Jerotich Seii: I'm not an activist but an active citizen who means well for our country
| Dec 13th 2021 | 7 min read
“I am an active citizen… I am not an activist,” is the common refrain during our lunch with Jerotich Seii.
We are having lunch in a tent in the lush gardens of a restaurant off Ngong’ Road.
The menu is ala-carte. She recommends chicken for me. She picks quinoa salad with grilled chicken and a mango basil salsa.
Jerotich rose into fame from the SwitchOff KPLC campaign against high electricity costs from the power utility Kenya Power and lately Linda Katiba a grouping of civil society activists.
Jerotich is good company for anyone who wants to sit back and just listen. She spices up her chat with anecdotes and titbits of what is on the grapevine.
From her travails during the Covid-19 pandemic where she would run into police at roadblocks in the night and the officers would shout “Jerotich Seii” and she would shout back at them: “Linda Katiba” and offer them hot samosas; to what she knows from her circles in the civil society and the UN world.
In 2014, on the eve of her 40th birthday, she got sacked from her prestigious job at the International Rescue Committee- an American NGO that assists people who have been affected by conflicts and wars.
“Within two years of hiring me, they fired me in the most spectacular of ways after I queried some deficits,” she says. The matter is still in court.
It is that fall from the lofty perch that thrust her into the agitation space.
“I am ’74 born so I am not an emerging person.” Is her response to the notion that she just emerged or just happened. Adding that the brand of the organisations she worked for previously meant that she stayed away from the fray… “from anything that could prompt a call from headquarters.”
Jerotich is the second born of Tabitha Seii and Major (retired) John Seii. Her mother was active in Second Liberation struggles in the 1990s. Later when Mwai Kibaki won the 2002 elections, she was posted to South Africa as Kenya’s High Commissioner.
Some consider her a chip off the old block. There is so much to suggest that in her and much more to suggest that she has taken after both of her parents. Major (retired) Seii was a member of the Building Bridges Initiative. He dissented and disowned the final report of the committee.
Her agitation spirit stems from her work experience where she spent half the time soliciting for help and funds to fix problems that were for most of them man-made and therefore avoidable and watching her parents rise up against the Kanu administration.
Once when she came home from school in Eldoret and found her father pacing up and down the garden, her baby sister in his hands, and she says she heard him mutter to himself; “It is all over.”
Her mother’s agitation for good governance including multi-party politics had cost him his job in the military. Their life disrupted by the loss of livelihood planted in her the seed of agitation to do what is right “no matter the consequences.”
They moved back to Nairobi from where she completed her primary school and secondary school.
Jerotich admits that it took her a long time to “emerge from the sense of shame and failure” after her firing from IRC. And that is why it took her long to sue.
She had “subsumed her everything in her job and title.” Adding that sometimes, one “has to be stripped of everything” to regain their bearing in life.
It is the realisation that she couldn’t fight for people’s rights “if you can’t fight for your own” that got her to look for a lawyer to sue her former employer for terminating her.
With her sacking, she could now speak freely and engage on the issues that are dear to her and which in many respects “resonate with what the civil society does.” But she insists again: “she is not an activist like those others.”
“I mind my own business as well as those of the Government.”
Because she enunciates her points in clipped English, she is erudite in speech delivery; a gem for civil agitation. She is also proficient in French, Portuguese, Arabic, and Spanish.
She graduated from Grinnell College in the USA with a degree in Global Feminist Theory, Gender & Women and Political Science.
She considers herself a team player.
Jerotich is not encumbered by sensitivities like culture, gender, and background, or religion. “I am not religious… but I believe there is a God.”
She hates tribalism which she says is borne of the culture of a privileged top dog “hooking up his people” because he has the opportunity and because of “significant expectations” when one is “up there” in the ladder.
She doesn’t believe that a woman “has to giggle or simper” for them to be considered for anything or to be taken seriously.
Her salad is still untouched yet I am halfway through with my meal.
SwitchOffKPC was borne out of the strain from prohibitive electricity costs. She teamed up with Nairobi Lawyer Apollo Mboya and successfully managed to create a buzz about electricity costs.
She is delighted that those efforts seemed to have borne fruits with the recently constituted Presidential Taskforce on the Review of Power Purchase Agreements.
“I came up with the name Linda Katiba,” she offers.
The Linda Katiba group which she says is flat – no leader- the lean team includes presidential hopeful Reuben Kigame, economist David Ndii, Sheikh Abdulahi Abdi, Prof Kitile Naituli, Daisy Amdany, Martha Karua, Wanjeri Nderu, Boniface Mwangi…
“Everybody brings their comparative advantage into Linda Katiba.”
So what is Linda Katiba?
“Linda Katiba is an idea in the head, it is amorphous, it is diffuse, it is a movement.”
She clarifies that it is not Linda Katiba that was running the BBI petition in court, but because of what Linda Katiba stands for, it quickly became the reference point even though they had just filed the petition on the basic structure.
She is from a relatively well-to-do family, why the fuss about things that don’t work? Does she think anyone is listening? “There are those who will wonder why I am doing all this… si I have a mzungu husband, I can get a passport and go live in Holland.”
She says the middle class must become the conscience of the country “because the middle class has the time to write, think and pontificate and state our case. But we are busy at work or running after little tenders.”
“We can’t just lament like Habakkuk in the Bible… we need to stand up and do something.”
“When they ask me why are you fighting, I ask back and why are you not fighting? Don’t we live in the same country facing the same challenges… sky-rocketing fuel prices.”
She says the days of NGOs and civil society rounding up youths for a rally in town “where some get injured or die will soon be over”.
“If everyone played an active role in questioning why things are run the way they are, this country would be much different than it is.”
“I wonder… before you pay your exorbitant electricity bill or high fuel prices at the pump, do they check if you support Ruto or Raila or whoever… the pain doesn’t discriminate so let us rise and confront it?”
She argues that the transformation of Kenya will come from those who are patriotic enough to love it and therefore, “challenge the status quo.” And warns that leaving all that to the politicians alone is foolhardy.
“What have the politicians got to show us after all these years… just the prowess to gather crowds and abuse each other? That has to change.”
And quotes German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famous quote: “When you gaze into that abyss, it gazes back, and it tells you what you are made of.”
We all should do that because we are at the edge of the abyss.
Part of the weariness is the reductive nature of some Kenyans. “Those who are quick to tell you to go to court, or go and demonstrate or then go and demonstrate.” Yet the powers-that-be have opened so many battlefronts that call for more concerted efforts.
She spares her stinging criticism to the closing off of Uhuru Park and Uhuru Gardens. Jerotich says her role is to trigger an awakening across the middle class to see that this country is ours.
“Those who went to Uhuru Park and sailed on the boats at Christmas in the same way Londoners will go to Hyde Park or New Yorkers to Central Park… and are silent as it is grabbed.”
And laments that Kenyans – the middle-class- have swallowed hook, line, and sinker “the lie that what is going on at Uhuru Park and Uhuru Gardens is a facelift.
Uhuru Park was a hang-out for the “Eastlando” crew as she puts it. Now that is no more just like the Lunar Park (which was excised to give way for the JKIA-Westlands Express Way- and unless the people raise their voices, more will go.
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