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Why Kenyans badly need an advocate

COMMENTARY
By Julie Masiga | December 15th 2020

In life, it’s important to have an advocate. Not just the lawyer type, but the kind of advocate who will speak up for you when you can’t speak up for yourself.

Say you fall ill, for example; you get sick suddenly and have to be put on a ventilator. There you are in the intensive care unit, lying beneath a blue hospital blanket.

Alone and isolated with a tube stuck down your throat. Your chest rises and falls mechanically as if there’s a balloon in there that is filling up and deflating on a laborious loop.

The beeping machines and the industrial humming of the vent that is pushing air in and out of your lungs are the loudest sounds in the room.

If you are lucky, your family will be by your bedside, while others will be looking on from a distance. They speak quietly, trying not to disturb you, their hushed tones giving the room a tomb-like quality.

Every so often, a nurse will clear the room to check on your vitals, or replace your drip, and every time he does, a family member will ask him how you’re doing.

He’ll respond how nurses often do: “The doctor will brief you when she comes”. And when she does come, she’ll give a report that will require some action. You might need surgery or some other procedure that requires consent.

The person you listed as your next of kin will be called upon to make a decision that will determine whether you live or die. That person might be your spouse if you’re married. If not, it might be someone you chose without giving it too much thought.

Prolong lives

Either way, many of us don’t tell our next of kin what we want to happen in life-or-death situations. And because they don’t know what we would have wanted, they make decisions based on what would make them feel better.

In almost every case, those decisions are ones that would prolong our lives, without taking into account our quality of life should we survive the illness.

This is why it makes sense to have an advocate. Someone who knows what you want to happen in the critical moments of your life, and someone who will speak up and fight for your wishes to be respected.

The discussions you have with that advocate are what researchers call an ‘advance directive’, which is a type of living will that allows a surrogate decision-maker to step in and take action for as long as the will-maker is incapable of doing so herself.

These formalities aside, the point I’m trying to make is this: There will be times in your life, whether you are unwell or healthy, when you will need someone to advocate for you... to stand up and shout for your life. As a nation, we are at that point where we need someone to fight for our rights.

Status quo

We are at a point where the balance of power is almost irreparably skewed in favour of those in leadership. We are sick, literally and figuratively.

Sick is the only way to describe a country that is losing lives to a global pandemic every single day, while its leaders engage in endless politicking.

It has never been clearer to me that ‘they’ don’t really care about us. They really don’t. But even with this knowledge, I’m not sure what we can do to get up and walk.

Everywhere I look, people are lamenting this lack of car e. We’re talking about the failings in government, but we seem incapable of doing anything else.

Yes, there are a few good Kenyans who are challenging the status quo in court and elsewhere, but they have not managed to create a groundswell. The people are angry, but they are sick, and they are tired.

Too tired to stand up and shout for themselves. This is why we need an advocate; not a saviour, just an advocate. Someone who will make a case for us as we work through years of state-inflicted trauma. Someone to ignite our passion for reform.

Someone we can rally behind. Someone who will give us a voice until such a time as we can breathe on our own. Someone to remind the leadership that the power resides in the people. And someone to remind the people that all sovereign power belongs to them.

Because if there is one thing I know for sure, it is this: If we think our leadership as currently constituted will make the right decisions for us in this time of national crisis, we will die alone on that hospital bed.

-Ms Masiga is Peace and Security editor, The Conversation

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