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!

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Death Threats, Web Attacks, and Organizing Reports

Dilcia Zevala giving the Tegucigalpa Report
Dilcia Zevala giving the Tegucigalpa Report

Tegucigalpa A critical feature to the annual international meeting of the ACORN International board and staff beginning last year in Lima and now with both excitement and trepidation is the reports from offices around the world on their progress.  All of this is well and good, but we use Skype and our life blood is the strength of the internet connection, which can and was shaky.  This year thanks to a better set of portable speakers and a borrowed projector, even with vexing connections, the process worked much better.  It was amazing to hear the report from Prague and to listen to the Czech being translated into English and then the English being translated in the meeting into Spanish as well  or to both listen and see our leaders in La Matanza outside of Buenos Aires talk about their progress.  Talk about international!

We interrupted the reports when our leader from Col. Ramon Amador, Maria Amalia, and one of our members from Manzanales, came into the meeting.  We quickly turned the attention from staff reports to their brave and quiet recitation of the events of the night before after we had all visited the community where our members homes had been bulldozed by golpistas during the coup.  It seemed that police accompanied by soldiers had arrived at 11 PM at night and gone site to site intimidatingly harassing people out of their sleep while shining flashlights in their face.  None of this surprised the members, but at 2 AM in the morning Maria Amalia received a call on her cell phone awakening her.  The caller asked if her husband was there.  She asked if who was calling.  The caller gruffly replied that he was “outside, and he would not think twice about killing her.”  She then turned off her phone quickly.  The message had been delivered and she had gotten it.  Our visit had given both hope, which meant that it had to be offset by force.  Kay Bisnah, ACORN International’s president spoke for everyone when she pledged that we would stand with them in whatever action they decided to undertake.  Everyone was shocked.  As tragic though was how inured our Honduran leaders and organizers had become inured to threat and reality of violence. Over the last several years this had become the “new normal” as political and community life was gripped in oppression.  What might have meant a huge change in the day’s agenda ended up being simply an episode, as life – and the meeting – went on.

Reports from Prague also seemed past the pale, when Michal Ulver, our organizer and colleague there, reported on the attempts to attack the organization from the right wing by launching an attack website with a similar name in order to try and discredit the organization and its program.  When we talked about our actions in Toronto, Mexico City, and Buenos Aires to support our friends in Russia trying to save the Khimki Forest, we also had to note the daily beatings and their constant courage which had become routine in their struggle.

For all of the growth and victories reported, including winning water after all of these years in Col. Ramon Amador, there was no way not to feel that we were also learning lessons that we wish were not being taught.  None of us there could have also missed the fact even as hard as we work and as grave the injustices our members face in their organizations, we cannot fail to remember how dear a price our sisters and brothers in many parts of the world pay every day as they struggle to find a voice and build power against repressive regimes and unchecked corporations.

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