We have three national days in Kenya. These are Madaraka on June 1, Mashujaa on October 20, and Jamhuri on December 12. Though some people think we have too many public holidays (Labour Day, the two Easter holidays, Eid, Christmas, Boxing and New Year’s days), I think we should have one more national day: July 7, or Saba Saba.
For those who came late to the Kenya story, on this day in 1990, in the words of a Daily Nation editorial marking the 20th anniversary of the occasion: “A momentous event shook the very foundations of a monolithic dictatorship. The events of Saba Saba, July 7, 2009, united and galvanised a once-cowed people against totalitarianism. Citizens defied a previously unchallengeable regime to make their way to Nairobi’s Kamukunji grounds to press the case for democracy.”
Kenya’s one-party state had in the years since 1982 become increasingly authoritarian, with the party expelling members left, right and centre, and by so doing, casting them into political oblivion. Politicians who had fallen foul of Kanu and President Moi had no outlet for their political energy. The general push for multiparty politics in Africa had hit Kenya following the fall of Communism, and things were about to change forever.
The men and women who would soon collectively be known as “the leaders of Kenya’s Second Liberation”, and the long-suffering people of Kenya, took their challenge of the one-party system to the streets and shook the very foundations of the Kanu government.
In many ways, if it had not been for the heroic, nay, patriotic actions of that day, it might have taken rather longer for the country to return to being a multiparty democracy.
The leadership of the Second Liberation deserve acknowledgement for their courage, outstanding achievements and noble qualities. No matter how some of them have turned out since, at that crucial moment in our history, they made significant positive contributions to the growth and development of democracy for all Kenyans.
While Mashujaa Day, which is observed on October 20, “collectively honours all those who contributed towards the struggle for Kenya’s Independence or positively contributed in post-Independence Kenya,” I believe we should accord special mention to the patriots of Saba Saba. And as such, they should have their own special day to celebrate the roots of a return to democracy in Kenya. Perhaps by celebrating these heroes specifically, we might remind ourselves of the necessity of fighting any rearguard elements that might want to forget the lessons of our nation’s past.
We must do everything we can to put a stop to our collective political amnesia, which affects all aspects of our lives. In fact, Kenyan lawyer Pravin Bowry once wrote of a “distinct Kenyan trait of forgetfulness”, which he said engendered a total disregard by the citizenry to bring closure to issues in the public domain from time to time. For me, not celebrating the heroes and heroines of Sasa Saba Day falls under this category.
In the words of the writer and historian David McCullough: “A nation that forgets its past can function no better than an individual with amnesia.”