Overcoming Discrimination in Kenya – by Laura Maina

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Discrimination is treating someone differently in a negative way simply because of who they are or what they believe. Discrimination is usually expressed in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, weight, class, caste, religion, belief, political affiliation, language, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and health.

In Kenya today, this vice is seemingly gaining ground in our societal interactions:

Ethnicity/nationality: People from the Makonde, Somali, and Nubian communities are becoming stateless as a result of the boundary issues that cause them not to be recognized as part of the Kenyan society. Their lack of national documents (I.D. or passport) leads to limited access to social services and job opportunities that would result in the development of these communities. This has taken a toll on the political sphere of the society. It is highly unacceptable that out of the 42 tribes that we have in Kenya, even in terms of the census polls, the little communities are usually categories in the ‘others’ segment. The lack of recognition of their numbers causes dilution in their fighting power for elective positions, and their cultural position is weakened as the general public is unaware of their existence and eventually this leads to the tribe fading.

Women in the country have for a long time been fighting for a place to give opinions, run for seats and participate in legislative spheres of the economy. The constitution of Kenya affirmed this with the provision that not more than two thirds of any elective or appointive position in the government of Kenya shall be of the same gender Article 81 (b). This affirmative action is now derailed by the ‘progressive’ aspect being perpetrated by opposing members. An affirmative action is a short term strategy and the mere introduction of the ‘progressive’ term makes the realization not have a time frame through which it is to be attained

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful’’ Seneca 4 BC – AD 65. Kenya has seen targeted conflicts between the two main religions in the country, Muslims and Christians; this is despite the rights engraved in the Constitution of Kenya Article 32. Recent incidents recorded include; in 2008 there was an outbreak of mob violence against suspected “witches” and “wizards” in the Kisii Central district when at least eleven people, mostly elderly women, were brutally murdered and had their bodies and 50 homes burned after being accused of “bewitching” local children. In 2003, the establishment of the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit resulted in religious discrimination that was mainly targeted at the Muslim community; these claims led to Muslim human rights activists calling for the disbandment of the unit.

Persons in the society with different lifestyles, such as nonconforming sexual orientation or gender identity, and persons with disability, are segregated and discriminated against. The constitution of Kenya Article 27, however, guarantees equal treatment.

Sexual orientation and gender identity: The discrimination runs from lack of access to healthcare facilities, lack of participation power, lack of recognition of the universality of rights as they are regarded as a “non-issue,” lack of employment as most firms discriminate against persons who do not fit in to their idea of acceptable sexual orientation/gender identity, to lack of areas to worship as most of religious doctrines ostracize them. Article 28 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees the inherent dignity of every person and that the dignity is respected and protected. The society and law enforcement agents violate these rights as they undress, rape, anal swab, bribe and extract money from suspected persons for them to live freely in the society. The law enforcement agents have created a wall that has made reporting of violations difficult as the victim is handled as a perpetrator.

Persons with disabilities face major issues in the lack of accessibility to physical, social, economic and cultural environments; to health; to education; to information and to communication – which hinders them from enjoying basic human rights and fundamental freedoms. This limited access is due to societal perception that firstly they are a small and insignificant community and secondly they are viewed as dependents. The notion has led to children with disabilities being put on the streets to beg for their livelihood. Persons with albinism are abducted, killed and their body parts sold for witchcraft as persons relate the parts with good luck charm.

Discrimination is a vice that has to be fought by both the victims and the perpetrators of discrimination, as well as allies. This can be done through:

  1. Sensitization of the Kenyan population through education, political debates, and community-based dialogues so as to decode the fears of the unknown diversities experienced in their midst that result in repulsive behaviour to those termed deviant.
  2. Implementation of the laws and the articles in the Constitution of Kenya that were made to curb discrimination.
  3. Acquiring of data through research; this will improve understanding of victim and perpetrator views on issues so a collective solution can be achieved.
  4. Increasing human rights protection through public scrutiny of laws on their compatibility with established human rights. Before laws are passed the general public, civil society organisations, school institution and religious institution should analyse the laws and give recommendations on areas that seem to counter efforts towards realisation of equal rights of all persons under the law.

This piece is also on the Kenya Human Rights Commission Website, here.


About the Author

LMLaura Arudi Maina is a psychosocial graduate who is passionate about understanding diverse life phenomena through research, writing and dance. She desires to construct better cohesion and bring social change through; changing of perceptions on various discriminatory attitudes amongst all persons in the society.

Laura is currently on the market for human rights work.

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