, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 8 – The police may not have outrightly put the kibosh on Wednesday’s protest march by striking university dons but they effectively put an end to it by at every turn, putting up hoops for the suit and tie clad intellectuals to, figuratively, jump through.
The Officer in charge of the Central Police Division Robinson Thuku trailing them, they were directed not to call attention to their cause either through music or chants.
Then the route the few dozen protestors would take became the subject of contention with the OCPD, teargas canister in hand, threatening to bring the dignified bunch to tears if they so much took a misstep.
It all started well at the University of Nairobi graduation square where the dons marched with a full music band and loudspeakers, but at the University Way roundabout, they were stopped by police, where they were given options of either maintaining silence and “walking peacefully” or abandoning the march altogether.
Defiant dons proceeded with the march while making chants, but one by one, the anti-riot police officers confiscated their loudspeakers and drums, and briefly held one of the drummers.
“You cannot teargas University dons…” University Academic Staff Union Chairperson Muga Kolale could be heard telling the mean looking police officers as the drummer was ‘aided’ into a waiting police van, by his belt straps.
Just like that, the solidarity tunes and the music went mute.
A few loudspeakers that had remained were also taken away leaving the dons with nothing, other than their vocal chords.
“We shall continue with the march,” an official could be heard yelling.
Another queried “We are peaceful. Can a man wearing a suit go stealing from the public?”
At some point, the already cornered officials could be heard singing their solidarity tunes in hushed tones that were close to a murmur, and at the end of the demonstration, only a handful of them made it to the Education Ministry’s headquarters at Jogoo house, where they presented a petition to Education officials.
By the time they arrived at the City Hall – Parliament road roundabout, the tunes were dead.
Those who had made it that far, since majority dropped along the way, went silent, maybe to focus their energies in dealing with the hurdles that police put on their way.
While there, the Central police boss made it clear that only a few officials will hand over their petition to Members of Parliament, while the rest waited about 500 metres away.
“There is no going beyond here other than officials,” the police boss asserted but the visibly fatigued dons would not hear a word.
UASU Secretary General Constantine Wesonga wondered, “what’s the fear in all this? We are very peaceful.”
“What have we done? We are going to petition parliament. Please, allow us to proceed,” a hoarse speaking Wesonga would be heard pleading.
But the defeated dons at this point only had so much of an argument left in them and under the hawkish gaze of the police, handed over their petition to another handful of MPs who met them; among them the Trade Union of Kenya’s Secretary General Wilson Sossion who accused the police of unreasonably being heavy-handed with the academicians and called on them to “style up.”
Sossion condemned the police saying picketing was a right enshrined in the constitution.
“Are we not ashamed as a country to punish our intellectuals?” Sossion asked.
“It’s a shame and a disaster. University officials, don’t give up and don’t call off the strike until the matter is conclusively resolved.”
MP Otiende Omollo added that “Under the constitution, it’s lawful to assemble and demonstrate. We apologise on behalf of Parliament’s security team.”
The dons want a full implementation of their CBA, which was signed in March this year, ending a 54 day strike that began on January 19 and the government released 10 billion shillings for the payment of arrears in June but reverted to the old salaries after the funds ran out.
The implementation of the CBA could not be sustained due to the lack of funds by various employers and the university senates.