LOST DREAMS

Reforms driven by Saba Saba never really took root

Tens, and perhaps more, were killed; scores appeared in court on flimsy charges.

In Summary
  • Yes, we promulgated the 2010 Constitution, but we should have fought harder against those who cast it aside barely 3 years later.
  • After the excitement caused by the achievement of a multiparty system, there has been scarce progress in other matters.

Kenneth Matiba, James Orengo, and other leaders stage a protest on July 7, 1990, a day that later came to be known as Saba Saba.
PIONEERS OF CHANGE: Kenneth Matiba, James Orengo, and other leaders stage a protest on July 7, 1990, a day that later came to be known as Saba Saba.
Image: COURTESY

Thirty  years after the Saba Saba — pro-democracy demonstrations — that rocked Nairobi and outlying towns in July 1990, I have caught myself wondering what it was all for.

Former President Daniel arap Moi’s government euphemistically referred to the protests as “disturbances,”  although if they were just disturbances, why was the crushing of them so ruthless?

Tens, and perhaps more, were killed and scores of others appeared in court on flimsy charges.

 

On top of everything else, the three figureheads of the protests, former cabinet ministers Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia, as well as Raila Odinga, were hauled into detention without trial.A number of rights lawyers and other activists fled into exile to escape the same fate or possibly worse.

The Kanu government claimed the protests were the work of “drug addicts”. However, socially progressive church leaders (believe it or not, there were once such people) spoke truth to power and said the protests were a “rebellion” against the government.

This uprising was brought about by poverty, injustice, disregard for human rights and a lack of free public participation in national affairs. Granted, Saba Saba and other events that followed forced the Moi government to grudgingly make some changes, which included the restoration of security tenure of the judiciary and sections of the civil service.

But the changes, including the scrapping of the law that made Kenya a one-party state, were made in such bad faith, that with hindsight this could be why the reforms never really took root.

Looking at events since, it would seem that after the excitement caused by the achievement of a multiparty system, there has been scarce progress in other matters.

Had we internalised the reforms, respect for human rights would have been second nature to all Kenyans and cases would be dealt with using the parameters of justice and truth.

Because we didn’t normalise “Haki na Ukweli”, many will for a long time be shoving their middle finger in our faces and saying: Mta do?

 

I wonder how some of the leading lights of the pro-democracy and human rights struggle of the 1980s and 1990s feel about how things have turned out.

I can’t help thinking that some of them may feel it is no longer their fight any more. They have handed over the baton and are enjoying the fruits of their labour as senators, governors, even revered former prime ministers and wannabe future presidents.

Perhaps some of the loaf is better than absolutely none at all?

Maybe I am being uncharitable to those that my old boss Philip Ochieng christened “the Young Turks?”

After all they led a valiant struggle against the forces of darkness and oppression that were the Kanu and Moi government and its agencies.

They fought at a time when the price was literally their liberty and their lives. For many of them the struggle for a better Kenya meant sacrifices that few today can fully appreciate.

It really was up to some of us to have ensured that all the objectives of that struggle became ingrained in the very fabric of the nation. We seem to have dropped the baton and were too easily satisfied.

Yes we promulgated the 2010 Constitution, but we should have fought harder against those who cast it aside barely three years later.

I say it is time for the struggle to continue because in the words of the Lenny Kravitz song: “So many tears we’ve cried/ So much pain inside/ But baby it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”