Monday, June 08, 2020

Are you imaginative enough to be free?

If you have a child, that child's safety is most likely the most important thing in your life. If anyone harmed your child, you would exact retribution, terrible retribution. You will spend anything to keep your child safe. You will pass any law to protect your child from the evils of the world. So any law that punishes any person who even looks at your child cross-eyed will receive your full-throated support. So it must terrify you no end when someone proposes to abolish all the laws on the law books and start with a clean sheet of paper. Is that person some kind of monster that wants to sexually exploit your child and murder them afterwards?

The Constitution of Kenya is like Joseph's many-splendored coat. It covers a wide array of subjects. But its showpiece is Chapter Four, the Bill of Rights. Twenty-six separate separate rights and fundamental freedoms, recognised and protected by the Constitution, and an obligation imposed on every person to protect and defend those rights and fundamental freedoms. A decade after its promulgation, the edifice of laws, regulations, rules, guidelines and orders remains almost entirely unaffected. In fact, I'd warrant that they have been reinforced and bolstered in insidious and disturbing ways.

The core of the colonial-era law-and-order system remains unchanged - the Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Code, the Civil Procedure Act. The National Police Service Act, the National Intelligence Service Act, the Kenya Defence Forces Act and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions Act are the filigree adorning the dark heart of the Kenyan policing apparatus that was designed to coerce, intimidate, misuse and abuse the civilian population, especially those who were poor and weak. Colonial administrators may have withdrawn from public service, but their spoor continues to contaminate our attempt to imagine freedom without the baggage of Black-is-evil philosophies.

A clean sheet terrifies many people. But it is debilitating for those who are incapable of imagination, having smothered it with Caucasian theories of crime and punishment, hence their reflexive, instinctive demand: what about the children?! That demand has successfully stifled debate for decades. While we may have successfully reorganised the coercive systems of government, we have not even began contemplating the complete rewiring of the systems themselves to reflect the central place that humans play in government, as contemplated in the Bill of Rights. Without such a rewiring, the Bill of Right's promise will never be fulfilled.

Even if the rewiring focussed exclusively on the care and protection of children, so long as it began with the question of what freedom looked like from the eyes of a child, half the challenge would have been met, with the balance to be met by drawing from our own histories of crime and punishment, law and order, peace and war, money and power, justice and fairness, education and training. If it takes a village to raise a child, what does that say about the child's relationship to its siblings, parents, extended family, village, leadership? What does it say about the child's place in the academy, work, justice systems, governance mechanisms? Is the child free or is the child the camouflage adults use to un-human each other?

I don't have the answers, and if I pretended to do so, I apologise. I hope that I have some of the right questions, though. I hope you have the breadth, and humility, to imagine anew what the Bill of Rights can free us to be.

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