RIGHTS OF THE POOR

Residents in disbelief as state breaks promise and demolishes their homes

I choose to start this article by posing a question to you. Who fights for the poor?

All around the world the story has been the same. Poor people cannot get access to essentials, basic items they need to survive and even a system put in place to protect them is usually the first to deny them their basic human rights. I’ll narrow this down to the experiences I’ve seen in my country, Kenya, during the corona virus outbreak.

At the heart of the pandemic, the president addressed the nation and announced that there would be cessation of movement to and from the capital as it was the epicenter of the pandemic. Nobody was allowed in or out of it & its satellite towns. This came as a relief to those in the rural areas whose population consists of the old and really young who would be adversely affected by the virus.

And then out of nowhere, at 5 o’clock in the morning, before the crack of dawn, the government decides to demolish houses in some of the biggest informal settlements in the capital. Remember, we are still fighting a highly contagious virus and to cap it off there is the fact that the government created a cessation of movement to and from the city as earlier stated. These people couldn’t go back to their rural homes, couldn’t turn for help from the same people that destroyed their lives (the government) and had nothing because all of it was destroyed in the dead of night by bulldozers without a care in the world for their well-being.

A cartoon in one of the dailies detailing the situation

The kicker ladies and gentlemen, three days before the demolitions, a court order was issued stating that the demolition would not happen as it would leave these people with nothing and with nowhere to go. But, the Kenyan government listens not to court orders that do not go their way. This adds to a long list of orders they’ve decided to ignore. A trend that should be worrying and one that has been normalized and could lead to the deterioration of our democracy if something isn’t done. The chief justice once told the government that court orders should be obeyed and disobedience of this is a violation of the constitution and a dereliction of public duty. Their response, “he should have come to us directly and not hold a press conference” and the issue was swept under the rug. The height of civil disobedience and all led by our beloved government.

Back to the reason behind this piece. As I write this, families are forced to brave heavy cold nights with no food and no shelter with only little help from well-wishers. A local TV station aired their plight on their Sunday prime time news and the scenes were nothing short of heart breaking. A woman with her months old baby, in the cold. While her other children eat ugali (Kenyan staple) with salt!! Children with little to no clue what’s happening or why whatever’s happening is. As all this happens the government remains silent and says it had a right to carry out the demolition. They say the residents have been squatting on public land and an eviction was bound to happen. But doing so in the middle of a pandemic was an unjust violation of their rights and put a whole lot more people at risk.

Another fun fact, is that a senior member of the police service decided to call a press conference and say that people saying the demolitions took place at night were lying. A sloppy PR move as there are videos to disprove his statement, witnesses and news reports all contradictory to what he was saying. That didn’t stop him though.

The scary part is now this, the lockdown was lifted and these people were allowed to move from the city to their rural settings to look for help in any way they can. How many of these people were affected by the coronavirus? What happens when the old, the young and those with chronic illnesses in the counties get affected? The country has already admitted that it does not have the capacity for mass contact tracing, the counties do not have as good facilities as the city and soon these rural hospitals could be overrun. But this seems to cause the government very little worry. As they (senior government officials) have the privilege of social distancing, personal cars and storing food in its masses in their big houses, what happens to those of us who can’t?

Brazil had been burying people in thousands because the situation got out of hand with the second wave of the virus & at the back of everyone’s head who’d seen this news the question was the same. Would the same happen to us?

So again I ask this question, We elect people with money to go and fix our problems yet some have no idea what hardship really is. Though activist groups weren’t silent, few people were willing to speak up unless directly affected. When they come to ask for votes they tell us that we have the power but among you who read this, who feels powerful right now? All we do is sit back and watch them politic as the country heads into a black hole then hold our heads down, hope and pray we come out alive.

Writer on matters that affect us on a daily basis. I offer my thoughts and open to further discussion on topics posted.