Demonstrations have shaped the direction of our great nation for years

A protester lobs back a teargas canister at police during a nationwide strike to protest against tax hikes and the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, on June 25, 2024. [AFP]

By their very nature, people in government tend to be insensitive to the cries of the ruled in whatever entity they happen to govern.

Their ability to govern requires wisdom, right preparation, and understanding of the political environment.

It requires proper training and well-rounded education, ability to balance desires with resources, and sufficient supply of common sense to ensure sensitivity to the wishes of the governed.

Since not all in government have the three attributes, the ruled turn to demonstrations to seek redress and influence governance. This makes demonstrations tools of freedom.

It is happening in Kenya. There have been demos before, but this one is different.

There was, in 1922, the Harry Thuku confrontation at Kingsway (Central) Police Station when the police killed the Muthoni Nyanjiru-led demonstrators. The killings led to the Devonshire White Paper, the creation of the Local Native Councils to control ‘native’ political activities, and the Phelp Stokes Commission with its Tuskegee-like educational recommendations. 

Political demonstrations intensified in the build up to multi-partyism.

In the 1990 Saba Saba demonstrations on July 7, people turned up at Kamkunji and confronted the police despite leaders Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia being detained and having called off the rally.

The confrontation showed people had lost fear and encouraged the formation of the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga led FORD pressure group.

In turn, FORD staged its own demonstrations in 1991 which forced President Daniel Moi to concede to the return of multiparty politics in 1992.

There was freedom and mass campaign rallies with Matiba introducing the 'Moi Must Go slogan'.

On his part, Moi was politically clever enough to adjust the Constitution and make appointments that ensured he won the 1992 election.

Moi’s cleverness helped to diffuse the 1997 constitutional demonstrations. He rallied elected leaders in Parliament to unite against the threat that unelected leaders posed to their collective interests as a political class.

Irrespective of political parties, they agreed to form the Inter-Parliamentary Party Group, IPPG, to undercut the likes of Timothy Njoya, Kivutha Kibwana and Willy Mutunga.

Thereafter, Moi went on to defeat his rivals in the 1997 election and then started scheming on how to amend the two-term constitutional limit he had imposed in 1992.

The election also introduced William Ruto, a previous YK ’92 operator, into big time politics as MP for Eldoret North.

Ruto did not join the popular 2002 chant, 'Yote Yawezekana, Bila Moi' that brought Mwai Kibaki to the presidency. 

Demonstrations in the 21st Century initially hovered around Raila Odinga’s political interests in defeat and ability to create ungovernability, which led to good deals at the expense of whoever was vice or deputy.

The violence linked to Raila’s demonstrations forced the winners to cut political deals. The ability to use demonstrations to make Kenya ungovernable gave Raila clout.

Kibaki agreed to nusu-mkate, Uhuru to handshake, and Ruto to AU arrangements in which each sought what Uhuru termed 'thayu' (peace).

The 2024 Gen Z demonstrators, with no politicians or political parties allowed, organised differently and showed the link between demonstrations and freedom. Young, fearless, cyber savvy, socially conscious, and well-schooled critical thinkers, they have out-strategised officials, paraphrasing the 2002 slogans and chanting “Yote Ya Wezekans Bila Ruto” and “Ruto Must Go.”

They scared Ruto’s Hustler Grandees into blame shifting. With Gen Zs ‘visiting’ various MPs who ignored public concerns, MPs humbled themselves into apologising for voting wrongly.

Defence CS Aden Duale, implying the police lacked ability to keep the peace, sent the military into the streets; Interior CS Kithure Kindiki stayed silent.

DP Rigathi Gachagua accused NIS boss Noordin Hajji of not warning Ruto of the simmering discontent. Although Ruto eventually agreed to shelve the Finance Bill 2024, the demonstrators felt ‘free’ to demand more.