Saba Saba: Leaders worry about rampant corruption, democracy

Saba Saba riots in 1990. [Photo: File,Standard]
There will be no funfair at the dusty, windswept Kamukunji grounds today. Neither will there be police officers armed with clubs and tear gas canisters guarding the cradle where Kenya’s road and torturous journey to shrug off the excesses of one party state started 28 years ago.

Had it not been for the public cleaning and tree planting in different parts of the city which has been organised by the Nairobi County Government, the day would have passed without any public gathering.

Those who started with tears brought about by heavy police boots, live bullets, long prison spells and torture chambers will never forget  July 7, 1990, when a group of politicians, religious leaders and human right activists stirred the conscience of the nation and kicked off a struggle whose fires would take more than a decade to extinguish.

But some felt that although Kenya was sick and some institutions were in the Intensive Care Unit, its epitaph should not be written just yet for it is not wise to mourn a person simply because he is sick.

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Rev Timothy Njoya, the fiery cleric who kicked off the national debate on October 6, 1986, at a time when lecturers were being yanked out of class to detention for contradicting the Government, believes that some institutions have aquitted themselves quite well in a country which has political pluralism, a new Constitution and new system of Government.

“Some people may accuse me of mellowing down but I think on a scale of 100 per cent,  we have achieved 60 per cent. We have created institutions which did not exist and we now have devolved governments. Yes, Kenya is sick, perhaps in the ICU but we do not mourn somebody who is in the ICU. The sick do get better and there is still hope for the country.”

Njoya is however concerned that although the country now has political pluralism which has given us dysfunctional political parties, the country’s national psyche has not changed as citizens have allowed billionaires to own the entities which they now use as vehicles to amass wealth and more power and insulate themselves from scrutiny.

The cleric believes some of the institutions are sick although they are not in the ICU. He is convinced some had started showing signs of improvement, citing the Directorate of Public Prosecution, Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission and Judiciary that have waged the current war on graft which has seen senior Government officials arrested and denied bail, a thing which could not happen in the past.

But Omingo Magara, the Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) chairman has a dim view of Kenya’s status, arguing that the space of democracy created by the introduction of multipartyism had been grabbed by politicians.

“We copied some bad manners. The political parties do not have internal democracy and are owned by individuals. The civil societies have been neutered by the Government," he says, adding that "the air of freshness we were looking for in politics is not there. Graft is everywhere and although we changed the monkeys, the forests are still the same."

According to Magara, CMD is shrinking and the number of political parties had dwindled following the swallowing up of some by Jubilee Party in the run up to the last elections while others were muted and civil societies treated as unwanted bodies for creating disruptive political noise.

Mr Magara, who admitted that he also suffered while agitating for multiparty, expressed reservations about how the Political Parties Act passed in 2007 was changed to alter the criteria of funding parties, a development which has further weakened democracy.

Charles Rubia, who alongside Matiba and Raila Odinga, was arrested and detained before July 7 in 1990, told Saturday Standard that although the country is better off now, he is worried by the runaway corruption, warning that if it is not addressed urgently, it would plunge the country into serious political problems.

“The situation today is somehow better. The current problem requires urgent attention from the political class and mwananchi. Otherwise we could get into more trouble. Corruption and tribalism are very real and pose a threat to the country.”

Rubia said that in 1990, there were ugly scenes in Kenya because of repression. He observed that even today, Kenyans must pile pressure on the Government to address corruption.

Another veteran, George Nthenge, who together with Jaramogi, Shikuku, Masinde Muliro and Ahmed Bamariz took over the mantle after the Government crackdown on Saba Saba is also disillusioned about the state of democracy.

Saba Sabacorruption scandalsKenya's democracy