Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Perhaps Kenya needs a new story besides politics

Sunday Nation 11 September 2011

This past week, the confirmation of charges hearings of the Kenyan cases at The Hague were the only subject of conversation everywhere one turned. Total strangers would stop each other in the street to discuss how the hearings will turn out. Everyone has an opinion on the quality of the lawyers or witnesses, and which side is obviously winning. Every evening, dozens of Kenyans are glued to television screens listening to legal jargon and trying to make sense out of it all, and only end up confirming their own prejudices.

The Hague trials have only confirmed for me one trait that could be said to be authentically Kenyan — the love for political drama. Every election season This scenario actually repeats itself every election season in a major way, when politics is all we can talk about. After the elections we spend the next four or five years discussing political realignments, and soon another election catches up with us. In public places on any given day, all TV sets will be tuned in to the region’s favourite channel at “news time”, and all activities stop to allow us to “catch up with the news”.

Every morning we voraciously devour the same news as presented in our favourite dailies, with those who cannot afford a newspaper borrowing from another buyer or the news vendor. In short, our national life is now defined by the drama inflicted upon us by politicians and wannabe politicians. Amazingly, this unending dalliance with politicians has caused us much grief, but we are loath to let go.

Perhaps it is time we started defining a new reality for those of us who refuse to be pigeonholed into a “type” or typecast into predefined roles. It is in this connection that I would like to flag two special events that will take place this coming week whose significance may only come to be appreciated decades from now.

The first is really a very humdrum scientific conference discussing reproductive health, with emphasis on prevention of maternal deaths. This meeting, due to be held at the KICC on Thursday and Friday this week, will examine the progress made since 2005 when a similar conference was held and several resolutions made. Has the situation improved since then? Yes and no.

Yes, because we now have a new Constitution that attempts to provide health, including reproductive health, as a constitutional right. It also now prescribes clearly the
circumstances under which abortion is allowed. The negative assessment concerns the rate of maternal deaths, which has remained relatively constant since 2005, and currently stands at just under 500 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. Perhaps this conference will come up with something radical enough to prevent my wife and sisters from facing the very real risk of dying as a result of pregnancy.

The second event is concerned with the very literal task of rewriting our country’s story. This is the Storymoja Hay Festival, which will be held at the Railways Sports Club
grounds in Nairobi from Friday to Sunday this coming week. Poetry, prose of all types and books will be discussed, bought and sold. Writing workshops will be held for budding writers, and hopefully everyone will have fun and learn something at the same time.

It is my hope that these events, and not The Hague hearings, will define this coming week.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

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