6 July 2010

Kenya: Why Saba Saba Day Remains Important


Twenty years ago today, a momentous event shook the very foundations of a monolithic dictatorship. The events of Saba Saba, July 7, 2009, united and galvanise a once cowed people against totalitarianism.

Citizens defied a previously unchallengeable regime to make their way to Nairobi's Kamukunji grounds to press the case for democracy.

The government responded in a regular fashion, and an unknown number of people were killed in brutal suppression.

But democracy was an idea whose time had come. Within just 18 short months, dictatorship had beaten a retreat and the infamous Section 2(A) of the constitution that made Kanu the sole legal political party had been repealed.

A year after that, Kenya staged the historic multi-party elections that for the first time since 1969 propelled MPs and councillors from parties other than Kanu into Parliament and local authorities.

Kenya owes a debt of gratitude to the selfless patriots who endured imprisonment without trial, torture, deprivation and exile so that we all could be free.

Young people growing up in Kenya today may not realise that for many years after freedom from colonial rule, Kenya remained under the grip of a ruthless and despotic regime.

Anyone exercising independent thought was branded a "disgruntled element", an "agent of foreign masters", an "enemy of development" or simply "anti-Nyayo".

Such a person was shunned, denied the right to earn a living, stripped of all political rights and condemned to imprisonment without trial or torture and even death.

As we enjoy today the fruits of liberation, let us never forget that the battle for democracy, freedom and human dignity is not yet won.

Since that first Saba Saba, the struggle has been constant. The quest for a new constitution remains the reason why blood was shed on Saba Saba.

It must not be derailed by forces of reaction who have re-grouped to try and hold back the march of history.

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