Nandita Haksar follows up a 2019 conversation with Soe Myint, a media entrepreneur now in hiding in Myanmar.
Myanmar is once again under military rule even before it could emerge as a proper democracy. Once again, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest. She had emerged as a popular leader in the national uprising in 1988 and put under house arrest for 15 years from 1989 to 2010.
She played a vital role in the transition of Myanmar from being military rule to fledgling democracy. Her role was given international recognition when she was awarded the Nobel prize in 1991; but she was severely criticised for not speaking out against army operations against the Rohingyas – one of the reasons she did not do so was to [avoid provoking] the army to take over again. Aung San Suu Kyi risked her reputation and was subjected to humiliation for her silence; and she was hoping the transition to democracy would be completed when her party, the National League for Democracy won by an overwhelming majority in [the] November 2020 national elections.
Instead the Tatmadaw or the Burmese military staged a coup and re-arrested her in February 2021. Now she is once again under house arrest.
One of the barbarities of Moi I will remember most is of a president who burned material culture, humiliated girls and elderly women. He held the dreaded club considered a weapon among many nationalities, and had a red rose bud of Love, Peace and Unity, pinned to his lapel. That’s the image of him I have. He who did not age in the photograph everywhere - schools, bars, government offices, shops, you name it. His fatherly look in those light brown eyes was patronizing, caring, saintly.
But the image of his sculpted hand holding his favourite weapon shattering Mt Kenya showed otherwise. I looked at his sculpted hand bursting out of Mt Kenya like a volcano as I drove by Uhuru Park and tried to think of the meaning behind it. The mountain is a sacred shrine to many. Elders still face Mt Kenya for blessings as the freedom fighters did at dawn. Mt Kenya is Kenya’s national symbol that has appeared on stamps, bank notes and wall paintings in rural bars and eateries. Armed resistance centred around the mountain and was protected by it for many years. What was the reason behind the design that obviously showed one man’s power over a mountain that’s the highest point and a symbol of Kenya? Was it a show of conquest over the uthamaki? I could not find an explanation in any text or from any person. We ought to look again at the statues of tyrants in this year of toppling statues and take a moment to reflect on what and for whom they are there.
I hold other images of arrogance and show of power over the defenceless. My first encounter with President Moi humiliating the pastoralists was in late 1970s. I was in the field in the vicinity of Kapedo (Turkana County) among the Turkana when his motorcade appeared on the hot desert road like a dust storm. There was a lot of excitement to see the spectacle and welcome the new president from one of the minority nations emerge out of the pageant from the city. He was one of them unlike the previous President, an avaricious agriculturalist, whose kinsfolk were encroaching on their land and mineral resources albeit in cohort with their own local politicians. But the local politicians were brothers and sons, and that did not matter. Only, the agriculturists were the madoa-doa demon settlers from the other cultures.
The women of AMARA empowering thousands of disempowered children through education and training.
My research led me to explore technology and business advancements in Kenya over recent years, a process encouraged by the sharing of ideas in entrepreneurial innovation across cities in Kenya. I took the privilege of learning for granted; urban environments only showed me how accessible learning is for people lucky enough to find themselves in these isolated spheres. After connecting with a group of remarkable women running an educational charity in Kenya known as AMARA, I realised what a stark contrast these urban environments were against isolated rural regions which struggle to provide even basic primary education.
Further research helped me understand the scope of the problem. Surveys carried out over 2019 by Afrobarometer.org suggest that a third of people in Kenya struggle to obtain services they need from teachers or schools. This was, of course, more pronounced in poorer communities.
How many countries achieved gender equality? ZERO. And Covid-19 could set us back 25 years.