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Painful memories of Saba Saba Day relived

By Wilfred Ayaga | July 7th 2015
Prominent Nairobi lawyer Paul Muite in this undated photo filed on 20th May, 2014

For the bevy of lawyers and human rights activists who participated in the Saba Saba rallies and even suffered for it, the memories still linger.

Lawyers Paul Muite, John Khaminwa and Gitobu Imanyara were among those in the front line. 

Khaminwa, who was arrested and detained as he went to find out if Kenneth Matiba, one of the prime movers of the protest rallies, was being held at Nairobi Police Headquarters, acknowledged the country has made huge strides in opening up democratic space. But he argued that more still needs to be done to ensure the sacrifices made by the Saba Saba activists do not go to waste.

"We have achieved a lot in terms of human rights. Things are not as they were. There is greater awareness and people are beginning to question public and personal issues. However, a lot still needs to be done in terms of tackling corruption. State organs also have to be more committed to minimising crimes," Khaminwa said.

He added that the fruits of the new Constitution cannot be achieved overnight and that there is need for Kenyans to be patient as the country works towards the full implementation of the new law.

Making a comment on the day, Imanyara drew parallels between Saba Saba and the expected arrival of President Barrack Obama into the country.

He wrote of how former American Ambassador Smith Hempstone shared with the activists intelligence that security forces were planning to scuttle the Saba Saba rally and arrest the agitators.

"Obama makes his first visit to Kenya, the same month we honour the many people who were killed, maimed or viciously tortured on Saba Saba Day of 1990. July is also the month the Americans celebrate their day of independence," Imanyara noted in his write-up.

Muite yesterday captured the pain of many other activists who participated in the rallies but still find it hard and even emotionally draining to speak of the struggles and the events preceding the rallies and the aftermath.

"Memories are still too fresh and painful. I would not want to relive," said Muite in response to repeated attempts to give insights into his role in Saba Saba and the progress made by the country since then.

"Please allow me to pass on that," he said in response to questions on whether the country had made any gains since Saba Saba.

Muite was among a group of lawyers, among them James Orengo, who made it to the historic Kamukunji grounds on the day police had cordoned off the venue of the rally that had been convened to push for greater democratic space in the country.

"I feel that the struggle, painful as it was, was not in vain," said Meru Senator Kiraitu Murungi, a key figure in the street protests. Kiraitu, who was among the formidable members of the fiery group that was then referred to as the 'Young Turks', terms the current political pluralism and the Constitution as strong indicators of the success story of the struggle.

He said democratic space has been expanded tremendously and the rule of law and human rights upheld, making Kenya "a complete contrast of the dictatorship we were witnessing during the original Saba Saba". He, however, said Kenyans need to remain vigilant to ensure the country does not slide back to oppressive days.

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