The village and church as a family

Kangaita village is on the slopes of Mount Kenya, bordering the forest, a few Kilometres from Nanyuki town. The Catholic Church in the village is known as St. Paul. It is comprised of 15-20 families. This Sunday, July 15, 2012, the mass at the church is being led by a woman catechist assisted by an alter girl. I find this exciting and liberating. Today is a liturgy of the word, the mass without a Priest. The process and message of the mass is directly related to the lives of the villagers. I feel sense of oneness floating all over in the church.

The church announcements at the end of the mass are not written down. They are spoken out loudly by the chairman of the church, straight from memory. A faithful reports some information and another follows. Church announcements are a community affair, oral, known by memory. The church is a gathering of the Christian family. There are no inhibitions here. All announcements are important as are all in attendance. I find this out of the box and refreshing.

The weekly meeting of the Jumuiya – Small Christian Community- will be held this Sunday at the home of Mariamu, an old woman who has been blinded by diabetes. Her home is adjacent to Likii river. The church has only one Jumuiya known as St Mary’s. All in the church belong to the Jumuiya. The Jumuiya is the church.

We troop to Mariamu’s home. She is kept company and assisted by her grand- daughter.  We sit in a circle outside her hut. A small transistor radio is hung from a tree in the compound. It is tuned to Coro FM. They are listening to the radio programme known as Tabarira ya Ukumio – Kuina ni Kuhoya keeri (Praise and Worship programme – Singing is praying again).I am baffled. I have not been able to listen to this programme before as I am mostly in church at that time. I have even often wondered who actually listens to the programme while most of the faithful are presumably in church at the time the programme is aired. Here goes my answer. It is listened to by Mariamu and her daughter, and countless other faithful who in one way or another are unable to go to church, or had gone for the early morning church service. I feel guilty for being judgmental to a worthwhile programme.

The radio is switched off. The meeting of the Jumuiya begins. The meeting of the Jumuiya, just like the mass earlier at the church, is a simple process whose message is reflective of the existing realities and lives of the villagers. The process is made up of five steps. Opening prayers, reading the Gospel of the next Sunday, Bible sharing and reflection, contributions to the home and closing with the prayers of the faithful.

I am asked by the presiding Catechist to facilitate the Bible sharing and reflection session. This will be easy. The Parish monthly Magazine known as ON OUR WAY has published guidelines to assist Jumuiyas in the sharing and reflection of the monthly message in line with the Sunday readings of the Gospel. This month’s topic is on the plight of children and the evils they are subjected to by adults. Evils such as tribalism, discrimination, child labour, denial of education, family breakdown, molestation and many other evils. It is a lively reflection. The meeting has become a  platform on justice and peace issues. I don’t want the discussion to end. But it has to. One hour is over since the meeting begun. The meeting of this Jumuiya lasts about one hour.

Discussions end. Contributions to the family of old Mariamu are recorded in a book. Most of the contributions are in form of food crops. We close with prayers of the faithful, mainly words of comfort and hope to old Mariamu, her grand-daughter, her family and to all the faithful. Meeting ends. I feel refreshed. It is the beginning of another experience.

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A reflection on Kenya’s budget 2012/2013

The 2012/2013 Kenya’s National budget was the last one to be tabled by the Coalition Government. It was the most ambitious yet with the estimated allocations amounting to Ksh 1.459 Trillion. The budget for the 2012/2012 financial year was KES 1 Trillion.

Kenya’s economy grew by 4.4% in 2011 compared to 5.8% in 2010. With this shortfall in mind, the thrust of this year’s budget was restoring and sustaining economic growth by focusing on economic policies and structural reforms aimed at facilitating the expansion of the private sector, promote productivity and the economic capacity for employment creation.

While this economic drift is in line with the spirit of the new constitution and the attainment of MDGs and Vision 2030, majority of Kenyans were looking forward to a budget that would relieve them the stress of the rising costs of living and cushion the vulnerable from the harsh economic times.

On the contrary, the new VAT laws seeks to remove tax advantage on some basic commodities such as milk, bread and maize flour, some of which were exempted from VAT or were taxed at 12%  by subjecting them to a 16% tax. Electricity which was also taxed at a reduced tax of 12% is also set to rise to 16%. Other than the projected rise of basic commodities, the cost of renting houses in urban areas is set to increase. According to the budget, KRA will map residential areas and document property owners’ rental incomes with a view of taxing them accordingly.  The costs of increased taxes to the landlords will in effect be transferred to the tenant.

The disparity between the recurrent and development expenditure was also a cause for alarm. The recurrent expenditure, which in the Kenyan case mostly consists of statutory obligations and the salaries of civil servants is projected to cover 70% of the budget. The remaining 30% is allocated to development expenditure to cover costs such as improvements on the country’s infrastructure.

In addition, the budgetary deficit of 1.6 % or Ksh 279 billion will result to borrowing to fill up the budgetary shortfalls. This will increase the internal and external debt portfolios which will strain the citizens and drain the country’s financial resources in paying back for a long time to come.

Though seeking extra ways and means of restoring and sustaining economic growth is a noble strategy, the government needs to focus on operating within its own means and within the parameters of sustainable development. A budget which sets to raise the costs of living will definitely reverse social gains and perpetuate socio-economic instability and inequality in the country. The Exchequer needs to reign in the recurrent expenditure without necessarily laying off workers or by overtaxing the majority while a few who are well off are exempt from taxes.

The country’s debt burden needs to be reigned in as well. If the economy of the country turns increasingly to debt financing, the quest for long-term debt sustainability will not be attained thus forever mortgaging the sovereignty and identity of the country to relentless commercial interests. Though the public-private partnerships are welcome as they indicate willingness by the government to facilitate private participation in the provision of public services, such a partnership should be well managed to ensure that the private sector does not take over the roles of the government. Policy and operational boundaries on the roles of the government and the private should to be drawn and worked out very carefully.   Otherwise, the country will be driven deeper and deeper into the quagmire of corporate globalization which has destroyed the moral fabric of many countries in the world.

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Tale of Kasaya

It is now 12.34 p.m. About 10 minutes ago, I finished reading a book titled, “Tale of Kasaya”, by Eva Kasaya. It is a lovely book, simply written and well told, honestly and passionately. It is an interesting and captivating story, narrated without pretence. It does not claim any literary sophistication or elaborate wordplay nor does it paint a moral, only a desire to tell a story.

But underneath the simplicity of the story belies literary merit. The shifting back and forth of the narrative mode creates a literary tapestry unrecognisable to a casual reader. The beginning of the story mirrors other great literature, such as Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin, the kind of writing which plugs the reader right into the centre of action without dwelling on niceties and descriptions. The opening lines of the book are in fact what attracted me to the book the first time I glanced an advance copy at the Kwani? stand during the Nairobi book fair 2010.

The ending of the book is not the closing of the experiences but the beginning of other experiences. This is reflective of  modern writing which avoids ending the story as there is no end to experiences. Look at the sky – the universe itself has no end. Why then should experiences in life have an end?

The story does not preach. It simply narrates experiences of the author’s sense of morality and holds them up to us as mirrors of character building. This is reflective of the philosophy of social transformation. A character seeks to change oneself first before seeking to change others. This story makes one change the way you view and treat househelps. This simple story thus ascribes to the “Foucaultian maxim” which does not claim to present a coherent and timeless block of knowledge but rather, ‘a kind of tool-box which others can “rummage through to find a tool they can use however they wish in their own area.’ I enjoyed reading this book.

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May 1, Labour day

And so, today after mass at our local church, the Priest asked us to sing our national anthem. Remember today is labour day, May 1, the feast day of Saint Joseph the Worker on the Catholic calendar of Saints. While many of us can recite and sing very well long prayers and quotations from the Bible, only a few of us in the church could recite the full version of our national anthem. Patriotism is a requirement of faith as we struggle to transform society. To jog our memories a little, here are the words of the Kenyan national anthem in Kiswahili and English.

The Lyrics of the Kenya National Anthem

Swahili

Ee Mungu nguvu yetu
Ilete baraka kwetu
Haki iwe ngao na mlinzi
Natukae na undugu
Amani na uhuru
Raha tupate na ustawi.

Amkeni ndugu zetu
Tufanye sote bidii
Nasi tujitoe kwa nguvu
Nchi yetu ya Kenya
Tunayoipenda
Tuwe tayari kuilinda

Natujenge taifa letu
Ee, ndio wajibu wetu
Kenya istahili heshima
Tuungane mikono
Pamoja kazini
Kila siku tuwe na shukrani

English

O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.

Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavor
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendor
Firm may we stand to defend.

Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labor
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.

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The beginning

Njeru Munyi is a friend from Korogocho slums I have known for a long time. On April 8, Njeru posted on his facebook wall a request: “Some one help me know the verse either in the Holy Bible or Quran that speaks about people who feast on widows and orphan properties, what does it say about them”

Several other people requested the same. I posted two verses from the Bible:

Jeremiah 22:3: “This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”
James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Njeru was not done yet. He requested further some recommendations from the Bible and sought enlightenment. I followed the request with the following opinion:

“The Bible, and indeed many other holy books, is only a guide to transform oneself and society. Particular references should be applied to specific cultures and experiences. A lot of Bible quoting and references do not help much if they are not guided by reason. An encyclical by the Blessed Pope John Paul II titled Faith and Reason might help us to understand more on the need for the logical application of the Bible and faith. You can read it here: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.html

Njeru was grateful. He suggested for a facebook page to share to follow up the discussion. Coincidentally, on Friday, 27th April, 2012, colleagues attending an MA course on Advocacy for social justice at the Institute of Social Ministry, Tangaza college, suggested various ways of sharing ideas and networking in the pursuit for social transformation.

This site is one of the efforts to fulfill our collective endeavours. It is for all of us seeking to transform self and society.

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