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What protests mean to the people of Gitegi

Sunday Magazine

A police officer in France shot and killed a 17-year-old boy in Nantere and Paris collapsed into anarchy, with a riotous public raining havoc in the streets for days.

For different reasons, albeit all anti-government, demonstrations in Turkey, Britain, China, India and Kenya have forced governments to react, sometimes by tossing a few of the rioters into cells and, down here, ramming live bullets into innocents caught up in the faceoff.

Sometimes, in properly civilised societies, these grievances are taken seriously and something gets done.

The problems inspiring Kenya’s political opposition to take to the streets can be felt in Gitegi as well, and the Brown House has been seriously considering calling for mass protests. If a local government just sits while the price of sugar approaches that of a kidney, then it is clearly in cahoots with the oppressors. Also, it is highly unlikely Sue will order any police officers to whip anyone.

The hirelings Harold used to ask to scare away dissidents are now hooked on alcohol and completely disinterested in marshalling a public that used to go to the streets without a proper understanding of why they were there in the first place.

I once found Githendu shouting, “Harold must go” two years ago, with a crowd of two in tow. They were protesting the dusk-to-dawn curfew. “Where is he going?” I asked him, well in my rights as both the media and the judiciary.

He considered this with the fascination of someone who had not thought about where it was that Harold ought to go. “He will go to HAHA and the Brown House, but I think it is time not to come to Sue’s,” he said, and immediately it was clear Sue had hired daft minds for activism.

When Harold avoided the pub for two days, and nearly died from withdrawal symptoms, the drunks came for him at our doorstep; they had missed his stories and Sue herself was asking when he would be back drinking on credit and threatening brawls. Protests do not work in Gitegi.

The government could join you on the road and even help you complain over injustices and in the evening, the oppressor and oppressed sit in the same dingy hotels to eat, are pummeled together by the high cost of living and beg for a swig at Sue’s together. Some of us are happy that the Finance Act has been suspended by a Judiciary that works, while some cannot wrap their heads around what is happening. A crisis meeting at the Brown House presented fears fares could rise (meaning no one leaves the village), as will costs of flour, sugar and power. Harold was unfazed until we mentioned alcohol. He jumped up. “Do not touch that thing. You cannot. What will men meet, and deliberate, over?” he posed.

I offered that church would do and he nearly jabbed an index finger into my eye. “On the road! I will call Sue, we are all doing this!” In Gitegi we either all demonstrate or no one does. Often, there is no impact either way. But if it means a whole day of not working, we are all in for it. 

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