The Saba Saba Experience

In the past years of 2017, 2018 and 2019 the Social Justice Centres Working Group (SJCWG), while tapping into the rich history of Saba Saba, held successful peaceful demonstrations into Kamkunji grounds to demand an end to extrajudicial executions and the prosecution of all killer cops in the informal settlements of Nairobi. The marches were successful in that, there has been a sharp decline in extrajudicial execution and a few killer cops have been prosecuted. This year however was different as we intended to march to Harambee house to deliver a petition to the President demanding the implementation of the Kenya 2010 constitution and to express our rejection of the BBI document. We marched from all informal settlements of Nairobi namely: Mathare, Ruaraka, Kiamaiko, Githurai, Dandora, Kariobangi, Mukuru, Kayole, Kibra, Kiambu, Kamakunji, Korogocho and Makadara,

We started with six days of activities that included community dialogues and social media campaigns that culminated with the march on the seventh day. On the morning of 7 July 2020 three leaders of the SJCWG; Wilfred Olal, Faith Kasina and Gacheke Gachihi, were called by top ranking police officers and were asked to call-off the demonstrations, failure to which they would be arrested. At that time, the government was using COVID 19 regulations to shrink the civic space and using the same excuse, they declared the Saba Saba march illegal. In the words of the three leaders, they were not going to call off the march at the expense of the will of the people and implementation of our constitution; and therefore did not call-off the march.

True to their threats, as we marched towards the Kariobangi roundabout while chanting revolutionary and liberation songs, we were teargassed at the roundabout by the police who immediately targetted the Convener of the SJCWG Wilfred Olal: and trailed him. They caught up with him in Kariobangi where they quickly arrested him and using a Subaru Outback they drove him to the Kariobangi police station. The intention of making the arrest was to disrupt the march but when we realized that Olal had been arrested, we switched to plan B, which was to board matatus and assemble outside the National archives without any form of branding.

When we arrived at the National Archives, we found a heavy police presence but some comrades had already gathered and without fear, they were chanting liberation songs. The press quickly moved in to cover what was going on and when Gacheke Gachihi stood to address the media, we were teargassed and dispersed by the police and for over 30mins we engaged the police in running battles while deliberating on how we could march to Harambee House to deliver our petition. As we moved around the Central Business District (CBD) of Nairobi, every street had heavy police presence with officers from the General Service Unit, Administration Police and the Kenya Police service, both in uniform and in plain clothes. The heavy police presence was a clear indication that the government was not going to allow any attempt to expose its failures in implementation of the Constitution. Officers from the General Service Unit heavily guarded and patrolled Harambee Avenue, which was our destination. It was therefore going to be difficult to reach the doorstep of Harambee house but despite the heavy police presence, we decided to march to Harambee Avenue and again we were teargassed outside the National Treasury offices.

On that day, over 60 human rights defenders and comrades were arrested and taken to the various police stations within the CBD and towards the end of day were engaged in rapid responsive teamwork to secure the release of our comrades. This year’s march was unique because other Kenyans including people from the LGBTIQ community who wanted to see the implementation of our constitution joined us. Later in the day, we held a press conference, read out our petition and circulated the video clip: because we were not able to deliver the petition to the President. As the other marches before, we will not relent, we will continue with the struggle until the Constitution is fully implemented.

The day was eventful and we had two incidences which stood out. A video of  Julie Wanjira, a human rights defender, went viral showing how she resisted unlawful arrest with her words: ‘when we lose our fear they lose their power’ became famous. A photo of Anami Daudi also known as Toure, went viral showing a policeman who fell down while trying to arrest him. That day I was happy that young women and men poured their hearts out, and criticized the government on all fronts: with the streets, the social media and the mainstream media both local and international picking up the story. The gallant efforts of our comrades was a great show of courage and open defiance against the bully that is the state. These actions to date indicate that the spirit of liberation is alive and well with this generation, a strong message to the oppressors that we shall not be cowed into relinquishing our demands for social justice and constitutional implementation. Aluta Continua!


  • The Participatory Action Research Coordinator at the Social Justice Centres Working Group and Convener of Thomas Sank. Additional inputs from Rodgers Okakah, Denis Esikuri and George Odame. The first three writers are members of the Social Justice Centres Working Group, George Odame is a Social Justice Centre activist.

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