September 20, 2017

Are Parents Failing?

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By George Ojema
The Easter holiday is slowly ebbing away. Unlike many Easters past, Kenyans have spent this much anticipated holiday in 2015 either glued to their television sets or shaking their heads in sorrow following the massive loss of life in the Garissa University College massacre. Many a student has spent sleepless nights in his or her hostel fearing the worst as more messages of doom spread on social media platforms. Some have been proven to be hoaxes but the reality remains we do not know when or where the next attack might be.
But before the horrific event, Kenyans were talking of a different sort of terror. Three young ladies were apprehended at the Kenya-Somalia border by Kenya defense forces and handed over to police. Now, granted that Somalia has some amazing beaches one would assume they were planning to spend the short holiday in the neighboring clime. But given the terrorist activities and travel advisories against the country one would advise against it. And the plot thickened, apparently they were traveling with the intent to join the outlawed Al-Shabaab militia…as brides and later jihadi widows and perhaps suicide bombers. It was all, clearly, a well-planned life.
Some asked why the three, who are easily beautiful maidens, would want to join the militia. Others interrogated their lives and discovered they have been well schooled, asking why someone clearly educated would opt for pointless martyrdom. And others just shook their heads, lost for words. But one mother caught me off guard with her reaction.
“Ingekuwa mtoto wangu ningemuua”, she retorted roughly translating into ‘If that was my daughter I would kill her’.
The anger in her voice was real, not empathetic but murderous. She was a mother in grief, and it was understandable because she had lost a loved one in a previous attack. But the shock was far from over. As police continued investigations into the Jihadi Brides, it emerged that their family and friends had no idea what they were up to. Their daughters were supposed to be in university, studying and being young responsible ladies, not hoping across the border under the cover of darkness. A history of non-aggression emerges, former teachers telling anyone who will listen about their religious tolerance, parents insisting they brought them up to be peaceful. I mean, one of them played sports in primary.
And yet they stand accused of bearing the intent to join known terrorists, their parents clueless. It is not the only tale of its kind. A month earlier a renowned television station carried a news feature of children in a primary school that had crossed into Somalia unbeknownst to their parents or teachers. The parent would ‘burden’ the child with school fees and pocket money and sent him to school. Thereafter, the parent would relax; confident the child was in school. The school would be concerned that the child has extended his mid-term break by two weeks. Once the two got in touch, as they inevitably will, confusion sets in. To make a bad situation worse, the said child would call from Somalia to report his whereabouts.
One sees a case forming against the parent. In either case, the parent has no idea what is transpiring in the child’s life until it is too late. Those twenty somethings fortunate to have spent their Easter holiday in the comfort of their parents and elders stories will recall vividly the narratives where their grandparents knew every detail of their parents lives. They knew friends, school events, class attendance, social events attended, that place called Nairobi that is dangerous and Mombasa where you can get lost. They probably knew the ghosts of Lamu by name in case you visited the old town. News that one’s son was a thief was oft greeted by dismay, not surprise.
Parents of today seem to have reacted to their nosey parents by not being nosey enough. Children are trusted to go for a sleepover, but not asked if the sleepover is at a nightclub. An encouragement to attend a Kesha does not specify if it is at a church or at Richie’s house. A declaration to join a church does not interrogate if it is really a cult or an early Sunday escape from family time. And all these activities are funded in an attempt to keep the child from straying or ‘resenting’ the parent in the future.
Religion aside (yes, most people think only Muslims get radicalized but Christians also join deadly cults and local militia. Sabaot Land defense Force or Mungiki, zero Muslim members and still terrorized Kenya) do parents know what their children are up to? And in the parents defense, how do you raise a child in this day and age?

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