Nothing strikes harder and painfully as following the #OccupyPlayGround hashtag this evening, just after spending the day writing my thesis on youth in Kenya, depicting how the country is full of opportunities for the young generation, BUT, my thesis just got challenged again....
Not until some of the evils we are facing are dealt with. When young boys and girls become this angry and discontented with their government, that they are willing to support their school administration to defend their land - because the government, which has actually invested in this school, as part of the education system, no longer cares for the rights of the young ones. There is more to be done before we can realize these opportunities.
When I watch these young boys and girls, most of them i suppose will be below 15 years of age, shaking the gate blocking their claimed 'playground' with so much anger, I know very well those kids are not on drugs, neither did they take any energy boosters. They are just as aware as I am, that something wrong has been done, and no one has offered a solution to their cry. And if the right procedure has not been followed, then the only other way to have their voices heard is to use force. Unfortunately they met with a bigger force, and they were teargassed- teargassed.
As i watch those girls and boys crying out of the pain of the tear gas, the injuries they sustained from the running battle with the police (I am still trying to imagine how this happened), I am chocked by tears. Tears knowing that these police were responding to a higher force; so high that they did not consider the subject at hand. Would they arrest these pupils for damage of property? Did they consider there has been a series of back and forth communication between the school and the person who claims to own this piece of land. And just like a child in a family, watches her father and mother fight, there is always a limit to how much pain and anger they can keep in their hearts; one time it explodes, causing the unexpected.
Did these police, most of them, men, husbands and fathers, consider that these school children could also be their own sons and daughters who were being denied the right to play and were discontented with the government which only knows the rights of 'those who have'. They could be their own sons and daughter when they are fed up with poor parenting, and demand something better - a change. In the social space, we cannot belittle any action. These young boys and girls, just like their grown up brothers and sisters whom I have been researching have been observing their government everyday. It is a government of those who own Kenya, not of those who live on the land. It makes me sad.
The school is located just next to Kibera slums, meaning that most of these pupils only wait for the school days to have a secure space to play. I remember seeing them play on this ground when I lived close by a few years back. And I remember seeing the Highrise buildings develop so fast. One the one side of their lives, these children face the Wilson Airport, Nairobi West and Lang'ata residential places, all of middle class living in Highrise apartments. But on the other side, they are mostly coming from the congested Kibera slums within little green space. And now I imagine how the children feel, not having a space where they can be children, where they can develop their sporting skills, away from the hustle and bustle of the congested land. It is a space to breathe fresh air, or at least watch as planes land and take off at the airport. This can be small to a businessman, but research has shown has connection to nature is essential to child development.
I am only expressing my sadness, and maybe no government cares about my sadness, but I know it can be better. I am encouraged by how the young people organized themselves. Whether they were assisted by their teachers, activists, or not, is not as significant, as it is to know that even as we try to teach civic education in our schools, we should also know that, our children are learning from what they observe every day in the society. While young boys and girls of Langata know that in theory, one should not trespass others' property, they also know very well, that in a country like Kenya, few of the rich respect the rule of the land, and therefore, they too, as young as they are, they have learnt how to protect what is truly theirs. They have become activists in their own rights. They are doing exactly what they see every other citizen doing in Kenya. But they have faced the wrath of the government.
Still #OccupyPlayGround opens up my eyes to the realities I will have to deal with as I continue writing my piece of thesis. I try as much as possible to keep within academic limits, but its events like this that shake me to the core. They make me critic harder the opportunities that these young boys and girls might have in the future- if they ever make it to the future. The politics of the land might kill them before they can breathe through their teenage lives.
So when I watch the clips of the wall going down with the children involved, ad I see the police injured by the police, or the kids carrying sticks, I know the subject in question here is also not immune. How can i justify supporting rowdy kids who were ready to cause harm? But as a researcher, I also pose the question back to Kenya: what else would you expect these boys and girls to do in a country like Kenya, where no one obeys the law of the land. This is all they have learnt since they were born; this is what they watch on the news everyday; this is what they see their brothers and sisters at the university do; this is what they see they teachers do to demand pay rise; they watch the doctors riot for pay rise; they watch the matatu owners riot. It is a generation of boys and girls brought up in an uprising country. That's all they knew. Civic education revisited.... what evil is evil in this case?