It’s one thing to hold press conferences to pressure leaders to make decisions for the public good. It’s another thing altogether to get out in the field and work with ordinary people, and give them the tools, the confidence, the information and the strength to rise up for themselves on the issues that they care about.
For the last 6 months, I’ve been part of a unique experiment - using public screenings of our documentary to spur public debates and discussions. We’ve been touring the provinces and the places where people are least likely to be heard and seen. Yes; “Getting Justice: Kenya’s Deadly Game of Wait and See,” was broadcast on prime time national TV (NTV) 4 times in 2009. Yes; our documentary had been shown in film festivals in Kenya, Norway and Holland. And yes, it did the round of ‘specialized audiences’ in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and London. But taking it out to ordinary Kenyans is where it counts the most. Showing the film on a huge mobile screen – we call it ‘The Beast’ – and having community discussions with the audiences, has been totally different. It’s an uplifting and very intense experience.
Each screening is a challenge. You wonder if the mobilization the team has done will work. Will enough people show up to a screening held at night, in crime-burdened Kenya? Will the weather hold up and allow us to use the projector and mics and talk outside? Will the authorities try and stop us? Will the people who turn out get bored by a ‘talking heads’ documentary – will it move them? And will they speak up and be frank?
And then, the biggest question of all, if it does fire them up - what next?
These are questions that always come up, no matter how many times you screen, no matter how much mobilization is done. Regardless of how prepared you are for it all, each screening is different. It helps to have a dedicated and committed team who understand the experiment and always work to have the best show possible.
As an experiment, it’s been a success, that’s for sure. Often the level of emotion is palpable among people watching and speaking. These are people who need to be heard. Sometimes, there is barely enough time to hear everyone who wants to speak. Ideas that flow are direct and clear; you feel the empowerment when people speak out and are heard. But other times, the audience is small. Sometimes people are shy, beaten down, and cynical. And the cold and the rain make you feel beaten down with them…..
Yet, as Kenya enters a new phase, efforts like these need to increase. For too long, the process of change has been a line drawn from Nairobi out to the rural areas —the top-down approach. The time to reverse this trend is now. It’s time for rural and marginalized areas to lead and set the agenda. Nairobi needs to catch up. Those of us in the pro-reform pro-democracy movement need to take change on board and be part of this dynamic. It is not a new idea or approach. We have talked about it since
When I started this work in 1992, we were talking about it. We have tried it in various ways. Some have worked, some not. We have faced serious obstacles including arrest, teargas, beatings, and exclusion, especially in the 1990s. But the time is now, and the space is available. This must be the case whether the Proposed Constitution passes or not.
If it does pass, the need for more work at the grassroots will get greater, not less, we must make use of the tools it provides for ordinary Kenyans. Above all else, passing the Draft can level the playing field. There has been a consistent struggle between the political class - who aim to dominate the people of Kenya for personal benefit and control of resources - and ordinary Kenyans who demand space, respect and accountability. It is a struggle that we must all engage in, now, or we’ll lose the promise and potential that the Proposed Constitution offers.