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.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Departure, Interlude, Arrival, Trepidation, Retreat!

Finally, after long preparations, I have arrived in Nairobi!  Here’s a quick recap of the last two weeks:

Immediately prior to leaving, I went on a glorious hiking trip in the Rockies.  It was a wonderful way of decompressing after a busy year, and a great way to get rejuvenated before a new adventure.  And, as it happened, a perfect time to get engaged! But that is a story for another time.

I flew out of Canada on Sep. 9th, 2011.  Instead of heading directly to Kenya, however, I was able to meet up with my family, who were visiting Poland.  It was a short trip – 3 days – but it was great to spend a little bit of time in Europe visiting with family, and it was also a good way of dealing with the first few days of jet lag.  A beautiful day in the Royal Park in Warsaw, listening to a live performance of Chopin in Chopin’s birthplace was just the type of relaxation that was needed to break up the long journey from North America to Europe, and Europe to Kenya.

I headed down to Nairobi on a red-eye flight that arrived on Sep. 14th, 2011, at 6:30am.  I had been informed by ICJ Kenya that their driver was unavailable to pick me upfrom the airport, but that taxis were ‘mostly safe’.  In fact, I did not notice any safety problems at all, although I’m certain that I paid at least double of what it should cost for a taxi from the airport.  My haggling skills are non-existent, especially after a 9 hour flight.  Oh well.

Initial observations of Nairobi, on the drive in:
  • I love the red earth here – I feel like it has a particular smell (apart from the various smells of the city – garbage, diesel,sweat, food, asphalt, perfumes) that is somehow heavy, spicy and slightly burnt, and generally very inviting.
  • There are people everywhere – not necessarily in huge groups, but that everywhere you look, there are two people walking here, a person napping under a tree there, etc. From the fringes of the city by the airport, to the bustle of the city centre, there are no empty streets (just busier and quieter ones).  A sharp contrast from driving from the airport into, say, Edmonton or Victoria.
  • Traffic is CONGESTED.  But relatively orderly.

The drive took about an hour.  I have no pictures because the cab driver and I were talking non-stop about what makes a successful marriage (it was on a radio program, and was not a topic choice I would have chosen, but there you go).  I went directly to ICJ Kenya, because (a) that’s what I wanted to do, and (b) I had no idea what the address of my apartment was.  Turns out it was a good decision, because ICJ Kenya was in the midst of going on a 3 day retreat to Brackenhurst, a resort near Limuru.

Just before we headed out to the retreat, though, the office was bustling with work – turns out that the Secretariat from the International Criminal Court was paying a visit to ICJ Kenya to host a meeting with Civil Society Organizations.  They were discussing the upcoming decisions on the“Ocampo 6” case, which was investigating the roles of 6 major members of the government in their involvement in the Post-Election Violence from the December 2007 elections, which were marred in election fraud, massive amounts of rioting, and where many people died, more were injured and hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. (Read more about the PEV here and about the ICC investigation and trial here and here).  I was in no condition to participate in this meeting, unfortunately, so I cannot report directly on what happened – from the sounds of it, the meeting was a nice opportunity to meet with the ICC, and for the CSOs to voice a few of their questions and concerns associated with the investigations and trials.

Right after that, we head out to the resort in a van.  The retreat was planned to be first, a way of relaxing and bonding between employees, and second, a review of ICJ Kenya’s 2011 Strategic Plan, complete with Program reviews and reports, and lively discussion about current and future projects. Can you imagine a better introduction to an organization than (a) learning about exactly everything that they have been doing and what they hope to be doing, (b) meeting the entire office in one fell swoop, (c) participating in team-building games every day, and (d) relaxing under the sun, in a resort, with tea and good chats?  I can’t.  The only part that was slightly awkward was the impromptu bonfire dance competition. I really, really lost.
When we were finished, we drove back to Nairobi, where I met up with a fellow CBA intern, Chelsea Thomas (her blog), and wound up the night watching movies about samurais and cowboys.

So, in summary, there was a LOT of relaxation and general goodness over the last two weeks, sprinkled with exciting times.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Soon, soon.

My tickets have been booked, and all the preparations (hopefully) have been prepared.  Now, I am just waiting and finding a few more things to keep me occupied in the meantime.  And trying to deal with the ever growing excitement.

To be honest, the last month has been much busier than I thought possible.  I had many hopes of lounging in the beautiful Edmonton summer, reading books about Kenyan culture, practicing Swahili on my unsuspecting loved ones and friends, and otherwise enjoying all the things Alberta has to offer.

In reality, I moved from task to task, and had to be very careful with time management.  My unemployment required large amounts of business acumin!  I had to organize movers, fight with a cell phone company (that will remain nameless), cancel all the 'essential' services that were taking money from me on a monthly basis, pack up years of accumulated stuff (re: junk), put it in a container, watch it get shipped off to the horizon, and, to top it all off, spend 12 hours scrubbing down a 2 bedroom apartment.  Not exactly glamorous.  But I am feeling very relaxed now that all the tick boxes in the checklist are filled in.

Despite that, I have learned a little more of what I will be doing, and have started to come to grips with what you could call the 'legal climate' in Kenya.  That may be putting it a little too strongly - I have a vague notion of a small number of key legal issues in Kenya, and I'm aware that I am barely scratching the tip of that iceberg.  What I am looking forward to is getting more accustomed to and aware of the general legal framework there, especially in the area of human rights.

To that end, it was with great enthusiasm that I found out that I will be working primarily with the Human Rights Protection Programme of ICJ Kenya.  I think that one of my main tasks in helping the HRPP will be to provide commentary on, review and research developments in Kenyan Constitutional Law.  This is fascinating work, generally, and is especially interesting given the fact that Kenya has a one (1) year old constitution. How this constitution is implemented, followed and respected will have major implications for Kenya as a democratic nation, especially with regards to being governed under the Rule of Law.

Just to pump myself up on that note - a light read from the Law Society of BC regarding the Rule of Law, and its place in society:  Enjoy!