Not many Kenyans know the clamour to change the constitution started way back in the 1980s following the introduction of the one party state.
Those who tried to push for constitutional reforms that led to multiparty democracy in 1992, were arrested and even detained without trial.
As the country celebrates 10 years following the promulgation of the current constitution in 2010, one of the crusaders of the new law, Wafula Buke, who hails from Chepkube in Mt Elgon Constituency, notes that it was not a walk in the park.
Between 1986 and 2002, Mr Buke was arrested at least 23 times. He was detained without trial for several months but fiery lawyers who were also fighting for constitutional reforms like Siaya Senator James Orengo, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, Gitobu Imanyara, Kiraitu Murungi and Paul Muite among others would move to court to secure his freedom.
“There is no police station in Nairobi and Mombasa where I have not slept. I was a frequent visitor in Industrial area and Shimo la Tewa prisons,” Mr Buke told The Standard yesterday in an interview in Bungoma town.
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“We used to break the laws we knew were unconstitutional as a way of rewriting the new constitution. After we get arrested and released, we would then start agitating for changes on the same laws we broke.”
Buke’s first arrest was in 1986. He was then a student at the University of Nairobi. At the time, the United States bombed Libya killing slain leader Muammar Gaddafi’s son. Despite many African countries condemning the US action, Kenyan authorities remained mute.
Buke and his colleagues at UoN protested and were arrested. They were released after 24 hours. In 1987, he was elected chairman of the Students Organisation of the University of Nairobi (Sonu). He was arrested for a second time while only nine days in power and released after 26 days.
“I was arrested and taken to Central Police Station then Kasarani and later to Nyayo House where I spent 16 days. No charges were filed against me,” said Buke.
On leaving Nyayo House, he escaped to Uganda but the government sent covert police to look for him. He was arrested by Uganda police and taken to Mbale Central Police station in Uganda where he spent two months.
“I knew I would be kidnapped and hence escaped to Uganda. Kenya police followed me there. Uganda police arrested me in order to protect me. I underwent military training in Uganda and came back in 1992,” said Buke.
He then returned to UoN and founded the National Students Association of Kenya (Nuske). The association was meant to speak out against students expulsion.
He was arrested again for holding a meeting at Ufungamano House and taken to Gigiri Police Station. Another arrest came later: “There was an attack at Sirisia police station in 1993. Two police officers were killed and an organisation called February 18 Resistance Army (Fera) was accused of being behind the ambush. I was in Kawangware where we heard the news on radio. But after 30 minutes, I was arrested over claims that I was involved. I was then detained at Nakuru Maximum prison for 49 days,” said Buke.
More detentions came when he joined Safina party. This time his comrade-in-arms was former Mukurwe-ini MP Kabando wa Kabando. Most arrests were hinged on the claim of addressing illegal meetings. “We (Buke and Kabando went to see Governor Kivutha Kibwana when he was a lecturer at UoN. After the meeting, police officers arrested us and charged us with trespassing into public property,” he said.
His last arrest came in 2001. Together with the late Wangari Maathai, Buke assembled Catholic priests and nuns and matched to World Bank offices under the aegis of the Kenya Debt Relief Network. They were demanding that Kenya ceases to pay any more external debts.
After being pushed out of ODM last year, where he was Director of Political Affairs, Buke is running a hotel in Bungoma.
He said he has taken a break from politics for now.