Believe it or not, I have never ‘tasted’ tear gas. This glaring omission has made me feel left out in several conversations. My friends and colleagues and even family would discuss running from this painful experience with understanding and often excitement.
That adrenalin rush of running away screaming would be the talk on most lips, of course as long as no one got hurt.
It was aptly explained to me the other day as this burning sensation that assaults your face, eyes, nose and stings even your skin – and you immediately start tearing.
Doesn’t sound very encouraging but it made me want to be a part of this Kenyan experience, at least so my conversations would be more knowledgeable and my patriotic ego would have a gloating episode!
Tear gas was first used in chemical warfare in world war I, but due to its short lasting effects and because its rarely disabling, they are now used by law enforcement agencies to subdue riots, mobs, or flush out criminals without the use of deadly force.
In 1969, about eight countries filed a petition in Geneva for it to be banned because it could be harmful when used incorrectly, but there was not enough medical evidence to support the theory that it could cause long term pulmonary, carcinogenic and reproductive effects.
So is it a harassing agent or a toxic weapon? I don’t know. I just know I plan to be there when the next one is thrown. If you’re not a university student it is often equated with a fight for justice that is unpopular or unfavourable to the ruling government.
Even when demonstrations take too long or come when there is little support for them. Sometimes it comes off as a police reflex when there are too many people gathered at one spot, especially in Uhuru Park. Or if city council askaris – with the help of anti-riot police – are dispersing traders who’ve just had their stalls demolished.
When matatu owners or drivers and turn boys protest against Mungiki or police harassment, they are tear-gassed. So at least once in your lifetime or as often as you wish, try and be a part of the Kenyan experience. Let the fight for justice bring tears to your eyes.