Spread the love

July is a mammoth of a month in our political landscape and Kenya’s democratic history as a whole. It is a month that has hosted Saba Saba for the past thirty years. Saba Saba stands for the seventh day of the seventh month – the seventh of July. On this day, 1990, the yoke of one-party rule fell on a sword of an inconsolable public yearning for change.

And so there they were atop a pick up trunk waving a ‘letter V’ two finger salute; Martin Shikuku, James Aggrey Orengo, Philip Gachoka and Rumba Kinuthia defiantly making their way to the maiden Kamkunji grounds. Headed to hold a rally to clamour for multiparty democracy and open governance. The law, however, prohibited them from doing so; public gatherings and all forms of political assembly had been banned. 7th of July was a culmination of public angst with citizens telling the then regime enough is enough, we are reclaiming our sovereignty.
For years on end, KANU had forcefully shoved tyrannies down Kenyan throats and Kenyans felt smothered. The straw had finally broken the camel’s back, therefore, if the law did not allow them to gather collectively to aerate on political issues especially a democratic society, it needed to be scrapped. Why ? Because to be muzzled in your own home for having a dissenting opinion was too great a load to bear.
Kenyans took to streets on Saba Saba after exhausting all plausible legal channels to effect change but to no avail. The three arms of government had essentially been captured by the state. Moi was the executive and executive Moi, whatever he decreed stood as the entire cabinet’s position, if a minister refused to play ball he was fired summarily. Parliament acted as an appendage of the executive and the judiciary had been cowered to submission. Essentially the President wielded absolute power that went unchecked.
By July 1990 President Moi had been at the helm for 12 years since 1978 and he had done his part in kicking the hornet’s nest. In 1982, four years into Moi’s Presidency, junior officers led by Hezekiah Ochuka at the Kenya Air Force staged a ‘coup d’etat’ that failed miserably. The failed putsch gave Moi the impetus to turn the screw – showing how far he was willing to go to stay in power. No, Moi would not allow himself to be deposed as soon as he got in like Patrice Emery Lumumba in the neighbouring DRC. And he was not an admirer of Milton Obote, who got kicked out of the top seat, twice, in Uganda. After surviving the failed ‘coup’, Moi’s indignation pushed him to crack the whip instituting a raft of draconian measures meant to prop up his stay in power.
Immediately, in an act of Parliament the constitution was amended, introducing Section 2A to the constitution. Which categorically stated, “There shall be in Kenya only one political party; the Kenya African National Union (KANU)”. Kenya had officially been turned into a de-jure one party state. June 1982, parliament had amended the constitution and abolished all factions of opposition.
But it was not enough that all channels for political discourse had been limited to one vessel, the ruling party, KANU. The President proceeded to take offense on any form of dissidence across the Republic. Those who dared to oppose would become his fabled political detainees. Dissidents spanning through his 24 year tenure in office coming from all walks of life.
Attorney General Charles Njonjo in 1981 coined the term the ‘7 bearded sisters’. It was a derogatory term used to refer to seven members of parliament who put the ruling party through hell in the August House. They included, George Moseti Anyona then representing Kitutu East, Onyango Midika MP Nyando, Mwashengu Mwachofi MP Wundanyi, Lawrence Sifuna MP Bumula, Chibule wa Tsuma MP Kaloleni, Abuya Abuya MP Kitutu East, Koigi wa Wamwere MP Nakuru North and James Aggrey Orengo MP Ugenya who by then was the youngest member of parliament after joining the house at 29 years old.
Beyond actors in the political divide, Moi detained veteran lawyer John Khaminwa, Lecturer Maina wa Kinyatti, journalist Wangondu Kariuki and varsity student T.A Oloo but to mention a few. These people were among scores who suffered in the infamous ‘Nyayo’ torture chambers. The ruling party also dictated the singular media outlet, Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), killed the civic space and institutionalized use of police force against citizens.
In 1988, Kenya held it’s general elections which was blatantly rigged following adoption of the ‘mlolongo’ (queuing) voting system. Many a voter and politician were dissatisfied with the flawed process that only served to add to the piling heap of atrocities committed against the Kenyan people by KANU. The high profile assassination of Foreign Affairs Minister Robert Ouko followed in quick succession with the suspicious tragic passing of Bishop Alexander Muge in a road accident – both occurred in 1990 exacerbated the already acrimonious public mood.

Thus, in 1990 when Charles Rubia in conjunction with Kenneth Matiba announced there would be a political rally at Kamkunji grounds in Nairobi – to push for multiparty democracy. They were voicing concerns of the political class and others. Voicing concerns of a disconcerted public seeking to alter their destiny. Synonymous to Moi’s political detainees, conspirators of Saba Saba were just as eclectic in composition.
Kamkunji grounds was a symbolic venue at a moment when the country was at political crossroads. It is located in the mushrooming Eastlands area in Nairobi where much of the urban underclass reside. Citizens who bore the full brunt of state inefficiency and who had no security of privilege. It was only right that a determinant discussion charting Kenya’s political future take place in their midst. For they represented the majority of Kenyans living in squalor. Kenyans bombarded with an ailing economy fazed by economic sanctions from the West. Coupled with political suffocation at home. Consequently, the thirst for a change to more progressive leadership parched their throats most. Suffice to say, Kamkunji grounds was and still is the Kenyan equivalent to Parthenon in Athens Greece. Because the ideal of democracy in Kenya was occasioned in Kamkunji as was democracy in Parthenon Greece.
Although the highly anticipated rally on Saba Saba was met with unmatched brute police force and state censure. It’s offspring could not be silenced. Clearly there was no turning back because the past was no place to retreat to. In spite of being treated to state choreographed mayhem – the people of Kenya marshalled by Martin Shikuku and co pressed on for political changes. Eventually the dam could not hold and Moi acquiesced. In November 1991, Section 2A was repealed by parliament opening up the space for democratic politics in Kenya once again. As a result, the first party post multypartyism in Kenya was birthed in 1991. Known as FORD – Forum for the Restoration of Democracy. Numerous political parties were born right after and Kenya went on to have it’s first multiparty elections contested in 1992. President Moi went on to marginally clinch two more terms in power but in 2002 the blowing squall of change was so immense it threw him out of power. The Kibaki era came and a refreshing era of plural politics in Kenya began.
Looking at our 57 year old political history as an independent nation. We must understand key turning points that have dictated the trajectory of Kenya’s progress. If you ask me, they are four moments. Four liberation moments. The first, second, third and now we are teetering our way through the fourth liberation.
The first liberation of course was when Kenya trudged it’s path to self determination by achieving independence in 1963. 1990 Saba Saba day demonstrations and the reintroduction of plural politics as the fruits it yielded marked the 2nd Liberation moment.


20 years down the road, Kenya enjoyed another groundbreaking development one that prospectively changed the course of Kenyan politics for generations to come. The promulgation of the 2010 constitution. Which in all fairness earned it’s stripes as one of the most progressive documents in the continent. Rightfully so, it sought to address a great deal of challenges that previously scourged the fabric of Kenyan life. The veneer implementation of devolution by the current dispensation has worked wonders for regions long alienated by the state. Courtesy of devolution, a once moribund Isiolo is now a tourist hub. Wajir now spots street lights and tarmacked roads. You go to Tharaka Nithi and there’s a state of the art stadium coming up. Nowadays, patients in Eastern and Central area flock nearby counties; Embu and Meru to access specialised treatment. Unlike the past, where a lot of specialised health services were available in Nairobi only. In Garissa, a place called Ijara got connected to the power grid for the first time since this nation’s inception. Behold today one can pay utility bills within rural areas in most parts of this country. People are not flocking Stima House in the capital just to get themselves connected to the grid. Devolution has enabled long marginalized regions to see themselves in the state, to belong and get value for taxes in spite of miscellaneous bottlenecks that still mar our governance. Not only marginalized areas but also marginalized people too. People living with disabilities, youth and women now have specified quotas they lay claim to in this current constitution.
The constitution in its true element has strived to empower citizens and hold leaders liable. Driven by popular initiative of citizens in 2010, the new constitution serves a potent reminder of Kenya’s 3rd Liberation. It is a social contract hell bent on providing an equitable and prosperous Kenya for all individuals rather than the afore administrations – that only served the elite.
Much to our chagrin, strides made towards the 4th Liberation have been beleaguered by retrogressive antics we all know too well. We are still beset with ethnicity, corruption, impunity, classism, inequality yada yada. Yes it sounds like a broken record we have heard over and over again. But as boring as it is, we still face these monolithic ills, the good news is that tools we need to unravel our fourth emancipation lie in that very 2010 document. A document that is now under siege because it serves the many and not an entitled few. A document that sits in town halls rather than ivory towers. A document as Dauti Kahura says fights for, “the Fanonian wretched of the earth”. If we let our guard down we’ll be swindled off it through political mischief in the name of Building Bridges.

Now cutting right to the chase. The Fourth Liberation is certainly about economic and social empowerment for all. As I stated earlier the constitution provides for this. In particular, economic and social rights for all is enshrined in Article 43 of the new constitution 2010. There is not a clearer article detailing what Kenyans deserve together with what the future portends for them. Contents of Article 43 are stated as rights which we must unconditionally demand and reap as a people.
Personally, I was far from born when Saba Saba happened. This is also the case for a considerable amount of Kenya’s population. Looking at the specifics in our demography, age bracket (18-35) is where the largest chunk of Kenya’s population belongs. 75 per cent of Kenyans are youth based on KNBS statistics. That makes for 35.7 million Kenyans from a total of 47.6 million thereabout. Any one who is 35 years old now was born some time in 1985. In that regard, an individual who is 18 now was born in 2002. So 75 per cent of Kenyans were born between 1985-2002. Saba Saba together with it’s trailblazing impacts took place from 1990 onwards. Accordingly, people who identify as youth as per those parameters were either toddlers at the time democracy was being established in Kenya or they were yet to be born. The fact that a majority of Kenyans today were barely consciously alive to savour such a historic moment poses a threat. A threat to Saba Saba and gains made. A threat to the very youthful Kenyans who do not guard their bequest as jealousy as they should.
Hordes of young Kenyans have come of age without understanding the political process that structured their present day lives. Truth is, we are a sum of past experiences. This applies to our nationhood too. If it were not for those democratic gains instigated by Saba Saba I doubt we would be able to criticize government the way we do today. An article like this, 30 years ago, would have probably been classified as ‘seditious’ material which is actually over estimating my ability to topple a sitting government. If it were not for Saba Saba I do not think young people would be able to claim 30 per cent of government tenders let alone venture boldly into business. If it were not for Saba Saba, comfortably befriending President Kenyatta as ‘Kamwana’ or ‘Jayden’ on a national scale would be shooting oneself in the foot. Again if it were not for Saba Saba’s impact it would be a long shot to take government to court and win a case – recall recently when Owino Uhuru slum residents in Changamwe, got a verdict that directed the state to pay them 1.3 billion compensation for health complications caused by lead poisoning.
The people who so hardly fought for Saba Saba and suffered it’s peril; forfeited their own ambitions so that we, who are here now, can dream. Will we sit pretty and watch those gains slip right under our grip ? Will we be the generation that caught cold feet when time was nigh to take a stance ? Or will we be accommodated by the rapacious oligarchs and throw our beloved country to the dogs. Indeed, whatever course of action we pursue in our lifetime, we need to ask ourselves the ever prescient question, will history absolve us of our deeds ?
I am well aware that as youth, there is no love lost between ourselves and you know who – the boomers. Countless young people feel Kenya would have been strides ahead if boomers made more prudent decisions. Hence we castigate them day and night. For being poor parents, for draining public coffers, for projecting their generational failures on us, for giving us bad names and forcing us to shave ‘jordan’ way into adulthood. Point is, one concrete thing we can never take away from them is giving us a foundation. That foundation is a democracy fought for 30 years ago. We owe that to them despite their obsession with STEM subjects as career occupations. As youth, we pick on them every time for our misfortunes, we knock boomers every now and then like a pinata. Simply because they are low hanging fruit. It’s convenient to always point a finger and play the blame game. But for how long ? Before we know it, we will be middle aged too with nothing to our names but complaints. And our children will complain some more, the cycle continues. So I urge us young people to rid ourselves of that veil of cowardice and get a hold of ourselves. Upon observation, if not the youth changing tact nobody else will build us a dignified life in this place called Kenya. It will bite to face the establishment upfront but Jackson Biko said, “Only the very brave beat their own path.”
Nonetheless upon interaction with young people especially in urban areas there is a staggering trait plenty identify with. It’s disheartening that droves of youth pass themselves off as apolitical. Even in this ‘maisha imekuwa ngori sana’ 2020 some simply retain lethargy when it comes to politics. Apparently, politics is a dirty game and we high handed young people will take no part. It is for the political class to continue sinning against us while we turn the other cheek. There’s no agency we contain in this governor – governed relationship. Every time we are mistreated we will see no evil hear no evil do no evil. Us young guys are not confrontational in nature because that’s barbarian.
First of, no human being is apolitical. Each and every manoeuvre one takes for survival is a political step. Human beings are purely political beings their interactions notwithstanding. For those who obstinately choose to believe they are apolitical. Try this. Think of the clean access to water and sanitation you enjoy vis a vis the deprived and ask yourself how that came to be. Or why you have lived all the way to adulthood yet Yasin Moyo lost his 13 year old life to a bullet in Kiamaiko. Perhaps, bother to wonder why you have access to sanitary pads all year long unlike other girls who do not. Or maybe why the roads to friend ‘X’ are way better than the ones leading to your home. To be frank with my peers, the world is a place of conquest. By any chance it so happens that you enjoy anything more than another individual – you ought to understand that your privilege was fought for. Regardless if you are privy to it or not. And so I hope we awake from this deep slumber of ‘Que sera sera’. That whatever will be will be and we relinquish our part in shaping tomorrow. What will be is what we do for ourselves.
More astonishing is that an ever increasing crop believes a ‘benevolent’ dictator would be a silver bullet to our problems. Succinctly, dictatorships are snake oil. Houses built on quick sand always fold. Dictatorships only seem great when you are looking over the fence. If in doubt, look to Tanzania where the leader of opposition survived sixteen bullets – lived in exile for four years and on return pleaded with the entire world to remain vigilant about his safety in Tanzania. One Tundu Antiphas Lissu. With that, imagine how a functional civic space that is for a nuanced, expressive young person.
Even so, we have hope. Hope because on Saba Saba 2020 young people brimmed the streets of Nairobi speaking truth to power. Remember Wanjiru Wanjira who resisted baseless arrest by police and left salient whispers in our hearts saying, “When we lose our fear they lose their power.” It was the arrest of a queer lady, Kedolwa Waziri – chanter of the slogan ‘May all the despots perish in our time’. That galvanized outrage on social media which led to her release – exhibiting the power of the digital age in combating injustice.

On July 8th Wyban Kanyi – founder Mathare Futurism who dabbles up a rapper. Released a song after Saba Saba dubbed ‘Vigil’. Wyban, a resident of Mathare’s informal settlements shares his lived experience about life as a youth 30 years post the struggle. He lost his cousin to police brutality as a result of curfew enforcement in Mathare. His song details the influence of ‘neutrality’ in times of injustice. Further, he explains how his conditions constantly push him to delinquency but instead he chooses art and planting trees to channel his rage – to make Mathare a better place. However, Wyban does not shy away from expressing his frustration at those who maintain their inertia while many young people in Mathare continue to lose lives prematurely. It is evident in these lyrics, “Silence hiyo silence. Hiyo ndio inafanya inakuwa normal kuskia sirens.” Not only him but loads of others have lived experiences. Lived experiences of what a contraction of state functionality feels like. On the other hand we can emulate Wyban by being active citizens – funneling our grievances in means that can bring about impactful change.

Conclusively, mine is a plea to all young people to be conscious citizens. The democratic process only begins at the ballot. It takes more than voting to be a good citizen. For democracy is not an event it is a life long process. So find your niche in whatever you engage in – to fight the good fight. Be involved and get in there.
In a country where you can be stripped off your fullness in a whiff, I cling on to the fruits of Saba Saba to keep my head above water. Saba Saba is our heirloom, let no one put asunder. Reiterating my plea, I revisit words of counsel from the Igbo in Nigeria, “One can take a he-goat to a female one but one cannot force it to mount.”
May we commit to watering the grass of our future. That the greener lawn, may always be found in our home.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *