Mary Walker: Finding optimism for the future

Aid programs offer hope as Kenya struggles despite new constitution

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Mary Walker

Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker volunteers at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 and provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker’s updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

The new constitution for Kenya was promulgated a couple of weeks ago.

The new constitution, supported by more than two thirds of the voters, has become law. The event included the signing of the new constitution by President Mwai Kibaki — amid a lot of pomp and circumstance, army tanks and flyovers — and some minor gaffes. Balloons released to signify the “new” Kenya, for example, were filled with air, not helium.

Even to those Kenyans who opposed the new constitution, it is deeply meaningful to them to now have a “homegrown” constitution to replace the one presented to them by colonialist England at the time of their independence in 1963.

There are some very progressive ideas in the new constitution, including a guaranteed number of women in the newly created National Assembly, provisions to stop the illegal taking of public land by government officials for personal gain, and preservation of kadhi courts for civil suits involving Muslims.

Unfortunately, probably all the international community heard about the event revolves around the attendance of Sudan’s President al Bashir at the festivities. With all Kenyans awaiting the decision of the Hague International Criminal Court about prosecuting those responsible for the 2008 post-election violence, it is seen by many as a thumbing of the nose to the ICC for al Bashir to have been given not only an invitation, but safe haven here. He has been indicted by the ICC for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for the events in Darfur. The ICC has no authority, however, to arrest him and must rely on countries that he might visit to do so. To date, no African country has indicated it is willing to provide for his arrest. In fact, he has been invited to Kenya twice in recent months.

Many Kenyans are concerned that their government also may not be willing to arrest those that the ICC finds responsible for the post-election violence, which killed more than 1,600 people and left 600,000 homeless in Kenya. More than 100,000 Kenyans still live in “internally displaced persons” camps, in deplorable conditions almost three years after the violence. So much for a new Kenya.

In this context, it can be difficult to be optimistic about Kenya’s future. I try, instead, to stay focused on the future of the girls at Tasaru. One of the first rescued girls to receive post-secondary education assistance from Global Relief Resources, a nonprofit organization, has a government-posted job in a public primary school in the Maasai Mara area. Another girl is in her second year of her certified accounting program. And the first girl from Tasaru to qualify for public university soon will enroll in the biology department at the University of Nairobi. These are remarkable achievements for them, and I am very proud of them, as well as of the assistance I have been able to arrange for them through full sponsorships with Global Relief Resources.

With assistance programs such as Global Relief Resources helping rescued Maasai girls move toward sustainable employment and economic independence, the economic factors that perpetuate female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage will give way. For Maasai girls, that will really mean a new Kenya.

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