Jeroen van Velzen: In Kenya, children are not considered important for the society

With a very much resembling subject in the Romanian society as well, the film documentary A goat for a vote, that was shown during the eighth editon of One World Romania, the film festival for human rights, draws the attention upon the lack of freedom in schools in Kenya. I sat down with filmmaker, Jeroen van Velzen and asked him about his motivation of shooting this documentary, who actually helps the Kenyan students –

Can you tell me how did you come up with the idea of the movie A goat for a vote?
Jeroen van Velzen: I’ve been living in Kenya for 25 years and corruption is a very high problem there. If you drive in your car you get stopped even if your car is in perfection condition. Politically it is a shame. I mean voting, people always win with the money and the power. The most powerful rich people are the ones who are winning all the votes. And it is like this every single time. In 2009 in Kenya there was a presidential election and due to rivals it created a big friction in the ethnic groups to scare eachother. This collision determined half a million people to runaway from their homes. About 6,000 people died. And it is devastating for a country that was actually very peaceful for a long time. I’ve always wanted to tell a story about this and about corruption. And it’s my frustration to see this country being uprooted by rich politicians just because they want to win votes and they don’t care about the masses.

Jeroen van Velzen: I was working with a translator that taught English at a public school and he was telling me how children did voting at school, so I went to see it. I was so surprised about children going around with bags of sweets and actually bribing, but at the same time demanding votes.
Why is that imporant for them?
Jeroen van Velzen: What I saw is that they are copying what they see around them. The way their parents are struggling to make something of their lives. They cannot go without corruption. You want to buy lands. You need to pay some politician to get the title deeds. If you want something you have to give something. Is the same thing with the children. The children want to get votes as presidents, the other children in the class say what do you got for me? then I will decide if I will vote for you. So, I thought it would be a great idea to make a film about the student’s election to show what’s going on really in the larger picture of Kenya without pointing fingers at politicians, which would be a problem for me and my safety. If I would make a film about corruption, maybe I would never be allowed to go to Kenya again. It is a delicate subject and most of the media in Kenya is owned by politicians, so there is very limitted freedom of speech. So, I thought this would be a good way to slightly make a film about something very important.
What was the impact of the movie in Kenya?
Jeroen van Velzen: I showed it a couple of months ago in the school. For the children, it is very important for them to realize that they are seen by the outside world, so they feel like they are a little bit important, because most of the time they are not told that they are a very important part of society. The film kind of gives them this feeling of importancy. They could really relate to what was happening in the film – about corruption, about human oath, about the rights for women, about Madeline who struggles to become the president in a man dominant society, there were even women who did not believe in her. It would be interesting to see if the movie would make an impact in the coming next election.

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