Coincidence-Fate or Destiny?!?
They say a coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection; that fate is the development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power and destiny is what’s meant to be, what’s written in the stars, your inescapable fate … that there is no avoiding destiny, that it is going to happen no matter what you do. Could it be just a coincidence, fate or destiny that I, Njeri Kabeberi, a Kenyan born human rights activist and Human Rights Defender was born on a Saba Saba day (the 7th of July), a birthday hardly celebrated since 1990 as it has become a national day of protest, when Kenyans boldly express their freedom of expression, of assembly and of association.
Draconian laws & undemocratic power:
I recall the days when meeting more than nine (9) people without a Chief’s permit was a major crime under the Chiefs Authority Act, and which could result into an arrest or even detention without trial. I remember when reading certain books or writing certain types of articles or opinions was considered seditious; and one could land in detention under the Public Order Act, which allowed the government to detain you without the benefit of a trial. You could also be charged in a court of law under Sections 52, 53 and 54 under Seditious Law in Chapter 63 within the then Penal Code. In an article written in 1993 in Wajibu Vol. 8, Chiuri Ngugi and Winston A Ngaira, declared that ‘by means of these laws the State is (was) clothed with draconian and undemocratic powers inimical to the freedom of expression’.
Doing it afraid:
I recall leaving my three (3) year old son and quitting a lucrative job in the insurance industry to join the ‘Mothers of Political Prisoners’ at Uhuru Park, now popularly known as Freedom Corner. I recall the feeling of fear, of hunger and lonely days and nights at the ‘Freedom Corner’ and later at the All Saints Cathedral bunker, but doing-it-afraid anyway. I recall one day completely running out of ideas and information to provide to the press and instead calling for a ‘silent strike’. I recall visiting the smelly court and prison cells to visit people jailed whom I had never met in my life before, but doing it anyway.
Amazing love, support and solidarity:
I recall being totally surprised at the emergence of a support system to the Mothers of Political prisoners at the Freedom Corner, by the Kenya Indian community who donated water and tents to help shield the mothers from the heat of the sun in the day and the cold in the night. I recall young men in white ‘shukas’ calling themselves the ‘Tent of the Living God’ and being led by Ngonya wa Gakonya serving as security for the mothers, and shielding the mothers from police brutality. After the hunger strike, we turned into a silent strike with one meal a day, thanks to women from the Democratic Party, who organized themselves to bring food once a day for seven (7) days a week, they never missed a day for about 10 months. I recall my high school headmistress, Mrs Mwangi giving up her lunch hours and visiting us at Freedom Corner and later the bunker every-day until the mothers left, after all the political prisoners had been released. I recall seeing women who had travelled from Mombasa, Kisumu, Nyeri, Nakuru and many other parts of Kenya just to join and be with the mothers on hunger strike.
I recall risk takers like the then Provost Peter Njenga, now retired Bishop of Mt Kenya South who provided refuge to the Mothers in a space they could not be removed forcibly, nor attacked. This was after the mothers had been brutalized by the police one whole day, first at around 12noon by regular police from Central Police, at 3pm by the City Council askaris and then at 9pm, they were arrested by the Muthangari Police and each was shipped ‘back-home’. The following day the mothers congregated at the All Saints Cathedral and the provost opened the bunker for them.
Mothers Leading the way and opening democratic spaces:
I recall ‘Freedom Corner’ becoming a space where all opposition politicians came to express themselves. The mothers’ hunger strike opened the way for overt protests. I recall a struggle within a struggle; running battles with the police, choking with tear gas, throwing a teargas cannister out of the tent of the mothers which burnt and peeled the skin of my hand for over one month. I recall speaking without any experience to the local and international media and faltering, making mistakes but speaking anyway and firmly for the Mothers. I recall Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia coming to the All Saints Cathedral with huge crowds of supporters after arriving from abroad – that the All Saints Cathedral, first occupied by the Mothers of Political Prisoners, had become a safe-haven for the opposition leaders, referred to as political dissidents in those days.
A mother’s love, pain and fear:
I recall seeing the fear in my mother’s eyes and feeling it in her voice as she tried to understand what was going on in my life. I recall many uncles and aunts trying to persuade her to talk me out of my actions – I remember moving on despite the fear and the pressure to pull away. I recall the day she cleaned my back with salt-water after tearing off the clothes I was wearing following a brutal attack on members of SAFINA party at the Nakuru Law Courts. Though the attack targeted Richard Leakey, one of the founder members of SAFINA, I found myself, a fellow member, receiving every whip, rungu and rotten egg that missed him. Political goons had been organized and assumedly paid off to attack Leakey. An amazing man Richard Leakey, though he was a paraplegic, he miraculously managed to get into his Land-rover Discovery. Escaping for dear life, I abandoned my car at the law courts since I could not quickly reach it amidst the mayhem; I somehow managed to jump into Leakey’s moving vehicle. Luckily for both of us, he had been the Chair of the Kenya Wildlife Service and knew his way around the national parks, we were able to escape the marauding political gangs through the Nakuru National Park.
The constitutional journey begins:
I recall a meeting at Limuru Conference Centre when the former President Mwai Kibaki in response to a point I raised on having a new constitution as the only way of getting rid of all the ills in this country at the time, responding that having a new constitution in Kenya is like cutting a Mugumo (Fig) tree with a razor blade. Paradoxically, he President Kibaki promulgated the New 2010 Kenya Constitution. In the struggle towards the Kenya Tuitakayo, I met amazing young women and men from Kibera and Korogoco who became a strong pillar to the 4Cs (Citizens Coalition for constitutional Change) and a force behind the rallying call to a new constitution. Their energy, song and dance, persists to this day. I was happy to be among very many Kenyans who travelled from their stations abroad to come and vote in the referendum for a new constitution.
My Saba Saba:
Since 1990, Saba-Saba is synonymous to my birthday. I don’t have to celebrate my birthday because out there someone is celebrating the gains this nation has made by either expressing themselves freely or protesting against an injustice. It might just be true that one cannot escape their destiny. I would like to believe that being a human rights defender in Kenya and subsequently having my birthday crowded by Saba-Saba celebrations or protests is a wake-up call and constant reminder to never forget how far we have come as a nation, and how important it is to continue protecting our hard-earned liberation that is now enshrined in our constitution. A fellow Soldier of Justice said in a forum recently that we must not only organise, but should also educate, liberate and celebrate! I celebrate all Kenyans and non-Kenyans who have run and passed on the baton whenever it has been required of them. I celebrate every gain this nation has made over the last three decades since 1990. I celebrate the new generation of activists who not only vindicate the work of the past generations, but they truly just make me happy and yes, this is how I have celebrated my birthday for the last three decades!