Do protests work around here? For all seems stuck in ‘history’

Tuesday April 18 2023
Kenyan police officers patrol a street in Nairobi

Kenyan police officers patrol a street during clashes with opposition supporters in Nairobi on March 27, 2023. Kenya is the most muscular economy in the region — the centre that must hold if any of the incremental changes we need to make the dream of an viable expansion of East Africa possible. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron was recently caught having a rather lovely Marie Antionette moment. During a press conference, he remembered that the luxury watch he was wearing might be ill-received by the audience he was trying to convince that the economy would best be served by their working longer.

In the glory of the Champs Elysees of Paris a city strewn with garbage, this tiny act of awareness was historically delicious. The French are in revolt, a few hundred years after beheading their last king. Practice makes perfect?

So, when Kenyans also decided to take to the streets I promise I tried to be surprised. Maybe even believe in the cause, the idea that mass action would work to give the people economic ease. Kenya is the most muscular economy in the region — the centre that must hold if any of the incremental changes we need to make the dream of an viable expansion of East Africa possible. And yet, with every regime, the schisms are harder to hide. And rather than inch towards the miseries of consensus and sacrifice for the greater good, well...

Faith in ‘history’

I lost my faith in “history” a while back. Not history as a subject, more like the framing of the relations of power. The endless list of why things are the way they are now. And, perhaps most of all, the stalemate we find ourselves in.

Another day, another protest. But we’re not supposed to say that. In the media we must reduce deep, yet petty, conflicts and their consequences to “clashes of elephants, where the grass suffers” then indulge the he-said-she-said format. We must forget that histories simply pile up on each other until they are habit.


When challenged by the inspired, especially online, about why Tanzanians have never had the coconuts to get out and demand the change they want, it is politic to smile and deflect. Perhaps obfuscate, amuse but never admit that, indeed, we’re captive.

When Abdulrazak Gurnah won the Nobel Prize for literature, an appreciable number of people were shocked to learn he had to leave Zanzibar in his youth because it was not the picturesque isle of beachfront property development and evening seafood broils it presents now.

Promise of change

Ah, vive la revolution, yes? Especially if we perform our roles: The rulers with rules and us with our little protests, and the promise of change that keeps us all going. We are not supposed to say: “Hey, this form of democracy sucks! Why is it so formulaic and predictable? And where, truly, is the glory in marching?”

Why don’t the constant marches truly result in adequate bread, shoes for the children, clean water and cheap energy, a life of safety for women — a break in the cycles? It is hard to have answers to a glimpse of something you see out the corner of your eye, but I am assured that humanity has never been more prosperous as a global community. I believe it. There is a handful of white men going to space for fun while malnutrition stalks many others.

What wonders modernity holds for us! What I know is that short of not bothering with amassing in the streets, protest has seemed the lexicon of the moment, at least until we figure out how to effect real change. So see you at the next one. I am sure that is the one that will work.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]