There is a strong need to make the concept of Human Rights (HR) more tangible, less abstract and immediate to the lives of the majority of 40 million Kenyans. The struggle for our independence and the new 2010 National Constitution were mainly driven by demand for greater human rights and better democratic, accountable governance practice in our public affairs management structures. That is why the new constitution has such elaborate Bill of Rights provisions, perhaps the world’s most detailed, with some 41 articles.
The challenge is how to institutionalize human rights values not only in our personal lives but also in the culture and management of the national institutions. Some people even think that HR is a narrow field which is a domain for lawyers. Nothing can be further from the truth. Best of teachers have always reminded us,” Whatever career you may choose for yourself, doctor, lawyer, teacher, military, make a career of humanity, human service professions. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in.”
By HR we generally mean those rights which we say belong to all people because they are simply humans, regardless of national origin, race, culture, religion, age, gender, or anything else. Human dignity is first of them. Whereas such rights are universal and apply to everyone, everywhere, some of us argue that human rights is an exclusively western cultural construction, “colonialistic concept and in language”. This is not true.
Though the term ‘human rights’ may not always be used, as author Jim Ife put it, ideas of human dignity and worth, ideas that all people treated according to certain basic standards, ideas that people should be protected from ‘human right abuse’, and ideas of respect for the rights of others are not confined to the western intellectual tradition. To assume that they are is to devalue those other religions and cultural traditions that such critics claim to be supporting.
What is more or less given is Africa has the lowest human rights values of the world’s continents. This is so because culturally, apparently African societies have low levels of human right traditions, as Chinua Achebe immortalized in his book, ‘Things Fall Apart’, where all types of human rights abuses were committed and where twin babies were dumped and killed as evil spirits. Add that to four centuries of slavery, brutal European colonialism, apartheid and post-independent African dictatorships of Idi Amin’s and Robert Mugambe’s proportions and what do we have: the world’s saddest and most pessimistic, stoic people!
In order to make HR practices the norm and be appreciated everywhere in the country, and make Kenya the best in Africa, humans rights should be made a compulsory examinable subject in all our learning institutions. The countries with best human rights records are also the most prosperous. Therefore, from universities and across all faculties, teacher training colleges, Government owned Institutes to police, prison and military academies; human rights subject should be made a must. If not the provisions of the new constitution will just remain that, good sounding, far-fetched abstracts that have little bearings on the lives of majority of Kenyans.