Fighting “Insecurity” in Korogocho

IMG_0584Nairobi     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.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A Window into the Reality of Organizing in Nairobi’s Korogocho

Korogocho slum in Nairobi

New Orleans   Often it’s hard to describe what ACORN International’s organizing is really like in mega-slums around the world and the very different challenges our organizers face in building effective and potentially powerful membership run and funded community organizations.

Last week ACORN Kenya had scheduled a large rally in Korogocho, the 2nd largest mega-slum of Nairobi, around our educational campaign.  Previously we had won real victories in opening up the bursary system to make sure Korogocho residents received the financial support to go to secondary schools, rather than seeing the money siphoned off to others not eligible.   I had talked to Sammy Ndirangu and David Musungu, our organizers there, on Skype the day before the rally and had asked them to let me know how it had worked out.

Here is Sammy’s report after the rally:

Hi Wade

I hope that all is well with you.

We started the day well and people had started coming in big numbers at St. Johns Catholic field  by 9.00am.

The puppet team also set themselves for the procession and the ceremony started at 9.45am with a word of prayer from Fr. John who also flagged off the participants. However everything  turned  chaotic in the mid of our procession by a big multitude of youths with bonda bonda (motorbikes) who were trucking a motorbike that was stolen on Tuesday and the owner murdered.

Things got worse when they caught him and brought him near the Chief’s camp with intention to kill him but only before he identify where the motorbike was hidden. By then he had bad injuries and the Administration police were out of control of the entire scenario. Reinforcement was called and more police were brought and there was a strong running battle between the police and the community people who were crying for his blood.

Most of our invited guests had arrived but nothing could continue by then coz it was all tension in the whole slum.

By 1.00pm we called off the campaign.  we have some few pictures of the event and we will [send] them latter.

I would also suggest that we do the Skyping on Monday next week other than tomorrow to give ourselves time to analyze the situation on the ground.

Thanks

Sammy

Welcome to our world!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail