When boots and batons were met with twangs, cards and stethoscopes
By Peter Kimani
| July 16th 2021
A unique set of protesters arrived in the streets this week. They wore white coats, which made it extremely easy for police to spot them. And they had stethoscopes dangling from their necks. They were medical students, they said in crisp-clean English, and they were worried about fees increments at the University of Nairobi, which would militate against the completion of their studies.We understand that it’s usually ‘A’ students who get into Med school; we know it’s usually ‘D’ students who make it to the Kiganjo Police Training College. So, from the onset, this meeting was bound to be an unmitigated disaster, especially if one group begrudges the other for excelling where the other had failed.
Only that they did not get close enough to talk about grades and graduations; the police unleashed tear gas and water cannons to keep the Med students at bay, although they were largely peaceful and calm. Heck, they were also neat and clean, judging from the brightness of their coats.
But since police are adept at turning street demos into combats, the Med students appeared ill-prepared. The white coats, for instance, meant one could only hide in plain sight, while their stethoscopes may have been mistaken for sinister tools intent on harming the officers.
Third, the students issued their itinerary ahead of time, complete with their intended travel routes! Fourth, although there is unity in numbers, one has to be streetwise and set smaller groups to different directions, but reassemble strategically, before arriving at destination.
This was the sort of wisdom dispensed by the Saba Saba Day veterans, only last week when they appeared on TV to recall our tempestuous path to democracy. Thirty years ago, those veterans were known as Young Turks. Now they are grizzled old men, and they recounted, in shaky voices, their days in the trenches.
This wasn’t just a turn of phrase; they hid in trenches to escape a police cordon thrown around Kamukunji grounds, near downtown Nairobi, where pro-democracy elements had assembled to challenge the Kanu dictatorship.
That day, July 7, 1990, now memorialised as Saba Saba Day, is considered an important signpost in our democratic evolution. As one of the wise, old men remarked last week, it appeared their sacrifice had not achieved much, as the conditions that they were protesting pretty much obtain today. The cost of living is unbearable for most Kenyans, corruption has become a way of life and the International Monetary Fund is back…
Hardly had their words dried on their lips, when the Med students arrived in the streets, protesting the self-same grievances that the senior citizens had canvassed.
We know there is plenty to be found within our borders, as our national anthem exhorts. And as Juliani, the singer, likes to pose, when we claim to be poor, from whom do those “fat fingers” steal?
Prezzo UK was more direct when he said some Sh2 billion is looted daily from the national coffers, although he despairs at the challenge, wondering: mnataka nifanye nini? Frantz Fanon provided a response that seems specially invented for the Med students in the streets: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.”
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