By Maina Kiai

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Clearing the Air" in Mombasa

July 19 - 25th: We were in Mombasa showing our new film ‘Clearing the Air’. We’re working with our partner Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) in doing civic education. MUHURI has also been showing another InformAction documentary “The Challenge of Change”, a good background to the long struggles for change in Kenya.

How gratifying when someone came to greet me in a kiosk in Ukundu to tell me he’d seen “Challenge of Change”! And then in traffic in Mombasa (traffic is fast approaching Nairobi-jam like status!) two young men gave me the thumbs up out of the window – “thanks for the DVD Maina Kiai!”. So the DVDs really are getting around… People have told me they are particularly happy that politicians are not included in the film, and that they know the battles ahead will not diminish simply by voting in a new constitution.

And it was great to have about a thousand people attending the screening in Likoni - all so full of questions and comments in the discussion after the film that I left completely tired but inspired! Good questions on implementing the draft if it passes. Questions on what it could mean for the political class that wants to continue with ‘business as usual’... Questions on how the draft can help nationhood and link up the poor across the country to be united as poor rather than divided by tribe and religion.
“Clearing the Air” is a different sort of documentary for us, being a civic education tool, rather than the usual journalistic, human rights/social justice analysis type of films we make. But it is a direct product of the work we are doing screening films across the country and was a response to audiences in the Rift Valley and elsewhere. People were peppering us with questions on the Proposed Constitution, and repeating falsehoods, showing how quickly the lies had been created and disseminated.
It was a complex film to make since every one of us has a view—whether based on facts or not—on the Proposed draft. But we had to make it as objective as possible, and try and get as much into it as we could. So we decided to focus on the Bigger Picture; the rationale and reasons why Kenyans have been struggling for a new constitution for decades now, and put into context the role of politicians and the political class. So at its heart, the film aims at expressing the continuation of the struggles of ordinary Kenyans against the power, greed and insidiousness of our political class that has either resisted change, or used change as a slogan to capture power with no real intention of actually changing things in Kenya.

We printed thousands of copies of the film in English and Kiswahili and spread them around like leaflets, hoping to get to as many people as possible – hoping they will be played in video clubs, homes and restaurants to bring perspective to the debates. On top of this, we’ve been doing public screenings using our massive mobile screen - THE BEAST - and our Field Directors have been showing ‘Clearing the Air’ across Kenya in halls, prisons and universities. Field director Japhason Lekupe took the film as far as the shores of Lake Turkana, to the El Molo community, who said they had never been shown a film for civic education before.

What strikes me the most is the need for civil society and others to quickly engage if and when the Draft is passed to take advantage of the spaces that the draft provides. There are spaces and opportunities to use the courts once a new judiciary is passed, to ensure the implementation of the draft. There are spaces to use the Bill of Rights to organize, mobilize and empower Kenyans to make demands on leaders. And there are spaces for us to begin changing the mindset of our public officials so that if their actions are not in the interest of the public as required by the Proposed Constitution, they can be challenged in various ways.

There are also opportunities to start preparing for new alternative political leadership that can actually deliver the promise of the Proposed Constitution through the various layers of leadership and governance that are provided for.
But these spaces will mean nothing if we don’t grab them and use them…

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