By NERIMA WAKO-OJIWA
We need to debunk this myth that activists are superhuman and have all this time and money to worry about citizens.
A good number of them are poverty-stricken, suffer from depression, and are not even acknowledged for their hard work, the security risks that they subject their families to, the daily battle of denying themselves a “normal life” in pursuit of creating an environment that is liveable for strangers.
The path that they have chosen is one that they must walk for life. Because they are constantly pushing for change in the community, it is not uncommon for people to approach them and ask, “Where have you been?” whenever they go silent for a few months, “You have been so silent these days, I don’t hear or see you anymore.” “You should continue to do what you are doing, it is good and needed.”
Activists are often tied to a full-time role without a single penny of pay and forced to remain in that box, come rain or shine. It is often amusing that people get so used to knowing that a particular individual is “fighting” for a particular right, that it belongs to them.
When we heard about the increase in VAT a lot of people went on Twitter to ask, “Where is Raila on this?” As if it were a well-known secret that he fights for the downtrodden and needs to step up to the plate and represent them in time of need; besides, this is his job!
This is the thing, people are great at giving advice that has not been asked for and that they never follow themselves.
A simple example, “Things are so tough, that something has to be done…” But by who exactly? I know too many people who will give advice on how an issue should be tackled, “You should demonstrate about this” blah blah. But ask them to attend the protest and they will be a no-show.
“There must be other ways to solve this issue, surely; not all of us are like Boniface Mwangi. I have to work, you know, pay bills, how will I find the time to come and support such things?”
So activists have a magic hourglass? They do not have families to care for? Activists do not have special DNA. In recent years, I have witnessed people fighting for the lives of strangers and they are hardly ever recognised.
On September 21, 2013, when the Westgate Mall in Nairobi was attacked, there were people who did not have to go out of their way to help save people, but they did. These citizens put their lives on the line, just to protect strangers.
They were not even in the mall, so you cannot say that they used instinct and protected themselves, they made a seraphic decision to go toward danger… They decided to go towards the mall after hearing that there was an attack, very much aware of the dangers involved. Five years later, the mall is functioning as though nothing ever happened.
But for many families, even five years later, it is still tough to move on: Even walking into the building, adrenalin still pumping as they walk in… Which is understandable. The number of people who would have lost their lives if ordinary people did not choose to step in, nobody really knows.
These people who took a risk to go into a place of danger to help others were invited over by the British High Commissioner, who shook their hands for saving people’s lives.
The president of Kenya did not even recognise them. Not forgetting that he did recognise a man who stood in a voting line with a plastic bag of githeri, because he brought humour in a time of tension.
Every other year, we witness Okiya Omtata battling courts and working hard, using every dime to push for the protection of citizens promised in the Constitution. Omtata has shown us that ordinary citizens can have power within the Constitution.
These heroes always say that they do not need the credit. For them, what matters is the fact that they made a difference to somebody. They do not need to be recognised for making a major difference in their community, yet we have politicians who want to be recognised for opening a mabati (iron sheet) office somewhere in their county.
Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW