NAIROBI, Kenya, May 7 – In a red T-shirt and blue jeans, Betty Waithera can be seen with a raised fist in a viral picture captured in the streets of Nairobi.
But there is more to it, she is being escorted by three police officers, one woman and two men wearing anti-riot gear.
Waithera had just been arrested and was being taken to Central Police Station after she defied a police order banning the ‘Red Vest Movement’ to protest within the Central Business District – this is despite having notified authorities.
A lonely picture, Waithera says, one that she did not expect that would go viral or become the face of resistance against graft and impunity.
And even a contrast has been drawn between what happened in Sudan and Uganda in previous protests to Kenya’s – in the three, one might be forgiven to think Waithera is leading a one-man army.
Capital FM News caught up with the 25-year-old mother of one at the historic Uhuru Park Freedom Corner, where it all started on the fateful day she was arrested and held in police cells for 10 hours.
“What we envisioned from the word go was saying no to graft. There is serious looting that is going on in this country,” she said at the beginning of this interview.
The protest, she says without mincing words was against those who have looted from Kenya’s public coffers dating back decades.
“We were not here to fight faceless people, we were here to start a journey of saying no without justifying what has been happening,” she asserted, terming what has been going on as “a heist” against Kenyans.
“There is a problem and it must be addressed. If it is not now it shouldn’t happen during my daughter’s generation.”
The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Directorate of Criminal Investigations and other agencies within the criminal justice system are actively probing cases of graft amounting to billions of shillings- in an economy run on debts amidst growing rate of unemployment.
It is with such incidents, Waithera says, Kenyans and mostly the youth who are the majority must speak out against these vices.
-Inside Central Police cells-
Shortly after she addressed journalists during last week’s protest, Waithera and the group attempted to march towards the Central Business District, but they were dispersed using tear gas.
She managed to outsmart police while in the company of a few others and headed to the Tom Mboya monument, where she was finally cornered.
Inside the police cells, it was horrible and scary, she says.
But amidst all that, she saw an opportunity to enlighten her cellmates why they should fight against graft and those involved.
“I found other people held for various offences, they were wondering what I had done. I told them I was protesting against graft,” she narrated.
She recalls how she had to tiptoe inside a toilet overflowing with urine since she had only one shoe.
And she still can hear those loud voices of men in adjacent cells “they would yell…the bucket is full.”
Waithera is aware of the much-touted police reforms and her word to Inspector General Hillary Mutyambai is “to start with the police stations.”
IG Mutyambai should resign, she says, if he cannot respect the Constitution and enforce the same.
For now, Waithera remains a hero in the words of former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who acknowledged her efforts during the Labour Day celebrations.
She has promised Kenyans that they will see her face more often until the current trend is reversed.