Why my birthday reminds me of Kanu excesses

Wednesday, April 17th, 2024 07:40 | By
KANU Flag. PHOTO/Wikipedia
KANU Flag. PHOTO/Wikipedia

Last Friday, I made the unusual move on my social media platforms to announce to the world that I had turned 58 years old. I took the unprecedented position because in the last 32 years, every April 12  reminds me of the dreaded spooky surveillance-riddled repressive days of the Kanu era. So because it is an experience one should never wish, or visit, another. I have elected to re-share one of the incidents of my many troubles with Kanu administration of yore.

On that Thursday morning, I was walking past the open parking lot between Kencom House and Tumaini House in Nairobi’s Central Business District when I realised some mass of bodies moving along with me towards our offices. The open space was unusually congested with strange faces. I smelt a rat.

I worked for the then fierce - some called it radical, others fiery - Society Weekly political magazine where I was the News Editor and Pius Nyamora (Editor-in-Chief), Blamuel Njururi (Managing Editor) and Mwenda Njoka (Deputy Managing Editor). Mwangi Chege was the Deputy News Editor while Laban Gitau and Macharia Mugo were senior reporters. Fred Geke, George Obanyi and Mburu Mucoki completed the sub-editors’ desk.

The mass of bodies followed me through the stairs to the third floor of Tumaini House where our offices were located. At the reception, the editorial secretary Janet Marende had barely greeted me after calling my name and asking: “Wewe hujachukuliwa?” When my stalkers pounced. The heavily built men carried me shoulder-high through the corridors and stairs of Tumaini House. Outside the building, we found over 60 other crew-cut moustached men in black suits who joined the fray to push and shove me to a waiting white saloon car. White cars were dreaded then. Two years earlier the people who murdered then Foreign Affairs Ministe Robert Ouko were reportedl to have been in a white car when they went to pick  him from his  Muhoroni home.

I had just been arrested. It was the beginning of a two-week ordeal that saw me being held incommunicado over the entire Easter weekend at Ongata Rongai Police Post (now station), being charged in Mombasa with 11 counts of sedition together with Nyamora, his wife Loise, Njoka and Gitau and spending a week with hardcore criminals at Shimo La Tewa Prison after being denied baili. Our relatives who had travelled from our rural homes to Nairobi had no clue regarding our whereabouts. 

Then Law Society of Kenya (LSK) chairman, Senior Counsel Paul Muite, was our lawyer. He, too, did not know where we were.  On realising on the morning of our being charged that we had been hauled to Mombasa, he telephoned the Mombasa LSK branch chairman at the time Lumatete Muchai to represent us.

While still at Ongata Rongai Police Post, four detectives who were part of the investigating team visited me on a Sunday morning. They showed me a  photo of Muite and lwayer Gitobu Imanyara, who they claimed had told the police that we were willing to confess and apologise for our “offences” in writing in exchange for our freedom. They did not even tell me what the offences were. I declined and demanded they bring Muite to the station. They disappeared. They did not return until Tuesday at dawn when they came to pick me up and bundle me in a waiting van to the Nairobi Police Headquarters where I met my colleagues and we were transported to Mombasa in a bigger van, escorted by 10 armed officers, each one of us sand-witched by two.

The stay at Shimo La Tewa was the most excruciating.  Apart from the nauseating meals and horrifying stories from fellow inmates - most of them capital offenders - we were forced by the Afandes (warders) to squat naked every morning on two lines - one for men and the other for women - for medical check-up. The purported medical examination entailed a warder pinching our private parts - the testicles - and if one writhed in pain they were declared fit. I have never come to know how women were being tested It was a demeaning experience.

 In the cells, we met one man who had been brought there on the same evening we arrived. He was shackled both at the wrists and the ankles. He had murdered his father three days before our arrival in Shimo La Tewa, only hours after being released on a different charge. He later told us that he had killed his father because the parent had testified against him in court in the previous case. My birth date last week was a stark reminder of the repressive Kanu regime. It sends shivers down my spine.

—The writer is the Revise Editor, People Daily —[email protected] standard labour migration governance, the destination countries must be compelled to accord Kenyan women the necessary support and ensure their safety as part of the bilateral agreement terms.

More on Opinion