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Storm of reform blows on as reformists pursue change

By Oscar Obonyo | July 8th 2012

By Oscar Obonyo

Twenty-two years on, a team of politicians and lawyers that gallantly dismantled monolithic dictatorship of the time, is still struggling to get its footing.

Although everyone credits the so-called Young Turks, who teamed up with elderly politicians, for uniting a once cowed people against totalitarianism, opinion is divided as to whether they should be rewarded with leadership positions.

This debate was alive again as Kenyans marked the 22nd Saba Saba anniversary on Saturday.

Coming a couple of months before the General Election, some have advocated for the regrouping of yester-year heroes to take over the country’s leadership.

Goal already achieved

But according to former Trade Minister, Mukhisa Kituyi, the goal of the second liberation has been achieved and there is no more need for a united front by the Young Turks. Kituyi, a former member of the team, points to radical constitutional and institutional reforms as among those they set out to achieve.

Former Kamukunji MP and one of the original Forum for the Restoration of Democracy founders, George Nthenge, concurs: “All that we wanted was the freedom to express ourselves, but since we would not be allowed, we put our lives on the line and marched to multiparty politics, which I credit for the new Constitution.”

But there is the question of safeguarding the gains – a factor that has persuaded some into believing that a reform-minded politician is best placed to execute the recently ratified Constitution.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was part of the struggle, has expressed the need to protect the Constitution from getting mutilated by anti-reformers.

The presidential aspirant says Kenyans should not surrender the gains to forces of reaction and retrogression.

And, while joining the PM’s Friends of Raila (Fora) lobby group last month, Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara termed the occasion a union of those with reform credentials. He said the country is most safe in the hands of those “who were part of the struggle”.

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Kituyi, Gitobu and Mzee Nthenge, alongside others defied the retired President Moi regime to force their way to Nairobi’s Kamukunji Grounds to press for democracy.

Reform platform

Images of Lands minister James Orengo and veteran politician Martin Shikuku atop a pick-up mounted with speakers, still remain etched in the minds of many.

The resultant confrontation with security forces turned ugly, resulting in the death of at least 20 citizens. This was in 1990 on July 7 – hence Saba Saba.

But this was just the peak of an otherwise sustained struggle that had kicked off much earlier.

Others who kept the flames burning were the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the late Masinde Muliro, Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia, Salim Ahmed Bahmariz, and the late Philip Gachoka. The team of youthful lawyers and politicians included, Raila, Kituyi, Imanyara, Orengo, Kiraitu Murungi, Anyang’ Nyong’o, Paul Muite, Rashid Mzee, Gibson Kamau Kuria, Farah Maalim, John Khaminwa, Koigi wa Wamwere, and Mohammed Ibrahim.

Some, like human rights activist Omar Hassan, now believe the next election will be contested on the reform platform. Omar, who is also vice- chairman of Fora, says Kenyans this time should vote in individuals on the basis of ideas and not ethnicity.

Young Turks’ impediments

“We have tried, in previous instances, to form coalitions based on ethnic groupings and this has never worked owing to internal in-fightings once in Government.

That is why this time we want political parties and groupings formed on the basis of beliefs and ideologies and not tribes,” says Hassan. But considering that a host of presidential aspirants have limited reform credentials, it is unlikely that all will embrace this type of criteria.

Kituyi, a key plank in Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi’s presidential bid, is particularly against the idea of Young Turks regrouping.

“If we must come together, then we must do so on a platform of gains we have already made. In which case the agenda would be how to harvest from the constitutional reforms and not how to acquire political power,” he says.

Tracing the Young Turks’ impediments, the former minister says they failed after being scuttled by opportunistic interests that even included Raila going into bed with the then ruling party Kanu: “And we all came out of our various unholy unions with reactionary forces smelling like political skunks.”

But the Raila Campaign National Director of Communication, Barrack Muluka maintains the people who brought Kenya to its knees in the bad   old days have regrouped: “When the forces of change threatened dictatorship, they jumped ship. They passed themselves off as reformists.”

Mr Muluka observes the storm of reform seems to be over and now the anti-reformists “can put on their old colours and take Kenya back to the past.”

To Kituyi, however, the challenge now to the Young Turks is not to drone over the past or revive unity of the 1990s, “but rather make contributions from whichever political outfits we are that are relevant to present day challenges such as poverty alleviation.”

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