, NAIROBI, Kenya, July 7 – It was the day of reckoning, the day on which the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) had demanded for a national dialogue conference or else…
It was a month and one week since ‘Baba’ – former Prime Minister Raila Odinga – returned home from a three month lecturing tour of the United States to announce a series of nationwide rallies in the run up to Saba Saba (7/7).
Saba Saba not only standing for the seventh day of the seventh month of the year, but commemorative of the marches for multi-party democracy and a reformed Constitution in the 90s and now the demands for a conference to address insecurity, corruption, devolution and corruption that according to CORD got worse while Odinga was away.
But following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s refusal of the conference, the Uhuru Park grounds were once again thronged by CORD supporters looking not to tell ‘Baba’ what went wrong while he was away but to hear from him what would now be the way forward given his calls for dialogue went unheeded.
It was however a Monday, a working day which the government had made abundantly clear was not a public holiday despite Odinga’s insistence that his supporters were to boycott work and therefore the Uhuru Park grounds, unlike during Raila’s homecoming rally, were slow in filling up.
The security forces were however quick in taking up their positions and hundreds of National Youth Servicemen in green berets and khaki uniforms, wooden batons in hand, surrounded the park’s perimeter.
General Service Unit (GSU) officers were also loaded up into trucks positioned at the entrances to Uhuru Park with teargas canisters in their front pockets, helmets on their heads and firearms across their torsos.
Their presence however did not deter Judy Lule, an insurance broker, from attending the rally, “it’s my first political rally,” she said.
The mother of five had gotten to the city centre before 7am like she always did but as she’d never done before, she found herself sitting on the grass in Uhuru Park waiting for a political rally to begin.
“My office is right here,” she said holding up her handbag and phone, “so there’s nothing to stop me from being here and if a client needs to see me, I’ll simply get up and leave.”
The high cost of living and insecurity, she said, are what drove her to take the unprecedented step. “I want to hear what they have to say. What solutions they have to offer. What harm is there?” she posed.
She explained that with a net pay of about Sh50,000 and five children to educate, clothe, house and feed, there wasn’t much left over, “except for a sweet,” and she was keen to hear how CORD would propose to lighten her load.
“I want the best for my kids. I want them to have what I never did. The government might say education is free but it comes with so many attached costs that I’d rather have my kids in private school. I pay Sh29,000 for the four who are in primary per term but my sisters help me,” she said.
But even with the help, she said, she still had sleepless nights. “How can you feel safe at home when entire families are being killed in Lamu, who will help them as my sisters help me? How can I sleep? It doesn’t matter that I’m in Nairobi.”
And so she sat and waited, waited to hear what Odinga and his team would bring to the table, “I just hope they finish before four or I’ll end up paying Sh80 instead of Sh60 in fare to Umoja.”
Not far from Judy stood another mother of five, Nyamalo, a silver cross around her neck and a cloth wrapped around a waist that swayed to the music.
She stood watching, pointing and laughing at a group of young men kissing a banner with a picture of Odinga and his co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula.
“I live in Highridge, a slum called Deep Sea, and I’m here because my MP Tim (Wetangula) helps support three of my children through school but I hope my fellow CORD supporters maintain peace because Raila does not buy their unga (maize meal),” she said.
But hardly were the words out of her mouth before the sound of tear gas canisters being lobbed rent the air when a group of youth tried to block the road to Community.
It was however an isolated incident and it was back to the merry making in what was reminiscent of a reggae concert with music blaring and the smell of burning marijuana in the air.
One ‘reveller’ even had his own makeshift microphone, a branch with an avacado’s hard core at the end, in hand and he sang into it heartily.
Merry making that heightened to a frenzy when the much awaited trio of Odinga, Musyoka and Wetangula finally made their way into the Uhuru Park grounds, smiling and waving a top their vehicles in matching white shirts, five hours after Judy and Nyamalo made their way into the Park.
“Watch the weed go to work,” an officer commented when Odinga’s supporters then forced the barriers to the podium down and pushed forward, to be closer to Baba and to hear Baba better; making their discontent heard when the speakers went off once or twice, during the proceedings.
But generally they were a good audience, waving their shirts in the air when told to do so and chanting ‘Kidero must go,’ at the right interval when Homa Bay Senator Otieno Kajwang wondered why Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero was absent.
When the music died down however, the resolutions were read and Odinga, Kalonzo and Wetangula were back in their vehicles, it was a mad dash for the exits into the ghost town that was the Central Business District, “Tuesday is after all back to business,” Nyamalo – a githeri vendor – said before making her way to her Sh1,500 a month home.