Maina Kiai's Column

Maina Kiai's Column

Our problems will not be solved by the many cosmetic changes

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The toll from road accidents in December has been horrific, with news reports chronicling the numbers of those killed, the horrendous injuries and the resultant traffic snarl-ups. Each dead person is a parent, a child, or a sibling of someone, and the impact of the hundreds killed is massive. Kenya already has one of the worst records in road safety, and December only served to confirm our ranking. We have wringed our hands in despair, and offered prayers for comfort for those killed and injured. And we have sought reasons for this wanton loss of life. Yet the answers are…
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Achieving real freedom just got harder for opposition activists

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It is often said that Kenya can be frustrating and complicated, but it is never boring. And as we end the year, this saying has proven accurate. For we take one step forward and then two steps back, coming to the brink of real change that we deserve as Kenyans, but never quite getting there. Jubilee Party may feel victorious after this year, but we have not resolved the issues that drag us down as a country, and threaten our stability if not our existence as a nation. In fact, we can say without fear of contradiction that the divisions…
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Only those who bring honour and pride should be celebrated

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Last week I discussed two of the four awardees of the Right Livelihood Award, otherwise known as the alternative Nobel Prize. This week we will look at the remaining two, Yetnebersh Nigussie of Ethiopia and Colin Gonsalves from India. Yetnebersh, a young Ethiopian lawyer, was cited for “working for human rights based on her own experience of being discriminated against coming from a “developing country”, being young, a woman — and blind.  She is fearlessly pushing for women’s and girls’ rights, inclusive education and a vibrant civil society.  EARLY MARRIAGE Nigussie is an outstanding advocate for the rights enshrined in…
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We should be vigilant against environment damage by top firms

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I was privileged to serve on the jury for the Right Livelihood Awards a few months ago. This award, often referred to as the Alternative Nobel, was started by Swedish-German writer and philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull in 1980 after the Nobel Prize committee declined to include environmental rights, and human rights and democracy in its awards categories. Past winners of the awards include our own departed Prof Wangari Maathai in 1984 and the late Dekha Ibrahim in 2007, who both, coincidentally, died in 2011. Prof Maathai was cited for converting “the Kenyan ecological debate into mass action for reforestation.”  There is…
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Advice to Jubilee: The more violence against Nasa, the more opposition

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In 1997, I was invited to a meeting by then United States Ambassador to Kenya Prudence Bushnell, who, along with Johnnie Carson and Mark Bellamy, was one of the better American US diplomats to our country.  This was when civil society was leading mass action to force the Moi regime to accept the need for a new constitution. The mass action was simple but dangerous due to police brutality. We gathered every Saturday morning for demonstrations that would be brutally dispersed by the police. Despite the dangers, civil society — led by Prof Kivutha Kibwana and Rev Timothy Njoya, one…
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Is it possible to reclaim our values with current decay?

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The question of value systems has been the subject of recent conversations with some African colleagues.  More precisely, is it possible to reclaim or rebuild progressive and positive values in societies once they decay, as they have in Kenya and many other African societies?  Only someone from Mars will deny that our once vaunted value systems — whether African, Islamic, Christian or whatever — have not rotted from within and without. Where we once focused on the community — Ubuntu or Utu — we now focus on self. Africa produced the concept of “I am what I am because of who we all are”…
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