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Staying hopeful amid all the chaos in the world

By Irungu Houghton | November 17th 2018 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Several experiences ran through my head this week. A depressed police officer who committed suicide, a human rights defender on the run from another officer and a young widow bravely rebuilding her life after an unlawful police killing.

Then there was the TV panel that got upset at the state of Africa’s basket-cases, a fake news conference and the Government Donor Forum that spoke about zero tolerance to corruption and then allowed a suspect of economic crimes to speak to it. How do we remain confident that a better day will come?

Kenya tests us personally and publicly every day. If it isn’t the rising cost of living, it is the blatant lies and lack of care for others. Too many of us are on shut down mode, a tactical retreat from the people and news that annoy and depress us. There is some bad news and good news here. The bad news is we are living in an age of rising social intolerance, huge economic inequalities and crumbling legitimacy for public institutions. Our withdrawal is simultaneously an act of self-preservation and a step towards the life of the hermit crab. Hermit crabs are fundamentally lonely creatures, preoccupied short-term and stealing the shells off other crabs.

The good news is the rest of the world is struggling with this and we can learn from there too.

In Brazil, newly elected leader Jair Bolsonaro has declared his intention to evict thousands of indigenous people and deforest the Amazon. Donald Trump is laying miles of barbed wire to stop Central American migrants. Battered by rising anti-migrant sentiment, one of Europe’s remaining democrats, Angela Merkel, has declared 2021 will be her last year. Even Aung Suu Kyi, Nobel Laureate and past beacon of human rights and democracy in Myanmar was called out for failing to protect the Rohingyar.

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Our world is not in a good space. Many of us are now loudly muttering that the easiest thing to do is to focus on our personal lives, and wait out the present unpleasantness. That would be a mistake.

What all demagogic leaders have in common is the use of fear as the currency to influence us. Fake news is not just lies, it is a way of shaking our confidence in the truth and those who tell it.

Enforce rules

Exercising fear and lies, these leaders want us to stay in our crab shells. As we mutter in our Whatsapp groups, they can tax, divide and rule us. If we do want a better future, we need to think and behave differently.

I am often asked how I stay hopeful. The answer is simple and three-fold. I choose my emotions, they don’t choose me. I don’t allow my reality to define my ambition. I don’t entertain complaints much. There is a degree of rational madness here. Remaining unattached to how I feel and the negativity around me reduces the number of upsets and allow me to focus on what needs to get done.

This week, 1,000 matatus were impounded for failing to meet Public Service Vehicle standards. Quack doctor Mugo wa Wairimu was also arrested in Kiambu County after he was exposed on our screens, sedating female patients and sexually assaulting them. Enforcing the rule of law to protect citizens is critical for deepening our faith in public institutions. So too, is demanding this of our leaders and ourselves.

This week, Caroline Gikunda went to lengths to prove this point. She insisted her truck be escorted to and then weighed in two other weigh bridges to prove that the KeNHA Mobile Weigh Bridge was calibrated two tonnes higher. Imagine the number of truck drivers intimidated to bribe their way out.

In two weeks’, the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders will bestow annual awards on ordinary citizens who have acted in the public interest, working against discrimination, extremism, violence and indignity. They and Caroline are the ones that will settle this country and we can do more to support them.

- The writer is Amnesty International Executive Director. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter: @irunguhoughton


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