Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Students Demonstrate...Thugs (and politicians) Riot

It is an unfortunate and universal fact that people will take advantage of a mass demonstration and it is even more unfortunate that the media will always simplify and sensationalise things simply because we humans get a kick out of watching people loot, steal and burn. Yesterday's event has been lumped all into one basket . The events that followed AFTER the bulk of the students returned to campus is what the mainstream media is referring to as looting, stoning and hijacking of motorists and harrassing pedestrians. Below is a first hand account by Onyango Oloo, one of Kenya's most respected political activist's and ex political prisoner who observed and participated in what was initially a peaceful student demonstration in protest of the murders of activists from the Oscar Foundation, Mr Oscar Kamau King’ara and Mr Paul Oulu:

I was on the same streets just about forty five minutes ago. I joined the demo around parliament and it was a sea of students- thousands of them, as opposed to the "hundreds" I read about on the news alert sent to my mobile inbox by one of the two main media houses here in Kenya.

Quite a few of them were donning the now familiar Otpor T-shirts made and distributed by the Mwalimu Mati-led Partnership for Change.


They were quite disciplined I must say. Many were chanting slogans; some were singing songs; others were hurling abuse- at Commissioner Ali, the First Family; the cops in general etc.

There were almost as many women as there were young men- from all ethnic backgrounds, religions and nationalities.

Generally, this was a STUDENT demo with most of the "usual civil society suspects" conspiciously absent- with the major exception of Gacheke, Ojijo, Keli and the other Bunge la Mwananchi comrades who were right on the frontlines with their banner. I matched with them for a while before joining another part of the protest.

You see I had this triple role as activist/blogger/political editor all wrapped in one, trying to capture it all. On the sidewalks, a curious public stood by, watching-amazed that this time around there were NO STREET BATTLES and ongoing skirmishes with the cops.

Just outside City Hall there a jittery moment as some students spontaneously started stopping buses and other vehicles. Equally on the spur of the moment I dashed over to one of the many marshals who were guiding the procession, introduced myself as a social justice activist and engaged him on the need to avoid distractions, putting it to him that they certainly did not want
the next day's headlines to focus on the harassment of motorists. He quickly grasped my point and persuaded his colleagues to abandon those pranks.

As the huge demo snaked its way down the street in front of City Hall, the streets were filled with the heavy roar of students chanting "We are not thieves! We are not thieves!" as they made a big show of letting motorists pass and avoided trashing the wares of the news vendors.

But just before that the comrades from Bunge la Mwananchi were belting out a freshly minted protest song to in Police Commissioner Ali's dishonour- exhorted the Almighty to tell Kenyans who on earth created the Major General.

Fast forward. We were now on Kenyatta Avenue where the students continued with their peaceful with policemen on horse back leading the way- a startling development in Kenya, making me reminisce about past protests in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal where generally speaking the cops were there to ensure that your political action took place peacefully and without any unlawful disruptions.

Click on the image above to watch the video from MARS Group

I trailed away from the demonstration at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Kimathi Street a couple of metres from the Stanley Hotel- the procession was going up Kimathi street. I was to later learn that it soon converged at the Great Court on the main campus of the University of Nairobi.

It is simply NOT true that the students started looting on University Way. I was speaking to one of my activist friends who was at the Great Court with all the speeches going on. How could this have happened if there was a stand off with the cops on University Way before they got back to campus? What IS TRUE is that students barricaded the roundabout around St. Paul.

What are the main lessons from this landmark protest in Nairobi?

1. Demonstrations by students, workers, civil society groups, squatters and others are likely to remain orderly and peaceful if not faced by the unwarranted intimidation and physical confrontation by the police.

2. Reformers and progressives within the state- and here Prime Minister Raila Odinga played a seminal role- can change the dynamics of citizen action by anchoring these activities within the constitution- even the present flawed Kenyan constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. In other words,
the potential exists for a symbiotic connection between the progressive sections of the state and the broader civil society.

3. There is a need for joint action among the aggrieved. Like I said, this was clearly a STUDENT protest- with all its youthful enthusiasm, militant declamations- as well as some obvious weaknesses- especially the lack of specific, targeted political messages in the form of well organized chants and songs. The flip side of this was the relative ABSENCE of civil society
activists and their mobilizing experience.

4. There is a need for organizers to have a coherent media strategy that includes designated spokespeople.

5. International solidarity will be key to the success of future campaigns

Let me pen off here.
Onyango Oloo

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now this is hillarious..' and i quote;

There were almost as many women as there were young men- from all ethnic backgrounds, religions and nationalities'

our comment;
did you do a survey to conclude that all ethnicities were included? what about all nationalities? is this just not what you guys are good at? just COOKING news and sensational stories without any basis to justify your greed for DONOR FUNDING. what about the businesses that were looted, pedestrians who were mugged or motorists whose vehicles were destroyed in the name of RAILA SANCTIONED DEMOCRACY...

you are just so silly that from where i am it is a pity..

nway i guess you are earning your dirty dollar the only way you know how!!!!

Sukuma Kenya said...

I am getting the impression that "anonymous" must be the same person who has been leaving comments over the last few posts. You are certainly very bitter about NGOs and you probably have a right to be. Yesterday was NOT a civil society driven exercise. This was driven by the students whom I doubt very much are funded by an NGO. It would best if you are going to share your animosity towards NGOs that you do it in context. Actually I would be more than happy for you to write a post on why you hate them so much. Please. I do share very similar sentiments about the system as a whole. AND PLEASE REMEMBER, Sukuma Kenya blog is NOT an NGO. I am just a blogger and I don't get funded to do this.

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Ojijo O.M.P. said...

I lived to tell...and i will tell it the way ti should have been, if Oscar and GPO were still with me...

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