Sunday, March 31, 2013

Wangari Wa Maathai's eyes and the Mothers of Freedom Corner

Wangari Maathai's Birthday celebrated by Kenya, and the world. Her portrait graces Google Kenya! In 2004 she became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize

Today I thought of the mothers and of Wangari. When I googled her I found that her birthday is on the 1st of April. When I turned to google Kenya, I recognised her image immediately and was happy that she is honoured this way. It is her 73rd birthday. We wish she would sing to our nation more! She is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, 2004 and a recipient of many other awards.  I believe that she as an ancestor now and as part of the living- dead, Wangari is concerned about our country Kenya. We have had an election (March 4, 2013) on which she would have had many things to say. I may not know who she would have supported or the details, but I know one thing. She would still be reminding us to plant trees. She would also be telling us to be vigilant for our freedom. 

 It was Wangari, among others, who kept the Mothers of Freedom Corner actively challenging the government of the day for they had their sons imprisoned indefinitely by a cruel regime. In her company their struggle went on for a year. These mothers would not give up. Kenya can never afford to give up either. It matters that women keep their focus sharp for I believe that they will need to tell our nation more truths. 

And they will need to tell not only us but the rulers or our nations more truths. More truths such as how terrible it is to nurture enmity through politics. What is the use of planting trees for shade and oxygen if we cannot have our children and the people sit under the shade of the tree as one? 

I know she would not mince her words for Wangari never did that. She told me once how offended she was about something called the Memorandum of Understanding in Kenya in 2007, the MOU. This was meant to be an agreement on how to broker power between Mr Kibaki and Mr Odinga. The latter was let down. Wangari spoke about this on a weekend visit to Ruiru. It was in the press.

 I asked her about it when I saw her. She told me that we cannot promise something and then turn around and say we do not need it, we do not need you. She said that to me at the Bomas of Kenya when we were making a new constitution. The spirit of Wangari and the mothers who fought for freedom is strong.

For these mothers for a year sat in the park. The police beat them up often and opened jets of water on them. They did not give up. They hid in the All Saints Cathedral basement for sometime but returned to the adjacent Uhuru Park again. 

Finally, and that is why I wanted to write about them this month, on the 28th of April they had no other alternative left. They did not disclose their strategy but in the morning hours when journalists and those who used to come and sit with them came, they declared a curse. They stripped naked. These mothers were old enough to do that. It is a traditional curse they were invoking. They took power and exercised their power to the last. Moi was cursed. 

Why did they do this? Answering this question Wangari said that stripping was the only weapon they had left. "Women in the traditional African demonstration of anger and frustration by men when they are punished, confronted, threatened by men who are old enough to be their sons, that is extremely humiliating, because whatever you do as a man, you must not touch your mother. You cannot hurt your mother. You cannot beat your mother." +UN Women Evaluation Office 

Indeed this brave act woke Kenya up with a rude shock. It was an imaginative tactic no matter what some may say of it. It was a powerful semiotic symbol that spoke volumes. Some journalists covered their sight thinking they would get cursed too if they looked at the naked mothers. Some managed to take photographs which were used in the press.

What some readers may not know but which they can learn about with regard to Kenya in those days is that torture was heavy in prison. That people died. That others were in Nyayo torture chambers and Nyati House basement. The Mothers of Freedom Corner suffered for a year. They held on and won not only their son's but also the freedom of their daughters. The power of women, the strength of a nation. Kenya must never allow herself again to be dragged back to Kanu days. Never! She must never allow her freedoms to be tampered with! Happy Birthday Wangari Wa Maathai! Thank you Mothers of Freedom Corner! May your corner always be our entire nation.