Glimpses of Saba Saba @30


About 11.00 a.m. Ukombozi Library. Central Business District, Nairobi.

As I walk down the flight of stairs leading to the library, I bump into Marley a comrade who comes from Kawangware, an informal settlement located in the western side of Nairobi. Marley is sweating profusely. He has just got away from a troop of protestors who were marching along Ngong road as they headed to town. The troop, before its dispersal, was led by Editar Ochieng. Some members of this troop were arrested and taken to Kilimani Police Station. Marley is worried. Some of his comrades are first timers in street protests.

We are joined by Lydia, one of the daughters of the recently exiled comrade Rahab Wairuri. She has come armed, ready for running battles, with fitting sneakers, tight jeans, a scarf covered by a denim jacket, a bag, bottle of water, some painkillers, donning a mask and keeping safe distance. She has a cold. “No problem”, she says. I am set. I joke that her mother has donated her and herself to the struggle.

Njoki Gachanja turns up minutes later. She has just escaped arrest by quickly changing tact, attire and social justice mask into casual wear and mingling with the crowd in the streets of Nairobi. She did this quite casually and calmly. I am awed. Njoki is frantically chatting on her phone, calling countless numbers. We call some together. Many of the numbers aren’t going through. We keep trying. Gacheke also turns up, replenishing his energy with a bottle of water given to him by a passerby. He is reeking of teargas, and sweat, and anger.

“I have never eaten so much teargas like today!” Gacheke says, literally. Trust Gacheke. He is a veteran in these struggles.

Other activists turn up. They are young. They are bold. They are fearless. This struggle is taking shape. This generation is coming out of the shadows of informal settlements. It shall not fade into oblivion.

We walk towards the National Archives, the presumed meeting point for what is referred to as the “people’s march for our lives.” The march is to be led by activists from the Social Justice Centres, who are demanding the full implementation of the country’s constitution and its Bill of Rights. The phrase which sums up their clarion call is #TekelezaKatiba. The march has been thwarted. The front space outside the National Archives has become a command centre of sorts for the police who have lobbed teargas canisters at different points in the vicinity. They are swarming all over, occupying every available space, listening to every conversation. You see police, feel police, breath police. We can’t breathe. We walk across the front yard of the National Archives. We are now among journalists. You can know them from their looks, notebooks, huge cameras dangling over their shoulders, their apprehension. Hordes of youngsters are also filling around. A lady dressed casually comes up and tries to engage us in small, friendly talk. It doesn’t work. She walks away hurriedly. We guessed right. She is a cop. A teargas canister explodes close to our feet shortly after. We scamper across the street, towards Kencom bus stop. What the hell! Does this mean that people can’t even assemble and chat in peace today in the city centre? We have lost Marley and other activists. Only Lydia and I are still together. There is nothing much we can do – only walk along Harambee Avenue, re-enacting the theatre of the aborted march.

Truckloads of police are all over along the street, many of them in plain clothes, trying to camouflage in plain sight. They fail flat in their gimmicks. “We know them by their looks and pose.” I assure Lydia. We linger outside Harambee House, within sight of the stairs where the handshake took place. Adjacent to our location and Harambee house are the sparkling offices of the Deputy President. Images of the country’s tragedy and fate are stationed nearby. We walk up to Parliament buildings. There goes Wangui Kimari, busy on phone. We shout her name, calling for her. She doesn’t hear us. We call her. She is heading to KICC police station. Some activists are being held there. We join her. “They are no longer being held here. They have been transferred to Central Police Station.” She tells us. We walk to Central Police Station but are not allowed past the gate. “No one is allowed to see remandees. Come back from 3.00 p.m.” The cop at the gate announces. The police station is now a barricade. Polisi ndani, raia nje. Tables of repression are overturned this way. We don’t stay long here to see tables turn. We troop to Parliament Police Station. We are informed some activists are being held there. The cop at the reporting desk looks up on the OB for the names we are seeking. There are not there. We are informed that they are at Parliament DCI station. “Along the street, pass the first barrier, and the second one, enter through the third one,” we are directed. We arrive. I cannot see the name of this anonymous block of offices. Another failed camouflage. Ruth and Barbra are here, seated on the seats near the entrance. We await the arrival of one of the mobilized lawyers. He comes shortly. His name is Kariuki, a pleasant fellow. “I am more of an activist”, he says. Kariuki leads us in arguing for the release of the two lady activists. I show the police the notification on whatsapp from the co-convenors of the Social Justice Centres Working Group of the intended Saba Saba March for Our Lives. The cops now seem to get it. This is a bigger matter than they thought. “We shall take you to Central Police station to answer charges with the rest of your group.” They announce. They do a few calls here and there and return shortly to the interrogation room.

“Why did you come for the unlicensed demonstration?” They inquire.
“Personally,“ says Ruth, “ I came because I want change in this country!”

The police look tongue-tied for a moment. I am also pleasantly surprised, and excited by her boldness. Such militancy in a police station before cops is inconceivable. We exchange a few banters with the two cops for a while. They seem to relent.

“We are releasing both of you unconditionally.” They finally disclose. We walk out. A few photos, selfies, pleasantries, then part with the two lady activists, their militant defiance is left hanging on the walls of the DCI police station. We are informed that two other activists have been brought to Parliament Police Station where we had left some moments ago. We negotiate the bend of Parliament road and rush there. We meet another Lawyer called Njeri, also mobilized for this cause.

“Wait there for the OCS.” The cop at the report desk instructs us.

We wait outside the police station. We have washed our hands by the tap outside. Our hands are clean. Our masks are on. We are keeping social distance. It is actually physical distancing. We are abiding by the Ministry of Health’s guidelines intended to curb the spread of corona. We care for our health.

Shortly three cops, seemingly senior in rank, saunter into the police station. They are two women, one man. One of the women is in full blue police attire. We are told she is the OCS. After a few minutes, we are summoned inside to meet with the OCS. Jared and Gerald are brought in. There are two young activists from Mukuru Social Justice Centre, barely in their twenties. We argue for their release. This does not take long. They are released unconditionally. Pressure is now louder, deep, threatening and disturbing all over in high places. Over 58 social justice activists have been arrested and held in different police stations in Nairobi city. They are booked under various charges as diverse as the stations they are being held, but include: Picketing, failure to keep social distance and unlawful assembly. All the activists are finally released in the course of the day, with the last one being released an hour to curfew time occasioned by corona regulations.

We are back at Ukombozi Library where we began. Poet T.S Eliot plays with words in his Little Gidding Collection:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…”

We notice a group of youngsters seated on the verandah at the entrance of the library, most of them seating cross legged. I know none of them. They were involved in the protests and skirmishes with the police earlier in the day. They are here for rest and refuge at the people’s library. They look middle class youth in their looks, their attire, their innocent faces, their fidgety selves. The young are restless. They are coalescing all over. Generations are converging. This struggle is youthful, and real and happening. It is radical, militant, and progressive. Frantz Fanon is being heard loud and clear.

“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.”

We feel. We hear. We see. The struggle continues….

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