has quieted down now.  It is even easier to hear the man arguing with the clerk, still trying to pay his traffic fine, so he doesn't have to spend the weekend in jail.  We look through the peephole at the cashiers, who are standing around, chatting.  There are a stack of receipts waiting to be processed, and there are five other people waiting around with us, seething.  This is dead time.  No amount of cajoling can get the cashiers to work any faster (or work at all, in some cases).  4:00pm.  James catches the man's attention.  I don't catch what he says, but he manages to sound pleasant.  We get the receipt of the receipt.

We sprint back to the clerk's office.  It is empty.  Except for our lady.  The look in her eyes is even less friendly.  4:09pm.  She stamps the documents.  

We breathe.  It starts to rain.  We call our taxi driver, and when he arrives, a clerk runs out into the rain, asking if he can ride with us, making a point of reminding us how helpful he was for us.  A favor for a favor, right?  James slams the door shut and we drive off.  

We arrive back in the office at 4:45pm.  One day, one task, 6 hours.  Welcome to the practice of law in Kenya.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Bit of disturbing news coming down the pipe.

If you haven't heard, there were a few aid-workers kidnapped near the Somalian border just over a week ago.  This is an area that is ravaged by drought and famine at this particular time, and while it has been called the 'Crisis in the Horn of Africa', the Somali-Kenyan border is probably where the major issues are - the environmental catastrophe meets human suffering, with not only issues of drought and famine, but also huge numbers of refugees and major health issues including cholera outbreaks, etc. It is a major humanitarian crisis, now exacerbated by the kidnapping of aid-workers.

Apparently, the terrorist group Al-Shabaab has been blamed for the kidnappings, although I am not aware of this being confirmed.  Regardless, the Kenyan response was unequivocal.  Almost immediately after the Kenyan Army moved into Somalia, Al-Shabaab threatened retaliation for Kenya's military action.

From the sounds coming out of the media today, it looks like Al-Shabaab has started to retaliate, attacking a nightclub and a bus stop in the same day in Nairobi. Of course, there has been no direct link to Al-Shabaab, so we will have to wait and see how things progress over the next few days.

I had an interesting conversation with my colleagues about the situation - they all tended to support the initiative against Al-Shabaab, which has been a major cause of conflict at the Somali-Kenyan border, and has hindered aid and assistance to the refugees and citizens that are suffering there.  I suppose I cannot fault that logic.  They educated me on the fact that Kenya's army was 'untested', and probably useless.  It seemed that there was the opinion that this was an excuse for the politicians to be involved in some exciting military operation (knowing that next year is an election year).  I did ask them, though, how they thought this campaign, with the possibility of retaliatory attacks, would affect Kenya's tourism industry, which is the second-largest industry in Kenya.  They agreed that it would probably harm the tourism industry, despite what the government said.  However, they pointed out something that I had not ever considered - politicians don't really care about the tourism trade, because the people that suffer, if it decreases, are the common people and not the politicians.  That was a slightly heartbreaking sentiment.

Before you start worrying, I am staying safe and smart.  While the news articles above do not embellish the accounts of the attacks, I hope you remember that I am staying in a suburb of Nairobi, and realistically, would not have known about these attacks if my dad hadn't sent me a link.  The days move forward.  I am, and will be, fine.  My thoughts are with those who are not, and my hopes are pinned on a swift end to this conflict.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Intermission: Downpour

In what started as a pleasant, if cool, day, I am now trapped in a trendy cafe, sipping masala chai and patrolling the information superhighway, while rain buckets from the clouds.  Seems like a good time to reflect, since there isn't much to engage with, at this point in time.

This period of time, or 'season', if you can call it that, is what my friends in Nairobi refer to as the light rain season.  Intermittently, it will pour rain for about an hour or two, before clearing up.  The rain is much different than what normally occurs on the west coast of Canada (cold weather, windy, humid, unpleasant, dreary), where one still goes on with what was planned for the day.  Here, when the initial drops start to fall, there is an imperative to get to shelter, as soon as possible.  The weather stays nice, there's a slight breeze, and the water falls from the clouds like one giant shower head.  But walking outside is virtually impossible.

So, I've sequestered myself into an artsy cafe, managed to stake out a spot with an electrical outlet, and am abusing my wireless internet privileges as much as possible.

Nairobi is an incredibly difficult city for me to capture.  It feels massive, in terms of physical size.  It is large, in terms of population (3-4million).  And there is something oddly disorienting about it.  Perhaps it is the lack of concrete addresses.  Perhaps it is the multitude of curving streets, especially the ones that seem to arbitrarily change names.  Possibly it's the fact that there are no distinct boundaries between different districts in town (I was once taken on a meandering taxi ride, when I said that 'Gitanga Rd. was in Kileleshwa', when it is actually in Lavington (but not Lavington Estate).  Either that or I got ripped off.  Maybe both.  Regardless, one of the main things that disorients me is the traffic - there is just so much of it, and it's hard to fathom where people are going, much less where they are coming from.

The city itself has a curious mix of greenery, concrete, and squalor:

  • I have only driven past the Kibera Slum, at this point, but if one does not look for it, one would not notice it.  It is nestled in between a golf course, and a section of town full of seemingly nice apartments.  Nevertheless, it is there, an expansive tin-roofed, tin-sided, red dirt maze.
  • The trees and bushes are more than just cosmetic here - often they are the thorny security and privacy mechanisms for apartments and houses.  Whatever they are used for, the greenery is lush.
  • Concrete is, however, slowly taking over Nairobi.  The Central Business District has the same layout and feel of any metropolitan city, with Uhuru and Central Park standing in stark contrast to the overdeveloped sections of the Business District.  A glimpse of the outskirts of downtown see masses of greenery bulging, as if it looks like the forests and shrubs are doing their best to reclaim the red dirt from the cement.
  • Even in the suburbs, there are signs everywhere of development - more apartments, more shopping centres.  And the apartments and shopping centres that already exist are building themselves upwards.  The buildings are all concrete and brick - the skeletons of new buildings are all iron bars with poured concrete and stacked bricks.  A far cry from the wooden frames of new houses and the steel structures of new buildings in Canada.
In my location and working area, the predominant kind of people I see are upper class urbanites.  But even then, they come in all shapes.  Colourful headscarves, designer jeans, skinny jeans, baggy jeans, baseball hats, suits.  Junction, the mall I'm writing this from, has a curious mix of Kenyans, Indians, Wazungu, and everything that falls in between.  It makes for some interesting people watching.  It's readily apparent that it is mainly the North Americans (I am making assumptions based on skin colour, style of dress, and a few other things) that have a propensity to (a) hang out on their own, (b) spend the most time on laptops, and (b) dress the most 'out of context'.  Of which, I am probably a perfect prototype right now.  Everyone else comes in groups of 2-9, the conversations are loud and lively, and there are children everywhere.  In fact, it's very difficult to see any Kenyan walking alone here.  I wish I had an entourage, at this point.  Besides, everyone here seems to be very good looking.  It's a good vibe.

It is also clear that hiring 'house help' here is an accepted practice among the more well off.  Even in our apartment building, instead of a coin-operated washing machine, people hire domestic help to do the laundry, by hand.  Dish washers don't seem to be common-place here, either.  And, there really doesn't seem to be the same attention paid to furniture here - especially when it comes to beds.  Even the beds shown on Kenyan soap operas don't seem particularly comfortable.  What an incredibly first-world observation.  

As I get slowly more comfortable with Kiswahili, and start to pick out words and phrases in conversations, there are a few things that are becoming noticeable.  First, people love to talk.  About anything.  Explaining how one goes about buying groceries has turned into a 30-minute conversation.  A favorite topic at work is what are the necessary and sufficient conditions for a good relationship/marriage.  That topic makes everyone laugh, a lot.  

Second, people expect everyone to contribute.  This is interesting for me, because my natural tendency is to just sit and listen, and occasionally weigh in with my opinion.  And often, when chatting with friends in Canada, we tend to wait until invited to speak, to put forth our opinions.  Here, friends have mentioned that I am 'too quiet' - not as a criticism, just as a recognition that I'm different.  They, on the other hand, have no problems expressing their opinions about everything, at any time.  This makes me slightly uncomfortable - in Canadian culture, often a controversial opinion will kill a conversation.  Here, the opinions flow freely, and from all areas of the spectrum. The ingredient that dispels conflict is laughter.  It is always close to the surface.

Finally, the hand is a predominant cultural tool.  High fives, hand shakes and hand gestures abound.  Waving hello is exuberantly done. Firm, business-like handshakes are rare - more often, it's a soft handslap, followed by a hand clasp, followed by the thumbs meeting each other, and flicking past each other.  I have re-read that sentence and realize that, unless you've actually experienced something like this, that entire description seems meaningless.  You'll just have to ask me to show you, sometime.  Nevertheless, it is an ever-present facet of social interaction.  It makes me feel like being in Kenya is like being part of a vast sports team.  It's a good feeling.

Also, hand gestures form a vital part of non-verbal communication.  I haven't figured out exactly when people use certain hand gestures, but I haven't seen one that expresses anything negative (although I'm sure flipping the bird means the same thing here as at home).  There is hand waving, double hand waving, hand slapping, knee-slapping, hand flicking, fist-slapping, karate chops, hand to hips, hand to heart, hand to face, hand to head.  I have a feeling that if I participated in a conversation with my hands in my pockets, there would be a lot of miscommunication.

OK.  The sun has set.  The music is hard core reggae/rap.  And I'm needing to buy food for the week.  Check back in later on this week for more stories about my work here.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lodwar, Turkana County

For the past three days, I was in Lodwar, which is in Northern Kenya.  The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) was holding hearings in this district, and ICJ-Kenya tagged along to monitor the process, write up a report, and get a sense of what types of issues are affecting the communities in this area.  It was something of a full body experience to say the least.  Read nicely written pieces on the issues brought up during the TJRC hearings here and here - they are good highlights of some of the main issues affecting this area.  As you will read, the issues that the communities in this area have faced are markedly different from what has happened in other areas of the country.  There was no real conflict associated with post-election violence.

But more on that later.  Let me try and describe Lodwar, with pictures to follow.

Getting to the airport was more of an issue than I thought it was going to be.  My flight was at 10:30am, so I showed up at the office at 8am, picked up a few things and was patiently waiting for the driver to get ready.  Everything seemed fine.  Apparently it wasn't, and the driver, Musyoka, with skill, poise, and a touch of insanity, managed to get me to the airport on time.  I just wish he'd stayed on the road all of the time.

Our plane was a Dash-8 16-seater.  Three people on the plane crossed themselves as we took off for our first stopover in Kitale.  I'm glad someone did.  Nairobi is a fertile, mostly green area - flying into Kitale, it was clear that this land was even more bountiful, with beautiful tall trees, and green everywhere.  The plane made a sickening cracking/crunching sound as it touched down, but no one seemed to notice.  I thought it was quaint that the Kitale 'Airport' was just a small building, the size of a 2 bedroom bungalow, in the middle of nowhere.  I never thought to consider what Lodwar's would look like.

After a short delay, we were off again.  I took a glimpse at the rolling hills and greenery, and fell asleep.  I awoke to the sound of my stomach turning, as the Dash-8 slipped, dipped and shuddered through the clouds, on its descent into Lodwar.  A quick glance out of the window was a stark reminder of where I was heading - an entirely different setting, if not a different planet.  Yellowish sand, as far as the eye could see, with spindly lines of greenery sparsely lining areas where streams may have been, ages ago.  Miniature goat corrals were sprinkled around, long ago abandoned to the sand.  How any plant survives is an absolute mystery to me.

We land in Lodwar, safely.  There are children on the tarmac, running after the plane.  The airstrip is a plank of asphalt on sand, surrounded by barbwire fence.  A small rectangular hut is the 'airport'.  The first step out of the airplane is like the surge of heat from pouring gasoline on a fire.  I pause, my face instantly breaks out in sweat, but my rear is still heavily air conditioned.  It is one of the strangest feelings I've ever experienced.  I instantly regret wearing shoes.  The temperature will be, on average, between 35-40 degrees.  And hotter when the wind blows, oddly.  At night, it cools off to around 28 degrees.  24-hour Bikram's Hot Yoga.

We drive the very short distance to our hotel, drop our bags, buy water, and head to the hearings, where we spend the rest of the day, sweating.

The heat does strange things to my physical functioning.  I lose my appetite, I am very, very tired, and I have trouble focusing.  The hearings pass by as if in a dream.  An elder, a Mzee, is testifying about the conflict between the Turkana people and the Pokot.  There has long been a history of Cattle Raids between the two groups, but the influx of illegal arms in the mix has turned traditional 'coming of age' theatrics into deadly pillaging.  He gives specific examples of the brutal outcomes.  Yet somehow, in the midst of his stories, in what one of the audience will tell me is 'real wisdom', he spins his tales in such a way that the entire room is laughing uproariously.  Afterwards, I give him a respectful handshake (clutching my right arm with my left) and thank him for his testimony. I'm not crying, it's just sweat pouring down my face, but I'm awed.

Lunch is fried meat, sukuma (kind of like spinach), and chapatis.  More importantly, ice-cold Fanta Orange.  The sugar-rush hits me hard.

During the afternoon sessions, I hear one witness describing his experiences as a 14 year old boy, surviving an air raid.  His town was bombed in 1989.  He mentions how he returned to his village after the bombs dropped; he sees charred bodies, entrails hanging from smoking tree limbs, and a crater where his house used to be.  His community is never informed who the perpetrators were - they find out during their research for the TJRC hearing that the newspapers reported that Uganda airplanes bombed Lokichoggio.  But to what aim?  I am stunned.  The sugar rush is gone and everything feels very, very heavy.  He respectfully asks the commission to recommend a full investigation and report to be made into the bombing, and that compensation and a monument be made about the incident.  There is no rage, no anger, no blame, only questions.

We have missed dinner.  I chug a litre of water and eat a chapati.  It is enough.  I have a shower, but forgo toweling off, and go to bed, sopping wet.  I sleep.  My sink doesn't work.

The next morning, my ICJ colleague and I go to the Women's Hearings.  There is one male present (the cameraman), so I slip in.  The women are singing.  Loudly.  It is captivating.  I become painfully aware of my  male-ness.  Luckily, a TJRC staffer, rescues me, and takes me to the in camera (private) hearings.  There are 9 people, including myself, in the room.  This is the same room where 500 people were listening to witnesses testifying.  Today the audience is just me.  I become painfully aware of my non-Kenyan-ness.  I am allowed to stay, but the commissioners make a point, at the end of the session, to remind people that only authorized people are allowed to attend the in camera hearings.  I sweat more, if that's possible.

We return to the site of the singing ladies.  My colleague and I unfortunately miss an opportunity to get driven to Lake Turkana, the 'Jade Sea' of the North.  Instead, we are back at the Lodwar Lodge, where I find all my belongings moved to a different room.  The sink works in this one, but the toilet doesn't.  In fact, it is leaking.  I am very self-conscious about this wasted water, in this land of drought and famine.  Perhaps suffering from heat-induced mental instability, I attempt to jiggle the leaking bits, somehow thinking it will stop.  The drip turns into an outright waterfall.  I scramble out of the room.  They find me another room.  This one has a pit toilet and a bucket.  Much better.

On our way back to the lodge, we cross paths with a Kenyan man who is working on a laptop.  He greets us and his handshake is firm, but oddly, he doesn't seem to want to let go.  We introduce ourselves, and it turns out that he works for Kenya Red Cross.  He is a Medical Officer providing relief services to the drought and famine victims.  He is jovial and affable, but his eyes are haunted.  He tells us that 5 km out of town, families are sitting under trees, and dying.  He tells us he has no idea how to help most of these people.  Yet, he tells us that somehow, everything he sees defies expectation.  He says that medical evidence says that a person will die after 2 days without water, yet he sees women and children surviving for over a week without water.  With great empathy and respect, he tells us of the determination of survival, and of the ultimate acts of altruism that occur on a daily basis.  He is humbled.  So am I.  We both feel the urge to return to Nairobi.  I don't know how to feel about that.

The next day, there is a 4-hour wait before the flight leaves.  I pack my stuff, and set the intention to wander around and try and capture life in Lodwar in snaps.  I make it about 100 metres out of the hotel, and am so overwhelmed by the heat, the sand, and my sweat, that I quickly take a few pictures and retreat, beaten.  I watch a Kevin Bacon movie and meditate.

As the plane takes off, the oppressive heat melts away.  I look back, and reflect.  The very first person we met in Lodwar asked if we were coming from Kenya.  Amused, we replied, "yes, but where are you coming from?" "I am from Turkana".  This is a different place, a different land.  The memory is seared into me.

The County Councillor had asked, pointedly, "Why has our government forgotten about us? Where are they when the Ugandans, Ethiopians and Sudanese raid our livestock, kill our young men and rape our women?  Where is OUR aid?  Our we not as deserving of aid as the refugees?  We are dying from hunger and disease too.  Why has our government forgotten about us?"

I don't know.  I can't forget about this.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Feverish ramblings

Hi.  I am sick.  But, not to worry, I do not have malaria (or typhoid, for that matter).  I really hope that I do not have man flu. Most likely it is a stomach bug from the copious amounts of nyama choma (aka street meat) I have been ingesting while on the road.  It is just so tasty.  But I am laid low, for the time being.

This is unfortunate, as I am missing an opportunity to travel to Meru - ICJ-Kenya is sending a group of people up there on a 'community outreach' mission - to help educate the community about human rights, and other legal matters.  They will be taking about 10,000 of these:

These are pocket-sized 'katibas' (Constitutions).  I had the pleasure of touring around Narok, and handing loads of these out to public institutions - a University, the District Commissioner, the Law Courts, and to various individuals.  It was an overwhelmingly positive experience.  People are extremely excited about getting their hands on these.  What a sharp distinction from Canada - I can imagine handing out pocket Charters to random people on the street, and hoping that they at least recycle them. At the same time, access to this information is so much more readily available to Canadians - internet access in Nairobi is of a high standard, but not in any of the other places I have been to since.

As a town, Narok is a pleasant, bustling little hub in the middle of the Great Rift Valley.  It has a steady stream of 'Mzungu Caravans', as it is a popular launching point for people that pay the money to go on a game drive in the maasai mara.  I'll have to wait until next time to see that, though.

On the ride back, I did get a chance to snap the "World's smallest Church" (although Google is telling me that this is not true).  Regardless, it is tiny.  It seats 2, uncomfortably.

It was built by Italian prisoners during World War 2.  The road they built is pretty good too.

Otherwise, here are some more thoughts on a few things I have notice over here:

  • The International Criminal Court Confirmation Hearings grind on.  Every second of the hearing is being captured on TV.  This is strange for many different reasons. most notably the ICC processes are quite different than normal Criminal Courts, which means that, for me, I'm not always entirely sure what is going on (and to be honest, sometimes the lawyers themselves seem unsure).  I can only imagine what the average Kenyan is getting from these broadcasts.  In fact, it is quite apparent that some of the Defendants are using the whole process for political gain (i.e. to enhance their presidential candidacy).  The ramifications for this confirmation hearing are MASSIVE.  If you don't know what 2008 PEV means, then learn about it here.  The 6 accused that are facing ICC charges are supposedly the 'most responsible' for a conflict that traces some of its roots all the way back to Kenya's independence.  However, the 2008 PEV was on a scale that has never been seen in Kenya's history - over 1,000 killed, over 600,000 internally displaced.  That second number is so big it is unfathomable.  And 'internally displaced' is a nice way of saying 'forcibly evicted from their own property'.  From my small experience with the TJRC hearings, there were countless abuses suffered by men, women and children arising out of the 2007 elections.  So, the question I have is, if any or all of the 6 are found guilty, is justice done?  It seems like this is a serious question for the majority of Kenyans.

    That's a picture of an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) Camp, above, where tens of thousands of people lived.
  • Kenyan statistics - the country is roughly the size of Texas and the population is between 34-40 million, depending on what Google seems to think is more relevant.  That means more people than live in Canada are packed into Texas.  And, honestly, when driving through Kenya, parts of it seem as empty as driving through the Prairies.  It is a fascinating landscape, especially in the Great Rift region.
  • Partially, one of the reasons I am focused on the 'African situation' in this post, if you can call it that, is because I'm reading this book.  It is a fantastic book.  If you're interested in Africa, you wonder about what you can do to help, or get involved, please read this book first.  As they say, pesa nyingi, shida nyingi.

Thanks for keeping up to date on my goings-on over here.  I have it on good authority that I will be joining a soccer team here in short order.  Stay posted for that!  Plus, I'll be getting better in no time.  Baadaye!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

TJRC – Truth, Truth and more Truth

This is less of a blog post, and more of a debrief session.  I spent Monday and Tuesday in Naivasha, to attend the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission hearings.  I got to hear 5 witness testimonies.  It was eye-opening, gut-wrenching, among other things.  I wasn't informed as to whether I could take pictures, so I'll try and get some pictures when I attend the TJRC in Narok this weekend.  Here's a rundown of what I heard:

1.  Somali Community - Land issues, forcible evictions, homes destroyed, attacked by people 'using the government as an umbrella', women and children assaulted, livestock destroyed, denial of citizenship (inability to get ID, birth registration).  In 2006, received a 'Letter of Allotment', giving them some of their land back.  Land taken over anyways by government institutions.  Somalis were discriminated against during the 'Shifta' issues in the 1970s (even in Naivasha, which is far from Northern Kenya).

2.  Children Services Community Worker - Issues of Forced Labour, Child Defilement, Child Prostitution, Forced Marriages, Female Genital Mutilation, and Child Trafficking.  Shocking reports on Child Labour in Kenyan Flower Farms.  Hugely underfunded/supported by the government.

3.  Maasai Community - Issues of Land claims, forced evictions, discrimination, 2005 aerial attacks by the government - while they were fleeing, soldiers came and raped their women and children. No investigation done.  Geothermal Powerplant - encroaches on their land, steam vents affect their land, kill their livestock, and probably affect the health of the Maasai as well - no compensation, no oversight.

4.  IDP Coordinator (Internally Displaced Peoples) - Issues:  Forced evictions, Loss of life, tribalism (through political incitement), loss of livelihood, resettlement - 1992, 1997 and 2007 evictions...this has been an ongoing trend.

5.  Nagati Farmers Association - Some land claim issues.  But, to be honest, this witness stood up at 8pm, and my mind was in no state to adequately comprehend anything further.

That is a really short synopsis of the testimony.  The first hand accounts of some of the violence and injustices that have occurred were at times overwhelming.  There is a lot for me to wrap my head around, these days, so hopefully my head is up for the challenge.

As a nice bonus to attending the TJRC hearings, I was able to drive through the rift valley on the way to Naivasha...

...and today is National Freedom of Information day here.  I attended a press release with some colleagues, where we advocated for an open and transparent government.

And, I should take time to mention the passing of Wangari Maathai, who died yesterday.  She was a national hero and an international sensation, and if you have a spare moment, you should read her book "Unbowed: A Memoir".  It's a great look at her life, and an interesting illustration of some of the issues that have affected Kenya over the years.

Off to Narok for Friday.  Maybe some climbing this weekend, alafu, rest.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Of a Rare Sort of Passion, If You Can Call It That

The past week has been full-on.  I am definitely not complaining, but it is a bit unfortunate for those of you who are hoping this post will be filled with cultural insights and the mysterious nature of Nairobi, the “New York of East Africa”.  Instead, it will be a look at work and the law, smattered with a few other random oddities.

For those of you curious enough, or perhaps just for my own archiving, here’s snapshot of work:  The ICJ Kenya office is located on Vihiga Road, in Kileleshwa, a district west of Nairobi’s central business district.  Kileleshwa is probably what you would describe as a ‘suburb’, in the sense that it is largely a ‘residential’ district, complete with gated-off compounds.  The main difference is, of course, the absence of cul-de-sacs filled with identical vinyl-sided houses with two-car garages and basketball hoops.  The neighborhood is lushly green.  There are randomly interspersed grocery huts.  The roads are inconsistent, at best.  And inserted amongst the residential compounds are organizations like the Kenyan Council of Religious Leaders, the Swedish Society of Dentistry, and the Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists.  Here’s what our office (house) looks like:

Inside the house, there are just over 20 employees and volunteers, busy at work.  The work day starts at 8am(ish) and finishes at 5pm(ish).  The pace is fast, and at any given time, people are in and out of the office, holding meetings, attending conferences, preparing media releases, researching points of international law, and having tea.  For my own part, I work in an area of the house (office), affectionately termed ‘Siberia’, either because it’s isolated, or because it’s the coldest area of the house.  ‘Cold’, in this case, is perfectly balmy for me.  We all pay one thousand Kenyan Shillings (KSh1000 = ~$11Cdn) a month, and get served freshly cooked lunches.  I’ll take some pictures of the lunches for the next blog post.  It’s amazing food.  We also drink tons of tea. Tons.

And we work.  I have been assigned to work with the Human Rights Protection Programme, one of four major programmes that ICJ Kenya administers (the others are Access to Justice, Democratization, and International Cooperation).  I work with three other people, at the moment – Roselyn, the Program Director, an extremely nice person – she got her law degree in Manchester, and has a hint of a British accent; Denis, a volunteer who just recently got his law degree; and Laura, an American who works with ICJ Kenya and one of its donors.  The HRPP is currently working on three main initiatives – Transitional Justice, which includes grassroots level training of paralegals in rural communities on human rights issues and advocacy; Constitutional Implementation, which is focused on monitoring the developments and legislations that Kenyan’s government works towards, and making sure they all adhere to the new Bill of Rights; and Monitoring the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC).

The last week, I focused mainly on helping the HRPP by doing Bill Reviews – analysing, and at times proofreading some of the proposed new laws that the government is trying to pass.  The new Constitution of Kenya ambitiously set deadlines for new legislation to be created (many of the laws are extremely important).  Of course, the deadline for a lot of the laws was one year (or, right now).  Conceptually, this was very good, because it guarantees that some of the most important legislation gets enacted before the next governmental elections in December 2012.  Practically, I’m not so sure, because the new laws, at least to my eye, tend to be hastily drafted, and the possibility for mistakes and errors to creep in is very, very high.  That’s where we come in, I suppose, to highlight the weaknesses and problems with these proposed laws, and hopefully to effect changes that help the governance of the country generally, and in a way that protects and promotes human rights.  That’s a pretty lofty goal.  

This week, I get involved with the TJRC Monitoring project.  This is very exciting.  The TJRC was set up based on the recommendations of the Waki Report, and at past UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s behest, to look into the systematic violence and human rights violations between the period of 1963 (the Mau Mau Rebellions) and February 2008 (the Post-election violence).  The goal of the TJRC is to investigate the causes of some of the worst human rights violations in Kenya, to provide a forum for victims and perpetrators to make public declarations about what happened, and, ultimately, to make recommendations to the Government of Kenya about how to prevent similar atrocities from happening, to provide reparations for victims and a few other things.  If you’re interested, learn more about it here.  Our role in monitoring the TJRC is to make sure that it is living up to its mandate, to record the types of issues that it deals with, and to make sure the TJRC system is not compromised.  The nice thing about the TJRC is that it is mobile – the hearings are held all over the country.  So, on Monday I will be travelling to Naivasha for a 2 day hearing, accompanied by Laura.  Naivasha is in the rift valley – where some of the worst post-election events occurred.  It also happens to be a scenic place, so I’ll try and take some nice pictures.  On Friday I will be off to another TJRC hearing in Narok, which is a bit further west, and on Oct. 10th, I will be flying up to Lodwar, in Northern Kenya.  It will be a great opportunity to learn and experience different areas of Kenya.  The TJRC hearings were supposed to have finished in August, but they have been extended for a few more months.

Otherwise, what else has been going on?  Well, I generally have been walking to work, or taking a taxi when I’m lazy.  I will get used to the matatus here soon, but I’m in no rush.  The Mountain Club of Kenya is supposed to be holding a beginner’s climbing session next weekend, so Chelsea and I will check that out.  On Saturday, I attended ICJ Kenya’s 2011 Inter-University Debate on Freedom of Information.  It was really interesting to see how involved the students are in these types of debates.  It was also our first time in the Central Business District of Nairobi.  I wandered around.  It’s a big city, there’s a lot more wandering around to do.  I saw central park, dedicated to “Papa Moi”, and Uhuru (freedom) Park, made famous by the Nobel Peace Prize winning Wangari Maathai.  And, at the end of the day, we and a few colleagues went out for some Nyama Chomo, Bia, and EPL.  That is, Meat Eating, Beer, and Soccer.  And, later on, an impromptu dance party.  I feel like we dispelled some myths about Mzungus and dancing, maybe.  Fantastic.