By George Biruri
There have been varied opinions after the UDA regime initiated the removal process of the four IEBC commissioners. Many, led by former Prime Minister Baba Raila Odinga-(who already has called for a rally on Wednesday at the famous (liberation square), Kamukunji Grounds, in Nairobi)- have protested the move. In response, President Ruto has opposed the idea stating that it’s not the way to “oversight the government”.
Kenya has a long history of people fighting for their rights, land, resources, and democracy against brutal, repressive, exploitative regimes. In their efforts to dominate and control Kenyans, the colonialists passed oppressive ordinances. The ordinances created organs and institutions of oppression, such as the colonial chiefs, the tribal police, the colonial (in)justice system, prison, and detention centers. The establishments had controlled people in virtually everything using draconian laws. For example: ( Africans did not have the right to form parties, self-representation, and voting movements, ( one had to be given a permit to move from one area to another through the infamous “Passbook”), food crops, cash crops ( the Africans were not allowed to grow coffee and tea. It was the preserve of the privileged wazungu!”) and culture ( songs, dancing, local brews and other traditional practices were banned). Prof. Yash Pal Ghai and J.P.W B MacAuslan have explained in great detail these colonial laws in their book titled: ” Public Law and Political Change in Kenya.”
The Africans protested, but the colonialists responded by enacting the draconian Chiefs ( in 1937), Public Order (in 1960), and Preservation of Public Security ordinances ( in 1950). They controlled and limited social gatherings and political activities.
The Africans did not take the oppression lying down. They gallantly protested. Comrade Ngugi wa Thiong’o in his prison memoirs ” Detained – A Writers Prison Diary” and Comrade Wanyiri Kihoro in his book ” The Price of Freedom – the Story of Resistance in Kenya ” and Comrade Maina wa Kinyatti ( in his several books) have narrated Kenyans courageous resistance to oppression. They include the MAU MAU, the Giriama, the Gusii, and the Nandi rebellions. They have written about the arrest of Freedom fighter Harry Thuku and the Freedom fighter Muthoni Nyanjiru’s challenge ( We read in history that, when the people went to protest outside the Central Police Station where Harry Thuku was being held, the courageous woman lifted her skirt while challenging the cowering Men to give the women the trousers so that they could go and rescue Thuku from the cells. The challenged Men and Women fearlessly charged forward. Many of them were massacred by the trigger-happy colonial police. Gilbert Mwangi has written a book on Nyanjiru titled: ” Nobody’s Darling.”
When the colonialists in Lower Eastern confiscated the people’s cattle and auctioned them, the courageous Freedom fighter- Muindi Mbingu led men, women, and children (together with their cattle) in a 70 kilometers walk of protest to the colonial Governor in Nairobi.
Freedom fighter Jaramogi Oginga Odinga has explained in his book ” Not Yet Uhuru” in great detail about several protests that he led both inside the Legislative Council and outside.
These protests culminated in the armed struggle by the MAUMAU.
Unfortunately, as noted by several historians and scholars, when we got independence, the independent Kenya government did not repeal the draconian laws but retained them! They only amended the word “Governor” and replaced it with the word ” President.” Since independence, Kenyans were subjected to the horrors and terrors of the said laws. One had to visit the Chief and get a permit before the children or the relatives visited him or her, and when one wanted to hold some celebrations. It was illegal to hold a meeting of more than nine people. Politicians had to get a permit to hold meetings from the police! I remember an incident after Comrade Ken Matiba came back from treatment abroad. Many people accompanied him to a rally in Embu, but somewhere along the way, the police rudely blocked the road. Matiba decided to talk to the people who had gathered, but moments later, an Assistant Chief declared the meeting illegal and violently grabbed the microphone, injuring the fingers of our leader. The Chief’s action angered all, and the situation almost got out of control, but luckily Matiba calmed the crowd.
Several demonstrations were held, but the most famous of them all- was the great SABA SABA rally. Moi and his cronies had forced an amendment of the constitution to declare KANU as the only legal party. Many Kenyans embarked on fighting for the restoration of multipartyism. Comrades Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila Odinga, Ken Matiba, and Charles Rubia called a rally at Kamukunji. The police, as usual, banned the meeting and declared it illegal. Our leaders were arrested and detained without trial. However, the people defied and attended the SABA SABA rally on the scheduled day. The police violently beat up many in attendance, but the protest spread to other neighboring estates near Kamukunji. Due to too much pressure locally and internationally, the Moi regime gave in and allowed a return to multipartism. The people were under the illusion that they had acquired total freedom. Incidences like the Matiba one and the subsequent arrests and charging of people on treason, sedition, holding of illegal assemblies, etc., shook them out of their ignorance.
The people discovered that they had to overhaul the constitution and repeal the draconian laws to gain more freedom. Led by the NCEC, they held several demonstrations ( Nane Nane, Tisa Tisa, Kumi Kumi), which culminated in the IPPG reforms. The chiefs Act was amended to remove the powers the chiefs were abusing. The Public Order Act and the Preservation of Public Security Act were also amended to remove treason and sedition charges, and deny the police the powers of licensing political meetings. Today the police are only notified and are supposed to provide security and not break up meetings. That does not restrain the police from taking action if some people break the law, e.g. when crooks destroy private or public properties or steal from or attack others.
The people of Kenya, when they passed the constitution in Article 37, they gave themselves the right to assemble, demonstrate, picket, and present petitions to Public Authorities. The only requirement is that they should be peaceable and unarmed! These rights cannot be limited except by law (Article 24)! They cannot even be amended unless via a referendum! In a nutshell: Demonstrations, Assemblies, Picketing, and Petition are Constitutional Rights! It is not easy to deny people freedom after they have enjoyed it! And as Jomo Kenyatta once said, ” Nobody can “tunya us” (take it from us)!
The writer is an enthusiastic political analyst in Kenya and a contributor to
The Diaspora Times Weekly Newspaper.