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Justice is universal or it isn’t justice

By -JENNY LUESBY | September 3rd 2013

Recent days have brought soul searching in America, as it views its progress, over 50-years, in achieving Martin Luther King’s dream of racial equality.

Yet even as we work though the checklist on race relations stateside, maybe we could take a moment to notice that the civil rights black Americans fought for back then remain bitterly far from the rights enjoyed by the majority of Kenyans today.

For, as much as the black civil rights movement sought to end segregation, it was, more profoundly, fighting a state and population that were operating without principles of universalism - where the same rules apply equally to everyone.

Instead, it was OK in the southern United States to lynch a black youth, or rape a black girl. Murder was not only sanctioned, but even actioned by the state. American blacks lived in fear, cowed by injustice and persecution.

Civil war

What made the injustice so much more biting was the contrast of black with white, where white girls’ virtue was sacrosanct, but black girls weren’t even worth a charge.

Yet for all those who think that Kenya is some oasis from human history, not afflicted with the same strains as elsewhere, somehow immune from the ruptures that have caused turmoil and change in other societies, what does it take to raise the alarm on the tensionsbuilding in this nation?

The World Bank called it a civil war ahead. The UN has called it a ticking time bomb. But no one who tweets appears to be listening.

Is it that we pretend it’s all fine, let it all roll on, and then write academic tracts about the ‘rebellion of 2016’ - earning nice big  salaries for analysing the cause of the fighting and deaths after they all have happened?

Or could we, instead, just stare ourselves in the face right now on our own current delivery on justice?

A middle class Kenyan raped in upmarket apartments will lead to death sentences for the perpetrators. But raping the poor is anybody’s game, making it tough for high school girls in Kibera to even get to school.

Steal phones in CBD and you’ll be shot for dead, but the institutionalised theft - even by our water company - which kills the poor every day, is not even considered a crime. And for the murderers who lynched an underclass youth outside my house this year, no one even asked a question. The police only took the body, from the murderers, to the morgue.

Does that add up to a good life, in your view? I can only offer the perspective of a political scientist, but it is a reality, whether people want to see it or not, that the lack of human rights in Kibera, compared with the privileges of the Kilimani mums, is the makings not of ethnic conflict, but of class war.

Kenya might be fine for as long as we can all keep going with some myth about Western versus Central. But how will it be when our ethnically mixed 54 per cent unemployed march on the Kenyans who Tweet? How will it be when they storm Runda?

“The arc of the moral universe is long. But it bends toward justice,” said Luther King.

Starving masses

It is to defy human history to say that it won’t do so in Kenya.Ours is a country that boasts of its pile of dollar millionaires, while its masses starve. And there never has been such contrasts of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, rich and poor, protected and abandoned, secure and insecure, side by side, forever, without the downtrodden biting back.

And rightly so.

In Nairobi, itself, our gubanatorial election turned into a debate about stone throwing. Yet when I read the debate, I found myself near incredulous.

For which of us would be raped and go undefended, lose babies to infected water, live in hunger and fear, have our friends gunned down - all cheek by jowl with cafe society - and not want some stone throwing?

Is it a condition of being active on Twitter that you just don’t get it that injustice causes fights, causes protests, causes wars, or is it a precondition of being under 30 and middle class? Instead, in our focus on 50-years of black civil rights in the US, we might wonder when our own 34-year-old reverend, at the head of a march of hundreds or thousands, will declare that he has a dream, a dream where every Kenyan has the same rights - and it is broadcast everywhere, and our whole society is restructured to achieve it, with laws rolled out, and institutions reformed, and principles of universal justice put into effect.

It didn’t happen 50-years ago. It hasn’t happened yet - in 2013, we still lynch our underclass without a murmur. But one day there will be a leader who stands up for our majority, and smashes apart the prevailing notion that there are rights for millionaires, rights for Lavington, and no rights at all if you live in Mathare.

“No lie can live forever”, roared Luther King. And no lie can. Justice is universal, or it isn’t justice.

The writer is Consulting Editor at The Standard Group.

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