On 31st May 2008, Kenyans under the umbrella of Bunge La Mwananchi and Starehe Social Forum got together in a solidarity march for the poor to dramatise the frustrations of the urban poor occasioned by the unchecked rising food prices. A short while, prior to this particular protest rally, in two separate press statements, Kenyans demanded that the Government of Kenya zero rates tax on all basic commodities such as unga, bread, milk, kerosene, etc; and also increase minimum wage to meet average cost of living, estimated at Kshs. 37,000/- failure to which Kenyans would be left with no option but to illustrate their struggles through mass action.
To Kenyansʼ disappointment, our leaders chose to placate us with platitudes about this being a global problem that Kenyans should bear with. The situation was further aggravated by the insolent statement to Kenyans that spiking oil prices which had escalated food production costs would not be regulated since the dealers were not making unreasonable profits. Struggling Kenyans were therefore left with no option but to dramatise their growing frustrations and hopelessness as a result of food insecurity through a peaceful demonstration. In accordance with the law and public order, we notified the Kenya Police in advance. To our surprise, no sooner, had we began our peaceful procession that we were attacked by anti-riot police throwing teargas, clobbering the children and women in the procession, and a number of us were injured and arrested.
As you may be already aware, the dispersion and our arrest was apparently instigated by unfounded fear among the political class over the poor exercising their constitutional right to assembly, right to movement, right to organize and right to express themselves.
We are disappointed at the Government of Kenyaʼs abuse of our Bill of Rights and wish to categorically state as follows:
1. First, that we are a grassroot social movement and the peopleʼs voice without any political affiliations or biases. We are a Kenyan platform through which to set the agenda for our leaders. Those with unfounded fear should note that Bunge La Mwananchi and Starehe Social Forum is an open membership forum for democratic expression where Kenyans meet daily across the country to discuss issues affecting them and develop action plans for solving those problems. Our members should therefore not be victimised and punished as part of a personal score settling vendetta against perceived enemies amongst politicians.
2. Second, that food is a basic security and human rights issue. The Government of Kenya is charged with the protection of our human rights and security. This duty includes protection of right to life, protection against food insecurity and death by starvation. Therefore, in ensuring food security, the Government of Kenya must go beyond the 8 million bags of maize pledged and make other basic commodities accessible to struggling Kenyans as a way of mitigating the food crisis. If our Parliamentarians can pass a law that allows them to spend on themselves over Ksh.250 million monthly in salaries and benefits, surely it is not much for Kenyans to ask that the government not to tax basic commodities. We are just demanding for equity!
3. Third, the Kenyan Constitution guarantees every Kenyan the freedom of assembly, movement, association and expression. It is these rights that we exercised to dramatise our displeasure at the existing grave social imbalance and our growing frustration at having to helplessly face our starving children going to bed hungry and angry. We express displeasure at the government that through its machinery of oppression, for over 80 hours our children suffered further because their fathers or mothers were detained for exercising their constitutional rights. We demand that our Government and the political class must respect Kenyans constitutional rights and freedoms! All the Stakeholders in the Grand Coalition Government campaigned on the reform agenda. We therefore demand: grand reforms and grand social balance now!
4. Fourth, that the threats from Kenya Police we have received to shut down Bunge La Mwananchi-Jeevanjee Gardens forum; the continued threat on our lives and arrests of our members and release without preferred charges are an affront to our constitutional rights and freedoms; and we shall not cower in resisting any continued attempt to stifle Kenyans voices. We demand that the Minister of Internal Security and Minister for Local Government order the Police Commissioner to stand down the police men who are stationed at the
5. Fifth, that the solidarity march was an opportunity for struggling Kenyans to vocalise their pains of food crisis and squalid living conditions: ill housing, lack of water, the leaking sewerage and bad roads; our joblessness, insecurity, police harassment of youth amongst others. We want to state categorically that we will not succumb to the arrogance of the government, political class or the oppression machinery and maintain that no amount of force from any quarter will intimidate us into silence and relegate us to the periphery of
6. Finaly, that we are law abiding citizens committed to ensuring that Kenyan voices are heard and our freedom and rights are not violated. We will continue to fight for these rights and shall not be silenced by threats, persecution and prosecution of our members. We demand that the government desist from threatening our members, remove the police from the park and our meeting places across the country should remain open to Kenyans. We also warn that, whenever necessary, we shall not delay to dramatise our issues through peaceful protests and no threats or arrests will stop us. Our fight for unga for 30/- and zero taxes on other basic commodities continues!
We urge all Kenyans to be vigilant, to stand up for their right to work, right to access enough food, and right to better living conditions for this is our country and we pay taxes to this government.
- Bunge La Mwananchi
- Starehe Social Forum
- Kibera Amkeni
- Mkuru Kwa Njenga CBOs alliance centre