Kenya: Strength of Purpose That Birthed Saba Saba

Former President Daniel Moi, who rose from a primary school teacher to become one of Africa's longest serving statesmen, used to receive private tutorials on how to better communicate in English.

Kennedy Matiba, when serving as the PS for Education, took the President through the tutorials at State House Nairobi, something that made the two build a close relationship.

Other than being a PS, Matiba also became one of the longest-serving ministers in the Moi government.

Their friendship was so tight that when the two differed, Matiba never believed that Moi could arrest and detain him.

"Dan can't do that," Njeru Kathangu, a veteran of the second liberation who suffered immensely fighting for change during the Nyayo era, recalls Matiba shouting them down.

POLISHED POLITICIAN

Matiba, a wealthy and polished politician, used to refer to his friend Moi as Dan, a shortened form of Daniel. He was among the few politicians who called Moi by his first name.

Mr Kathangu, the leader of Ford Asili, which was formed at the advent of multi-party democracy, spoke as the country marks the 30th anniversary since the formation of the Saba Saba movement.

Saba Saba was critical in pushing President Moi to repeal Section 2A of the Constitution and paving the way for the reintroduction of multi-party democracy.

Mr Kathangu was among the five original Saba Saba coordinators with the others being Ngotho wa Kariuki, Edward Oyugi, Kariuki Gathithu and George Anyona Moseti.

The announcers were Kennedy Matiba and Charles Rubia. Raila Odinga joined Matiba and Rubia along the way. Mr Kathangu reveals that the movement was started as early as 1989 by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Anyona and himself.

"Jaramogi, who was our political father, instructed us to contact Bildad Kaggia, Achieng Oneko and veteran journalist and politician Luke Obok for them to bless us and support the movement," he says.

The former MP recalls that Jaramogi advised that they contact the three leaders so that they could push for their release just in case they got arrested and so as to keep the struggle alive.

SUPPORTED IDEA

"All of them agreed to support us except Kaggia who gave conditions that he would want to see a sustained movement for at least twelve months after which he could join," he recalls.

The team further reached out to Matiba, Mwai Kibaki and Simeon Nyachae, who had just fallen out with the Moi government.

"Whereas Matiba agreed to join, Kibaki refused while Nyachae supported the idea," Mr Kathangu narrates.

Although Matiba agreed to work with the Jaramogi Odinga team, he went ahead to recruit former Nairobi Mayor Charles Rubia in May 1990.

"Both Matiba and Rubia went on to announce multi-party campaigns and announced Saba Saba movement aping the Saba Saba Day in Tanzania in which the Tanganyika African National Union was formed," he says.

Kathangu says that although they were not involved in the Matiba-Rubia press conference, they decided to press on because any kind of distraction could have resulted in the Kenyan people dismissing the multi-party democracy agitators.

VIOLENT CRACKDOWNS

The press conference was followed by violent crackdowns by the police. By July 1, 1990, there was every sign that Moi could arrest Matiba.

A few days later on July 4, 1990, Matiba, Rubia and Raila were arrested and detained. With the detention of Matiba, Rubia and Raila, the planning of the Kamkunji rally was left to Kathangu and group, which they coordinated from a building known as Musa House at new Race Course road.

On the D-day, the programme was to start with a football match from 8am to 11am. The late University of Nairobi lecturer Gatithu Kariuki was tasked with organizing the match. Anyona and Kathangu were tasked with coordinating entry points to the Kamkunji grounds.

Ngotho and Oyugi had the responsibility of mobilizing people to attend the rally.

Kathangu says that on the material day they ferried about 5,000 people from major towns in Kenya to Kamkunji grounds.

Anyona and Kathangu arrived at the ground about 12 noon only to notice several police officers known to them at the grounds.

By 1.15, the police started beating people and dispersing them from the grounds. The police brutality was extended to the city estates and towns.

"With the increased brutality, we started coordinating for resistance," Kathangu says.

Now 30 years later, Kathangu says that the country is slow going back to what it was.

"Very soon there will be no difference between the Kenya of today and 1991 when the police were everything. The policeman has become the tax collector of the Republic. The government is ignoring court orders. We need another Saba Saba," Kathangu laments.

The Ford Asili leader says that if the current generation will not mobilize and push for more democratic space, then the responsibility lies in the 3000 or 4000 arrested during the Saba Saba period in 1992.

"Although the country appears to be under the control of dynasties who don't want to leave power, the seed of liberation will not wither. It will just grow" he says.

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