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.


  1. Sounds like you're having quite the time there, hombre. Life in the fast lane, as it were. Speaking of which, the Rift Valley is a breeding ground for some of the most feared distance runners on the planet. I fully expect you to come out of there with a 2:30 marathon time.


  2. Thanks Hart. But it takes me about 2:30 to get out of bed, so there's a lot of work to be done.

    More importantly - update your blog! I like reading it.

  3. New post up as of last night. Readers digest version: I got drunk last weekend, and only just now found a place to live.


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