Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Open Appeal to President Kibaki on the UASU Strike

From: Onyango Oloo
Sent: Thursday, October 26, 2006 8:29 AM
To: ''
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Subject: Open Appeal to President Mwai Kibaki on the UASU Strike

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces

His Excellency The Hon. Mwai Kibaki C.G.H., M.P.

Harambee House, Harambee Avenue

P.O. Box 30510, Nairobi

Tel. 02 227411

Telegrams: "RAIS"


Dear President:

My name is Onyango Oloo and I am a Kenyan living here in Nairobi.

I write to you with the utmost concern at the manner your government is handling the ongoing strike called by members of the University Academic Staff Union.

According to information I just gleaned this evening (Wednesday, October 25, 2006) from the state-run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation web site:

“…The Universities Academic Staff union- UASU, leadership has suffered a major blow after key union officials including the National Chairman Dr. Sammy Kubasu and Secretary general Muga K'Olale and four others were sacked. In Kenyatta University, UASU Chairman Joseph Kinyanjui and Secretary Richard Wafula were dismissed. Twenty lecturers have also been suspended for boycotting classes at the university…”


This callous act of intimidation flies in the face of pronouncements by leading government officials that your administration has expanded the democratic space since NARC came to power four years ago. The draconian methods employed to quell the justified job action smack more of the strong arm tactics of the Moi-KANU dictatorship.

I appeal to you to intervene directly at your earliest discretion to avert an even deeper national crisis.

History has proved over and over and over again that state intimidation, malicious prosecutions, kangaroo courts and unfair jail terms can never thwart those who resolutely fight for democratic and human rights.

Workers in this country have a right to a living wage and decent work conditions. Workers in this country deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.

Most civilized and democratic societies recognize the long cherished right for workers to strike, as a weapon for safeguarding their labour rights.

Members of the University Academic Staff Union have clearly delineated their concerns. They have appealed for structured discussions, open dialogue and principled negotiations in trying to resolve their claims for better pay and better working conditions.

Your minister in charge of labour, Dr. Newton Kulundu has arrogantly decided to use fascist methods to try and break the back of the UASU strike. Today the various universities have followed suit by firing the duly elected representatives of the University Academic Staff Union.

Dear President, members of the University Academic Staff Union provide very crucial services to this nation. Without them, the future of this country hangs on a precipice.

They do deserve better pay than they are currently earning.

They do deserve to be listened to.

Most likely the majority of them voted for this very government of yours that is today treating them as crooks and terrorists.

Dear President, the measures that are being taken to thwart the demands of the UASU are likely to back fire.

One of the most immediate consequences will be to worsen the brain drain which will see many of Kenya’s best and brightest academics and professionals flee the country to seek greener pastures abroad. This is a gross misallocation of scarce national resources, not just in terms of lost human resources, but the squandered taxes and resources used up in developing their academic potential and skills through decades of education and training. It is like a self-inflicted national wound.

Dear President, you were elected with a huge popular mandate to deepen the tenets of democracy, entrench a human rights culture and promote national harmony in Kenya. Many of the people who elected you did so precisely because they expected you to turn a new page and close the chapter on state harassment.

As you well know, the UASU suffered very much under the previous regime.

Dr. Kilemi Mwiria, who now serves your government as the assistant minister in charge of education was, not too long ago, the Secretary General of the very same University Academic Staff Union. Is there any twinge in his conscience when he witnesses how his own government is treating his successor in the same post?

Dear President:

Let me end my letter by appealing to you to exercise leadership by directly intervening to restore a sense of sanity in the way your government is dealing with the UASU crisis.

It is my hope, for the sake of peace, democracy, civility, justice and stability in this country that you will do the right thing for Kenya.


Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Adverserial Kenyan State: What To Do?

Onyango Oloo Suggests A Way Out of Perennial Kenyan Conflicts

1.0. An Injury to One is an Injury to All

First of all let me say quite firmly that I am in FULL SOLIDARITY with the striking Kenyan university lecturers led by the University Academic Staff Union. Having followed on a daily basis the protracted wrangles over pay and other working conditions, I am amazed at their patience and wonder why it took them so long to take their long overdue job action of flinging their chalks on their blackboards and storming out of the theatre halls.

On Kenyatta Day I was invited to be one of the speakers at a mosque opposite the DOD headquarters in the Hurlingham suburb here in the Kenyan capital. The topic was hovering around the struggles of the Middle East and their relevance to the Kenyan situation. While there, I bumped into two student leaders from Kenyatta University. In the course of a short, friendly banter, I asked what the SONU and KU leaders were doing at a press conference the previous day denouncing the UASU call for a strike. They said that the action “would hurt students” and since they did not want to “suffer” they opted to oppose the strike.

I reminded them of how university students way back in 1980 backed the doctors strike of that year (even though some of the doctors were lecturers and some of the students were medical students) because students back then were at least politically aware enough to realize the truism of the South African trade union motto: “An Injury to One is An Injury to All”.

I put it to them that university students had an OBJECTIVE and even PERSONAL interest in supporting the right of university lecturers to a living wage and decent working conditions. Many of the students at Kenyatta and other public campuses aspired to be future lecturers. All hankered (hopefully) for future job security no matter which field they were pursuing.

I pointed out that it was a NATIONAL TRAGEDY that some of Kenya's best and brightest academics and professionals were lost annually, often PERMANENTLY in the one way brain drain precisely because of the sordid circumstances the UASU members were pining about.

Opposing the strike because of some temporary discomforts was in my view, terribly myopic and downright naïve and I told my two pals exactly that.

I am not sure if I managed to sway them over, but as I left, I saw both of their brows deeply furrowed with reflection.

Reading the papers today, I noticed that students at other campuses-like Egerton for example- are in solidarity with their lecturers.

But enough about that.

2.0. Why Is The Kenyan State so Adversarial?

I wanted to talk about something else.

I wanted to talk about how the Kenyan government- including local authorities, police and other arms of the state- deals with conflict in this country.

As we all know, there are lots of conflicts throughout the nation.

There are still ongoing skirmishes in the streets of Nairobi pitting hawkers baptized as gangsters against baton wielding and gun-totting city askaris.

Demolitions supervised by the cops are a common occurrence in the urban slums all over the country. The other day when a vehicle killed two members of a Mombasa street family part of the official response was to order for Mombasa to be cleansed of such alleged human vermin.

I do not know if I am the only one whose tummy churned when I saw a glowing report on page 3 of the Wednesday Standard of last week informing its readers quite happily that the Kenyan government- through the police- were quite happy with the new generation of deadly tear gas paraphernalia ordered a year in advance SPECIFICALLY to deal with “protesters” during the 2007 election campaign- this from the same NARC regime that Dr. Goebbels Mutua has been ululating about as having “expanded democratic space”.

The serpentine minister for Internal Insecurity is infamous for his shoot to kill orders and violent acts of reprisals against pastoralists accused of encroaching on “private” land etc.

We see how employers fire workers at the slightest provocation- even where such provocation is a legitimate and lawful appeal for workers’ rights to be defended.

Let us not even talk about the live bullets, the every present rungus and the fire hoses during rallies and street demonstrations.

Talking of the UASU strike, Kenyans saw with their own eyes, the dismissive arrogance of Dr. Newton Kulundu doing a media star turn as he proclaimed the UASU strike “unlawful”. We were aghast when he announced draconian actions aimed at shutting down UASU based on what, to quote him “I saw on television last night”- referring to a newscast where he was present at a meeting bringing together reps from the university administrations of the 6 public universities, the acting minister of education and former UASU Secretary General Kilemi Mwiria, the current UASU secretary general Dr. Muga K’Olale and other UASU members. The sheer impudence of Dr. Kulundu was mind-boggling even as it was telling- essentially there is no appreciable difference between Kulundu and a rural sub-chief, or his predecessor Najib Balala for that matter when it comes to dealing with conflict with people asking for their constitutionally guaranteed human rights.

This belligerent state attitude cannot be reduced to idiosyncratic psychological profiles of people like John Michuki and others.

It cannot be justified as “legitimate self-defence” and “appropriate reactions” from duly constituted law and order entities.

The adversarial and often violent institutional culture of successive Kenyan governments (there are volumes of scrap books on police, military, local government, game warden brutality to attest to this) is not mere happenstance.

The violence of the Kenyan state is part and parcel of the very identity of the Kenyan neo-colonial state. If it wasn’t violent in the particular way it manifests its aggression, it would no longer be a neo-colonial state.

Let me attempt an explanation.

3.0. The Nature of the Neo-Colonial State in Kenya

One of my favourite writers, philosophers and political teachers once observed:

“The state is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without... Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of 'order'; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state." (Engels)

Another one wrote thus:

...According to Marx, the state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of “order”, which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression by moderating the conflict between classes. (Lenin)

The organs of the state include the police, the military, the prisons, the courts, the government bureaucracy, the laws and other ways of exercising class rule.

In the Kenyan historical context- the Kenyan state has NOT always been there.

True, there were city states along the Coast in places like Mombasa, Malindi and so on and we must not forget the Wanga Kingdom.

Generally speaking however, most Kenyan communities DID not, prior to the kinyanganyiro for Africa that culminated in the 1884 Berlin Conference, NEED states because, by and large, these were still largely egalitarian, non-stratified societies (save for the significant caveat of patriarchal subjugation of women) that did not need special coercive force to keep the wananchi in line with the diktats of the powers that be.

It was not until we were colonized that a need for some kind of a state arose in Kenya.

Again this evolved from the administration of the Imperial British East Africa Company between 1888 and 1895 through to the British Protectorate period from the mid 1890s to 1920 when Kenya was formally proclaimed a British Colony a reality that lasted until 1963 when the Union Jack was officially lowered on Jamhuri Day to usher in this long era of neo-colonialism- of which more shortly.

The violent nature of the colonial state in our country was fairly self evident when you trace how colonial rule consolidated itself in Kenya.

It was through military “pacification” campaigns, a thinly veiled euphemism for genocide, ethnic cleansing and collective state punishment, forced labour, compulsory taxation, religious brainwashing etc.

The colonial ordnances were by their very nature, odious, inhuman, racist and unjust laws that were put in place to protect the racist land-grabbers like Lord Delamare, the brutal exploiters like Brooke Bond and make it easier for the British Army to simply abduct and conscript Kenyan youth to serve by force in the two imperialist wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45.

The Legco (short hand for the colonial legislative council) was a haven for the settlers where they passed “sedition” and “treason” laws that outlawed legitimate democratic and independence struggles, legalized formal discrimination based on colour and creed and ensured that the agricultural and business interests of the European walowezi and their “home government” in the so called “mother country” of Great Britain were protected.

Christianity which has very strong social justice undercurrents, was in the Kenyan colonial context, an ideological tool for cultural imperialism. Of course we are referring to the organized quasi state churches like the Anglicans, the Catholics, and the Presbyterians fully conscious that the independent African church movement that included upstarts like Dini ya Msambwa, Legio Maria, Akorino, Nomiya Luo Church, Andu a Kaggia and others had their origins in the fermenting Kenyan nationalist movement.

The whole edifice of the colonial project in Kenya was thus bolstered by the existence of a violent state apparatus that did not hesitate to kill, maim, incarcerate, detain, outlaw, vilify, denounce anyone operating against the interests of British imperialism and the local racist colonial settlers and their homungati African collaborators.

Our struggle for national independence that culminated in the Mau Mau War in the 1950s gave rise to a negotiated settlement as the departing British colonial rulers identified and recruited sellouts like Kenyatta, Mboya, Ngei, Moi, Ngala, MacKenzie, Angaine, Okondo, Koinange and others to serve as apprentices and later the new nyaparas of the state after 1963.

At midnight on December 12, 1963, the Union Jack was lowered and the new, soon to be world famous red, white, green and black Kenyan flag was unfurled.

That move also ushered in the era, NOT of “independence” BUT DEPENDENCE; not of “Uhuru” but “Not Yet Uhuru”; in short that fateful December day in the early sixties proclaimed the birth of the NEO-COLONIAL STATE in Kenya.

Why the “NEO” before colonial state?

Because it was NO LONGER the OLD colonial state lorded over by the Delamares, Barings, Cavendishes and Michael Blundells. There was no longer a British mzungu guy sleeping over in the Governor’s mansion, but a very Black African snoring in the State House.

The house was simply painted another colour- it was the same house, LITERALLY.

What, for instance, happened to the old colonial ORDNANCES?

Quite literally, the word ORDNANCES was crossed out to be replaced by the word ACT with the laws remaining intact. The old sedition laws used to prosecute the Mau Mau fighters were retained word for word. Even the lifting of the ban on the Mau Mau was not lifted until 2005 if I am not mistaken!

There was no significant shift in the land and agrarian policies- no attempt to rescind the odious Maasai “agreements”; very little moves to challenge corporate ownership or improve the conditions of the Kenyan workers; rural Kenyans were still corralled in their ethnic enclaves aka “NATIVE RESERVES”; the so called Northern Frontier District remained under strict, draconian, racist military rule, cordoned off from the rest of Kenya; social and economic policies did not budge very much from the colonial status quo. The Africans who had served as non-commissioned underlings in the colonial period like Mulinge, Ndolo and others became the new officers- often, like in the air force, still serving under white masters. In the police, the colonial collaborators like Hinga, Gethi etc rose up the ranks while their civilian equivalents like Njonjo, Nyachae, Mahihu, Mathenge, and Oyugi etc started their meteoric careers in public administration and national politics.

Note that the mentality in terms of training the prison guards, police, chiefs, DOs, DCs, PCs etc remained colonial and backward in nature.

Economically we no longer just served “our” white British masters- we now had the French, the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese led by the Americans to cater to as well- while being reminded to kow tow as well to the World Bank, the IMF and other imperialist controlled multilateral and bilateral agencies as well. Playing its role as the global cop, Uncle Sam set up a sophisticated CIA listening post in Nairobi and was later to create military bases in Mombasa, Embanks, Nanyuki and elsewhere.

Look at our learned magistrates, judges, state counsels and lawyers: they still wear those silly woolen wigs on their learned noggins!

The Kenyan neo-colonial state has remained just as brutal and violent as its colonial ancestor.

4.0. What About the Struggle for Democratic Reforms in Kenya?


Well, what about those?

What is your point?

We know that some of the worst excesses and dregs of orthodox colonialism were wiped away decades ago.

The Kenyan people through their resolute struggles have won a number of democratic victories which have helped to use that odious Mutua-linked term, “expanded democratic space”.

It is true that there is greater freedom of speech and expression today. It is true that the media is fiercely fearless in fighting for its freedoms. It is true that Kenyan women are in a much better social position compared to say, the 1920s and 1930s. Our parliamentarians are to a certain extent elected fairly and squarely if you ignore the cash handouts, institutionalized rigging mechanisms and low voter education during the non- issue election campaigns.

It is also true that we are closer to realizing the dream of promulgating a democratic constitution today than for instance 20 or 30 years ago.

What is also true that the NEO-COLONIAL STATE is still very much a reality, despite the three successive governments we have had since 1963.

There is a direct line from Kenyatta to Moi; from Moi to Kibaki; from Kibaki to whichever ODM chieftain will replace Kibaki next year- yes, he is going out alright no question about that.

Jomo Kenyatta sold out to the imperialists in prison; Daniel arap Moi was a darling of the settlers from the fifties; Kibaki has been a member of KANU almost from its very inception and is currently in cahoots with the neo-liberal snake oil salesmen from Bretton Woods. Most, if not all of the ODM leaders have been in KANU at one time or another.

Moi was Kenyatta’s Vice-President; Kibaki was Moi’s Vice-President; the ODM-President Elect is most likely one of Kibaki’s former ministers.

Governments have come and gone in Kenya- the neo-colonial state remains.

That is why I said at the outset that the key to understanding Michuki and Kulundu is NOT to investigate whether or not their respective mothers dropped them on their arrogant heads when they were three years old or whether Kajiwe cursed either of them.

The key is to understand the role of mainstream politicians as cogs in the neo-colonial state machine.

Unless the Kenyan neocolonial state is TRANSFORMED into a new Kenyan NATIONAL DEMOCRATIC STATE, all the ills, all the conflicts, clashes, diktats and ultimatums I cited at the outset of this essay will continue.

Therefore, the key to resolving conflicts in Kenya today is very much tied up with the project to develop a new non-sexist democratic constitution based on the aspirations and inputs of the Kenyan people.

The question of how to grasp that constitutional holy grail is outside the scope of this essay- and in any case, has been tackled by this writer elsewhere.

5.0. Towards a Conflict Transformation Mindset in Kenya

Having stated quite boldly and baldly if not badly that the promulgamation of a new democratic constitution within the context of a newly liberated national democratic state is the sine qua non for setting the stage for conflict transformation in Kenya, let me cite some very UNORIGINAL ideas that I borrowed heavily from a web site I will direct you shortly.

Have you ever heard of the THIRD SIDE?

Well, if you haven’t, here goes….

Who are Thirdsiders?

Here is a quote for you dear reader:

The Third Side is a way of looking at the conflicts around us not just from one side or the other but from the larger perspective of the surrounding community.

Taking the Third Side means:

Seeking to understand both sides of the conflict

Encouraging a process of cooperative negotiation

Supporting a wise solution - one that fairly meets the essential needs of both sides and the community

You can have natural sympathies for one side or the other and still choose to take the Third Side.

Who are the Thirdsiders?

Any of us can take the Third Side anytime
at home, at work, in the community,
and in the world.

What are the assumptions of the Third Side?

Here you go:

That conflict, in itself, is not a bad thing. Conflict is a natural and healthy process, necessary for making progress and dealing with injustice. The world may actually need more conflict, not less, if the appropriate skills are known and conflict can be managed productively.

That the goal is not to end or eliminate conflict but simply to transform the way it is expressed ­ from destructive forms such as violence, abuse, and intolerance into constructive forms such as debate, dialogue, negotiation, and democracy. Conflict is inevitable; violence is not.

That the way to transform conflict is to create a strong container for creative contention. This container constitutes the Third Side of any conflict. The container can be created by the surrounding community-friends, neighbors, witnesses, neutrals -- as well as by the parties themselves.

That you don't have to take sides in a conflict, nor do you need to be neutral. No matter where your sympathies lie, you can choose to take the Third Side, in other words, the side of the whole ­ whether that is the family, the work organization, the community, or the world.

That you can choose to take the Third Side anytime in the conflicts around you. This means seeking to understand all sides to the conflict, encouraging a peaceful nonviolent process for engaging deep differences, and supporting an inclusive outcome that addresses the essential needs of all

That responding to conflicts productively requires courage, preparation, knowledge, skills, creativity and coordination.

That you have an important role to play in transforming the conflicts around you, whether you are one of the parties or a Witness to the conflict. You can make a significant difference.

That by working together in a systemic way, we can create a strong Third Side for even the most intractable conflict. As the old African proverb goes, "When spider webs unite, they can halt even a lion."

The Third Side is not a new idea. In some form, it exists in every culture. Indeed it is the most ancient human processes for dealing with deep differences. It does not belong to any group or organization; it is the common heritage of humanity. It belongs to you.

What are some of the essential Third Side Skills?

Here is a summary:

See from the Thirdside
When we take the 3S we are often trying to influence the situation. The truth is, we can't even hope to influence other people unless we can influence ourselves. The first challenge we face is to gain perspective.

Listen from the Thirdside
We tend to view ourselves as "in the right" when engaged in a conflict. Our internal judgments & biases can interfere with our ability to understand the differing perspectives in a conflict & therefore can make it difficult to find a solution that everyone can accept. In order to explore for possible agreement we need to learn to listen to all perspectives and consider the whole picture.

Speak from the Thirdside
The words and actions we choose influence the conflicts around us. Speaking from the Third Side has the power to transform potentially violent conflicts into opportunities for collaboration. Once you have gained a view of the whole situation, it is easier to suggest that the parties involved work together to create a solution.

I sincerely believe that the Third Side approach is worth a third look.

Like I said, these are words and concepts that I have lifted directly from the Third Side website.

Please visit the site and peruse through it.

Whether or not we as Kenyans can apply these concepts to deal with our home-grown conflicts is of, course, practical question that can only be verified by our conscious, voluntary and unwavering interventions into actual conflict situations on the ground.


I am outta here…

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya

Friday, October 20, 2006

Celebrating the Life of Shujaa Mzalendo Wanjiru Kihoro

It has been quite an exhilarating week here in Nairobi- especially given the otherwise dirge-like circumstances.

Now, I am NOT talking about the headline grabbing Ringera vs. Wako turf wars regarding corruption-linked prosecutions; nor am I referring to Baghdad like confrontations in the city streets of Nairobi starring plains clothes, uniformed and often uninformed cops trying to storm the spontaneous jacquerries and not so spontaneous urban guerrilla forays mounted by hawkers and the alleged “gangs”.

Those two items are subjects of another Kenya Democracy Project blog entry.

Rather I am referring to the phenomenal turn out and show of support for the late Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro who passed away a few days ago after hanging on tenaciously to life for three years, nine months and nine days following the Busia air crash of January 25, 2003 which left her in a coma.

From Monday this week, Wanjiru has been feted at the Holy Family Basilica in downtown Nairobi by former political prisoners, democratic lawyers, progressive politicians, human rights defenders, feminists, Pan Africanists, Marxists, religious leaders and even mainstream, cabinet and ex-cabinet ministers for a productive, revolutionary life cut tragically short by a freak accident.

Under the theme of Kusherekea Maisha ya Shujaa Wanjiru Kihoro, Kenyans have come out in their hundreds, if not thousands to hear moving testimonies, shared memories, passionate tributes, earnest exhortations from a range of individuals who have retained a piece of how Wanjiru touched and affected them.

This week-long series has not been another just occurrence. Rather it was consciously organized by the Funeral Committee working with the full knowledge, consent and involvement of Wanyiri, Wanjiru’s mother and father, her son and daughters, her sisters and brother and other members of her immediate family. Chaired by veteran human rights defender and civil society mainstay Njeri Kabeberi, the Funeral Committee includes people such as Gitobu Imanyara, Njeri Rugene, Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, Onyango Oloo, Mtumishi Kathangu, Njeri Kinyohu and others.

The daily evening series started at 6 pm and extended sometimes close to 10 pm.

The kick off night -Monday- was dedicated to human rights defenders and former political prisoners. The evening was anchored by the progressive, socially conscious cultural performances of the women-led Five Centuries theatre group (aka 5Cs). Willy Mutunga spoke exhorting us to praise and celebrate our heroes and sheroes while they were still alive. So did the Oslo based Ex-KAF former political prisoner Omondi K'abir; the Chair of Release Political Prisoners, Ng’ang’a Thiong’o did a very moving tribute. Gitobu Imanyara had some very poignant reminiscences of the support Wanjiru Kihoro and her family gave him and other Kenyan pro-democracy activists who passed through the Kihoro South London flat over the years, especially in the eighties and early nineties. Onyango Oloo did a poem. Five Centuries tried out a few brand new songs composed specially and expressly in Dr. Wanjiru’s honour. Zarina Patel spoke of the time when Wanjiru Kihoro out of the blue showed up at Zarina’s hospital bed side when Zarina Patel was convalescing after a major medical operation. To cap it all, James Orengo had a resonating eulogy full of rhyme, reason and rhythm.

Tuesday’s theme was Women Empowerment. In death, Wanjiru was able to bring Ida Odinga to share a podium with Martha Karua. Ida Odinga remembered the shared trials and travails both of their families and of other detainee and political prisoner families underwent during the dark days of the Moi KANU dictatorship- as well as the life-long bonds of genuine friendship that germinated back then- close to a quarter of a century ago. Martha Karua spoke about how contemporary Kenyan history had passed over in silence the glorious contributions of Kenyan women like Wanjiru and many other wazalendo women like her. The Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister decried how the November 2005 Referendum had divided Kenyan women and made them lose sight of their goals and aspirations. Wahu Kaara had vivid recollections growing up with Wanjiru Matenjwa (as she was back then) in their hometown of Eldoret. The evening was moderated by Njeri Kinyohu and was also galvanized by the speech given by Dr. Wanjiku Mukabi Kabira.

Wednesday was dedicated to Wanjiru Kihoro the Internationalist, the supporter of myriad political causes and Wanjiru the Kenyan politician. It was also the evening that Moody Awori came calling and Martha Karua did an encore. The Justice Minister is a very close personal friend of the late Wanjiru. For a few minutes the activists in the room fretted as they contemplated a worst scenario of the NARC government taking over the event and turning into a state propaganda affair. We needn’t have worried. From the get-go, Sophie, Diana, Anne and other members of the 5Cs as well as the CREDO ensemble ensured that progressive politics would drown the neo-colonial mainstream serikali blather. For instance right at the outset, there were TWO Kenyan national anthems sung. The official one and the more militant one sung by Kenyan activists at demonstrations, rallies and protests. You could tell, from the tepid delivery of the former and the passionate chorus of the latter who were the majority in the room practically encircling, politically, the entourage of the Vice President and other state officials. Brilliantly facilitated by the Kiswahili fluent former political prisoner and immediate ex-Runyenjes MP Njeru Kathangu, Wednesday proved to be the most radical and most militant night so far. Speakers included Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o in his usual erudite and eloquent self; Yusuf Hassan, who at one time was forced to pause in his written speech delivery because he was so overcome with emotion as he remembered how he had worked with Wanjiru, Ngugi, Abdilatif, Gutto and others to set up among other bodies, the Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya, Ukenya and Umoja; Mwandawiro Mghanga who linked Wanjiru’s human rights campaigns to the plight of the Cuban 5 incarcerated in the United States; Martha Karua speaking in almost flawless Kiswahili asking Kenyans to honour Wanjiru by shunning tribalism and other divisive tendencies; her predecessor at the Justice and Constitutional Affairs ministry (and my former lawyer) Kiraitu Murungi remembered how the Kihoro’s had provided him with a couch in the living room to sleep on when he was forced into exile in 1990. One of the highlights of the evening was provided when Njeru Kathangu paraded most of the ex-political prisoners, especially Nyayo House survivors in the room (and they were more than a handful- Anyang Nyong’o, Njuguna Mutahi, Willy Mutunga, Omondi K’abir, Gitobu Imanyara, Kang’ethe wa Mungai, Njoroge Wanguthi, Onyango Oloo, Ng’ang’a Thiong’o, Mwandawiro Njeru Kathangu himself among others) to parade themselves before Moody Awori before Kathangu reminded the Vice President and the Justice Minister that the NARC government was yet to deliver on its promise to transform the Nyayo Torture Cells into a national monument to remind wananchi about the horrors patriots and activists endured in the fight for a new Kenya.

Another highlight was provided by one of Kenya’s most dynamic, militant and progressive cultural performers- Ndungi Githuku. Tall, dreadlocked and passionate, Githuku has electrified audiences both local and international with his progressive spoken word pieces which on Wednesday featured the active musical collaboration with members of the 5Cs. He did a song extolling the great women of Africa from Cleopatra, Queen Nzinga, Me Katilili, Muthoni Nyanjiru to Wanjiru Kihoro herself. But perhaps the most powerful moment in his performance was getting the audience to participate vigorously in a medley of RPP popularized freedom songs in Kiswahili. Most of us were on our feet, shaking our fists and gyrating to the beat of revolutionary sounds and lyrics.

I am not sure if it was discomfort or the old mainstream politician’s survival instinct of adapting their material to the audience- but when it was the turn for the government ministers to make their speeches, their delivery was delivered with a palpable trace of patriotism and more than a trace of democratic yearning. I have already alluded to Martha Karua’s crisp and uplifting earnest exhortations. When he rose to speak, Moody Awori confessed that it was due to Wanjiru’s activism around political prisoners that partly inspired the Vice President to be such an ardent crusader for prison reforms in Kenya.

Kudos to the CREDO ensemble for their three skits featuring the themes of corruption, bad governance and non-involvement of wananchi in major decisions.

To bring the house down, Wanyiri Kihoro shared with us several mental snapshots of Wanjiru- working with the activist likes of Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem on a raft of Pan Africanist causes, not least the anti-apartheid struggles; Wanjiru in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, Grenada, Cuba, Mozambique, Uganda and Namibia; Wanjiru the development worker and NGO visionary; Wanjiru the NARC campaigner etc.

Thursday was family night featuring son Pambana, daughters Kui (Wangui, known in some online circles like Mashada as “Wakili” or the blogger who runs Mama’s Junk Yard) Nimu and Amandla, parents, siblings and other relatives.

Interestingly, there is a handful of Kenyan political activists who are Wanjiru’s contemporaries, who have looked askance at the whole idea of celebrating of Wanjiru Kihoro’s life. They have two main arguments. One, is that we on the left should not engage in any canonizations of anyone. Two, they aver that some people are being opportunistic in praising to the skies someone who they differed with bitterly over ideological issues.

Those of us who have participated in Kusherekea Maisha ya Shujaa Wanjiru Kihoro have done so consciously and voluntarily because we have genuine and heartfelt reasons for doing so.

So far this year I have been happy to sign in as present during so many gatherings that have brought together members of the Kenyan Left. Not all occasions for doing so have been as somber as the death of a comrade. I am thinking of events like the triumphant and successful book launch of Zarina Patel’s biography on Makhan Singh in March; the well attended book launches of Shiraz Durrani and Maina wa Kinyatti in July and August respectively; the solidarity at the court appearances of patriots like Kepta Ombati, Cyprian Nyamwamu, Moses Ole Kina et al; the New Year Kenyan Workers’ Cultural Celebrations by Lake Naivasha; the 10 year commemoration of Karimi Nduthu and a slew of other events.

I strongly feel that the Kenyan Left is reconnecting and initiating new conversations without the overly personalized rancour and ideological sectarianism of the past.

This is a good thing that must be consolidated at a higher synthesis of organizational unity.

More on that in the near future.

Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro will be buried on October 28th, 2006.

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Mourning Comrade Wanjiru

Onyango OIoo Remembers an Ideological Mentor

At 10:21 am, Sunday, January 26th, 2003 sitting on a chair in my “home-office” in what is now, from my present Nairobi vantage point, far, far, far off Montreal, Quebec, my restless fingers keyboarded the following lines:
i am not religious
so i will not pray for you
but, now, as you lie
precariously in a worrying coma
all my thoughts are with you and with your family
even though i am not there
i agonize and fret at the possibility
of worse news than what we already know about your plight
we cross our fingers
hoping the fighter in you
will pull through
like you always have after other ordeals and calamities
no monday morning quarterbacking from these northern quarters
on this sunday morning
no idle and needless speculation
about why you were in that fateful plane in the first place
no cursing and swearing wondering why it had to be you

it really does not matter
what is crucial is to remember that you were once again
in the thick of things
this time celebrating a democratic victory
that you and i and many others like us
spent decades dreaming and planning for
what is crucial is to remember
that even though your name is once again stuck in the grey shadows
away from the bright limelight extolling the virtues of departed luminaries from the same crash
even though you are hardly mentioned
we know that without you and many others like you
there would be no luminaries going anywhere to celebrate anything

sister comrade i still remember
that even before i met you face to face
i knew who you were
from the indefatigable campaign
you and the comrades
in the london committee
for the release of political prisoners in kenya
did in agitating for our release when we were quarantined in the dungeons of kamiti by the kanu thugs
sister comrade i still remember
your work with ukenya and umoja and your energy
in attempting to unite kenyan progressives and revolutionaries
sister comrade
we all know how you had to go through personal hell
in fighting tooth and claw for the release of comrade wanyiri
while working twenty-four seven to put food on the table for your kids
sister comrade
i am sure that by your side are dozens of old and new compatriots and comrades
sister comrade
i am sure you know that all of us are by your side even though we are separated by vast oceans and humungous time zones
you know, where you lay breathing and struggling like you always have
you know that all your comrades are with you
urging you to hang tight
to keep up the fight to live to fight another day
sister comrade
i would be a liar
if i did not admit my worry and my fright
that we might lose you, one of our valuable fighters
to a freak happening so untimely as a flight gone awry
my fright, my fear keeps me up
even as i know you would probably say
don't cry for me, i'll be alright
and if something happens, it happens
because we have seen comrades sacrifice all
in the quest for a new dawn
comrade sister
i recently met your articulate daughter-virtually
and marveled that the child prodigy who wowed us
with her poem for her famous incarcerated dad
is now a woman in her own right claiming her own space
and felt proud that at least part of who she is
had a lot to do with the work you put in all those dark years
when we were marginalized and reviled by the forces of evil
comrade sister
i wish you a speedy and swift recovery
i long to hear your strong and familiar voice
chatting seriously across the atlantic
comrade sister
hold on tight
we are not about to give up on you
just yet.....

onyango oloo
sunday, 10:21 am january 26th, 2003

Like millions of other Kenyans back in those early, heady, still delirious and euphoric post-NARC victory days, I had just heard and seen the shocking news flash about the fateful plane-crash that would leave a freshly minted minister dead, other public officials injured and Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro trapped in a coma from which she was to never recover.

Two days ago I came home from work here in Nairobi and was stunned, watching the Nipashe newscast in Kiswahili on Citizen TV to learn that the resilient Wanjiru who had defied death for almost four years was no more.

What was shocking this time around was that many of us who knew members of Wanjiru’s family were getting more and more optimistic about the prospects for full recovery for one of Kenya’s most driven and focused progressive patriots. Indeed, chatting with Wanyiri not too long ago, I was moved and swayed by the hope and courage he inspired when he informed us that Wanjiru was fully conscious when she was addressed- she would make a physical movement or signal through her eyes that she understood what was being said.

Today, on October 15, 2006, on another Sunday morning, almost four years after that tragic mishap in Busia, here I am again, composing yet another premature obituary to yet another comrade gone too soon.

Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro has been all over the news.

There are those media outlets who would like to see her as just another appendage to Wanyiri Kihoro- merely referring to her as his wife, oblivious to her own gargantuan achievements as a socialist underground organizer, human rights campaigner, feminist, NARC activist, progressive academic, Pan Africanist, NGO pioneer and so on.

Of course, Wanjiru was a comrade, friend and companion to her loving husband Wanyiri. There is not one day that I have met Wanyiri over the last few months when it was not obvious that he adored and cared for his comrade Wanjiru.

Anybody who is familiar with the travails, the trials and tribulations of Wanyiri- the police harassment, the Nyayo House torture sessions; the detention without trial among other things- is aware that his biggest defender, his firmest shield was always Wanjiru.

Conversely, anyone who knows of the painful coma that Wanjiru was in over the last three plus years also knows that there has been no one more resilient, more present, and more optimistic about Wanjiru’s plight than the former Nyeri MP, lawyer, land economist, progressive democrat and reformer Wanyiri Kihoro.

To a former Kenyan political prisoner like me, Wanjiru Kihoro holds pride of place in my memories of those who stood by us through out all that what we had to go through in the early 1980s during the height of the Moi-KANU neo-colonial fascist reign of terror and error. Together with comrades and compatriots like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Abdilatif Abdallah, Shiraz Durrani, Shadrack Gutto, Micere Mugo, Yusuf Hassan and others who formed the London-based Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners in Kenya she fought resolutely and tirelessly for those Kenyans who found themselves in the dungeons and detention pits of Kamiti, Naivasha, Shimo-la-Tewa, Kodiaga, Manyani, King’ong’o, Eldoret, Naivasha and elsewhere.

I remember meeting her for the first time over the phone sometime in early 1989 when I called from Toronto to thank her for fighting for our release. She came across as warm, with a generosity of spirit that she proved over the years as she shipped across the Atlantic Ocean progressive literature, music tapes and information that kept us in the loop of what clandestine comrades in Europe were doing to bring down the Moi dictatorship. She is the one who first introduced me to the Pan African activist music group known as The Voices of African Dawn fronted by a London- based Kenyan exile known as Wangui. Even though we later ended up in different, often feuding underground groups- she was in Mwakenya, while I was one of the founding members of the Me Katilili Revolutionary Movement- we remained united when it came to our socialist convictions, our patriotic commitment in fighting for a new Kenya and our mutual disdain for Johnny-Come- Lately political opportunists who crawled out of the KANU woodwork in the aftermath of the amendment to Section 2A of the constitution which effectively reintroduced multi-party politics in Kenya.

Reading some of the public eulogies in the press over the last two days, I felt a seething rage when I encountered the comments of Raphael Tuju, Martha Karua, Moody Awori and other members of Kibaki’s administration.

For the last three years

Wanjiru Kihoro has been suffering in hospital fighting to get back on her feet. Wanyiri and the broader families of Wanjiru and Wanyiri have been struggling almost single-handedly to bear the brunt of the crippling hospital costs. Save for the occasional and quite modest solidarity contributions from comrades, well-wishers and friends, there has been no one to assist Wanyiri and the family with the bills.

Yet, according to Ida Odinga who gave a very compelling testimony of the pain the families of political “dissidents” had to go through, Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro contributed SIXTEEN MILLION SHILLINGS to the NARC campaign that brought Kibaki to power. She gave 500,000 shillings each to the women candidates vying for parliament on a NARC ticket.

Another comradely and sisterly and quite powerful eulogy is in Njeri Kabeberi’s Sunday Standard weekly column.

A reliable source informed me several months ago that Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro was slated to become the NARC government's appointee as Kenyan High Commissioner to the UK.

Kenyans remember too vividly that had Moody Awori not assembled a high powered entourage to accompany him on those wasteful and bizarre NARC "home-coming victory parties", Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro would probably still be alive today because she would not have been on that plane.

These Tujus and these Moodys are today the biggest “mourners” of Wanjiru yet they are members of a government which did not a thing to ensure that the Kihoro family was not burdened with all these hospital bills. How much would it have taken the Kibaki administration to pick up the tab or even fly Wanjiru out for even more specialized treatment?

Granted that the NARC regime, consciously, callously and steadfastly ignored Wanjiru when she was in a coma, why then the ridiculous machozi ya mamba, where springs the disgusting crocodile tears?

Why hog the media limelight with fake condolences and see-through rambi rambis?

To twist the knife even further, what does Moody Awori choose to do barely 48 hours after Wanjiru’s death?

This is what Vice-President Moody Awori does:

He leads a convoy of some of the SURVIVORS of the 2003 tragedy like

Martha Karua back to the SCENE OF THE PLANE CRASH just to remind the Kihoro family that these cynical cabinet ministers are still alive and indifferent while Wanjiru family makes arrangements on how to give her a final send off.

How crass!

How cruel!

How insensitive!

Shame on you, waffling Vice-President!

Shame on you preening Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi!

Shame on you boisterous Raphael Tuju!

(UPDATE: In an earlier version of this post, I had grouped Martha Karua with those shameless members of the Kibaki administration who are busy shedding crocodile tears now after watching Wanjiru lying in a coma for years. I have since found out that on the contrary, Martha was one of Wanjiru's closest pals and kept constant touch with the family. Mea culpa-OO).

Personally I think that Wanyiri Kihoro who successfully sued the Kenyan state for wrongful confinment should reprise the speech he gave thirty- one years ago as a University of Nairobi student leader at the funeral of the murdered JM Kariuki. Wanyiri denounced the official emissaries that Kenyatta sent and exposed the neo-colonial hypocrisy of the Kenya government which first tortured JM to death and then had the nerve to send a Provincial Commissioner to convey some fake rambi rambis from Mzee. Quite memorably, irate mourners, led by militant university students sent the hapless PC packing. Maybe our comrade Ng’ang’a Thiong’o (another radical and patriotic lawyer like Wanyiri) who no doubt will be there should repeat what he said at Bildad Kaggia’s funeral when he angrily demanded to know what homungatis like Kimeendero John Michuki were doing at the mazishi of a freedom fighter like Mzee Kaggia-especially after years of official state neglect as Kaggia wasted away in ill-health and penury.

In the papers today (Sunday, October 15th, 2006) there is a small piece about a statue of Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi going up on Kimathi Street. I hope this will be followed by the setting up of a Truth and Justice Commission.

What the life and death of Dr. Wanjiru Kihoro underscores, along with the testimonies and histories of Bildad Kaggia, Makhan Singh, Mzee Tamaa, Wahome Mutahi, Katama Mkangi, Daudi Kabaka, Fadhili Williams and other wananchi’s heroes and sheroes is that as long as we are led by a government of sell-outs, collaborators and neo-colonial defenders, it will be up to the patriots and progressives of this nation to nurture their living comrades and give a warm send off to their departed Wazalendo.

It is a bit cliché ridden to tread on that worn “she will always live among us” path so I will not even attempt that route.

What I do know is that Wanjiru’s indefatigable love for her mother Kenya is proof positive that one day this beautiful country and her long suffering people will wake up from the decades-long nightmare of dictatorship, corruption, repression and broken promises to welcome a new day of social justice, democracy, gender equality, peace and progressive, sustainable development and national prosperity.

Hamba Kahle Ndugu Wanjiru!

PS: Click Here to read an essay the late Wanjiru Kihoro wrote on why so many African women are still so poor.

PSS: For the Busia Crash report, click here.

PSSS: For a profile of ABANTU, that Wanjiru Kihoro co-founded, click here.

Onyango Oloo

Nairobi, Kenya