Saba Saba: The Living Spirit of the Resistance Movement in Kenya by Wambua Kawive

The political plurality that was envisaged in the Lancaster house constitution that we inherited in 1963 was dismembered by Jomo Kenyatta and his henchmen. By 1965, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) was a monolithic – the party, the government, and the avenue for political association. The formation of Kenya People’s Union (KPU) by Jaramogi Oginga that year led to them being ousted from KANU, rigged mini elections being held in 1966, KPU being banned on 30October 1969 and Jaramogi being put under house arrest. In these later years of Kenyatta’s rule, dissent was ruthlessly crushed and many Kenyans of conscience were detained, tortured, killed or exiled. University lecturers and other public intellectuals went into exile for fear of their lives. This de facto one party state continued until 1982 when, emboldened by the failed coup d’etat, the government introduced section 2A in the constitution to make Kenya a de jure one party state. KANU became baba na mama. State terror became institutionalized but citizens’ organising went on through the two key underground movements: the December 12th Movement which published Pambana and Mwakenya (Muungano wa Wazalendo wa Kenya) that produced Mpatanishi and Mzalendo. Those arrested in real or imagined adherence to the two movements were crushed, and many arrested tortured and incarcerated in jail. Many patriotic sons and daughters of Kenya were still in jail in 1992 when Wangari Maathai, Monica Wamwere and our other mothers stripped naked in Uhuru Park to demand their release.

 In 1990, Kenyans convened in Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi to continue with the journey to liberate Kenya from the manacles of dictatorship. Njeru Gathangu, Edward Oyugi, Ngotho Kariuki, George Anyona, and Kariuki Kathitu had been secretly planning the Saba Saba protest for several months. The plans also included the launch of a political party (the Kenya National Congress) on 1 July and then follow it up with protracted activities until 7 July.  When they briefed Kenneth Matiba – who had recently fallen out with Moi’s KANU over election rigging – he agreed to join them.  Kenneth Matiba, aching for revenge ‘jumped the gun’ and together with and Charles Rubia, on 23 May 1990, called for people to come out on 7 July to demand this political freedom.  Kathangu and his team went on with the planning in secret. Four days before 7 July, Matiba, Rubia and Raila Odinga (who had recently returned from exile in Oslo, Norway) were arrested.

On Sunday, 7 July 1990, Kamkunji grounds became a battle ground. People who had turned up were milling around or warily watching. The police too were. The meeting did not materialise because police stormed the venue and started dispersing the people around. Riots broke over around the city and other areas in the country. That day and over the next four days, close to 70 people were reported to have been killed, and over 5000 arrested. The seeds of open defiance to government autocracy had been sowed.

A year later, in December 1991, President Moi repealed Section 2A of the then constitution and Kenya became a multiparty state.

In 1997, for the first time, the National Convention Executive Committee (NCEC) convened the National Convention Assembly in Limuru (Limuru I) to chart a way forward for our country. Delegates agreed that the struggle for the KENYA WE WANT would take the form of a new pro-people constitution. The efforts agreed in this meeting saw the Ufungamano Convening aimed at forming a Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution for Kenya. These efforts were betrayed by politicians who, at the eleventh hour, went to Kasarani to join President Moi in the Inter Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) meeting that agreed on Minimum reforms before elections. Moi still won in 1997 having disorganized the opposition. In 1998, NCEC convened the Limuru II convention. The struggle was consolidated to focus on a mass mobilization of Kenyans to rally behind demands for comprehensive constitutional reforms. 12 years later, the journey that started in Limuru leading to Bomas I and II constitutional conferences, the 2005 constitutional referendum, the 2007/8 post-election violence, bore fruit in 2010 when a new constitution was promulgated. 

  1. Convening of the Saba Saba @29: Limuru 3 in 2019.

The conference was held in part to commemorate the 29th Anniversary of Saba Saba day in 1990 when Kenyans of goodwill and courage started our country on the journey of Constitutional reforms. Limuru III under the theme ‘Make or Break’ hoped to mobilize national support for the defense of the 2010 constitution by constructing and rallying support for the case for its full implementation utilizing the historical and symbolic importance of Saba Saba and Limuru in the constitutional transformation of Kenya.

The meeting was convened by a Working Committee of the Saba Saba @29 Limuru III as a People’s Popular Initiative Convention (PPIC). The committee consisted of Maina Kiai, John Githongo, Ikal Angelei and Raya Famau Ahmed while Inuka Kenya Ni Sisi! acted as the convening secretariat.  Participants were invited from across the country and they consisted of Ni Sisi! chapter leaders, leadership of peoples’ struggle initiatives for social and other change, artivists, activists and thematic leadership. The meeting was convened with an aim to popularize the Kenya Tuitakayo Movement (KTM) and to connect it to the existing struggles.

The meeting recognised that the political elite had refused to implement the Constitution of Kenya and the options fronted by Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga and William Ruto were the same in every respect: they are projects by ogres (mazimwi) who are determined to eat Kenya and benefit personally. Those in support of the referendum, largely belonging to those supporting the political agreement between Uhuru and Raila Odinga (the hand shake deal), hold the false claim that they want to use the referendum to address the cleavages that cause political conflict and division in the country, especially during elections. It recognised that a fresh and transformative vision that leads the country out of this social, economic and political morass was urgently needed.

Prof Kivutha Kibwana, who was giving the key note address, urged the reform movement to look inwards and re-examine itself even as it engages Wanjiku for the next battlefront against the political elite. Otherwise the battle would be lost, he argued. He urged the activists to consider developing an organic social movement that is not dependent on any foreign support. In this regard, he suggested that reform activists around the country should identify or register a political party or a coalition of political parties to serve as a vehicle for candidates who are aligned to a common reform ideology. 

The meeting, which was moderated by Hon Zein Abubakar saw Dr Wandia Njoya, Canon Omondi, Jerotich Seii, David Ndii and Gitu Kahengeri give reflections of the struggle for social justice from diverse perspectives touching on the academia, religious practice, corporate affairs, the economy and the fight for land and freedom (Mau Mau) respectively. Dr David Ndii caused a light moment when he likened the relationship between the political opposition in Kenya and the civil society to the situation in the famous George Orwell’s book, The Animal Farm. He observed that whilst the civil society thought that political leaders were their comrades, they got disappointed after every encounter when the political opposition joined the ruling elite to continue with the plunder as usual. ‘The animals looked from Mr Jones to the pigs and from the pigs to Mr Jones, and could not tell the difference,’ Dr Ndii quipped.

It was clear that joining government would not be the solution to ending the impunity of the extractive state. John Githongo posited that he entered government convinced perhaps rather naively that they had made a promise to Kenyans to deal with corruption in particular. To his dismay, he was to discover that the biggest business in Kenya is politics and its primary commodity is government. Men and women too often join government so they can sell it, pieces of it, trade in access to parts of it; market avoidance from intrusive parts of it; the surest road to prosperity for many an individual is to be in and around government.

Five thematic issues were canvased in the conference. These were: current socio-cultural, economic and political problems bedevilling the country; deficits in implementation of the constitution of Kenya 2010; the handshake and the referendum question; the people’s agenda 2022 and strengthening devolution and public participation.

From his listening to the group presentations, one of the participants, Joshua O Nyamori, argued that in light of the intransigence of the ruling elite, the time had come for shift of gear from a reformist efforts to a revolutionary campaign to change the paradigm and overthrow the neo-liberal and neo-colonial system that holds Kenyan from making leaps into the future. He suggested that the reform activists should establish a Revolutionary Council and propound a Program of Action, whose objectives should be to overthrow the ruling elite in Kenya and establish a Revolutionary Government to start addressing the key socio-economic and political concerns of Kenyans.

The conclusion of the conference was aptly captured by Dr Mutunga who gave a call to action as closing remarks. He deplores the fact that our ‘beautiful baby’ – the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, has been in the hands of child traffickers and therefore is not safe. He calls for a People’s Popular Initiative Convention (PPIC) to rally Kenyans around the creating of an alternative political leadership.

  1. Convening of Saba Saba @30: Limuru IV in 2020

Inuka Ni Sisi! convened the Saba Saba @30 – Limuru IV conference under the theme Tekeleza Katiba, Boresha Maisha to take stock of this process and to energise the struggle going forward. It was noted that one year after Limuru III, the situation in Kenya was worse than it had been for several reasons. Firstly, on the year of the 10th birthday of the Constitution, the handshake gave birth to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) – a fraudulent collection of views from Kenyans and whose report purported to introduce a referendum to ostensibly amend the constitution. Secondly, there was an escalation of political activity in the country as 2022 neared. Owners of political parties have been busy extracting allegiance from their members – especially the elected and nominated.  Thirdly, the Covid-19 pandemic had created an environment that favoured a non-responsive government. Restriction of movement, curfew, minimal operations in institutions of access to justice and rampant unemployment has created a suddenly weak and preoccupied citizenry unable to hold the government to account. As a result, the police have had a field day harassing citizens and perpetrating extra judicial executions and other criminal enterprises of the state.

The meeting recognised thatthere exists a dearth of knowledge on the commemoration of the import of Saba Saba day with a majority of the young population unaware and unengaged on it. On the days preceding 7/7/2020, there were civic and political education sessions on the historical significance of Saba Saba and its relevance today. Tweet chats and media appearances were organized with moderators and guest speakers (respectively) exploring the following topics: the constitutional implementation imperatives: intergenerational equity; protecting and fostering devolution and Service provision; livelihoods, economic freedom, equity, justice and equality in Kenya today. Five (5) online Thematic Convenings were also held on 6 July as a prelude to the Saba Saba as build up activities to mobilise ideas and support for the day.

The Saba Saba day activities were held by diverse actors across the country, all taking the character of public political events and amplified through social and mainstream media.  This was owing to the fact that it was difficult to congregate owing to Covid-19 protocols of the lockdown. Significantly, the Social Justice Centres Working Group organized #March4OurLives in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu among other spaces where they have established social justice centres. These marches were violently broken by the police and many activists arrested only to be released later with no charges proffered. The tactic is increasingly being used by police to demobilize citizen action and to institute a police state.

In Limuru, there was a convening by Inuka Ni Sisi! at the historic venue. Although the number of attendees was limited to 15 persons, there were speakers and discussants whose presentations were livestreamed (on the channels  and  so that people across the country and the world could participate.

Dr Willy Mutunga, the former chief justice and president of Supreme Court presented a key note speech on Constitutional Implementation and the Alternative Leadership Project in Kenya.   His presentation touched on the frustrations of the struggle for liberation – that even with the passing of a progressive constitution in 2010, the impunity of the ruling elite still reigned. He called on the civil society to engage in organising for political power so as to capture and control the instruments of power and hence revolutionalise this country for the benefit of all Kenyans. The conference also interrogated the imperatives of Constitutional Implementation with Hon. Martha Karua speaking on justice and equality in Kenya today; Dr David Ndii talking about the nexus between livelihoods, economic freedom and equity; Darius Okolla exploring intergenerational equity and Kivutha Kibwana elucidating on the protection of devolution as a mechanism of fostering service provision.

Others who spoke in the meeting included Dorcas Gibran, Chair, Sauti ya Wanawake (based in Taita Taveta), Nerima Wako of Siasa Place, Rev. Evans Omollo, Deputy Provost, ASC, Canon Francis Omondi an ACK Cleric, Jerotich Seii, a development consultant and activist of the #SwitchOffKPLC fame, Ikal Angelei from Friends of Lake Turkana, David Ochieng, MP Ugenya and Dr Wandia Njoya, Lecturer. At the risk of sounding fortuitous, and since all their critical presentations cannot be captured here in full, I would summarise it as follows: they urged Kenyans not to be led into the political slaughterhouse by conniving politicians – that the political elite were guilty of lies and could no longer be believed. Secondly that Kenyans had to unite – rank and file – and determine/create an alternative leadership.

The momentum for political and social mobilisation was planned to be carried forward through convenings and pro-reform activations on 8/8/2020, 9/9/2020, 10/10/2020, 11/11/2020 and 12/12/2020 through diverse activities. In the spirit of Saba Saba, it is hoped that the year 2021 will mark a watershed of community mobilisation, political action and sustained movement building to protect the constitution and germinate alternative value-based leadership in Kenya. This is a continuing struggle.

Inuka Kenya Ni Sisi!


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