It has been thirty long years since Saturday July 7, 1990. Thousands of Kenyans dared their way to the Kamkunji Saba Saba rally that never was. I was a young man in my early thirties. We had done a long rough journey as a nation. We yearned for a better country. No risk was too much to take.
I had been old enough in 1969, to understand the killing of Tom Mboya. As an upper primary school boy in Nairobi, I witnessed the “Kanu Private” lorries that ferried people to Gatundu, to pledge their loyalty to the president. I understood the Kisumu shootings of October the same year and the detention of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and others.
The adults talked about terrifying things in the neighbourhood of Nairobi. We regularly saw frightful pictures in the newspapers. People paid the ultimate price, for refusing to take the oath. We experienced the curfew in Nairobi and in Kisumu. We recall the frightful killings and crude bodily operations in the slums of Kawangware, Kangemi, Riruta and other places in Nairobi.
Five years later, the country denied JM Kariuki, and a handful of others, the right to address campaign meetings in 1974. Three months into the new year, JM was killed, his body left to the beasts of Ngong forest. I recall all this as if it happened only yesterday. The passing of President Kenyatta. The advent of the Nyayo Era. The praise songs.
When President Kenyatta passed on, the country was at once afraid and hopeful. Afraid that succession games would sink us into an ethnic blood bath. Hopeful that we would turn a new leaf. The worst nearly happened in 1982. We recall the Nyayo clampdown. The one party state. The shadowy Mwakenya movement. Pambana. Detention without trial. The mysterious Nyayo House deaths. Queue voting and election rigging. The end of academic freedom in universities.
We remember the call for multiparty democracy. The public canning of Prof. Wangari Maathai on the backside. The Ouko murder. The killing of Bishop Muge. The clobbering of Bishop Njoya. The raid on the All Saints Cathedral. The bloodletting by the police right inside the sanctuary.
Man, we have seen things in this country. The 1992 – 2007 ethnic clashes. The burning down of houses and turning of people from their homes. Rape and mayhem at election time, climaxing in the 2007 – 2008 madness. The ICC trials in recent times and a shameless and dysfunctional electoral commission that refuses to dissolve itself, while those who wish to use it for more abuse sit pretty.
Yes, there have been twinkles of hope. The restoration of multiparty democracy on 10 December 1991, for example. The peaceful Moi succession and subsequent enactment of a new constitution. There is devolution and the promise it heralds for hitherto forgotten communities. We also enjoy more liberties than we did in the 1970s and in the ‘80s.
The seasons have come and gone. The thought returns with George Orwell in a similar context, “Years passed. The seasons came and went, the short animal lives fled by. A time came when there was no one who remembered the old days…except Clover, Benjamin, Moses the raven and a number of the pigs… Muriel was dead, Bluebell, Jessie and Pincher were dead … Boxer was forgotten Even Jones was dead . . . Only old Benjamin was much the same as ever.”
The reading mirrors our reality. “Matiba was dead, Okullu, Rubia, Shikuku, Odinga, Muliro, Wamalwa, Anyona, Seroney, Manases Kuria and Chelagat Mutai were dead. Bamariz was forgotten … Opiata was forgotten … Mukaru … Even Biwott was dead … And I feel as if I was old Benjamin the donkey, in Orwell’s Animal Farm allegory. I recall a long and sad tale. I know, like Benjamin, that nothing has changed. For Benjamin and I have witnessed negation of gains.
The more things have seemed to change, the more they have remained the same. We toy today with yet another constitutional moment, to borrow the words from President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenya’s constitution is a mirror image of the windmill in Orwell’s story. Orwell’s animals strived continually to build a windmill, expected to improve their lives forever.
It is now an article of faith that changing the constitution will end Kenya’s problems. The thought began even before independence. Writing in Not Yet Uhuru, Odinga said that Kanu accepted a constitution it did not want, knowing that it would change it after independence. And it was changed many times. Whenever those in power saw a problem, they mutilated the constitution.
The appetite lives on. Kenya is today about to do it again. My long eye witness knowledge of the country fails to understand why. I am baffled that in Parliament committees are now structured for specific outcomes. It is a dead house.
Suna East MP, Junet Mohammed, was five years old in 1983 when former Attorney General, Charles Njonjo, was humiliated from the centre of power. MP John Mbadi was eleven. Mbadi probably remembers something of “the msaliti affair.” Junet would probably not.
Both certainly know nothing of Kariuki Chotara, Kihika Kimani, Mburu Gichua and Mama Evans at the apogee of political power in Kenya. Both have probably never heard of Thomas Malinda, who tabled a motion in Parliament in 1965, telling the country that Odinga wanted to overthrow the government.
Kenya’s anthills of the savanna grasslands recall Local Government Minister, Stanley Oloitiptip, throwing a lavish wedding for his daughter and bragging about “my shillions” and “my twelve bedroomed house.” They recall the rides some people had in the presidential limousine. But they also recall how these power tendrils of yore burnt politically. As they reverse the gears back to 1982 – 1990, let them look out for elders, to tell them a few things they know nothing about. Above all, beware, we use and dump.
_A slightly different version was published in the Saturday Standard of 11 July, 2020. _