“We are going out to defend our Constitution and fight for democracy. And as it is, five or six of us might be felled by the police. I do not know if it is my turn today, but I beseech you my friends, when I go down, do not let the ground that has fed on millions of bodies feast on mine in Lang’ata. Send me off with honour. I have a family, I have a home in Kochia, Homa Bay County. Do not let my wife and children whom I am joining this fight for gnaw in pain and eat from the bins where my oppressors throw their leftovers. The only honour I have is a Political Science degree that has never got me a job. My people, send me off with honour’’.
These words by William Ochieng are what Mike Omolo (not his real name) recalls of his first sitting in a demonstrators' funeral and injuries committee at Kamukunji grounds in Kibera on August 12, last year.
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"Ochieng never made it, but his wishes were granted. His pale body, the head so badly smashed one couldn't recognise him, was picked from City Mortuary where police had taken it and he was given a decent send off. His wife and daughter have since moved out of Kibera,” Mike narrates, pain written all over his face.
It is taboo in most African cultures to plan a funeral for a living person. But for Opposition supporters in Kibera, it is necessary to properly plan your funeral before you join in any demonstration.
The funeral committees are charged with providing for the bereaved families, carrying out a requiem service and transporting the bodies home for burial.
The first protest is not planned for, but the subsequent demos are well organised before protesters go to the streets.
Whenever Raila Odinga, fondly known as ‘Baba’ by his supporters calls for mass action, the demonstrators form small committees of at least 12 members.
“Each team has its leader who oversees all the functions of the group. But there’s is also a secretary and a treasurer,” says Mike.
According to Mike, the secretary registers new members who was to join the demonstrations while the treasurer collects the registration fee and a refundable caution money.
“Registration fees is usually Sh200 while the refundable caution money is Sh300. There are more contributions through harambees in case we lose one of our members,” says Mike.
Part of their savings is also used to cater for hospital bills for those injured during the demonstrations. Members from other groups also chip in to assist in case of injuries or death. And in some occasions, National Super Alliance (NASA) leaders give contributions to the bereaved families.
The members often belong to an existing social group, who regroup to form the funeral committees. Members of the committees know each other, including their families, where they work and stay. They even know one's rural home.
Police to blame
“We know very well that whenever there are demonstrations in informal settlements, security agents use excessive force,” says Mike.
The committees also give a plan for movement and search for those who get lost during the demos.
“Some people do not know their way around the city. So during registration, you are asked to memorise the chairperson’s contacts. You also have to provide information on your next of kin, in case of any incident,” he says.
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Mike says they lose many of their members during demos, but sadly innocent people who are not part of the demonstrations are also killed.
“During demonstrations, police shoot at people anyhow. They even get people out of their houses, parade them out in the streets and beat them up. This angers many and as a result many more join future demonstrations,” he narrates bitterly.
Mike says he was not always political and always kept away from demonstrations. But things changed when he witnessed his neighbour get shot by police. He himself escaped with a gun shot wound.
“I was shot in my left thigh as I tried to flee from the police. We were buying airtime at a nearby shop with my friend George,” he recounts.
Kibera on fire
Mike says demonstrations had erupted suddenly after a major announcement by Opposition leader Raila Odinga. His wife who had gone to visit her sister was on her way back but he quickly alerted her to remain wherever she was.
“I told her not to come back as Olympic in Kibera was already on fire. Suddenly, there was a pandemonium and people started running everywhere. George was still loading airtime on his phone when police shot him dead. I started running but was also shot in the thigh,” he explains.
It was soon after this incident that Mike met the chairperson of the funeral committees. He was the Good Samaritan who went to his rescue after he was shot.
“I was bleeding profusely when a man came and offered to help me. He called other people and I was rushed to a nearby dispensary for First Aid. He saved my life,” says Mike.
The 34-year-old says that despite being born and bred in Kibera, he dreaded demonstrations after seeing protestors get hurt and lose their lives. But his encounter with the police turned him into a die-hard demonstrator. He no longer shies away from calls for mass action.
“I do construction work and paying such huge hospital bills was not in my plans. My wife who was pregnant and almost due needed the cash more. The team came to my help. The members cleared my bills and allowed me to pay them back in small installments,” explains Mike almost in tears.
It was during his ordeal that he came to learn about the committee and how they help those who get injured.
“The chairperson told me it was demonstrators’ funerals and injuries committee. It sprung from a local community savings group.
The savings group realigned themselves, recruited new members and conducted fresh registrations during heated political seasons.
“To be elected as the chair of the group, one has to be very confident and aggressive. You must be ready to lead in the demos, control the group and confront the police if need be. You must therefore have a big chest and be ready to thump it,” says Mike.
Some Opposition supporters who join in political demonstrations are known for many things including; striping naked, cooking in the middle of the road, lying flat on the roads and sustaining demos for months without relenting.
Innocent Ochieng’ commonly referred to as Jaraha is a die-hard demonstrator. He believes by taking part in such calls he helps make things right in the country.
“In fighting for justice, in defending the law, in getting democracy one must be ready to die. It needs sacrifice and a strong conviction,” said Jaraha.