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BK Blog Post
Posted by Wade Rathke.
Wade Rathke is the founder of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) – a nationwide activist network engaged in community organizing.
Nairobi Technically it was a holiday in Nairobi, which only meant that there were fewer traffic jams and that schools and banks were closed, but for many, if not millions, it was another workday. We had several meetings in Korogocho with our leaders and with a larger group of members and others, including addicts, scheduled to discuss the issue of drugs in the community.
There were changes in Korogocho since my last visit, though many outsiders would not have noticed them. There were more paved roads. Electricity poles were more numerous. Nairobi Water now had a small office in the community along the roadway. There was enough water that there was an active motorcycle power washing business going on as we walked to the meeting space donated by one of our partners.
There’s a saying in post-colonial east Africa that when the occupiers came “we had the land, and they brought the Bible, and when they left, they took the land and left the Bible.” This deeply religious strain can be heard everywhere from the midnight vigils on Friday nights until past 2 AM in the morning to the pervasive way that the values go deep among the ACORN Kenya leadership. In the planning meeting five of the seven in attendance had connections to various denominations from bishop to pastor to elder. Meetings often begin with prayer in the United States, but in Kenya they begin with prayer, end with prayer, and sometimes, judging from the meeting in Korogocho, there’s something like prayer in the middle. Importantly though, Daniel Kairo, the elected chair of ACORN Kenya, made a point of welcoming and thanking some of the more active members who were Muslims and specifically emphasizing the inclusive nature of ACORN work and membership. The organizers told me that they would estimate that the village of Highview where we first began organizing six years ago is now a majority Muslim. In the debriefing after the general meeting this point was made by several leaders that they needed to be more ecumenical in the way the meetings were conducted to adapt to the changing demographics in the slum.
The spirit and “sharing” was good though and the evaluations of the meeting were very positive. Some of the hope for seeing addicts transformed in the process had dissipated and there was suggestion of a Korogocho-wide march and demonstration being organized to pressure the political and police chiefs to clean up the area and put pressure on the distribution points for drugs in the community. There was a call for other partners to join in the effort as well. This was definitely a more promising turn in that campaign.
There were other issues that also were emerging. The need to move the dump away from the Korogocho border and finally to the space obtained by the Nairobi City Council years ago, but still deadlocked in politics and conflicting special interests, was seen as a high priority. The health impacts on the community at every level were horrid, so this could be a very important push.
The membership now, depending on how it is counted, ranges between 600 and 1000 with about 200 actively paying dues every month and others coming in and out depending, but there is a real ACORN organization here with real members, leaders, and campaigns, and that’s a big change over recent years. People from other slums in the Eastlands of Nairobi have started attending meetings and the leaders feel they need to see how to engage a larger area, but there’s so much work to be done that we are humble to the task.