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We need movements to realise the Kenya we want

Saturday February 18 2017

By NANJIRA SAMBULI
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All over the world, resistance is the mood.

Resistance to injustice in its many manifestations, injustice perpetrated by politics, economics and social norms that are only accruing benefits to a few rather than the majority. This is true in Kenya as well.

Despite attempts to frame Kenya’s doctors as a greedy lot who are demanding hefty salaries, the doctors’ resistance is framed on a powerful notion: that they shall not go back to work to supervise death.

The people of Isiolo made it clear that if they did not have water, they would not be voting. What rallying call will the lecturers and nurses provide?

These messages are powerful, and serve, in my view, to align people who may otherwise have differences of opinion and approaches. The doctors’ strike, as has been observed, is now a movement for better public healthcare. Surviving the rot of the current system was no longer tenable.

Many of us are running out of ways to survive these messes. Survival is a perfectly natural instinct, but it can also be a distraction from achieving the virtues of peace, love, unity and justice that we chant about in our national anthem, as well as the principles enshrined in our Constitution, waiting for us all to breathe life into them.

We will need movements to realise The Kenya We Want. However, as these movements emerge and gain momentum, a number of things must be taken into consideration.

'THE MIDDLE CLASS PROBLEM'

In mapping out who the adversary is, and identifying the actions we must take to achieve what we set out to do, we will need to be very careful not to play too easily into the hands of our oppressors by misdiagnosing the problems at hand.

In Kenya today, the ‘middle class’ has become a rather convenient scapegoat, blamed for many of the ills facing us as a society today. The Kenyan middle class conversation is an interesting one: it often ranges from questioning its existence (is there really one?) to the burden of action being placed on them for practically everything.

Regardless, I view this as a flawed tactic that at best, serves as catharsis for those piling blame on the middle class. It can be argued that it’s also deeply ironic, as often times, the rants and decrying of the middle class also comes from those who also fit the script.

Rarely have I encountered discourses that try to approach the ‘middle class problem’ from the ‘middle class’ point of view.

Instead of an adversarial and confrontational approach, what would happen if a strategic conversation about what the middle class can do to advance the course of justice were pursued?

It’s not like the mess in this country is lost on those who so qualify. We are all in this boat, for as long as we seek to strike our fortunes in this country. We are all trying to survive, and to thrive.

So, to attack those who may have reaped more benefits from their survival tactics is myopic. This, obviously, isn’t to excuse apathy or disillusionment; I don’t believe these people are classist.

SIGNAL OF SOLIDARITY

So, for those who want the ‘middle class’ to engage, and indeed any other ‘class’, a change of tack is needed for us to build movements that transcend any differences – be they ethnic, class-based or gendered – that could be used to undermine the just causes inspiring us to do better by our country.

We’re not going to rattle the ‘middle class’ into action by attacking them and the comforts they have amassed for themselves. If anything, that’s an assured way to further divide us when we should be building bridges to champion common causes.

Regardless of their backgrounds, doctors have said, loud and clear, that they will not go back to work and supervise death. The solidarity that was shown this past week by doctors in private healthcare institutions and the Kenya Medical Association further strengthened the cause!

Others, like the Kenya Airline Pilots Association - actors in a different industry - also sent out a strong and clear signal of solidarity. All this, I argue, because the message, “we will not supervise death”, is unitary, and evokes empathy that is actively translated into solidarity.

Do we want the Kenyan middle class to step up, speak up and act? Why don’t we explore how they can organise and pursue strategic alignment of goals? If you are trying to organise and include the middle class, why, as Keguro Macharia argued, don’t you recommend actions they can take?

To quote Keguro, “If this middle class is made of professional people, what can they offer? What knowledge? What services? What resources? What skills are needed? What training? What thinking? What building? What doing? What supporting? What intervention?”

LEVERAGE AND POWER

It’s also important to note that with any movement or calls to action, there will be limits to what people are comfortable doing. This again, is irrespective of class, or any other socio-political distinction or categorisation. If I am not comfortable taking it to the streets, how else can I step in?

If you, as the organisers, don’t have answers, why not invite those not comfortable with the proposed action to share ideas that they can champion to embolden the cause?

A homogeneity of tactics will not get us to where we want to be, and the sooner we realise this, the sooner we will be able to build the strong, incorruptible movements we need to unlock Kenya’s greatness for all.

As Jim Shultz reminds us, “Our potential leverage and power comes from not one place but a diversity of them…Strategy is what helps us ensure that all our action does not simply become “the noise before defeat.”

So, to all agitating for change, let’s not alienate people in the process of trying to break down the very divisions that got us here today. We cannot afford to trade the ethnic divisions that have fractured this country, for classist, gendered or ageist ones.

That wouldn’t be a revolution, but the greatest tragedy we would bestow to the next generations.

Let’s not make the real adversaries’ work that easy. There is unity in diversity, and therein lies the catalyst for change. Time to think strategically, and plan accordingly. A luta continua!