Thanks to a noise-control law in Kenya, the pomp and razzmatazz that accompany political rallies will be no more, as spontaneous roadside pronouncements by theatrical politicians and their overtly passionate supporters will have to be kept down lest law enforcers interfere. Fear shall be instilled in football supporters of say Abaluyia Football Club (aka AFC) or Gor Mahia as their chants, songs and drumming will not be permitted in Nairobi’s clean streets upon their victories only until they get a permit for the noise a week or two after victory.
For lovers of haggling, creative-mouthed market hawkers, a death knell to the market as you have known it all your life has been sounded. Street preachers must go back to their places of worship and only whisper to their congregation. No more lunch sermons in parks, and along the very busy roads. Many of them have to learn sign language or hire mime artists in order to survive in these harsh times of the noise pollution law.
No doubt the face of Kenya’s culture will change. There will now be a more subdued and softly-spoken populace. Whether this is good or bad is another matter, what is clear is that the question of noise pollution in the name of “Noise and Excessive Vibration Pollution (control) Regulations, 2009” has not been debated fairly so that producers of noise can have their say.
The clergy seems to be fighting a lone war as politicians can only side with a mass they want to please and only momentarily. The law’s enactment is coming at a time when a smoking ban has been issued by most municipal councils, when the Kenyan mass media are still smarting from a scary ‘media control bill’ and when the citizenry has been given a strict 30 days to discuss a difficult-worded proposed constitution which they eventually have to hurriedly vote for or against.
The citizenry is systematically being boxed into a corner and has very weak defense. While there are a million Non Governmental Organisations fighting in the noble arenas of HIV/AIDs, education for the girl child, end to domestic violence, conflict resolution, and the like, no one is willing to spend their money or effort to stop us from being hen-pecked by a law that determines how loud we should yawn. It is almost as though there are no cultural conservationists in the country. None of the smart-speaking cultural ambassadors are interested in the changing terrain that will come with the strict enforcement of the new law. Sadly, that is the problem with our country; no one cares as long as there are no votes, money or fame that will come with fighting for a cause.
There are loud drum-beats of war coming from a legal threat: “We shall jail and fine you expeditiously if you make noise!” This war pits Kenyan Minister for Environment John Michuki against the clergy.
On the minister’s side are legions of fans crawling out of their homes with creased foreheads claiming that for years, neighbourhood disco clubs and churches have oppressed them with noise. But on the clergy’s side, the muezzins on many a mosque’s minarets are not amused that their days are numbered, neither are the priests whose bells must toll or whose voices must find an entry into a lost soul’s heart. Of course owners of bars and clubs that offer sweet sounding music in immeasurable tones are shy and cannot comment loudly on the issue.
The law in question has a fancy sentence-like title in “Noise and excessive vibration Pollution (control) regulations, 2009.” It runs on the premise that noise can be measured. Already, a number of noisy “matatus” have been subjected to the enforcer’s warnings. Clubs have been visited and Disk Jokeys (DJs) given instructions on how a party can run on possible “constructive” noise.
The law has an interesting angle to it given that it does recognise that noise is necessary at times, so it has a provision for permitting noise to be made. Well, that may sound like a primary school session in which the prefect has the powers to decide which pupils should make certain noises!
This noise law is deaf on a number of issues particularly on the determination of what is disturbing or “illegal” noise. Are there credible machines that can measure noise levels? Should the enforcers send sharp-eared policemen or will you be a lucky noise maker if the law enforcement officer has some waxy listening skills? Still, it seeks to recognise that there can be noise zones. Municipal and City council authorities are being advised on the creation of noise zones. That is the space where you can go and bang metallic things together, or scream at stones if you must as the law shall have ensured that the noise-intense industries are given residence there.
Well, a major proponent of the noise pollution law is Honorable Minister John Michuki, who many Kenyans swear by. He is a star in his own right as he has featured prominently as a great actor on a stage that has really poor performers. Unlike other politicians whose words are mostly untrustworthy,
Michuki’s famous acts–as transport minister–include turning the nuisance “matatu” public transport sector into a hospitable one in which one enters a clean matatu and turns it into a bedroom as a result of its comfort.
During his tenure as Environment minister, he has turned a much polluted Nairobi River into a stream of hope which now has fish happily swimming to his name! Were he to be appointed an Environment Minister for the World Copenhagen would indeed be Copenhappen; that is how successful he can be!
In early December 2009, Michuki was awarded with a certificate from Basel in Switzerland from the Basel Convention, a United Nation’s group that pursues a treaty on cleaner production and use of environment. He has also previously been feted by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights with a Waziri award for his exemplary work in the Transport Ministry. How then can he be wrong on the question of noise pollution?
The clergy think differently. They are ready to go to jail for the noise they make for the Lord, so Bishop Mark Kariuki of Kenya’s Deliverance Church has declared. His statements to the media are quite “martyristic” as he, and other members of the clergy, have laboured to explain why they must serve God loudly.
The debate has inevitably turned political as the Prime Minister, in a political rally at the predominantly Muslim Kenyan coast, questioned the idea of curtailing Muezzins from executing their work. This matter has now been taken to court, and tough looking lawyers will definitely come up with convincing ideas against muzzling the servants of the Lord, after all, they may argue, wasn’t God the maker/creator of the concept noise?
The most senior victim of noise pollution in Kenya’s recent history has been President Kibaki’s wife whoÂ on a night in 2005 stormed into a high profile neighbour’s residence and slapped the then World Banks’ Country Director. The director happened to be the loud neighbour whose party was a cause of nuisance to members of the First Family. Of course the media made a huge meal out of the incidence and concentrated on her loud question to the partying director: “Who is your mother?” Such scenes will be forgotten once a few loud people are fined or jailed.
But a plethora of issues need to be sorted out first. Why, indeed, must we be silent? From a more academic perspective one may wonder whether we can come to accept a culture of silence.
Consider, for example, that noise is necessary on many cultural events such as the birth of a child, a funeral, and the celebration of a sporting win. If we have a noise pollution zone, does it mean that such a zone will become the only space where our crying, dancing or singing can take place? But that is to suggest that all the cultural activities that take place are planned to the letter. The law does not then have room for the spontaneous nature of certain cultural events which means then that there will be a lot of conflict.
Take the doom and gloom that is being promised such a ceremony as the burial. Part of the colour, vigour and general excitement in many Kenyan communities’ burial ceremonies are not cheap practices. The mannerisms of mourning have over the years been shifting with technological advancement, religious interventions, and cultural interactions, but the key expression of sorrow through noise has not been obliterated. Now the noise law is seeking to kill the only anesthesia given to the bereaved by nature. How are we supposed to measure the decibels our voices produce when crying over the bodies of departed loved ones? It might turn comical, if this law is not effectively denounced as every mourning ceremony will have additional personnel in the shape of men or women holding machines and walking around warning the bereaved to keep it low.