Return to original police brutality scene a century later

Former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Human Rights defenders at Central police station on July 8, 2023 before addressing media over the arrest and continued detention of Saba Saba Protesters. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

What a way to mark the centennial birthday of a country.

There could have been a hundred and three ways to mark the month Kenya was officially shackled and Kenyans deprived of dignity representation. Teargassing an 87-year-old lawyer, Dr John Khaminwa and former Chief Justice Dr Willy Mutunga (77) (pictured, second left) inside a police station was quite a spectacle!

It was like the country had returned to the scene of the crime where the original gross violation of human rights occurred more than a century ago. In two weeks, July 23 this year, will mark exactly 103 years since Kenya was officially made a British colony. The indigenous people became subjects of the King of England and squatters on their own land.

Two years later on March 22, 1922, following a series of highly charged public rallies across the country, outraged colonial government officials ordered the arrest of 51 officials of the East African Association who were demanding just treatment of Africans who were being overtaxed and unrepresented in the Legislative Council (Legco). What followed thereafter on March 16 was a massive protest in Nairobi, where protesters marched to Kingsway Police Station, today Central Police Station, where Harry Thuku and the others were being held.

Police officers opened fire on unarmed protestors. Trigger-happy colonial settlers lounging in the nearby Norfolk hotel joined the bloodletting. When the last of the gun had gone silent, scores lay dead.

And this watered the seeds of resistance which birthed new tactics and unlikely heroes and heroines who would deploy their wits and resources to fight the oppressive government.

Mass protests, tax boycotts, arrests, detention, and crackdown of newspapers and journalists have since been fine-tuned by both the oppressed masses and the ruling elites to fight for their space in Kenya.

The role played by the newspapers, whose publishers were targeted by an authoritarian regime hell-bent on silencing all voices of dissent echoes throughout Kenya’s history. These echoes reverberate in Nazmi Durrani and Naila Durrani’s book, Liberating Minds: Restoring Kenyan History: where they capture the tribulations faced by some of the country’s premier newspapers such as the East African Chronicles and Democrat in their quest to expose government misrule.

Manilal Desai, who also assisted Thuku to publish Tangazo was forced to go ‘begging’ around East Africa in search of funds to sustain his publication because he had been starved of advertising in Kenya. It was during this tour in July 1926 that the illustrious publisher died after a short illness in Bukoba, Tanganyika, now Tanzania. Another firebrand journalist cum trade unionist, Makhan Singh who specialised in publishing newsletters and pamphlets blasting bad government policies had numerous run-ins with the State, resulting in his detention for over 11 years.

The memories of all these struggles flooded back last week when former Chief Justice and Dr Khaminwa were teargassed out of the Central Police Station for demanding the release of suspects who had been arrested for demonstrating against the high cost of living.