Last week I had the pleasant surprise of meeting Zarina Patel and her husband at my legal chambers in Nairobi after many years. Zarina Patel is a Kenyan Asian lady a graduate of Harvard, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I remembered that my wife Joyce and myself had visited Zarina Patel at her home in Kitengela. At that time she was deeply involved in human rights activism like ourselves and she had a lot of stories to tell us. In 1991 she spearheaded the struggle to save the Jeevanjee Gardens in Nairobi from being grabbed, similar to the struggle spearheaded by Professor Wangari Mathaai to save the grabbing of Nairobi Market Plot off Koinange Street, Nairobi.
Zarina Patel belongs to a unique class of Kenyan Asians who have
stood for the Kenyan public good. This class of Kenyan Asians includes Pinto, Makhan Singh, Justice Chanan Singh, Chief Justice Madan, The Cockars, Satish Gautama, A.R. Kapila, Pheroze Nowrojee and Professor Yash Ghai. Jeevanjee Gardens was named after her grandfather Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, a pioneer in the struggle for equal fights in colonial Kenya. She asked me to write something on Saba Saba for publication in her magazine ‘AwaaZ’. I readily made a commitment that I would do so.
Saba Saba is a brain child of Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, Oginga Odinga, his son Raila, Achieng Oneko, George Anyona and some lawyers including Paul Muite, Japheth Shamalla, James Orengo, Martha Karua, Beatrice Nduta and others. These opposition leaders during President Daniel Moi’s era settled on 7 July (7/7 or Saba Saba in Kiswahili) for their protest. Before 7 July 1990, the political mood in Kenya for change was visible everywhere and particularly in Nairobi. The song ‘Reke Tumanwo’ (‘enough is enough’- let us part company) played non-stop. In bars it was common to hear customers ordering for beer say ‘rnbili mbili kama kawaida’ meaning Kenyans wanted two political parties instead of one political party. The President felt threatened and issued security decrees by refusing to issue a license for the Saba Saba meeting. Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia were arrested.
Human rights lawyers including Paul Muite, Gitobu Imanyara, Gibson Kamau Kuria, Japheth Shamalla and myself met at the home of Japheth Shamalla and decided that Japheth and I were to proceed the following morning to Nairobi Police Headquarters and get Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia released on a police bond.
Upon arrival at the Nairobi Police Headquarters we met the Deputy Police Commissioner who was very civil and courteous to us. We exchanged pleasantries and he requested us to wait as he was seeking instructions. After some time he asked to see me alone when he informed me that orders had been issued that I be detained. This was to be my second detention. I was then taken to a room where water had been poured on the floor and I remained naked in that room from about 11.00 a.m. to midnight when I was taken to Kamiti Maximum Prison and later to Manyani Prison. There I found Mohammed Ibrahim, now Supreme Court Justice, who had also been detained in dictatorial circumstances. With these developments, I did not have the opportunity to participate in the actual Saba Saba rally.
According to an Africa Watch Report:- Over 1000 people were charged with ‘riot’ related offences and there were killings in Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Kisumu, etc.
Between 8 and 10 July, the following was reported in the National and International press:-
- Two people shot by GSU at Muthurwa canteen, Landhies Road.
- One man killed in Kawangware residential area by security forces
when a bus was set on fire.
- One man died after being beaten on the head by riot Police.
- One 7 year old schoolboy was shot by Security Forces at Nyenderu, Kiambu.
- Two people shot by Security forces in the centre of Kiambu Town near the post office.
- Two people shot by Police trying to ‘hijack a petrol tanker’ at Rungiri, Trading Centre, Kikuyu District. They were named as 20 years old Stephen Ndungu and Cobbler Njoroge.
- One man was found shot dead at Kawangware bus terminus.
- Three shot dead by Police in Muranga while ‘trying to steal a car’.
- One man shot dead in Nakuru.
An Africa Watch Report further states:-
‘On July 10’, Hezekiah Oyugi, Permanent Secretary in charge of Internal Security, Office of the President, announced that there were fifteen deaths and seventy three seriously injured people, including six policemen. On the same day, two more deaths were confirmed in Kiambu and Oyugi announced that three people in Muranga were killed while ‘trying to steal a car’. There the official tally halted as the government denounced ‘hooligans and drug addicts’ as responsible for the unrest, and directed KANU youth wingers to seek out those calling for multiparty politics. The Commissioner of Police was authorized to ‘use the force at his disposal’ and called on members of the public to ‘fully cooperate’.
Saba Saba Day is celebrated every year in Kenya. It reminds us that Kenya must
remain a multiparty democracy, and violation of Human Rights and the Rule of Law must be condemned. For this, we shall remain grateful to Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila Odinga, George Anyona and the Human Rights lawyers for the role they played in bringing multiparty democracy to Kenya.