BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU
On the last day of February 1992 a group of elderly rural women descended on Nairobi with a potent demand. This group chained themselves together in solidarity and went on hunger strike at Freedom Corner.
Despite being forcefully dispersed by government agents and even transported back to their rural homes they regrouped at the All Saints Cathedral and got into a vigil that lasted well over a year before the KANU government relented and did what they wanted.
Their demand was the release of their sons who had been detained by the KANU government.
These women were talked about far and wide. They had achieved what no one before them had ever been able to do. They had forced Moi to accept a popular decision and release prisoners who he had detained. The incident catapulted them into national and international fame.
Last week some members of this group arranged a meeting with the Prime Minister. They needed his assistance on several issues that trace their origin from that battle with the state 20 years ago.
Despite being hailed as being Kenyan heroes their lives after the event had actually become much harder, rather than easier. As I listened to them I could not help but imagine the many other Kenyans who felt like them. I thought about the families, friends and descendants of Waiyaki Wa Hinga, Koitalel Arap Samoei, Mekatilili Wa Menza, Muindi Bingu, Ojijo Oteko, and Dedan Kimathi, all who knew their loved ones had died as heroes during the struggle for Kenya’s independence.
I thought of the families of Jean Marie Seroney, Chelagat Mutai, Jaramogi Oginga, Bildad Kaggia, Charles Rubia, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Willy Mutunga, Paul Muite, Raila Odinga, Wangari Maathai, George Anyona, Koigi Wamwere, Ken Matiba, James Orengo, etc: who had all watched their loved ones detained, tortured and persecuted for political reasons.
We also had the families of Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Pio Gama Pinto, Robert Ouko, etc, who were all assassinated for political reasons.
All these were Kenyans who had been hailed as heroes having stepped up when Kenya needed them, but their lives and the lives of those left behind actually took a turn for the worse because of that action.
I realised that whilst other countries built their nation’s legends around their historical heroes Kenya seemed to be ashamed of its own, and quickly shed them as soon as they went through each event.
As I listened to the mothers walk away with confidence after the Prime Minister’s assurances I also realized that it had everything to do with politics.
No one represented Kenya’s heroes in the corridors of power, to speak for them, seek compensation for their sacrifices, ensure their families were assisted by the government.
On the other hand all those who would be adversely affected by the pursuit for justice for these heroes had brought political pressure to bear to ensure that any attempts by any government to solve such issues were thwarted.
The pre-independence collaborators and home guards, beneficiaries of the KANU political injustices, and/or perpetrators of various other injustices had ensured they had allies in political power to directly and indirectly frustrate any government policies that would benefit the victims.
The families and friends of our national heros must understand that governments work for those who put the politicians into office. The mothers of political prisoners understood this because by going to the Prime Minister they were telling him that they expect his politics to be about their needs.
Our heroes and the victims of social injustice in Kenya need to realize that they must get their own political representation. Allies in Parliament who will ask why the Mau Mau history is not told to our children, why the victims and survivors of Nyayo House Torture Chambers have not been compensated: why IDPs have not been resettled, why other tiers of PEV perpetrators have not been charged, etc.
If the over 650,000 Kenyans who were directly affected by the 2007-08 Post Election Violence, including all those still living in tents as IDPs and the ones in Uganda living as refugees ensured they only vote for someone who guarantees to ask such questions: if all the Kenyans seeking compensation and justice around the Mau Mau, Nyayo House Torture, Extra Judicial killings, illicit brews issues, voted for their own: Kenya’s politics would change fundamentally.
If those affected directly or indirectly by the 2007-08 asked themselves what would happen if people suspected to be perpetrators of the heinous crimes against humanity of those 60 days, or their allies, got into political office, we would vote very differently in 2012. (How would we expect such a government to seek justice for PEV victims?)
If all those who believe Kenya must deal decisively with impunity, corruption and ethnic politics made the 2012 general elections a political contest about who will best meet this need, we force each presidential, parliamentary and/or county candidate to tell us what they will do for us. We could easily change Kenya’s political culture in 2012.
This is what is called Siasa Mpya and you can be part of the process by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org