Occupy Wall Street; Lessons for Kenyans!

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests origins didn’t begin in a bar like many Kenyan bar conversations on issues we face. They also didn’t start at a shop like most of us do, sitting around sipping on coffees and teas expressing our frustrations. The protests also didn’t start at a tech hub or a poetry house; they were never initiated in a boardroom either. They began with a single blog post. The post by “Culture Jammers HQ,” posted on Adbusters, called for 20,000 people to set up a peaceful protest in lower Manhattan and bring attention to the United States’ and other nations’ current economic situation with a call for “Democracy not Corporatocracy.” The Twitter hashtag #occupywallstreet was also created. It wasn’t long before word spread via Twitter, and protestors uploaded their videos on YouTube. In less than a month from the original demonstration, rallies were held in more than 900 cities around the world, including in Europe, Africa and Asia.

Last Saturday, we held what has become a progressive meeting for ‘Mzalendo’ with a few folks in view of the upcoming Mzalendo 2.0 launch. We discussed general and specific issues; the current status of our security, with our forces in Somalia, the unending debate on the date for the next general election, the performance of our shilling against the US Dollar and other world currencies, the understanding and impact of the new governance and government structure among other things. We also spoke of the lessons we can learn from the recent and still ongoing revolution in some Arab countries, the role of civil society and social media in the coming elections among other things. Key was lessons to learn from what the larger part of the world has been doing to push common and public agenda towards regimes that have been unfavorable or insensitive to events and situations as such. “Occupy Wall Street” was a reference point; we didn’t speak much of it but we agreed that those of us who are bloggers and are active on Social media could explore further and find some lessons to fuel debate and hopefully instigate reason among our peers and audiences as such.

I read a bit and followed through the origin of “Occupy Wall Street”. Social media and digital technology played a key role in bringing people together. Individuals in Australia inspired by “Occupy Wall Street” began a Facebook group to organize “Occupy Melbourne” protests in City Square. Celebrities leveraged their influence to spread the message via Twitter and YouTube. Organizers used Skype and various chat services to coordinate events and tackle logistical issues. Individuals who couldn’t participate directly in the protests were able to donate money via mobile payment site ‘WePay’ or provide other services such as designing protest signs or infographics via ‘OccupyDesign’. Most importantly, a grassroots movement took shape via individuals connecting through numerous digital channels.

Fascinating right? This got me thinking; of all these things that brought forth such a successful mission, what exactly do we lack as Kenyan’s to take action, peacefully and logically towards getting our voices heard on issues that matter, Issues that bite our pockets and insult our sovereignty on an endless basis? We may not have much to say with regards on our economic policies and governance issues from a public perspective. Still, we are the people suffering increased pricing for our basic commodities; food has gone up, most of us are receiving notices for increased rents as the year comes to a close. Fuel prices have been increased for now the umpteenth time. All these things happen, but whenever something changes, like our shilling has since stabilized, and conitues to do so, the world crude oil prices have dropped, a little bit, we still pay higher prices and such like things.

Every week we always have something new being introduced to our disgust. There was “Kazi Kwa Vijana” financial scandal, which has since been replaced with the “Syokimau Houses Demolition”. As we go about talking about these things in bars, and cafeterias and many others preferred areas of ‘meet ups’, the election date debate has already taken over our chance to be heard on such issues. As one said, we live by goldfish memories, we are absorbed in what matters to us at a given moment, we overlook what affects us ideally in a given time and in the long run.

This is not a call for people to leave work and go run around the streets, No. Who wants that anyway, it’s raining cats and dogs, endlessly these days. It’s a point of reason, that what matters to us can still be voiced even without us losing our heads, without us getting out of our comfort zones. Logistics, there is a Kenyan who can spend their day outside The Treasury to make a point rather than sitting in front of Hilton hoping for a miracle. There is a middle class executive like you, me and others who without moving an inch can send some little Money, Kshs. 200 or something like that to help that fellow who’ll spend time at Treasury or Parliament get a meal but still sustain action, a people driven kind. There is a designer who can print T-Shirts to relay a message, a banner to express a feeling. We have the best Mobile pay system in the world, M-PESA. If #OccupyWallStreet managed to rally people in the brief history as defined, what can we do as a progressive people, while maintaining law and order?

Implications and Action Items:

As we enter the 2012 campaign season, the candidates and their campaign managers and mostly important you and me should keep a close eye on how a movement can begin from just an idea on a blog, to twitter, to M-PESA to Changing Our Country for ourselves. This is directly addressed to the online community and here are a few pointers;

  • Power of the hashtag: Define your hashtags and empower your people. Hashtags provide a way to define your message and own the idea. So, broadcast them. Use them everywhere, including buttons, posters, e-mail signatures, etc. Through the hashtag, you can aggregate the conversation. However, be ready to lose control of it, there are perverts and all sorts of folks with different interest online and around us.
  • Listen in new ways:  You may already know what the conversation is through social media, but now you can see where the conversations are happening. People are now geotagging their tweets, Facebook posts and Flickr images, Foursquare too. We can use this to see where our message is catching on, and where it is not. Deploy resources to strategically get our message out to specific cities, regions, counties.
  • Go mobile: We have some of the best mobile tools around and the basic Kenyan’s use and reliance on mobile information is at an advanced level. Use all the mobile tools that are available to us. Understand that many of the people we’re looking to engage are doing so via their phones, and they want to know that we are too. For example, Instagram can give the campaign a professional yet human touch. Make sure that we’re incorporating a strategy that is mobile accessible and mobile optimized to allow people to feel they are part of the movement.

We once had #KenyaFeb28Th as an initiative to build Kenyans around a common issue. We did pray and we sang the national anthem. It could have been more, but it simply died thereafter. Initiatives to drive such agenda or those that can provide forums for public engagement online already exist. Such are like Mzalendo which means Patriot in Swahili. Mzalendo is a volunteer run project whose mission initially was to keep an eye on the Kenyan Parliament.” It was started by two like minded Kenyans who were frustrated by the fact that it is difficult to hold Kenyan Members of Parliament (MPs) accountable for their performance largely because information about their work in parliament is not easily accessible. Kudos to the founders, that’s a true demonstration of Uzalendo.

Things as they are however, give perspective wider than just MPs. There is a new governance structure in place; few, hardly any of us understand what that means. What will be the role of a Governor, Senator? What happens to Town and Municipal counties? Where will we pay tax, will we pay national and county taxes? How will that bill up to the exchequer? How will it be channeled towards development issues… Source for more scandals, that will keep us talking in bars, coffee houses and wherever else, each week, different issue and not acting in our individual capacities as citizens, as tax payers, as voters. We could learn something from Wall Street and make a difference. You and I. Wazalendo. Peace!

Till then, Cheers!

3 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street; Lessons for Kenyans!

  1. Unlike other countries, Kenyans need a leader to take them to the streets. We cannot do it on our own. In the ’90s, during the clamour for multipartism, we had a vibrant opposition. Whenever the opposition leaders wanted to voice some concern, they called for mass action and took to the streets.

    Today, we do not have an opposition. Everyone is in government. There is no one to voice our frustrations, save for some NGOs and Civil groups here and there. Our only outlet as you mentioned is talking in bars, coffee houses and social networks.

    Our frustration is building up, it is a disaster waiting to happen. Just a spark will ignite the tensions. And that spark will be the upcoming elections. We haven’t learned a thing from 2008 PEV. People will be looking for the slightest excuse to vent their anger.

  2. We are living in very interesting times here. As to whether Kenyans can take to the streets….that is a debate for another day….. consider that Syokimau people did take to the streets. Also, that after the police killed a father and his son in Nairobi last week and literally ‘bonoko’d..’ them, people who knew the truth cam out leading to the arrest of the police…..

    I think what we lack is a single unifying factor to make everyone go to the streets….but the rate at which MPigs are playing…….the line of differences is becoming thinner and thinner………….and pity MPigs/GoK when that happens….

  3. #Kenyafeb28th was a successful experiment on social media bringing forth action. It proved that ICT tools can be used for coordinating mass action. However, the finer details of the actions that need to be taken to drive the country in the right direction is the lacuna needs to be filled by right thinking minds, people who can ensure change through peaceful means and lobbying in the right avenues. If this is not done we will soon see people chanting Haki Yetu the new national anthem and destroying a nation that is hardly built. Going by what we have seen in the arab world, the protests are not leading to true change and have driven the nations further into instability. What we need is a mesh of coordinated lobbying in the right corridors. As you put it, #OWS went beyond random picketing and had different levels of contribution to the cause.

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