The Ruto regime rekindles painful Moi-era memories

Saturday July 15 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. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP


As I write this column, demonstrations against the high cost of living, called by opposition leaders, are going on in various parts of the country. Earlier demonstrations on Saba Saba Day were characterised by extreme police brutality against unarmed demonstrators.

Reports indicate that several demonstrators were killed by police. Tragically, some of the dead were going about their daily business when police opened fire on them. The police also arrested tens of demonstrators.

These have since been released without charge. Before they were freed, human rights advocates, including former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, who had gone to the police station to demand their unconditional release, were tear-gassed by police. Local and international human rights organisations have condemned police brutality during the demonstrations.

Read: Kenya protests: Day of chaos, rebellion and shutdown

Police brutality on Saba Saba Day, and the tear gassing of opposition leaders such as Martha Karua and human rights advocates such as Willy Mutunga, and the alleged attempt on Raila Odinga’s life, point to the painful ironies of history.

In the original Saba Saba demonstrations in 1990, hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy protesters were shot dead. Mr Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, George Anyona and Prof Ngotho Kariuki had been arrested.


Mr Mutunga had done a stint in detention for his pro-democracy stance.

Others such as the late Micere Mugo, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii had escaped into exile after learning of a sinister plot to execute a “final solution” to their continued refusal to “sing like parrots” as then-President Daniel Moi had demanded of every Kenyan.

Others like scholar Abdilatif Abdalla had escaped into exile years earlier after serving time in detention for pro-democracy activities.
During the struggle for the “Second Liberation” and the lead up to the 1992 multiparty elections, William Ruto belonged to the notorious vehemently pro-government outfit called Youth for Kanu’92. Rigathi Gachagua was a feared district officer in Limuru, ruthlessly enforcing the Kanu dictatorship.

Read: NGUGI: Give us services, not these cruel Kanu-era chiefs

Now they are the President and Deputy President in overall charge of police action against demonstrators.

The ironies of history!

Reason would dictate that Ruto and Gachagua try to countervail that burdensome history by being vehement custodians of the democracy brought about by the Saba Saba demonstrations of 1990.

This would mean instructing the police to do everything in their power to facilitate picketing. This attitude would not only serve to countervail their history of vehement and violent defence of dictatorship, but also serve them politically by pulling the rug out from under the feet of the opposition.

Read: Disruptive scenes that birthed Moi's torture era

The threats they issue, instead paint them as people who have never embraced the tenets of democracy, including freedom of assembly and the right to peacefully demonstrate.

Police should only intervene when demonstrators become violent. Many observers have noted that in most cases violence is started by the police. No one should get arrested or lose their life for demonstrating against government policies.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.