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Raila's Saba Saba Day remembrance speech

07 July 2015, 17:28

Nairobi - Twenty five years ago today, Kenyans poured into this city from early hours, defying tight security and dire warnings to demand a piece of the promise our founding fathers made at independence; that justice be our shield and defender, that we may live in unity, peace and liberty and plenty be found within our borders. In 1990, almost 30 years after we won our independence, it had become clear that the ideals that drove our quest for independence were not only unmet, they had also been brutally betrayed and Kenya was marching backwards. Justice was being denied to Kenyans who were being hauled to jail on trumped up charges.

Assassinations and disappearances were becoming normal. There was an assault on freedom of thought, information and association. Hundreds of Kenyans were being arrested or sacked because they expressed or were suspected to hold opinions that were at variance with those of the government. Corruption was running out of hand, leaving millions of Kenyans in extreme poverty, while a tiny elite wallowed in absolute, ill-gotten wealth.

The routine things we enjoy today, like walking into a forex-bureau and exchanging your dollars or Sterling Pound for Kenya shillings, turning on your radio or TV and tuning into your channel of choice were unheard of then. You could not own foreign currency without authority from the government. You could only listen to or watch the Voice of Kenya. News was what the president and the government said and did.


There was no private sector to talk about. The few players that remained were being bled dry by constant need to carry sacks of money to those in power to stay in business. Instead of rewarding efficiency and knowledge, the regime rewarded sycophancy.

The law never provided a level playing field for players in the economy. Foreign investors were pulling out. Local industries were shutting down. Many like Kicomi, Rivatex, East African Tanning in Eldoret, Raymonds, Nakuru Blankets never recovered to date. People in government began to bring in cheap imports without paying taxes to compete with the very companies producing these products and paying duty.

To start a business, you had to see a minister or a ruling party operative and give out 15 to 25 per cent of the value as a bribe. It was a recipe for stagnation, and we did stagnate. We lived in a party state. What the ruling party said was mistaken to be government policy and law.

It had an all-powerful disciplinary committee before which grown up men appeared, often on trumped up charges, and wept. It was easy to understand why. The party was the sole avenue for participating in politics and general public life. If you were expelled from the party, you could not be in politics and you could not get a job. The party had a vicious youth wing that was often more powerful than the official security forces. The youth wing could determine whether you held a rally, a harambee or even conduct a burial ceremony as you wished or not. The ruling party was, literally, baba na mama. 

Spying and police became a big industry with expenditure on police services, especially in rural areas, expanding greatly. Between 1978 and 1979, the allocations for the Office of the President, which had responsibility for the police forces, shot up in the category of personal emoluments for the police, Criminal Investigation Department, and General Service Unit staff, and in the category of GSU transport.

This is the system that Kenyans in their anger and valour woke up on this day in 1990 and decided to face head-on. It began with Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia announcing that Kenya was ripe for multiparty politics. The two later met with Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and I, and the alarm bells went off across Kanu and government. We announced that because the government felt we were wrong, we would hold a meeting in Kamukunji on July 7, 1990, to seek the opinions of the wananchi, with or without permit.

We did not know how this day was going to end. But we knew how the day was going to begin. The government had outlawed the planned meeting whose main aim was to demand the reintroduction of competitive politics. In the end, Matiba, Rubia and I never got to see the day. A few days to the date, police officers were deployed to our private offices to keep us apart. At Agip House, police told me I was not allowed to see Matiba, Rubia or Gibson Kamau Kuria. Officers were also at Matiba’s Embassy House, with instructions that Matiba could not see me. After arguments, I was allowed to see Kuria, who was my company lawyer. From the tense mood gripping the country, we knew police were going to be deployed in thousands. We knew some of us were going to be arrested, even killed. Then the crackdown began. 

On July 4, Matiba and Rubia were picked for detention. The next day, July 5, I was picked for my third and final detention that lasted a year. Kuria took cover in the US Embassy and later fled the country.
When the day was over, many lay nursing bullet wounds. Many were dead. Many from the media lost their jobs for telling the story as it was. Our prisons had new inmates harvested from the planned rally. The court had new “criminals” to be tried and jailed hastily by willing judges. Many foreign missions had new applications from asylum seekers keen to escape and live to fight another day. The rally never took off. But on that day, Kenya changed. 


We often give much credit to the politicians the lawyers and civil society activists, who associated with or organised that day. We often forget the day acquired significance because of the determination and courage of the ordinary people: the students, the casual labourers, the job seekers, the matatu touts and drivers who never appeared on TV except as part of the crowd and who will never make it to history books.

They were the ones who made the loudest statement that they were ready to change Kenya. They were tired of a system that was killing jobs by shutting down industries and sending away investors through corruption. They were tired of a system where the result of elections was determined by the Executive long before the ballot was cast. These unsung heroes decided to bite the bullet literally. On Saba Saba, the flame of freedom was lit and KANU realised that change was inevitable.
This far we have come following the events of that day, the others before and in the ones that followed. Because of the fire that was lit, today we have multiparty politics, a new Constitution that provides for devolution and a liberal Bill of Rights. We did away with detention. We have affirmative action for women, youth and the disabled. Kenya has become freer and fairer. 

Looking back, I can say without fear of contradiction that had we not mastered the courage to take on the system, Kenya would have suffered the fate of many African nations that went down, under the weight of dictatorship and corruption. We stopped the downward spiral. To say that the struggle was worthless or uncalled for as some say today is truly an insult to our people and their fighting spirit that make Kenya different. Yet the work of making Kenya great is far from over.

We must always remember the words of Ronald Reagan in which he said: “Perhaps you and I have lived with this miracle too long to be properly appreciative. Freedom is a fragile thing and is never more than one generation away from extinction. It is not ours by inheritance; it must be fought for and defended constantly by each generation, for it comes only once to a people.

Those who have known freedom and then lost it have never known it again.” We must secure what we have won. That requires constant vigilance. ?We must never be ashamed to face those erecting new barriers and tell them we have been there before. We must tell those curtailing media freedom that we need more not less.
From where I stand, I see that other than securing the gains, our next big battle is to ensure equity and inclusion.

Kenya must work for all its citizens. The fruits this nation must reach every corner. Every Kenyan must have a fair chance, including through affirmative action, to serve his or her country. Focus on merit alone will never ensure inclusion and equity. A child born and raised in Todonyang, Turkana, 40 years ago cannot be subjected to same competition with one born and raised in Kiambu in the same period. That contest is neither fair nor just. We must perfect our elections to ensure results reflect the wishes of the electorate. This involves making it easy for all citizens of voting age to acquire and cast the vote. 

We need jobs and more economic opportunities. That means we must cut down on corruption and improve efficiency. It is lack of opportunities and a sense of exclusion that are turning thousands of our youths to terror networks like Al Shabaab and to alcohol and drugs. It is not religion, tribe or region of origin. All these will have to be fought for. They will never be given. Nothing good we have today ever came from the benevolence of those in power. We must always stand ready to stand up for our country. We must at all times be ready to take charge of our destiny. I have faith that the fighting spirit remains alive in Kenyans. I know the flame of freedom lit years back is still burning strong. I stand ready to spend my last breath on this struggle.

Happy Saba Saba day to all Kenyans. (Speech courtesy rao.co.ke).

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