Johannesburg Sitting here with a day to kill in the Joberg airport and ruing having just spent 75 rand for a special South African adapter so I can make it through and finding the young clerk at the “Electronics Megastore” joining me in commiseration that there was no free wireless anywhere in the airport, it was more pleasant to think about the fruitful and hurried last day in Nairobi.
We started slowly with another fast moving series of matatu rides which amazingly got us to Trinity Catholic Church right outside of Korogocho in record time of hardly a half-hour. It’s impossible not to like Father John. He seems young, but is probably 40, and wearing a white Kenya soccer jersey, there would have been no way to ID him as a priest, if we were not in the rectory meeting with him in a side room. He was a kindred spirit in the “cultural” wars of overturning the NGO and donor dependency that created false consensus in meetings where local people now thought they simply were supposed to ask that something be done and learn to accept whatever the NGOs offered. Unions are so unknown to poor people in Nairobi that it was easier to talk about the comparisons between the Church as a gather of believers and our community organization as similar with dues instead of a collection plate. Father John agreed that we could work out of his school when needed and would always be welcome to a desk, and we walked out feeling we had a true friend here for our work in Korogocho.
Much of the rest of the day was spent in housekeeping around the sundry administrative details we needed to move the work forward from our registration to simple bookkeeping to work on the internet, websites, Facebook, and even a fundraising program for the organizers to move forward around Citizen Wealth. All good stuff, but the heart and soul of the afternoon was doing campaign planning for the next steps we needed to take to develop action and progress on the “slum upgrading” commitment on housing, forcing the promised hospital to be built, and moving on education both to deliver “bursary scholarships” as they are called and see if we could develop a plan to force the building of a public, primary school in the slum. It’s a pleasure to be able to sit down for 6-7 hours with organizers and come out of it with a full list of things to be done and, importantly, a feeling that tasks are clear and problems are being solved. We have a good, talented, raw team in Kenya, so now we have to ensure that they succeed.
I managed to top off the day at dinner with old comrade, Rick Hall, from the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center. We celebrated the fact that having gotten me to ferry Jameson’s to him a year ago, he had converted me in that direction. He had exciting plans that also found me a quick volunteer to build an “organizing institute” in the countries he works with in East Africa. Rwanda for example has no unions and no collective bargaining now and is virtually what Brother Hall called a “US client state” where even commercial institutions are willing to encourage the building of unions (though it may be temporary of course) to help bring stability and restore some measure of strength in civil society. Spending some time helping him there would be worth the climb. Our conversation also reminded me of my blog a year ago about enforcing the new wage and benefit standards for domestic workers. Nothing has changed in a year, but perhaps its high time.
It was nice to be in Kenya doing real work with our organizers, members, and leaders finally after the long trips over several years to pave the way so that we could now see the path forward.