Street families are back in full swing all over the city. These endanger the lives of citizens. — Larry Madowo, SIDEBAR
This remarkable statement occurs around the 18:33 minute mark on the video as posted on YouTube. I might be able to accept the excuse that in the heat of the moment during a charged television interview, an exasperated interviewer mightn't be able to collect his thoughts sufficiently in order to ask a question as it should be asked. But I can't; Mr Madowo and his colleague, Mr Kantai, had time to prepare for the interview.
Two things stand out. First, street families are made up of criminals. Second, street families are not made up of citizens; they endanger citizens' lives. Nairobi's elite is astonishing. It never ceases to blame someone else for what is a cultural problem: the poor and the lower classes are not fit to be considered citizens because, more often than not, they are the causes of all crime. Simplistic? Maybe. But I have Mr Madowo's words. As a member of Nairobi's elite, Mr Madowo is representative of the casual dismissal of anyone who isn't a member of the elite.
Street families are not "back in full swing"; they never left. If the Homeless of Nairobi, a Nairobi charity is anything to go by, street families have always been there. There was a brief period when rehabilitation and relocation removed many of them from the streets of the Nairobi business district. Those programmes have been hijacked by political combat between the ruling national alliance and the ruling county coalition. In any event, to claim that street families are back is startlingly wrong.
But it is the utterly elitist certainty that it is street families ho endanger the lives of "citizens" that takes the breath away. An open-eyed examination of the lives of street families reveals that their members are the victims of great violence, not just from law enforcement officers but also from "citizens" as Mr Madowo refers to them. Physical and sexual assaults are commonplace against members of street families. So are the unlawful confiscation and destruction of their private property and their exclusion from accessing basic services such as healthcare and education in direct and indirect ways. To expect these vulnerable Kenyans to react like docile slaves is asinine.
We are now used to painting the poor with a broad brush but forget Jesus's exasperated question according to the Gospel of Matthew, "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" The elite, even among themselves, is remarkable for the degree of un-safety it puts its members in. Many of them have firearms certificates which are often used in patently risky and unlawful ways. In recent months prominent members of elite society have accused their spouses and significant partners of physical and sexual assault. The cases of members of the elite killing and maiming other road users using expensive SUVs are commonplace. Before Mr Madowo can accuse the poor and the vulnerable of being responsible for the un-safety of citizens, it would behoove him to cast a wider eye at the society to which he belongs.
Street families are not a bane to be eradicated. They are humans that deserve kindness and opportunity. Public policy must stop treating them as a problem or as a menace. It must be reoriented, even if it means greater outlays of public funds, towards their rehabilitation, access to education and training opportunities, access to basics such as food, healthcare and shelter, and the protection of their dignity from the heavy-handed, fascistic attentions of the elite and their police forces.