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Notes from Africa – a CLEAR Intern reports back [part 1]

I have not obtained permission to replicate the following post on this blog. But I believe the author (Paul Hofmeyer) has an underlying intention to promote the good work which the Lawyers Christian Fellowship is involved in, and would therefore have little objection to my posting this here to increase awareness. Also, asking for permission would invariably involve revealing my person, something I’m not entirely prepared to do, yet. Lastly, I must clearly say I am not affiliated with any of these bodies.

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Kenya – Obvious Oppurtunity within

Infuriating Frustration

When I touched down in Nairobi, my first reaction was “this place is crazy, chaos, lawless …” When I left, my lasting impression was ..well…the same.

Would I go back again, however …potentially!

Would I have said that when I first arrived…definitely not!

Why such a change of heart?

Ultimately, my experiences led me to see that in frustration at injustice and unmet need, there is always opportunity.

Why such Frustration

Every country has its problems, but I guess for some they are a little more obvious. In my opinion, this is due to an accepted way of life, so much so that people aren’t interested in hiding issues or seeking to address them. In the UK, we have an overly accepted rights culture whereby a lot of people live off money that they don’t have, live beyond their means, and feel it is their inherent right to every service or benefit the Government has to offer. In Kenya, it seems to be the exact opposite. Most people tend to accept that they have the right to nothing, and that the top 200 politicians have the right to everything. For those in Government it is a “my time to eat” / “my time to exploit”  existence, whereas for every one else it is a “my time to accept the status quo and suffer as a result of it “ existence. This manifests itself in two ways.

(1) A lack of civil services, including but not restricted to:

A lack of infrastructure: Recently Nairobi was voted the 4th worst city in the world, in terms of traffic. I can vouch for this as on occasion it took me 2.5 hours to travel 30 km to work as a result of tired single lane roads containing many a pot hole and drop off.

A disregard for the environment: Let’s just say that “going green” is not a priority in Nairobi made apparent by the thick black smoke most vehicles churn out, which if walked through can make breathing a difficult operation.

Prison Despair: When I spoke to the welfare office in charge of maintenance at one of the remand prisons, he commented that two budget reports are sent out every month; one to the Government, and one to the well-wishers. Tragically, he consistently receives nothing from the former, and a small amount from the latter.

No social services to speak of: From my experience, there is a lack of (a) child care for teenagers who are suddenly orphaned by incarcerated mothers, or babies who face squalid conditions as a result of being with their mothers at the time of arrest; and (b) after-care for those who have fallen victim to sexual-abuse.

Limited access to legal representation: Only those who have been charged with murder receive pauper brief in the High Court (representation which is poorly funded and at the expense of the judiciary, not the Executive where the money lies). Those charged with all the other offences including those of a capital nature e.g. robbery with violence have to represent themselves unless they have enough money to instruct a lawyer or find themselves in the Court of Appeal(CoA). Recently, the New Constitution was interpreted by the CoA in the case of “David Macharia” as stating that all those charged with capital offences should be afforded state representation at state expense. The Government however, in acknowledging the precedent, but failing to implement it continues (in the words of one local lawyer) to “preach water” but “drink wine”.

(2) Widespread corruption, which is (in a generalised way) tangibly present in:

The conduct of many Politicians:  MPs (maybe not so much unlike British MPs…) are renowned for stealing money / land from their constituencies (often intended for the building of schools, etc) and using it to set up private businesses (including drug rings and night clubs), and to fund their interesting images. Often MP’s I came across were decked out in bright fluorescent suits, gold medallions and sovereign rings, drove top of the range Land Rovers, and could often be seen clasping gold or silver staffs.

The conduct of the Judiciary: I came across (a) A registrar who had a 5 hour birthday lunch at the expense of signing an urgent order for a client who needed to retain custody of her child so as to prevent the child from being rushed out of the country by an abusive party (b) one Magistrate who refused to grant bail to a client due to the fact his offence carried with it a mandatory death penalty – had she been “au fait” with the law she would have been aware of the ground-breaking “mutiso” case in which the CoA made the death penalty for all capital offences discretionary; and another who would not allow the defence lawyer to ask leading questions, which is precisely his role; and (c) A High Court judge who inadvertently acted out of line with the adversarial system of Kenya by ordering an expert to inquire into the case for him.

The conduct of the Police: “Kitikidogo” (translated as “something small”) is widely used and accepted way of asking for a bribe. Frequently I had police jump into my taxi and falsely accuse my driver of out-of-date insurance so as to obtain “kitikidogo”.

In short, from my limited experience, the beauty of Kenya is tainted by need not met, and justice not delivered /  ignored. Here is the story of one person for whom some of these issues have drastically changed the course of his life:

Meet Mark Antat, a 32 year-old mechanic. Last Christmas whilst walking to his uncle’s house for a festive drink, Mark was accosted by two gentlemen carrying AK47’s. who although decked out in casual clothing, claimed to be police officers on patrol, and as a result wished to search him. As they searched they found a  painkiller in his pocket and a camera in the back of his bag. They then accused him of drug trafficking and conveying suspected stolen goods. Mark informed them that the camera belonged to a friend of his, and that the drug was “Ponstan Forte“, an over-the-counter painkiller that he was taking. The police officers then hit him in the face.  They told him to get in the car and drove around for the ensuing hour, until they plucked up the courage to do what they were always intending to do, which was to ask for a bribe in exchange for release, In total the bribe came to a sum of 40,000 Kenyan shillings each, which he could never hope to raise. Unable to pay, the officers, as promised, charged him, placed him in the cell, and on the following morning accompanied him to court, as a result of which he was thrown into remand prison.

Over the last year and a half, all of Mark’s hearing have been adjourned for various reasons, and the Prosecution has failed to call any witnesses to testify against him. The only piece of evidence they have is a “bogus” chemist’s report, drawn up (contrary to accepted procedure) 5 months after the incident, which suggests Mark was carrying Mandrax. This, however does not match Mark’s story, not does it match the charge sheet which states that he was trafficking cocaine.

Mark has suffered at the hands of corrupt police, incompetent judiciary, and a complete lack of legal advice due to a disinterested Government and a lack of personal wealth. Seemingly having done nothing wrong, he has lost his job, defaulted on his rent and as a result has been evicted, has lost over a year of his life, and has been subject to the mal-nourished and TB / Malaria ridden conditions of remand prison, which he described as no less than “pure hell”. When I first interviewed him in prison on behalf of CLEAR, this is what he had to say about his ward, which was appropriately nicknamed “Pipeline”:

“It’s a hell hole this place…because the room is si small and because the number of people sharing it is so great (125), we all have to sleep side by side on the stone floor (no mattresses, no nothing) with one persons abdomen squeezed against another’s back. Together we look exactly like the books on an overcrowded book shelf, and if one person decided they want to turn over int he night, we all have to follow suit!”



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