Monday, October 8th, 2018
Visiting Colombia’s borderlands, UNHCR’s Filippo Grandi says international community must do more to aid thousands of Venezuelans crossing, many seeking international protection.
By Marta Martinez in Villa del Rosario, Colombia | 08 October 2018
Over 4,000 Venezuelans enter Colombia every day looking to stay or continue their journey southwards. Thousands do it on foot, crossing Simón Bolívar International Bridge. Beneath an unforgiving sun, they drag worn-down suitcases, carry giant sacks on their shoulders or cradle young children in their arms.
With their country facing a deteriorating situation, many are in need of international protection.
“The constant flow of Venezuelans entering Colombia generates monumental challenges to address their humanitarian needs,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi while visiting Villa del Rosario on Sunday. “UNHCR is committed to intensifying our presence and help.”
Grandi is visiting Colombia and other Latin American countries to assess the needs of Venezuelan refugees and migrants, as well as the countries hosting them, and to discuss regional approaches to address the increasing outflow with more international support.
Nearly two million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015. About one million are now in Colombia, where the government is seeking to ensure they can work legally and access social services, through issuance of a special permit. Nearly 400,000 Venezuelans have obtained permits to legally work and access social services in the country, according to the Colombian government.
“Venezuelans without access to a legal status are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking and discrimination,” Grandi said.
Venezuelans say they are compelled to leave for multiple reasons. They include insecurity and violence, lack of access to food, medicine and essential services, as well as a loss of income as a result of the current political and a socio-economic situation.
The North of Santander region is the busiest border crossing in Colombia, accounting for 75 per cent of all entries by land. National and local authorities are working with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the International Organization for Migration and other entities in the area to better address the most basic and immediate needs of those arriving, including Venezuelan refugees and migrants and 300,000 Colombian returnees.
“I am impressed by Colombia’s efforts to document, feed, shelter and care for thousands of Venezuelans arriving every day,” Grandi said. “This extraordinary solidarity needs more international support.”
The first stop for many Venezuelans is the Divina Providencia community kitchen. It serves 3,000 free breakfasts and 3,000 lunches each day. Refugees and migrants start lining up as early as 6 a.m. By 11:30 am, there is rarely any food left.
The centre relies on some 80 to 100 Colombian and Venezuelan volunteers. Among those Grandi met was Irene Navajo, 35, from Caracas. She explained how, after her husband lost his construction job, the family could not make ends meet on her salary as a cleaner at a health clinic. The couple crossed to Cúcuta eight months ago, leaving their four children back in Venezuela, with Irene’s mother.
“It is sad to abandon your country, but there’s nothing else we can do,” she said as she rinsed forks and spoons in a big blue plastic bucket.
Shortly after reaching Cúcuta, Irene’s two suitcases with all her belongings got stolen. She and her husband slept on the streets for two months. Then a woman told her about Divina Providencia, and the morning after, at 7 a.m. sharp, she was lining up for breakfast. She now volunteers there, cooking and washing dishes, and has been made to feel welcome.
“I feel among family,” she says. “When I get nostalgic and think about my children, I feel that my family is here too.”
Beyond food, the centre also offers basic medical consultation and legal information services thanks to UNHCR’s support.
The growing number of Venezuelans has strained the region’s health care services. To boost capacity, the UN Refugee Agency supported the creation of a new health centre in Villa del Rosario. It aims to provide first aid care and family planning services to some 300 people per day, including refuges, migrants and the local community.
During his visit, Grandi also highlighted the solidarity of Colombians towards Venezuelans who had to leave their homes. He met with the neighbours of Las Delicias, where over 20 families of Colombians who were forcibly displaced by the armed conflict years ago are now opening their doors to Venezuelans.
This was the case of Graciela Sánchez. More than a decade ago, she fled her home in Caquetá, in eastern Colombia, and arrived in Las Delicias in 2007. She came with nothing but her two daughters. Now 39, she is hosting five Venezuelan families in her hilly plot – 18 people in total.
“I lost everything I had, I arrived in a new place with empty hands. Now Venezuelans are going through the same that I went through,” Graciela told Grandi when he visited her home. “We don’t know what may happen tomorrow. It might be us too.”
Next to Simón Bolívar International Bridge, on the Colombian side of the border, hundreds of Venezuelans wait in line to get their passports stamped. For many, their official entry into Colombia inks the first step in a long journey towards other parts of the country, or even Ecuador or Peru, where they are looking for a better future for them and their families.
In the coming days, the High Commissioner will follow the flow of Venezuelans in Argentina, Peru and Ecuador to assess the regional implications of their humanitarian needs and to discuss with the hosting countries best approaches for a coherent response.
The Clerk of the National Assembly Michael Sialai has told parliamentary staff who feel mistreated by MPs to take their cases to constituency liaison officer.
Mr Sialai admitted that his office has received complaints of long working hours and late payment of salaries from the staff.
He told Nation such cases were rampant in the 11th Parliament, but had been resolved. On the late payment of salaries, he said it depends with the time constituency managers bring their returns to Parliament.
Each constituency receives Sh1.4 million quarterly for office operations. The money is only released after the constituency manager has filed a return of the disbursement of the previous quarter.
Mr Sialai said cases of mistreatment should be handled by constituency liaison officer Agnes Kamoni and with the MP in a formal way as stated in the contract.
“We have constituency regulations that clearly state how to deal with cases of discipline and even separation,” Mr Sialai said.
He said Parliament will organise a training for the staff between January and February next year, where all the issues affecting them will be addressed.
“I will attend the training and I can assure you the issues will be addressed,” he said. Ms Kamoni, who is supposed to deal with such cases before escalating them to the Clerk, did not receive our calls or respond to text messages. But the parliamentary staff who spoke to Nation on condition of anonymity said they fear reporting their bosses to Ms Kamoni because they might lose their jobs, and thus have resorted to suffer in silence. The workers complained of being made to do menial tasks on top of running personal errands for the MPs, which are not stated in their job descriptions.
The social media campaign that seeks to draft Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana as a presidential candidate for 2022 seems to be picking up quite some traction. The #ApendeAsipendeMovement vows to install the popular governor as the fifth President of Kenya — whether he likes it or not.
If social media chatter is anything to go by, many voters see Prof Kibwana as a refreshing candidate. He stands as the polar opposite to the stultifying do-or-die corrupt political competition of ethnic brinkmanship associated with the likes of President Uhuru Kenyatta or the leading candidates in the premature and already divisive 2022 campaign, Opposition chief Raila Odinga and Deputy President William Ruto.
The self-effacing scholar also seems cut from a different cloth from the other prospective candidates for the opposition mantle — notably Mr Odinga’s co-principals in the fractured Nasa coalition, Mr Kalonzo Musyoka and Mr Musalia Mudavadi.
Prof Kibwana has disowned the campaign, saying he does not want to be dragged into presidential succession politics and that his focus is on his promise to the Makueni people till the last day of his final term in the Governor’s Mansion. But that is not an explicit ‘No’. Being busy with Makueni ‘in the meantime’ does not mean there may not be cause in the future to look to higher calling.
Prof Kibwana may well have nothing to do with driving the social media push but it is apparent that key figures include the then-youthful activists he worked with in the 1990s civil society campaigns for democratisation, human rights and a new constitutional order.
At that time, when it became apparent that future Prime Minister Odinga, future President Mwai Kibaki and other leaders of the then-political opposition were becoming complacent with the new multi-party status quo, it fell on the likes of Prof Kibwana to take up the reins and drive the struggle for a just society.
MARCH OF HISTORY
It was the sterling efforts of the Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Change — CCCC, the 4Cs — and allies in other civil society groups, academia, the professions and religious groups that, towards 1997, threatened to launch a sovereign people’s convention and thereby forced panicked politicians to accept a minimal reforms package or be swept aside by the march of history.
The same loose coalition was instrumental in the final push for a new Constitution, which was finally attained in 2010 after two decades of blood, sweat and tears.
In the interim, Prof Kibwana and his team — including his fellow former University of Nairobi Law School lecturer and future Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court, Dr Willy Mutunga — had played critical roles behind the scenes, crafting the united opposition effort that in 2002 propelled President Kibaki to State House after two attempts.
That glorious history is not why Prof Kibwana is being drafted into the presidential ballot, however: He is being assessed on the ‘Miracle of Makueni’ development programmes and a leadership style that make his county a case study for success in devolution.
If his past and present record is anything to go by, Prof Kibwana is just the sort of leader Kenya needs — a humble idealist but visionary and pragmatic, focussed on service rather than self-aggrandisement.
If he is the leader who can pull Kenya from the morass of dangerous ethnic competition and fashion a modern, united, prosperous, progressive nation where we all feel a sense of ownership, he has my vote.
But he has to ask for it. And he has to show that he is more than a Facebook candidate.
Is there anything like an honorary professorship?
Of late, I have seen the press confer the title of ‘professor’ on the owner of a local private university. That would be a considerable promotion from the previous ‘doctor’ title employed by the gentleman — an honorific I suspect was also self-conferred.
As we ponder that, perhaps all of us in the Kenyan press ought to approach with a jaundiced eye all those honorary doctorates being dished out like githeri by our universities. Almost every wealthy businessman in town now suddenly boasts the ‘Dr’ before his name, an honour that, quite often, is being bought with hard cash rather than awarded for genuine accomplishment.
Honorary doctorates are being diluted in the same way politicians with money are suddenly appearing on graduation rolls yet everybody knows some of them are barely literate and never attended classes or completed an assignment on their own.
The practice and custom elsewhere in the world is that those so awarded honorary doctorates are not addressed by the ‘Dr’ title. Let’s also cease and desist.
We have a social-emotional crisis brewing. The list of horrifying issues that we face is daunting. The gruesome headlines are testimony to the horrible state of affairs.
Undeniably, our learners are not shielded from the psychological effects of these crises. All too often, we receive reports of students involved in horrendous incidents: Sexual abuse. Arson. Violence. Drug and substance abuse. Suicide. Social media rants. Dysfunctional families. Violence. Homicide. The list is long.
Two teenage students are facing murder charges after they reportedly massacred fellow students. In one of the incidents, a 17-year-old stabbed another boy in the neck with a knife as they fought over a barmaid in Tharaka-Nithi County. In the other, a 16 year-old Standard Eight boy stabbed a fellow teenager in the chest in Kericho as they quarrelled over the ownership of a phone.
Undoubtedly, the two cases of homicide indicate a lack of anger management skills and disregard for the sanctity of human life. This seems to be a cross-cutting vice. Wicked behaviour has become common. Political leaders, corporate executives, celebrities, clerics and other icons face prosecution for their indiscretions.
In the modern-day societal setting, learners get exposed to assault, homicide, abuse and other social vices through print, electronic and social media. As psychologists would explain, this exposure to horrid situations has a negative effect on the learners. They easily suffer disillusionment and the risk of maladjustment is high.
However, psychologists promise us that it’s not all doom and gloom; we can fix the problem. We can incorporate the social and emotional learning component in the school system, an essential element for lifelong learning.
Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying that education should be a stepping-stone to knowledge and wisdom that helps the learner to find a purpose in life. Going by the foresight, an effective educational programme is desired — one that prepares a learner to pass school and life tests.
From Kenyans’ debated on what constitutes an effective education programme, one thing is undeniable: Over the years, the education system has particularly been one-sided and, therefore, unwholesome.
It has concentrated on the cognitive dimension, which aims at academic excellence. The non-academic component, which helps to build character, has been roundly ignored.
Education experts and psychologists accurately argue that a wholesome education requires that we offer our learners an all-round programme that incorporates the social and emotional competences at all levels.
Research into the integration of social-emotional skills in the curriculum promises to promote a learning process that maximises the potential of learners to succeed in academics, as well as in life.
With the competence-based curriculum set to be rolled out in January, luckily, this type of wholesome learning process has been envisioned. We aim to nurture our learners into ethical, engaged and empowered citizens. This is a desirable goal that will develop all-round learners who are knowledgeable, responsible, socially skilled, ethical, and emotionally intelligent. Then, they can overcome setbacks and make responsible decisions regarding their safety and that of others.
Dr Njoroge is an information professional and stakeholder in the education sector.
Article 34 of the Constitution seems to carry a specific application towards media companies or similar entities. It provides for media freedom and it requires that the government should not interfere with the platforms that carry news, information or debate through repressive measures such as onerous laws and procedures on licensing.
It requires the State not to penalise anyone for the content of a broadcast or interfere with broadcasting in any manner and that broadcasting not be subject to political or commercial interests but be free.
Unlike Article 33, which provides for the freedom of expression, Article 34 does not require the media to respect the reputation of others. By this distinction, therefore, we find wider latitude for criticism and debate without the limitation that our discussion should not offend someone’s good name.
The interpretation that “media” in Article 34 applies to media companies is limiting. There is a double sense in which the word “media” is used in the Constitution: As a platform, for example, the broadcasting equipment, and as the entity that utilises that platform.
By the online Cambridge Dictionary definition, a medium is a substance that something grows in, lives in or moves through. It is also a method or way of expressing something.
A book is a medium of disseminating information. A bookshop is a medium — it is a place that disseminates information by sale. The fact that it sells does not take away that character — for the same reason that a book does not cease to be a medium because it is sold. If newspapers are sold, and they are media, then it is illogical to reject the classification of books as media. By extension, the online store of a bookshop is also a medium.
Where does that leave the materials that educational institutions create? Are they forms of personal expression, subject to the reputations of people? Documentaries, blogs, videos and other forms of research made by educational institutions are also media.
There is a presumption that the material produced by a school in its research — say a report or video on misappropriation of land — is created for public interest. In this context, the freedom of the media and the right to education speak to each other.
The freedom to conduct research supports the right to develop mental faculties. It would be absurd if such videos and research so conducted should be subjected to respecting reputations. Public debate and educational research should be free in the widest sense, even if it means occasional injury to someone’s good name.
The implication of this wider interpretation is that a large section of what we have hitherto classified as personal expression will now fall under freedom of the media. It is not a constitutional overreach. It is an interpretation apparent in Article 34(1) — “freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media is guaranteed”.
The Constitution bids us to adopt an interpretation that gives greater development of the law and advances greater protection for fundamental liberties. As such, university blogs, bookshops and media companies are all included in Article 34 because they all fulfil a public interest important to the development of society.
A book is blank paper fused with information. A broadcast is instruments that have met content. I do not see a difference between banning the sale of a book and switching off television networks. Both limit “media” in their different forms to the same goal: Silence the less liked.
Fundamental freedoms do not exist for the sake of the powerful, said Lord Bingham. The powerful always take care of themselves. Fundamental freedoms exist for those we don’t like, for the views we detest, for the things we wish to remain unsaid.
A strategy by counties to organise themselves in clusters to pursue common economic interests has emerged as a noble initiative to maximise the benefits of devolution. It is premised on the fact that regions with similar geographic, cultural and economic assets can productively engage and work together to realise greater achievements. Precisely, there is safety in numbers. Economies of scale is best achieved through volumes.
Whereas the thinking is solid, it transpires that the counties have not entrenched their plans in law. Pursuit of joint regional initiatives requires legal and policy frameworks. The Devolution ministry has to provide guidelines. County assemblies ought to legislate on the framework for the collaboration and approve institutions and budgets for execution of the plans. Every county receives a defined budget with clearly spelt out expenditures. Cash for one county cannot be used to fund activities in another. There is neither a provision for that nor a system for its accounting.
There is a need for the counties to craft legal and policy structures to support collaboration and joint projects. Without clarity on these, the efforts towards common regional markets would be in vain.
The county system is, essentially, directed towards equipping communities with resources and capacity for local development. Communities are empowered to make decisions on their development agenda. It marks a major departure from the past, where national government made decisions on what communities needed, irrespective of their priorities.
By organising themselves in economic zones, counties stand to benefit most because they can pursue joint projects and collectively market products. Conversely, they can make joint bids for investments and achieve far greater more impact for their regions than going solo.
There are other spin-offs — such as mitigating against boundary conflicts and other divisive pursuits that undermine growth. It is not lost on anyone that Murang’a is causing friction by making demands over Ndakaini Dam, which supplies Nairobi and Kiambu with water. Such need not to arise in an environment of collaboration.
Counties also have to think more carefully about the details of having economic blocs. Although they have talked several times and purposed to organise themselves appropriately to tap into existing markets within their ranks, economic blocs are more involving. There are fundamental issues that have to be dealt with. Residents of the respective counties must be sensitised and mobilised to support and take advantage of the joint ventures.
Restrictions that bar engagements across counties have to be demolished. Differences that arise from political orientations must be tactfully handled.
The new tax to fund President Uhuru Kenyatta’s affordable housing legacy project is predicated on the proposition that shelter is a basic human right and the government has a constitutional obligation to provide it. But given its unpopularity, one is bound to ask whether, to Kenyans, housing is a basic right, and if to be provided by the State.
A human right is innate, inalienable and not granted by a government. Just as you do not see the public demanding less freedom of speech, one should not expect Kenyans to resist public housing if, indeed, it is a human right. That it is happening questions whether our Bill of Rights reflects their true feelings.
Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) charter was adopted by the United Nations in 1948, categorisation of shelter as a human right has been highly contested. From the outset, the UDHR was split into the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR or ESR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR or CPR). CPRs are meant to protect citizens from infringement by governments and individuals as they participate in the civic and political life of their society. They include freedom of speech and association as well as protection against torture.
ESRs include — but are not limited to — the rights to work, form and join a trade union, enjoy an adequate standard of living and access food, adequate housing, health and education.
By 2015, out of the 195 UN members, 164 were parties to the covenant and six, including the United States, had signed up but not ratified the treaty. Kenya ratified it in 1972 and incorporated ESRs in the 2010 Constitution.
Although all the parties to the charter immediately ratified CPRs, there was a considerable disagreement over ESRs. Ideologically, conservatives argued that individuals, not the State, are responsible for basic needs such as shelter and clothing. This is consistent with conservative opposition to government usurping individual responsibilities. A secondary consideration was that since ESRs would have to be funded through taxes, that would impose an unsolicited obligation on taxpayers. From the Kenyan experience, the tax can be likened to, during the Kanu regime, when civil servants were compelled to make ‘harambee’ contributions for a party functionary to appear philanthropic.
The legal case against ESRs was equally persuasive and was anchored on the argument that, unlike CPRs, they are not judiciable. Given the fact that the concept of decent housing could vary from country to country, there lacks a universal standard to prosecute non-compliance.
Arguments against the housing tax are similar. Many Kenyans resent the fact that they are being forced to reallocate family budgets yet there is no guarantee of benefiting from the project. A teachers’ trade union has even argued that most of their members live in the rural areas yet the projects are in urban areas.
To expect families saddled with bills to shoulder the responsibility of housing fellow citizens is both to impose an unsolicited obligation and violate their basic right to choose.
Many Kenyans have also wanted to know how the standard public housing will look like, considering that dwellings in Kenya range from a hut in rural areas to a mansion in the suburbs.
On the economics of the projects, the public is even less convinced of its urgency. Given the high budget deficits, the government can only provide such services by either raising taxes or borrowing. Such fiscal and monetary policies are, however, contractionary and undermine initiatives to spur economic growth and employment.
Moreover, given the rampant corruption, it is foolhardy to put such huge amounts of money in the visible hand of the government.
While decent housing is, undoubtedly, desirable, it cannot be provided by the government without violating people’s right to choose or unduly burdening the economy. Though indispensable in the enhancement of human dignity, ESRs do not fit the standard definition of human rights — especially since their provision confers negative rights to the public.
The right to housing and other ESRs should be removed from the Bill of Rights and political parties left to explain how they plan to address social challenges from their respective ideological perspectives.
The housing tax is contractionary and ill-timed. A better legacy would be to fix the economy and leave it to the invisible hand of the market to determine provision of ESRs.
The crowning for the sixth time in a row of Maasai Mara Game Reserve as the best destination in Africa cements a legacy Kenya should cherish.
The recognition of the Mara in the World Travel Awards — edging out competition from South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda — is, indeed, another reminder that we have a gem in our midst that we may not be giving the attention it deserves.
This honour is the best advertising and promotion that our tourism industry would ever have. That the panel has consistently picked the Mara since 2013 means that there is something valuable here.
This award is significant, coming not so long after last year’s acrimonious elections that sparked fears of bloodletting similar to the post-2007 election violence. However, this is not the time to rest on our laurels. There is a lot of work to be done to ensure that our tourist destinations continue to receive visitors.
One of the biggest challenges is, of course, insecurity. The travel industry is very sensitive as people will hardly travel to places where their lives will be endangered. The threat of terrorism hovering over the region is a source of concern.
Secondly, there is a need to develop infrastructure. The Mara has decent hotels and lodges but the roads leading there are in a terrible state. The good news, however, is that they are now being fixed.
However, the tourism industry should be alarmed at the reports that the annual wildebeest migration, which attracts many visitors, is now threatened with the Mara River waters declining.
The thrill of the animals swimming across the river is a great spectacle and tourist attraction that has earned a place among the Eight Wonders of the World. Conservation must be stepped up to ensure that the river fills up again lest we lose this treasure.
Trees are felled at the rate of 27 football fields per minute worldwide. The World Bank says garbage is overcoming the developing world. The two forces simply spell doom for humanity.
In Kenya, institutions such as schools, hospitals, universities, prisons and hotels contribute significantly to the deforestation and garbage problems. They use a lot of wood fuel for their heat energy needs. They also generate a lot of garbage due to their big populations.
Of great interest and surprise, however, is that both problems can be greatly reduced by appropriate technologies to convert combustible trash to heat energy and by efficiently harvesting the smallest amount of heat energy generated by burning firewood for fuel.
The above institutions consume a lot of hot water. To heat water, a lot of heat energy is needed because water has a very high specific heat capacity — of 4.2MJ/kg°C. That’s the heat energy (measured in mega joules) needed to raise the temperature of a litre of water by one degree Celsius.
A kilogramme of well-dried and good quality firewood generates about 19MJ of heat energy. The combustible garbage from institution and municipalities produce about 12MJ of heat energy of every kilogramme burnt. In simple maths, 2kg of combustible trash can generate the same amount of heat energy as 1kg of good quality firewood.
That means combustible trash is not a problem but a good source of heat energy. We can save trees and slow down deforestation. We will also reduce the problem of garbage, which results in a clean environment and a healthy nation.
A solar water heater uses the sunlight temperature, which is about 18°C per six hours a day to warm the water in Kenya. Any combustible material will generate heat temperatures to the tune of 400°C and above. So what is missing is small-scale technologies to efficiently tap this heat energy resource and make good use of it in the institutions.
If solar water heater technologies can make use of 18°C temperatures, what about 400°C that is available 24 hours, seven days a week?
Utilisation of combustible trash ha been done efficiently on a large scale to generate power — as is the case in the Ethiopian plant recently commissioned by the Chinese. The big investor may not be interested in small plants, and that is why governments in the developing world need to encourage appropriate technologies for the purposes.
If combustible materials can generate temperatures of 400°C, then by having appropriate technologies other sources — such as bamboo culms, sawdust, rice husks and sugarcane bagasse — can be used as fuel. That would relieve the huge pressure on firewood fuel and reduce destruction of forests.
We have already developed and tested the technology. Let’s use it.
PETER IKUA, via email.
Female genital mutilation (FGM) is still practised in parts of Kenya, especially areas that are far from the cities, with long-term devastating complications on the women who undergo it.
In some communities, FGM is considered a measure of chastity of the girls and is also meant to lower their sexual desire.
A few weeks ago in neighbouring Somalia, three girls who were subjected to this practice died as a result of excessive bleeding.
Though there is no evidence of girls who have been ‘cut’ abstaining from sexual activities before marriage more than the ‘uncut’, communities still put girls’ lives in danger in pursuit of the virtue. The difficulties they go through are many and immense, sometimes leading to death.
This practice affects the girls’ growth and development, makes them prone to infections and could lead to excessive bleeding during the mutilation and also when they give birth.
Measures, including tough laws, put in place by the government to end this practice, which was outlawed in 2011, have been largely unfruitful because it is deep-rooted.
The society should put in concerted efforts in educating these communities through public awareness campaigns, including in the media, especially the radio. Artistes should also use their creativity to condemn FGM.
Education is the only effective measure against FGM. It is better than using force — including arresting and sending culprits to prison. And the government and the society need to use this method to end the inhuman practice.
SULEIMAN SHARIF JIMALE, Nairobi.