Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bwana Júmbe Kimamé:

Reputed man of Kilwa,
High Priest ordaining Human Sacrifice;
Briskly march with his retinue of splendid porters.
Up, up to the niggers land, the Kaffirs of Kikuyu;
Encamped at Kĩambirũirũ, the Mountain of blackness.
Strapping girls, battering milk and vegetables with his potters;
Old, old women selling tobacco.
An offer of assured profits and prestige;
Forty dollars each to an Arab trader
Barter and Banter!

A fiasco awaits –
We leave on the day of the full-moon, Bwana commands.
A joyful mass of noisy humanity, in the glorious Kikuyu sunshine;
The boma is full;
girls, old women
young men, old grey-woolled men.
Poof – a ripple of musket-fire; out comes clubs and machetes
A sustained yell of terrified Kikuyu rises.
Swords dripping, clubbing, butchering grimly;
A crescendo of horror,
Bloody massacre!

With sheaves of harvest,
Bartered goods collected and packed;
Women, girls and lads roped, whip at hand.
Off goes Júmbe’s caravan for journey to the East is long.
On the Western coast, the Master waits penning,
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”;
As the three-masted horror casts its dark shadow over the horizon,
Bringing with it, the savages, uprooted from the land of their birth.
A herd of miserable blacker mass
What a bounty! Wealth for all!
- Kinyua.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Justice be our Shield and Defender

Recently a friend of mine while responding to some photos posted on the Web about Zimbabwean President Mugabe’s opulence concluded that, “the oppressed many a times turn out to be the greatest oppressors when they ascend to power!” He posited that many of those who are known to have in the past championed the cause of justice radically change once they ascend to power or join the wealthy club. In deed there is wisdom in this argument since we have examples of turncoats in the struggle for justice, particularly in the Motherland. However, I had real problem with my friend’s general conclusion that “justice is a form in the mind and a dictate of the stronger!” While I cannot say for sure whether my colleague was serious when he posted his comments, it bothers me that he chose to write these particular words. The statement that "justice is a form in the mind and a dictate of the stronger”, (which I strongly disagree with) cannot go unchallenged and deserves some comments. In the first place, I think it is unfair to use an African dictator as the standard for which to define justice. Secondly, justice is not a figment of our imagination. I believe in JUSTICE. JUSTICE is REAL.

Christ walked on this earth and died because of doing what was just. Martin Luther King Jr., lost his life in order to awaken the conscience of men and women to the reality of injustices suffered by millions of human beings. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in prison because he believed that white supremacists would come to their senses and recognise that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. If justice was just but a figment of our imagination, then Mau Mau freedom fighters in Kenya died in vain! To say to a refugee in Darfur or the internally displaced in Kenya who have lost their livelihood and all that they had worked for that what they suffered is just but a piece of their illusory mind, is in actual fact putting the last nail on their coffin. For the women and children who were burnt alive in a local church in Kenya just because they exercised their right to vote, their deaths were not in vain because JUSTICE will eventually prevail. Prophet Micah declared that God delights in those who do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with their God. In Luke, Jesus demanded that we follow him in a radical, self-sacrificial love of neighbour. Paul as well wrote of the beauty and goodness of love.

What then are Christians supposed to say or do when they witness the likes of Mugabe turn justice in Africa into a mockery? How do we respond when we hear politicians in Kenya go to the defence of those who engaged in wanton of destruction and murder arguing that those criminals did so because they were demanding what was rightfully theirs? Which crudely interpreted means that if your neighbour steals your chicken or cow, the best and appropriate way to act is to go out and chop off your neighbour’s hands, gouge out his eyes, rape his wife and maim his children and finally burn all his properties before making a claim to his piece of land as compensation of the stolen cow. This is sheer madness and nothing but a recipe to chaos and non-existence! If justice is real, where should our stand be as Christians pertaining to injustices and suffering experienced in our world today, more so in answering the cry of many who have been disenfranchised and suffered untold pain in modern Africa? I wish to contend that Christians ought to be articulate and bold in their quest for truth and justice. In deed the Christian Church represents the people of God living in the world. Through our concrete experience together, we strive to be faithful to our call towards the liberation of the world from all forms of injustice and suffering. The purpose of Christian life is to love God and serve God; to love humanity and serve it. Therefore, as we acknowledge the reality of justice, we need to understand that the idea of justice does not exist out there apart from history and human experience. In order to address the question of suffering, conflict and power, Christians should be able to relate the past, present realities and the future. The implication of this is that social change does not arise from moralising principles and models imposed on passive Christians from above by a moral dictator (call him God if you want). Instead, social transformation occurs from active involvement of Christians themselves. As Christians we believe that moral action is the result of the creative urgings of the Holy Spirit on Christian person striving to overcome injustices and alleviate suffering.

In my estimation then, justice should be the ultimate desire for every Christian in order to fulfil what ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr referred to in his seminal work on love and justice as “the radical demand of sacrificial love exemplified in the life and death of Jesus.” In this case justice points us towards accepting responsibility for all human life. As Christians we are obligated to organise our life together in a way that the neighbour has equal opportunities to maintain life. In this way, we fulfil the command “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”. It is now common knowledge that politicians in Africa have failed (in a big measure) to guarantee equal distribution of wealth and resources leave alone protecting the little that the citizenry has acquired. A good case in point is the Kenyan parliamentarians who have continued to award themselves with healthy financial perks with impunity and in total disregard of the masses. Such a class of political elite as presented will be quick to embrace the so called distributive justice. This form of justice leads justice beyond equality to a consideration of the special needs of the life of others in order to render support to special advantages for the particularly gifted or privileged in society. Kenyan politicians consider themselves privileged that the idea of levying taxes on their “hard” won money is considered anathema. It is no wonder that they can vote unanimously against their colleague who threatens to take away such privileges but they cannot agree on the way forward for the thousands who have been displaced from their rightfully owned land. In like manner, you will bear witness with me that even in countries, mostly in Europe, who claim to be among the most rigorous equalitarian societies, protection against abuses of socially sanctioned privileges is not guaranteed. This is because those who possess power, however socially restrained, almost always decide that their position in society is entitled to more privileges.

In Africa, governments and political community seem to forget that they owe their existence to the very people who elect them to office and to God the creator. States/ governments and the political community are not supreme in themselves. They are limited in that they cannot exist without the governed. Any government or political community cannot continue to act arbitrary as is the case in Kenya or Zimbabwe without being held accountable by those who elected them to office. God as the creator of all things living, demands that those in positions of responsibility seek justice and love mercy. The role of both the government and political community is to direct people to the common good of the society. Both cannot do so if they fail to recognise the dignity of the human person who is created in the image of God. This means that the starting point of governance is the recognition of the right to freedom, equality, and participation of persons. When a government or the political community allows a group of people to kill and maim in the name of justice, such a government loses its credibility to uphold justice. In the same manner, Christians ought to reject any politician who favours his kith and kin at the expense of other communities in the same republic.

In light of this, I believe that it is the duty of every Christian to demand for structures and institutions that bring about a just society. Since as I have already suggested, most governments and political communities in African have refused or failed to honour the dignity of the human person, the Church must take a stand and redefine justice in light of human dignity and mutuality. The emphasis ought to be on human freedom, equality and participation. The starting point then is the recognition of human being as defined first by one’s responsibilities to one’s brothers, sisters and to history itself. This recognition becomes meaningful when the Church chooses to be in solidarity with the poor and the suffering. The idea of solidarity also bears on the wealth and material goods. In fact, solidarity is the best grounding for justice. It is premised on the theological truth that recognises human being as involved in a multiple relationships with God, neighbour, world, and self. The basic reality of solidarity is to serve and protect the needs of all, more so the poor and victims of marginalisation. The Old Testament is clear on which side God is. God is not neutral – God is prejudiced in favour of the poor. God hears the cry of the poor. God also protects poor people even when no one else would protect them. In like manner, Jesus identifies with all victims of marginalisation, poverty and injustice.

What all this means is that the principle of justice can no longer be seen as “giving to each what is due”. Rather its beginning point is in the correction of injustices suffered. What is “due” is not due in the abstract but in the concrete and the concrete is determined by history. It is in history and concrete places that contacts are made or forced, covenants are broken, exploitation and disrespect take place. It is in actual history where violation by fellow human of fundamental covenant of life with life takes place as is the case in Kenya, Zimbabwe and Darfur. These concrete realities of history must inform our quest for justice. But how do we correct injustices if we do not know what the injustices are? This brings me to my second point. Injustices are not random events. They involve real people and form patterns in concrete times and places. Realities of injustices come in form of ethnic cleansing, racism, rape and murder, economic oppression, political repression, sexism among others. We may not understand the truth of pain suffered unless the victims first tell their stories. Those who have suffered great lose must share their pain. Victims of ethnic or gender hatred must broadcast their agonies. For this reason the most important tool for understanding justice becomes the stories of injustice as experienced by people. We must be willing to offer a forum for the victims to tell their stories. From this perspective justice takes a narrative form because it is the stories of injustices as experienced by the victims that count. After listening to the stories of injustices as told by victims, we must demand from the government and politicians including ourselves for commitment to concrete social change which as well validates self-help and empowerment of the victims. In this manner, justice from a Christian point of view begins with the perspective and experience of those who suffer injustices and suffering. It demands active role of the Christian community to develop tools of social and historical analysis that help to illumine what those historical injustices are, their meaning in the lives of victims and make concrete corrections to such injustices. Yes, the words of Amos still ring true to us today just as it was in the days of the Prophet, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24, NRSV.) Let justice be our shield and defender.