Nairobi From after midnight until sometime after 2 AM, sleeping didn’t come easily at Shalom House. Somewhere behind me was an extremely enthusiastic church service amplified with shouts, singing, and applause and undoubtedly a joyous rendering unto the Lord undampened by rain and unintimidated by the hopes of many, including myself, still trying to sleep. Sound travels well in the bush, but the other thing that kept me from sleeping were an afternoon’s worth of conversations and catchup with ACORN Kenya organizers, Sammy Ndirangu and David Musungu, about the issues we are facing in Korogocho, particularly “insecurity,” where we have been organizing since 2009.
I’m not a fan of the word “insecurity.” It reeks of euphemism. On CNN worldwide I saw President Obama talking about insecurity in the Middle East. Violence, crime, chaos, death, and destruction all are words with descriptive life. Insecurity sounds like a psycho cover-up of some kind for the evil around us, and that’s what we’re facing in this mega-slum, the oldest and third largest in Nairobi.
Earlier this year ACORN Kenya issued a report that attracted a lot of interest in the activist community of Nairobi. Much of it focused on the relationship between drug abuse and the other crushing issues of Korogocho. Most startling in the report was the fact that after talking to 300 families in the area and asking some basic questions, a full 85% said that their families had been touched in one way or another by the drugs, either through a direct family member or theft or violence associated with drug use, sale, and abuse.
The standard organizing alternatives seemed to be leading us to dead alleys. ACORN had met with the police chief and he – unhelpfully – told a story of having arrested one drug seller on a footpath and then seeing him released and selling the next day. The organizers described the chief as shrugging and essentially indicating that was the best, and most, he would do. Meanwhile the issue rages. What could I do, tell them about the “Wire” and the free sale zone the television police had created in Baltimore? Hardly!
How about the national government? Could they push the police and local politicians into action and stop the money flow priming the drug explosion? ACORN Kenya had met with the national drug czars on the health and abuse front, but they also were wringing their hands. The military? The organizers looked at me as if I had completely lost my mind.
Meanwhile ACORN has a “committee” of fifteen meeting every Tuesday afternoon at 2PM largely made up of former addicts ranging in age from 11 at the youngest on up, who are helping us plot the campaigns and serve as a reality check on what might and might not work. The committee also constantly counsels on the danger the organization faces in upending the apple cart here. This is not a “just say no” world where we are working.
As I said, talking about “insecurity” obscures the oppressive gloom and low-grade panic walking with the organization, its leaders, members, and organizers, as they try to confront an issue on the tips of every tongue while looking in all directions for any allies or institutions or governmental forces willing and able to stand with us. Between the screams to god outside my window and my own desperation in trying to think through alternatives before I meet with the organizers again tomorrow, sleep was hard to find, and it was hard to believe that prayer was the answer.