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Organic Intellectuals Network Solidarity

February : My SHUJAA Month

By Comrade Gathanga Ndung’u

Mashujaa Day (Heroes Day) is celebrated every 20th of October as a national public holiday in Kenya to commemorate the great role played by our freedom heroes towards the attainment of our independence as a country. The date was chosen to coincide with October 20th 1952, when the then Governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, issued a state of emergency after the Mau Mau Uprising became a threat to colonial rule in Kenya. He launched Operation Jock Scott to round Mau Mau fighters and flush them out of the forest. 

Although the commemoration is a positive gesture towards our history as a country, it remains an insincere tribute from a country that has betrayed the sacrifices of the fighters who fought, many dying, for our freedom. Most of the land that the freedom fighters fought for was never returned to their rightful owners. Instead, the comprador class that replaced the British Government went ahead to amass large swathes of land and other properties as the poor were pushed to squatters and slums. Those who were opposed to these plans were hunted down, arrested and thrown in jails without proper trial. Some were assassinated and others exiled. That was the ‘payment’ the fighters received after spending more than a decade in the forest for the freedom we enjoy today.

My story has been inspired by the striking semblance and parallelity of six brilliant flowers that were plucked before their full blossom. Three on the national stage and the other three within grassroots organization and social justice movements in Kenya. Some of my February heroes met their untimely deaths directly through the involvement of the state and others indirectly through the system they found themselves in which has been perpetuated by the unsavoury ruling political class more than fifty years after independence. All their deaths coincidentally occurred in the month of FEBRUARY!

My first three heroes are: Dedan Kimathi (October 31st 1920 – February 18th 1957), Malcom X (May 19th 1925 – February 21st 1965) and Pio Gama Pinto (March 31st 1927 – February 24th 1965). Their ideological stand, brilliance and organizational skills attracted both friends and foes. 

All were born under different circumstances in the 1920’s with all their lives ending in the ages between 37 to 40 years after committing their lives to liberating their fellow oppressed.

I have juxtaposed their stories to bring out the striking semblance of their lives and their contribution towards the egalitarian societies that they all envisioned. Their activism was cut short due to their firm belief in equality of all humans and the commitment they had towards the liberation cause. Their resolve not to compromise with their conscience resulted in their tragic end. This is their story…

EARLY LIFE

Dedan Kimathi Waciuri was born in a poor peasant family in a remote village in Tetu, Nyeri in the former Central Province of Kenya. His father died a month after he was born leaving the young Kimathi to be brought up by his mother. At the age of 15, he joined Karuna-Ini Primary School and later Tumutumu CMS School for his secondary education where he proved to be a talented and brilliant student through his quick mastery of English and other subjects. He was an ardent reader, writer and an eloquent debater in his school years. Kimathi, found himself being a rebel from an early age in life and being unable to conform with the education system at the time. His rebellious nature placed him at loggerhead with the system that be. From school, the military which he tried to be part of but failed and also to the colonial government, he was a rebel. He juggled several jobs, at one time being a primary school teacher from which he was dismissed too for opposing and questioning the school administration on several issues. 

He later moved to Ol Kalaou in 1947 where he started working with Kenya African Union (KAU) and he would later become the Secretary of KAU Ol Kalau branch. It is here that his activism started through his contact with the Forty Group, a radical wing of the defunct Kikuyu Central Association.

Five years after the birth of Dedan Kimathi, another hero-to-be was born thousands of miles away across the Atlantic Ocean by Afro-American parents. Malcom ‘Little’ X was born in Omaha, Nebraska in the United States. Nebraska is a mid-western state in the US known for large scale agriculture initially produced by slaves. His parent, who had a history of slavery were avid supporters of the Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey. His father, Earl Little was a Baptist lay speaker and together with his wife Louise Hellen Little had ties to the Universal Negro Movements and other black liberation movements in the US. Malcom’s parents passed the black liberation politics to Malcom and his siblings. 

Nebraska had a long history of slavery and white supremacist groups such as Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Black Legion and hence his father’s association with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) made them an obvious target. For this reason, they relocated twice for as they feared for their lives. They had every reason to, as four of Malcom’s uncle had been killed by the racist extremist group. They relocated to Milwaukee and then to Michigan in 1926. When Malcom was six, his father died in what alleged to be an accident but it was rumoured that he was killed by Black Legion. Their family was denied most of their life insurance benefits, claiming that Earl Little committed suicide. This placed their family on a tough survival path while still trying to fight the constant harassments. In 1937, Malcom’s mother suffered a mental breakdown due to the political and personal turmoil her family went through. She was admitted to an asylum for the mentally challenged leaving her kids to be sent into different foster homes. 

In school, Malcom was an exceptionally smart student with a promising future. However, he dropped out of high school before graduating in 1941 after a white teacher told him he couldn’t become a lawyer since he was a negro. With prejudice, his teacher asked him to consider pursuing carpentry which led to him dropping out of school. He joined the street and became involved in petty criminal activities and he was, as a result arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1946. He was later released in 1952. It is during his years in prison when he converted to Islam and joined the Elijah Muhammad led Nation of Islam (NOI). It is from this political context that he would launch his activism and the struggle against institutionalized racism.

Pio Gama Pinto was born to Kenyan-Goan parents. In contrast to the previous two, Pinto was born in a relatively privileged family as his father was a colonial official. Pinto started his schooling in Kenya and was later sent to India at the age of eight where he spent the next 9 years studying. He studied science for two years in Karnatak College before joining the Indian Air Force in 1944. He too, proved to be an exceptionally brilliant learner. He took a job at the Post and Telegraph company where he led and participated in workers’ strikes. This marked his initiation into the liberation struggle for workers. He formed The Goa National Congress to liberate Goans from the oppressive Portuguese rule.

ORGANIZATIONAL SKILLS

If there is one attribute about Dedan, Malcom X and Pinto that their enemies feared was their organizing skills. 

When Mau Mau declared full blown war on the colonial government on the October 1952, Dedan Kimathi assumed a central role coordinating the different factions fighting in the dense forests of Aberdare and Mt. Kenya. With no proper means of communication, he went ahead to form and convene the first Defence Council to help in coordination. Kimathi’s dream was to convert the fighters into a modern army with superior organizational standards and employ strategy and tactics to win the war of independence. The council was to assume the coordination and supervisory role of Mau Mau activities. Through this arrangement and planning, the Defence Council with the help of supporters from all over the country was able to sustain the fighters by supplying essentials such as food and other supplies. From as far as Nairobi, goods were smuggled to the forests which helped to sustain the fighters in the decade long protracted war. They also provided critical intel that helped fighters escape what would have been night raids, bombings and ambushes. The Kenyan war of independence and the Mau Mau movement has been epitomized in the persona of Dedan Kimathi due to the major role he played in the battle field. It is due to this that the colonial government marked him as number one on their “Most Wanted” list because they believed Kimathi to be the aorta of the Mau Mau Movement. 

Malcom X was a charismatic and an eloquent orator. This, combined with his witty acumen, made him a very persuasive and influential figure in the Nation of Islam (NOI) which was headed by Elijah Muhammad. After his release from prison in 1952 he joined hands with Muhammad and rose steadily through different ranks. He organized the Nation’s Detroit Temple as an assistant minister, established the Boston Temple, run other temples in Harlem and Philadelphia and recruited many black people to the NOI. It’s during his time that the population of NOI grew from 5,000 in the early 1950’s to more than 70,000 in the early 60’s. Due to his work, his meteoric rise and his pro-communist stance, he became a marked man on the FBI’s list who trailed him from his early years of working with the NOI. Malcom X would later become the Nation’s national spoke’s person, a rank just below the Nation’s supreme leader. He would eventually fallout with the Nation of Islam and form the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to continue advocating for the rights of Black Americans.

Pio Gama Pinto was the “glue” that held together the different factions fighting for independence in Kenya. He was the nexus between the Mau Mau fighters and the trade union movements, Asian Lawyers battling in the court for the release of Mau Mau detainees, the international community in solidarity with the liberation struggle and other sympathisers. He was a brilliant brain and he prefered working in the background without attracting any attention or seeking credit for the sacrifices he made. Pio made sure the needs of the families left behind by fighters were catered for by donating whatever money he had and also mobilizing for resources needed by the fighters. Pio made sure his friends outside the country such as Joseph Murumbi and the lawmakers in Britain’s House of Commons knew the violations going on in the country under the colonial government. 

After Kenya got its independence in 1963, Pinto was instrumental in founding the Lumumba Institute which was an ideological training ground for Kenya African National Union’s (KANU) cadres. This was to impart the right ideology to new cadres of the independent party and the nascent state which needed leaders with ideological clarity to ‘jump start’ the cultural and socio-economic slump caused by colonialism. It is owing to this organising prowess that he became a nominated MP. 

BEYOND THEIR BORDERS

Although Dedan Kimathi was confined to the forest during the struggle for independence, his spirit of organizing an armed struggle against a major European power inspired other armed struggles and leaders in Africa. The Mau Mau movement accelerated the pace of nationalism beyond its borders. Nelson Mandela was inspired by the Mau Mau movement and he considered Dedan Kimathi his hero. After his release from prison after 27 years, he visited Kenya to pay respect at Kimathi’s grave site which unfortunately never happened as Kenyatta’s and Moi’s governments had not shown any interest in locating Kimathi’s burial site. Mandela also hoped to meet Kimathi’s widow; Mukami and General Waruhiu Itote (Gen. China). His legacy has continued to inspire generations across Africa decades after his death. As an African Icon, some busy streets and roads in African cities have been named after him such as in Mpumalanga in South Africa, Lusaka in Zambia and Kampala in Uganda.

Malcom X was a black nationalist supremacist when he was serving under the Nation of Islam. He had a very anti-whites’ stance due to the radical teachings of Elijah. However, this changed after his pilgrimage to Mecca and his subsequent international forays that followed, more so in Africa. Between 1959 and 1964, he made four trips to Africa meeting African Intellectuals such as Maya Angelou, addressed university students in West Africa, addressed the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and met with African leaders such as Julius Nyerere, Oginga Odinga, Pio Gama Pinto and Abdel Nasser among others. By 1964, he had changed from a Black Nationalist to a Pan-Africanist. Through his influence, he tried to rally African leaders on the same course against imperialism which was manifested in US by the racist police and was same by the French in Algeria as well as other places with black people. Though he never lived long to achieve his dream, he made bold steps in bringing African leaders together. He was also in solidarity with the Palestinian masses fighting against Israel’s apartheid. 

If internationalism could be personified, then it would come in the persona of Pio Gam Pinto. Pio launched his ‘career’ when he was still 17. He organized workers to oppose Portuguese rule in Goa. This placed him on the spot with the colonial government. Escaping to Kenya, he never took time to let the dust settle as he carried the same vigour with him and started fighting the British rule in Kenya. At the same time, he supported other African Countries fighting Portuguese rule such as Angola, Mozambique, Guinea and Cape Verde. His dream was to see Africa as a whole free from the colonial yoke. Just like his new found friend, Malcom X, he never lived to see this dream fulfilled.

THE UNTIMELY DEATHS; HANGMAN’S NOOSE AND THE ASSASSINS’ BARRELS

Dedan Kimathi was arrested on 21st October 1956 after being shot on his limb. He was placed on a stretcher where he was taken to prison. To demoralize other fighters in the forest, the colonial government distributed tens of thousands of leaflets bearing the picture of a frail Kimathi on a stretcher. This was a psychological war to the fighters as they thought by capturing the ‘mastermind’ of the uprising, they would bring the whole organization to its knees. His life was cut short through the hangman’s noose on the morning of February 18th 1957 at Kamiti Maximum Prison and he was buried in an undisclosed location. Before his execution, he was allowed to see his wife Mukami Kimathi to bid her farewell. His last words were full of optimism and demonstrated the commitment he had for the liberation struggle. His last words were, “I have no doubt in my mind that the British are determined to execute me. I have committed no crime. My only crime is that I am a Kenyan revolutionary who led a liberation army… Now if I must leave you and my family, I have nothing to regret about. My blood shall water the tree of independence.” True to his words, his blood watered the seeds of more liberation fighters who continued to join the liberation army after his death. This culminated with the independence and hoisting of The Kenyan Flag to replace The Union Jack in 12th December 1963.

Like Dedan Kimathi and other fighters, its better to die on our feet rather than on our knees.

As Malcom X rose to national and international limelight, he made both friends and foes. His radical messages which were mostly anti-white made him a target for the CIA and FBI. He was also trailed by the New York Police after he had an altercation with them when he still served under the NOI. His path crossed powerful government officials and white supremacists. He was also targeted by the Nation of Islam after the acrimonious fallout and the subsequent revelations he made about Elijah. Malcom X was assassinated on February 21st 1965 in Manhattan, New York as he prepared to address the Organization of Afro-American Unity in Audubon Ballroom. He died of multiple gunshots.

Let’s always stand for truth, no matter who tells it. Let’s stand for justice no matter who it is for or against.

Most African countries were granted their independence in the 1960’s and 70’s when a wave of liberation was sweeping across the continent. During this time, the new formed states found themselves at the crossroad of the west’s capitalism and liberalism and the East’s socialism and/ or communism. Pinto was a socialist ideologue who believed in redistribution of wealth and land. Jomo Kenyatta chose the capitalist route as a result of his close ties with the colonial government. This clash of ideologies brought the two at loggerheads as Kenyatta had started to reward his relatives and cronies with the pieces of lands that the Mau Mau fighters had sacrificed their lives for. Pinto adamantly opposed this and this led to an altercation between him and Jomo Kenyatta at the Parliament Building where they exchanged bitter words.

At the time, Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya had united and drafted a western–backed Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 which they claimed was to chart a new “socialist” economic model for the new Kenyan State. As a true socialist, Pinto and his friend, the first vice president of Kenya: Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, started drafting a counter paper. Pinto went ahead to prepare a list of the many pieces of land that Kenyatta had grabbed. This was to be tabled at the floor of parliament and would have resulted in a vote of no-confidence thereby impeaching Kenyatta and doing away with the Sessional Paper. Oginga Odinga learned of the imminent danger to Pinto’s life and took him away to Mombasa for a few days, only for Joseph Murumbi to bring him back to Nairobi hoping that his friendship with Kenyatta would help ‘buy’ safety for his friend Pinto. This did not deter his killers from assassinating him. He was shot severally in his car, just outside his home in Westlands as he was heading out. He died fighting for what he believed in.

In the spirit of Pinto, lets ensure that Kenya’s uhuru (freedom) is not transformed to freedom to exploit, or freedom to be hungry and live in ignorance. Uhuru must be uhuru for the masses – uhuru from exploitation, from ignorance, disease and poverty.

SOCIAL JUSTICE MOVEMENT HEROES

The remaining part of my shujaa story is of three committed social justice activities whose lives were cut short by the same system that took our independence heroes. They dedicated their lives in the Third Liberation Struggle which has been characterised by extra-judicial executions and enforced disappearances by the police, the shrinking of democratic space, high level corruption, the ever-widening gap between the poor and rich and privatization of basic services such as provision of water and healthcare among other social injustices.

The Social Justice Centres’ Working Group (SJCWG) is an umbrella body of more than sixty social justice centres based in the communities across the country. It was formed early in 2018 when individual grassroots human rights defending centres decided to come together and synergise their efforts on tackling the many injustices in the country and more so in the poor urban areas. The Social Justice Centres Movement has also suffered losses in its 5 years of existence with the lives of three human rights defender (HRD’s) ending in tragic ways. The unfortunate coincidences are that all of them happened in the month of February. It is unfortunate too that they were perpetuated by the ‘savage capitalist’ system we have in place from policing, to institutionalized poverty and privatized healthcare. I choose not to demonize the month which their lives were taken but rather use the same month celebrate the impactful lives they led by setting a precedence for the current and future generations. As the old saying goes, “the richness of life is not through material accumulation, but rather through the impact we make on others’ lives.” Carol ‘Mtetezi’ Mwatha (February 12th 2019), Henry Ekal ‘Turu’ Lober (1977 – February 21st 2021) and Alphonce Genga (February 8th 2000 – February 4th 2022).

Carol ‘MTETEZI’ Mwatha

Carol Mwatha was a mother of two at the time of her tragic demise. She was a vibrant and committed human rights defender (HRD) who dedicated her life to serving the community. She worked to ensure that the streets were safe for the youths who had been a target of police killings, arbitrary arrests, extortion and harassments. She started her activism way before the formation of Dandora Community Justice Centre (DCJC) and she had made an elaborate network with other community organizers, activists and organizations fighting for the same cause. 

The truth about her tragic end will probably never be known due to the manner in which the state agents hastily created what seemed like an obvious cover up and disseminated the story to media houses without reaching out to the family first, as protocol would have demanded. This was a deliberate move to control the narrative that reached the public despite the official statement being very incongruent. Carol Mwatha went missing on 6th February 2019 only to be found at the city morgue on 12th February registered under a wrong name. Her family and friends had been at the same facility on the 8th and 9th of that month and didn’t find her among those that had been brought to the facility from the day she went missing. The police narrative lacked credence from the very beginning. The mortuary attendants failed to disclose the officer in charge on the day she was purportedly brought to the morgue; the postmoterm was unduly delayed, and even then the wrong name was suspiciously entered-  Carolyn Mbeki, and the police went ahead to tip the media of her ‘discovery’ on 12th even before informing the family. The pain and agony was a classical way through which the state police have always prevented justice and truth to follow its course.

Carol was a visionary leader with very good organizational and mobilization skills. The idea of forming a centre in the community was birthed in her house while in an informal meeting with her colleagues that she had hosted. She saw the need to have a community centre to bring different Human Rights Defenders and community organizers in Dandora under one umbrella and speak in one voice. She sat down together with her colleagues from Dandora Community Justice Center and committed to organizing and mobilizing her community against the many social injustices they experienced daily. As a mother, she was highly sensitized to the bringing up her children in a context where injustices were normalized. To this end, she committed to fight extra judicial killings, police extortion, arbitrary arrests and harassment of youths which were and still are a common trend in Dandora and other high density and poor neighbourhoods. She decided to go against a system of injustices that was way older than her, predating Kenya’s independence. She knew what she was standing against but her zeal for a safe Dandora superseded her fears. Alaman James, a long-time friend of Mwatha and a colleague from DCJC opines that she was a frequent visitor at Kwa Mbao Police Post and other police stations in Dandora as she tried to secure colleagues and community members who had been arbitrarily arrested. James recounts how his church friend turned activist spent countless hours without giving up, sometimes going late into the night to police stations and hopping from one organization to another trying to help victims. Her resolve to follow up cases of police killings which were rampant set her against powerful forces which were previously used to acting with complete impunity. The setting up of DCJC in the community definitely sent a strong a message which made these forces very worried and concerned as DCJC would become the eyes and the voice of the community. 

Faith Kasina, another close friend of Mwatha and a co-cordinator of Kayole Community Justice Centre, paints Carol Mwatha as a mother figure to most of her comrades. Despite her lean frame, she had wide shoulders for her colleagues to lean on when they needed her. She was an elder sister, a mother figure to some and a close confidant to many. Faith talks of a comrade who would frequently reach out to her colleagues just to make sure they were okay. Personally, I never met Carol but I have come to ‘interact’ with her through my colleagues. Through her friends’ narratives, I hear a story of a mother hen that stood against a hound or raven knowing very well the odds stuck against it but still mounted a wall to protect its chicks no matter the outcome. Carol Mwatha launched a war against a system of impunity, a system one hundred times larger than her, mightier than her, older than her, but she mounted a defence to protect her children and the community under her wings. With her motherly instincts to protect, she paid the ultimate price with her dear life so that the future generations may live in safe communities.

Following her ever- shinning torch of justice, may we become the eyes and the voices of our communities.

Henry Ekal Lober “Turu” 

On 21st February 2021, we lost another committed comrade. Members of the social justice movement learnt of his death after a six-day search ended with the tragic revelation. Ekal had lost consciousness and was taken to Kenyatta National Hospital. Members of his centre had spent days looking for him with the searches being fruitless without help from the hospital administration. With the lethargy and negligence in our public hospitals and also owing to the fact that he was not accompanied by anyone to the hospital, he was left to the mercy of fate. He succumbed to his condition and died.

Ekal or Turu as he was known by many hailed from Loki in Turkana hence his alias. Just like many in Mathare, Ekal found a second home which he would spend the rest of his years until his demise. He came to Nairobi looking for a promising life after living his pastoralist family hundreds of Kilometres from Nairobi. Mathare welcomed him with open arms, and he ‘fell in love’ with the place, never to return back home.

Ekal had a slurred speech, a limping leg that had become septic overtime due to a wound, and he struggled with both alcoholism and the institutionalised poverty in the ghettos of Nairobi. Despite these, he was a very jovial soul, brutally honest with everyone and coherent when it came to articulating issues of injustices caused by the system. For this, some referred to him as professor. Mary Njeri, one of the administrators at Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC), recalls her moments with Ekal with nostalgia. “Even though he struggled with alcoholism, he was smart and very clear when it came to articulating his thoughts and what he envisioned for the community. He always carried a pen and a book for jotting down ideas and reflections and a magazine to read in his free time. I sometime wondered what a drunk man would be scribbling every time and one day out of curiosity, I decided to check his notebook.

I was shocked to learn that Ekal was doing a one-man research on water accessibility in Kosovo, Mathare where he lived. He did all these with zero budget. Despite his flailing health, he would criss-cross the narrow alleys to interview residents on his topic and combine the outcomes. On this particular day, he came straight to Njeri. (below is the conversation that ensued)

Ekal: Mambo Njeri (Hello Njeri)

Njeri: (Nko poa. Na wewe?) I’m fine, what about you? 

Ekal: Nko poa. (I’m fine). Bado uko college? (You are still in College?) Si unajua kutumia computer? (You know how to use a computer?)

Njeri: Eeh, najua kutumia. (Yeah, I know how to).

Ekal: (Unfolding his research papers) (Nataka uni typie hii research nilifanya ya maji.) I would like you type for me my research report on water.”

Njeri was left speechless after going through the content of his research. It was a simple research written in a very congruent manner capturing most aspects of the water crisis. Ekal was proactive when it came to action and chose to do what was needed without waiting for donors to fund his researches. This was the true spirit of an organic community organizer and mobilizer. Apart from this, he always had articles written which he would ask anyone at MSJC to type for him. He was an intellectual that got smothered by the system, slowly sucking his dreams out of him leaving him hollow.

Ekal was a committed member of Bunge La Mwananchi (People’s Parliament). It is from this space where he became friends with Gacheke Gachihi one of the founder members of MSJC. Ekal floated the idea of forming JM Kariuki Social Justice Centre named after JM Kariuki, who was a social justice activist and a politician assassinated during Jomo Kenyatta’s regime. It was from this that MSJC would later be formed in 2014 to document and fight extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other social injustices. 

I came to know Ekal in 2020 at various functions organized by MSJC. In all these meetings, he always created ‘beautiful trouble’ the kind of trouble I call, ‘necessary trouble’. He would not let the meetings to go on without following protocol. He would speak his mind and oppose anything that he deemed not to be in the spirit of social justice. According to Njeri, Ekal wouldn’t hide his disappointments and he would offer his unsolicited criticism and would repeat it over and over until his counsel was heeded. And of course, it was positive criticism. Through this, he was instrumental in MSJC’s growth and by helping his centre not to veer off from its core mandates over the 8 years it has been in existence. As Gacheke Gachihi puts it, “it is through sharpening of contradictions that the movement will remain ideologically grounded without wavering.”

Oyunga Pala, a Kenyan journalist, columnist and an editor teamed up with Ekal and became committed members of the Mathare Green Movement where they embarked on an ambitious project to clean and green Mathare together with others. Hailing from the arid areas of Turkana in North Western Kenya, Ekal understood very well the role trees play in our ecology. He invested his time in increasing the tree cover of Mathare knowing very well that most of the trees wouldn’t benefit him personally but would serve the generations to come. They went ahead to transform some garbage sites and polluted areas into little ‘paradises’ in shanties with rusty tin roofs. These small parks serve as oases of hope in Mathare giving us a sneak preview of the Mathare Futurism dream that Ekal believed in. In his final tribute to Ekal, Oyunga Pala describes the futuristic dream that Ekal saw for Mathare; the future where youths could shape their destinies by being proactive in shaping and charting a new path full of hope. Ekal was one of the few comrades who was proactive, pragmatic, brutally honest, committed to the struggle and a jovial soul. He always strived to rise above the system’s dragnets stifling him. This is my ode to Ekal.

May the homeless birds from the wilderness find a tree to perch on in Mathare, 

from a restless journey may they find home, an oasis of peace and comfort. 

May your trees be home to thousands of homeless birds, 

ejected from their ancestral homes due to ecological disruption and other injustices. 

May your trees clean the foul air in Mathare, 

the foul air of ethnicity, crime, despair and hopelessness

 and breathe out fresh air rich in hope, a brighter future and common goal of prosperity.

May the roots of your trees hold together the soil of Mathare, 

the soil with the blood of Mau Mau and many slain youths. 

May that rich history be held together by the roots of your trees. 

May that soil never be eroded or washed away. 

Let your trees hold the rich history for us and for the future generations. 

‘We cannot fail to criticize ourselves when we are oppressing each other while the government is also oppressing us.’ In the spirit of Ekal, lets create those beautiful troubles, those necessary troubles for the sake of a better future.

ALPHONCE GENGA

On 4th February 2022, the Social Justice Centres’ Movement was thrown into yet another deep mourning after the sudden death of Comrade Alphonce Genga. Alphonce was a 21-year old comrade of Githurai Social Justice Centre (GSJC) whose demise occurred 4 days to his 22nd Birthday. He was a dedicated Human Rights Defender (HRDs) who joined GSJC in 2021. 

Brian Mathenge, a close friend and a colleague to Comrade Alphonce at both GSJC and CPK Youth League, paints a picture of a young, vibrant comrade fresh from school, who decided make an impact in his community rather than follow youthful passions which is a common trend for young people of his age. He chose the unfamiliar route; to commit his life to protect the weak, the marginalized, the voiceless and the poor in our country. Within a year, Alphonce was a powerhouse in the HRD’s circles due to his sincere commitment to the struggle. He used art to reach out to more community members and to educate, organise and mobilize.

Alphonce would later join Mau Mau Study Cell organized in Githurai. Through the ideological grounding classes, he attended, he joined the Communist Party of Kenya Youth League (CPK) where he dedicated his time to reading and understanding Marxist Theory. This sharpened his wits and he would later use the same knowledge to reach more people from his area of residence in Roysambu. He preached and practiced socialism.

Aphonce wore many hats, but if there is one aspect that defined him was his commitment to ecological justice. He took part in the annual climate strike through his involvement in many oyungacountry, he had joined several ecological justice groups such as Eco-Vista, Ecological Justice League, Kasarani Ecological League, Green Jewel Movement and Githurai Green Movement among others. He left an indelible mark that shall keep guiding the future generation towards attainment of ecological justice.

In the short period he had been with GSJC, he had participated in many campaigns and activities such as cases of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and documented these cases in his community. He also advocated for quality and accessible healthcare, food sovereignty and security, quality education for all and good governance. He was a selfless cadre. During his posthumous birthday and celebration of his life, one of his friend confessed that he had quit football, giving up a talent that he had nurtured since childhood so that he could get more time to fight for his community in Githurai. To the struggle, he gave his all and it’s on the line of duty that he lost his life. 

Before his demise, he was full of energy and very vibrant. On the February 2nd 2022, he was involved in a road accident. He suffered an internal head injury and a broken arm. He was rushed to Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) where he was left unattended for more than 10 hours yet his was an emergency situation. For more than 10 hours, Alphonce was in pain, his centre members were in panic in the hospital compound. It was only after a confrontation between his friends and the hospital staff that the doctors attended to him although with a lot of lethargy. At the time of his death, his broken arm had not been attended to, more than 36 hours after admission. It was this kind of neglect precipitated by the privatised healthcare system that gradually and painfully squeezed the life out of Comrade Alphonce. The same healthcare system he was fighting to improv became his death knell, cutting his life abruptly short.

It is an agonizing fact which makes one reel with pain to learn that a public national referral hospital such as KNH has a private wing to attend to their well-to-do clientele while the general populace is segregated in general wards without enough medics, nurses, drugs and even beds for inpatients. This becomes like bidding where only the rich get services as they can afford to pay for them while the poor die in droves daily due to neglect. Privatization of the healthcare system in the country has made the whole system to be a for-profit venture rather than taking a human-centric approach that is tailored to prioritise health first before anything else. This commodification of health has reduced our health to ‘service’ that can be bought and its quality varies with the price that one has to pay.

To give a befitting tribute to our fallen comrade, it is the responsibility of every comrade and citizen to demand for a total overhaul of the cartels-ridden healthcare system and replace it with a system that is tailored to serve the people.

In the spirit of Comrade Alphonce Genga, Its NOT YET UHURU until our healthcare is liberated. Let’s ensure we fight for justice, dignified lives and a better healthcare system as Comrade Genga lived doing. 

APPRECIATIONS

This article would never have been possible without the generous contributions by my fellow compatriots:

  1. Alaman James, Adminstrative Coordinator at Dandora Community Justice Centre (DCJC).
  2. Brian Mathenge, Organizing Sec. at CPK Youth League and a founding member of Githurai Social Justice Centre (GSJC).
  3. Faith Kasina, Co-cordinator of Kayole Community Justice Centre (KCJC). 
  4. Mary Njeri, Adminstrative Coordinator at Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

(i). Biography on Malcom X. 1965. The Martin Luther King, Jr Research and Education Institute.

(ii). Donald Barnett, Karari Njama. Mau Mau from Within: The Story of the Land and Freedom Army.

(iii).  Durrani, Shiraz. 2018. Pio Gama Pinto, Kenya’s Unsung Martyr 1927 – 1965. Nairobi: Vita Books.

(iv). Fitz de Souza. 2019. Forward to Independence: My Memoir. Fitzval. R. S. de Souza.

(v). Gacheke Gachihi.2019. Fighting for Justice – Caroline Mwatha Ochieng. ROAPE.

(vi). Kinuthia Ndung’u. 2022. Tribute on Comrade Alphonce Genga.

(vii). Mwangi wa Githumo. 1991. The Truth About the Mau Mau Movement: The Most Popular Uprising in Kenya. Gideon Were Publications.

(viii). Oyunga, Pala. 2021. In Memory of Henry Ekal Lober. Facebook story.

(ix). Sean Jacobs. 2011. When Malcom X Went to Africa. Africa As A Country.

(x). The Star Newspaper. 23rd February, 2019. Two Records of Mwatha Confuse Abortion Theory.

(x). Timeline of Malcom X’s Life. pbs.org

Written by 

Cde. Gathanga Ndung’u,

Political Ed. Coordinator,

Ruaraka Social Justice Centre.

Gathangandungu72@gmail.com

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Under Our Skin Festival @MSJC

The first edition of the Under Our Skin Festival — to “entertain, inform and inspire” — took place between July 16 – 25. MSJC collaborated with the festival to support human rights film screenings and conversations in our community.

It was a great experience! See some pictures from the week of films below. Asante sana to all at Under our Skin and all who came out to ground these screenings in Mathare!

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May Day 01.05.21 Protestors March Towards State House

Revolutionary Greetings to all the workers of the World. Today as we mark International Day of the workers, we express our solidarity with all the workers in Kenya and beyond. On this day, we in Kenya choose to reflect on the State of the Nation and what the pandemic has meant for thousands of workers in the country.

On the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March last year, the country was launched into uncertainty and panic as the world we knew was halted by the mysterious virus. World over, governments got into swift action to alleviate the effects of the pandemic on its people cushioning them socially and economically.  Here in Kenya the uncreative, plutocratic government employed their clownish antics barking out measures on a daily basis with no concrete scientific backing or connection to the realities of common mwananchi. To date, they continue to do so with little progress to show, tangible or otherwise. Behind the scenes they continue to feed their insatiable appetite of external borrowing and looting public resources, pushing further the already strained economy to its death bed. One year on, the government continues to tighten the noose on the necks of Kenyans with zero investment towards relieving the plight of the masses. We are now held hostage in our own country under unscientific, below the par unrealistic measurements. What started as a health crisis in other parts of the world landed in Kenya as a political and security issue with boots and guns released to the masses instead of white coats and vaccines.

Thousands of workers have lost their livelihoods around the country yet in the fallacious manifestos, the two Godfathers of corruption, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta and William Ruto together with their ODM partners in thievery under the leadership of Raila Amolo Odinga, promised to create jobs especially for the youth. In their classic lameness, they continue to mock the youth in Kenya by dangling the carrots of kazi Mtaani and ridiculous wheelbarrownomics, indignifying further a disgruntled populace. How can a government loathe its people that much? That in the middle of a pandemic and with the massive job cuts they continue to loot the country coffers while locking the economy that mwananchi depends on? The constitution of Kenya under article 43 demands that every Kenyan is entitled to social welfare, quality healthcare and education, decent housing. What we have however witnessed is a dilapidated healthcare system, a confused and clueless school curriculum that has affected the quality of education our children get and a shamelessly odious external borrowing only for the funds to line the pockets of the hoggish cabal. 

We the people of Kenya, stand in solidarity with all the workers. We remember and honor the frontline workers that have died in the line of duty, abandoned by a government that was supposed to protect them. We have at heart and mind those that have been inhumanely left homeless through the evictions and destruction of their homes. We remember those innocent Kenyans that have bore the brunt of a ferine police force that has traumatized and oppressed thousands during this pandemic at the nod of their masters. We stand with all hardworking Kenyans that have lost their live hoods and now live in strenuous conditions that take a toll on their mental health. We stand with Kenyans, young and old, who have had enough and are keen to forge an army to take back our country.

In the same breathe, we the people demand:

  1. That Uhuru Kenyatta and his political groupies unconditionally unlock our country with immediate effect. The pandemic is not a political opportunity or security issue. It is a healthcare and behavioral change issue and thus should be treated as such. The dusk to dawn curfews and partial lockdowns are not only unscientific but unrealistic.
  2. That the government rolls out a well elaborated social welfare plan to cushion vulnerable Kenyans during this pandemic.
  3. Stop all the inhumane evictions being witnessed around the country.
  4. Stop aiding police brutality and extra judicial killings. All murderers in uniform must be brought to book and punished severely.
  5. Fully implement article 43 and restore the dignity of Kenyans.
  6. Lastly but most importantly, we call for the resignation of Uhuru Kenyatta and his cronies. You have failed the country and treated the constitution with disdain, refusing to live by its spirit and attempting to subvert the will of the people though the illegitimate BBI. You have lost all moral authority to lead this country. Pack your bags and go.

To all progressive Kenyans, We call upon you, invoking the spirit of our fore fathers and freedom fighters, to arise and take back our country. We cannot live in fear anymore. When we lose our fear, they lose their power. Arise Patriots Arise. Aluta continua.

Find the full statement for the May Day Protest here:

 Statement By Police Reforms Working Group:

We, the Police Reforms Working Group-Kenya (PRWG-Kenya), are alarmed and utterly dismayed by the illegal arrest, detention, and killing of Collins, a youth from Mathare in Nairobi County on 29th April 2021. This is the latest killing of a Mathare youth allegedly by a most rogue police officer known as Baraza, who operates in Mathare and Pangani areas within Nairobi County. 

Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) meticulously documented Collins’ abduction in a timeline shared on Twitter. MSJC sent pleas for help to the National Police Service, the Inspector General of NPS, the Director of Criminal Investigations without recourse…

Find the full Police Reforms Working Group Statement Here:

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Kenya A Prison Notebook

“Written 25 years ago, Kenya: A Prison Notebook has inspired generations and proved a great resource and a handbook in political education in Kenya and beyond. It chronicles Maina Wa Kinyatti’s arrest and detention by the Moi regime and powerfully captures Kenya’s history. Maina wa Kinyatti was then a university professor and foremost researcher on the Mau Mau (Kenya Land and Freedom Army), the liberation movement that engaged the British colonialists in the armed struggle for land and freedom. In 1982, he was arrested by state agents for ‘possession of seditious material’ and detained by the Moi regime. Maina wrote Kenya: A Prison Notebook over the course of the next six and half years he spent in detention – mostly in solitary confinement. Maina’s work and writing remain a constant and painful reminder that the objectives of the freedom struggle the Mau Mau engaged in are yet to be achieved. Kenya is a neo-colonial state. Her economy is in the hands of global capital and imperialism, while constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms are everyday blatantly disregarded with impunity. Maina’s generation continued with the struggle for a better society and showed great courage by confronting a regime that was prepared to go to any lengths to suppress dissenting voices. Today, another generation is continuing with that struggle in fulfillment of its historical responsibility.

Through this collection of reflections on Kenya: A Prison Notebook, young comrades from various movements and organizations interrogate the lived reality and material conditions of their generation whilst relating them to past struggles and experiences. They reflect on a range of themes; including the purpose of education as a tool for liberation or bondage; the unfinished task of national liberation; intergenerational inheritance of social struggles in Kenya; not forgetting the pain, courage, patriotism, and organizing reflected in the book. These reflections are a celebration of Maina wa Kinyatti and all those who engaged in struggles for a better Kenya and Afrika. They additionally are an urgent reminder of the need to organize more than ever given the lived reality and material conditions of our people – those living in deprivation, those whose rights are suppressed and freedoms infringed. They are a reminder that struggle, like change, is a constant. These reflections were inspired by a conversation-on at Ukombozi Library between Gacheke Gachihi, Nicholas Mwangi, and Brian Mathenge.A Luta continua! Sungu Oyoo – Editor

Full PDF of the Book can be found here.

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Nigel Topping, UN Climate Champion of Climate Change Visiting Mathare MSJC and Mathare Green Movement

Nigel Topping, recently appointed UK High-Level Climate Action Champion, visited Mathare Social Justice Centre to speak with MSJC members on ecological justice. He showed support for the Mathare Green Movement, a campaign to bring dignity to the lives of people through environmental justice.

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Citizens’ Demands by the Social Justice Movement in Kenya

Nairobi, July 8, 2020 

To: 

Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta 

President of the Republic of Kenya 

Harambee House 

 

Re: Citizens’ Demands 

 

WE members of the Social Justice Movement in Kenya; 

PURSUANT to article 1 of the Constitution of Kenya 2020, which recognizes us as Sovereigns and the source of all State authority, 

HAVING wished to present to you our petition on the 30th anniversary of Saba Saba yesterday; 

HAVING been violently disrupted by policemen sent by your administration to violate our constitutionally protected rights and freedoms including the right to peaceful assembly, expression and protest; 

FURTHER HAVING addressed various offices within your administration and received no meaningful attention; 

UNDERSTANDING that you have violated the Constitution on numerous occasion including failing to protect the lives of all Kenyans especially those of us from poor and neglected informal settlements; 

RECOGNIZING that you have taken everything from us including our dreams for a better future through institutionalized corruption; 

HAVING little to live for under your administration; 

READY AND WILLING to die for Justice, our Constitution and our Communities; 

DO NOW wish to address you and demand as follows; 

1. THAT you should understand that you are our leader and not ruler 

2. THAT we are sovereign citizens and not your subjects 

3. THAT implementation of the Constitution is not a choice but a duty for you and all of us 

4. THAT you have no right to mutilate our Constitution for narrow and selfish political interest to the detriment of the rest of the 50 million Kenyans 

5. THAT we demand that stop the BBI process immediately; implement the Constitution in full; no excuses! Tekeleza Katiba sasa! 

6. THAT you must direct the BBI budget to services that Kenyans really need especially provision of water, food, sanitation and healthcare 

7. THAT you must respect and Implement the Bill of Rights without any qualification or exception – Kenyans rights are not a privilege for you to regulate; they are an entitlement and we are ready to die for them 

8. THAT you must stop killing us – terminate and prosecute all the Officers Commanding Police Stations that have contracted extrajudicial killings in Nairobi and across the country; terminate and prosecute all the Police officers who have participated, abetted or aided extrajudicial killings; terminate and prosecute all the Police officers who have concealed and/or compromised investigations on extrajudicial killings 

9. THAT you must stop playing the game of musical chairs with criminal police officers; you must stop transferring them from one police station to another; we demand that they every rogue police officer must be terminated, prosecuted and those found guilty jailed; all of them 

10. THAT you must stop criminalizing youth and poverty; stop it immediately 

11. THAT you must stop weaponizing COVID 19 against Kenyans; stop police harassment and extortion of Kenyans; we demand a proper record of all resource that have been raised to help Kenyans deal with the pandemic; and we demand prosecution of all those who have stolen resources meant for communities and Kenyans from the local level to the national government 

We are tired of being victims and being terrorized by criminal state violence! If you do not respect our existence, expect our revolt! 

We demand and expect to hear from you within the next 7 days, failure to which we shall be back in the streets… and this time we shall not get out of the streets until something yields! 

For and on behalf of Social Justice Movement in Kenya; (see downloadable version here: SJCWG Citizens Demands)

Wilfred Olal 

Convener, Social Justice Centres Working Group 

0722746164 

Faith Kasina 

Convener, Social Justice Centres Working Group 

0723133329 

CC: 

All Sovereign Citizens of Kenya 

National Assembly of Kenya through the Speaker 

The Senate of the Republic of Kenya through the Speaker 

President of the Supreme Court and The Chief Justice of the Republic of Kenya 

Kenya National Commission on Human Rights 

 

 

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Press Release: Saba Saba March For Our Lives – Tekeleza Katiba

30/06/2020

PRESS RELEASE

SABA SABA MARCH FOR OUR LIVES: TEKELEZA KATIBA

Introduction

Members of the press, comrades in the struggle and community members, today we are gathered here at Kayole Community Justice Centre, to launch a series of activities geared towards our annual March in quest for justice famously dubbed as “saba saba march for our lives”.

The previous marches have been organised around injustices that we are faced with collectively from the communities that we come from, nothing has changed only that this time round we aren’t marching to the historic Kamukunji grounds but rather to Harambee avenue to present our grievances to the head of state whom the buck stops with, and is constitutional mandated to safeguard our wellbeing as a nation and not a chosen few.

The following are the issues we need to bring to his immediate attention

 

Police Brutality, Extrajudicial Executions and Enforced Disappearances

Despite the extensive input deployed towards police reforms, the police force remains a scare and a threat to the existence of many innocent lives in our informal settlements. The rise in extrajudicial killings in our settlements is a worrying trend that has left many citizens disheartened. The deliberate shooting of innocent lives and petty offenders without a second thought is the reality we are faced with on daily basis. The saddening bit is that only those cases highlighted by the media are the ones given attention whereas justice is denied to the larger section of the victims.

Equally, a worrying trend of enforced disappearance is emerging within our informal settlements as the new form of dispensing justice to suspects by the police. Such trends have been observed in Dandora, Kariobangi, Korogocho, Githurai and Kiamaiko. In this regard, we are still yet to receive any substantive information on the Kiamaiko three who disappeared on March 24th on their way from Thika.

Those who are lucky not to have fallen victim of EJE yet aren’t off the hook; they are faced with the scare of assault, extortion or harassment in the hands of the very ones bestowed with the duty to protect them.

 

Violation of Article 43

Despite the Constitution granting every citizen with rights to basic needs, i.e. water, food, shelter, housing, health, education and social security, we continue to witness the violations of these rights by the government.

Many of the informal settlements go for weeks without water, a basic commodity for survival. Those unlucky are force to walk for long distance in search for water, tagging along their children whereas the other half are left to be exploited by water cartels who sell them water at a fee which is quite expensive. Our attempts to raise this matter with various stakeholders fall on deaf ears with some of our colleagues ending up being arrested and charged in court.

Notwithstanding the scare presented by the covid-19 situation, with the recent demolitions in Kariobangi and Ruai, the government has rendered over 5000 families homeless, turning many to scavenging for food for survival.

Better healthcare still remains a mirage and a privilege of the rich. The status of our local facilities need immediate ICU like attention by the state and the county governments.

It is also important to note that the current pandemic we are faced has resulted in many being rendered unemployed, which has expanded the already bulged basket of the unemployed. Yet the intervention given by the government offers little or no hope to those unemployed, who are struggling for survival in the informal sector, but rather hope to medium sized businesses with sizeable capital. The already overburdened citizens are faced with an increase in VAT and the introduction of hustlers/mama mboga tax.

Funny enough, there are no jobs for the youths other than clearing trenches, but commissions and committees are formed to accommodate the old political allies of the states

 

Shrinking Civic Space

All indications are clear that the democratic curve in the country is gravitating towards dictatorship despite the previous milestones we have made to secure the space.

The unlawful takeover of Nairobi County by the NMS and bestowing it to the military, the silencing of parliament by executive and the struggling  judiciary are all indicators that our future as a nation is worrying.

Citizens are denied the right to assemble and organise whereas a section of the political class are favoured and accorded the to right to assemble.

 

Tekeleza Katiba

We do believe that the solutions to all our problems are entrenched in the Constitution and we demand for its full implementation and nothing else.

 

Saba Saba March for Our Lives.

Just like the previous two marches that have been very peaceful and nonviolent, we assure the Kenyan citizens that this year’s march shall equally be peaceful. We request the police to grant us our constitutional right to march against injustices and present our petition to the office of the president. We also ask the police for protection like they have done in the previous marches.

Thank you

Social Justice Movement

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Mathare Social Justice Centre strongly condemns the “visit” of known killer cop Rashid and two police officers to our centre on June 30, 2020

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On Tuesday, June 30 at 11 am, Rashid, the known killer policeman from Pangani police station came to Mathare Social Justice Centre with two of his colleagues; Rashid and one of the other policemen were in civilian clothing and the other police officer was in a full blue suit.

After introducing themselves, they said they had come to “lodge a complaint” against a person called “Ali” who had supposedly been discrediting Rashid on social media. Because of this they demanded to see the leadership of the organization. Jennifer, our administrative officer, and Lucy Wambui, an MSJC human rights monitor, were in the office, and said they did not know Ali. It is important to note that Lucy Wambui’s husband, Christopher “Maich” Maina, was killed by Rashid in 2017. A witness to Maich’s killing was also killed by Rashid in 2018.

After saying they did not know Ali, thereafter Rashid said that he knows that many people come to MSJC to complain about him, and he wants to speak with our leadership to share “his side of the story.” Him and his colleagues also asked for tea, and Rashid emphasized more than three times that he wanted to be served by Lucy Wambui.

As a police officer, Rashid is certainly aware of the legal avenues to lodge a complaint, therefore we consider his request an excuse to enter our space and intimidate us. Above all, since MSJC has been documenting the killings of youth by the police in Mathare since 2015, a large number of these killings which have been done by Rashid himself, we can only interpret his visit to the MSJC office to “lodge a complaint” as a threat to our members.

What’s more, as the Social Justice Centres work on planning the Saba Saba March For Our Lives against police killings, enforced disappearances and all forms of state violence, his visit at this time also counts as intimidation as we build towards this important March.

We demand that the National Police Service ((NPS) and Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) take this threat on MSJC seriously. We also urge other relevant grassroots and civil society actors to stand in solidarity with MSJC at this time.

We continue strongly in our commitment to demand justice and dignity for all victims of police violence.

In solidarity,

Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC)

 

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“Killings Get Back, We are Moving Forward” : The Launch of the Network of Mothers of Victims and Survivors of Police Violence

This article was written about the Mother of Victims and Survivors Network launch, and was originally published on RioOnWatch, as part of “ongoing reporting on social struggles around the world that dialogue with the local reality in Rio de Janeiro and offer important points of international comparison. ” We agree with RioOnWatch that “analyzing parallels and showing solidarity for peer communities allows us all to establish connections, share knowledge, build networks of support, and establish a sense of common experience and purpose.”

On February 15, nearly two years after beginning their work, the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network launched their initiative at the Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC) in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya.

The network is composed of close to fifty members from across the city’s low-income settlements—from Kayole, Mathare, Dandora, Mukuru, Kibera and elsewhere—all of whom have come together to seek justice for the killing or brutal victimization of members of their family, usually young men, by the police.

Echoing the struggles of the mothers of political prisoners in Kenya in the early nineties and similar inspirational mobilizations of madres and mães in Argentina and Brazil, the network is primarily composed of women. These are the mothers and wives of victims of extrajudicial killings.

Since 2017, the members of the Network have been coming together to support each other through grief, to offer solidarity in the judicial system for the mothers who have been lucky enough to have their cases reach court, to document new victims, and to strategize collectively. Though throughout this time they have witnessed and continue to experience the imbalances and biases of the Kenyan legal system, the day’s launch was a celebration of the Network’s tedious, painful, and painstaking work: of what they have accomplished and what they will continue to do to ensure justice for their communities.

In 2017, the MSJC, a community-based organization in the urban settlement of Mathare, released a participatory action report on extrajudicial killings in Kenya between 2013-2016. The report, titled “Who is Next?: A Participatory Action Research Report Against the Normalization of Extrajudicial Executions in Mathare,” chronicled the killing of at least 50 young men in Mathare and 803 nationally in the three-year period. While illustrative of the sinister force of the police in the country, most citizens recognize that this documentation is only the beginning. The number represents a minority of those who have been killed in the recent past and filed away as “thugs” or “suspected terrorists.”

Some of the families of the young men killed and documented in this report and other ongoing MSJC documentation are represented in the Network.

Mama Victor, the current coordinator of the Mothers of Victims and Survivors Network, lost her two sons, Victor and Bernard, on the same day in 2017. They were killed, meters apart, by police officers who had invaded Mathare, ostensibly to quell protests provoked by the election results released a day earlier.

In Lucy Wambui’s case, another co-leader of the Network, her husband, Christopher Maina, was killed when she was eight months pregnant with their first child. He was dragged from a building site where he had been working and killed at 2pm on a public street. His killer, a notorious police officer named Rashid, executed one of the witnesses to Maina’s killing a year later. Having also been filmed killing two young men in Eastleigh two months after killing Maina, Rashid continues to work as a police officer. Unjustly vindicated in an irresponsibly biased BBC documentary, this breed of policing reflects that what the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard called, during her February 2020 visit to Mathare, typical of “serial killers in uniform.”

Another member of the network is Mama Stella, whose son was one of the eight young men killed by the police in April 2016 in Mukuru. Though the media reported that they were “suspected thugs,” two of them were only 16, and one was 17 years old. The group had plans to start a community garbage collection business.

One of the youngest members of the network is 19-year-old Mso from Mathare, who has had two partners killed by the police in the same year. She is now left to care for two young sons in the same settlement where her husbands were killed.

While their family members are killed at whim, these women are unable to seek justice from government organizations such as the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA). According to its own “End-Term Board Report 2012 -2018,” the IPOA has only managed three convictions out of the 9878 cases it received during that period—just as in Brazil, the vast majority of these cases remain under endless investigation. And yet, against the injustice of these conditions, the Network has continued to grow.

These women know that the killing of their family members is only one extreme outcome in a continuum of structural violence that features, among other things: lack of access to water, poor schools, inadequate health care, and the militarization of their homes. “Children being killed like kukus [chicken],” said one mother.

They also know that the government’s informally formalized “shoot to kill” policy is reserved for spaces like theirs. Wealthy areas of the city see no such policing.

For this reason, these mothers came together on February 15 wearing red shirts to represent the[ir] “blood that had been shed.” On the back of these shirts were only three words: “justice for victims.”

Together they sang and danced and marched determinedly, expressing how the[ir] “fire had been lit” [moto imewaka], while dedicating time to plant trees in memory of those they had lost.

As these trees grow and are taken care of in a community that is governed by environmental apartheid, they will stand as symbols of residents’ struggle for justice. They will exist in opposition to a status quo, planted in a moment of change co-catalyzed when these mothers got up and said: “killings get back, we are moving forward.”

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Mathare COVID-19 Efforts & Solidarity

Since the government announced the first positive COVID-19 patient on March 13, there has been lots of community work going on in Mathare and other poor settlements in the country. Recognizing that they cannot depend on their government, grassroots activists have been mobilizing to get water tanks, water, sanitizers, soap, food, money and other essentials to desperate citizens. This situation is explained in a more in-depth manner through a Social justice Centre Working Group (SJCWG) statement available here.

Many people in Mathare and other poor urban settlements have lost their jobs or are unable to work for daily wages because of the “mini-lockdown.” And because of this food, water and other solidarities become very important. This situation has been made worse by the violent enforcement of the curfew, and a number of Mathare residents have been beaten extensively, and a 13 year old boy was killed on March 31 while observing the curfew on his balcony. His whole family were present during that execution by bullet, and until now no police officer has been brought to book for this.

At MSJC we have been lucky to have received solidarity from various people and organizations: we have received a water tank, money, food support, water, sanitizers, masks and soap. We are also working together with other organizations such as Ghetto Foundation, Kiamaiko Community Justice Centre (KCJC), Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and Muungano wa Wanavijiji (under the banner of Mathare SPA) to have a more coordinated response as organizations advocating and struggling for Mathare.

As an organization, our members have also done a participatory survey across all wards of Mathare to understand the greatest priorities of residents, as well as to create awareness on COVID-19: initial survey results are available through this link: (MSJC initial community COVID-19 findings). We also currently have a water tank in front of our space where we provide free water and soap for residents for hand washing, and have been able to distribute some masks. Thank you to those who have contributed to help us buy water, food and other essential, and for any one else who would like to contribute, they are welcome to send via MPESA or World Remit to Wangui Kimari (the Participatory Action Research Coordinator at MSJC) on this phone number (+254728174329). We will acknowledge all donations on our website, and are very grateful for them as we seek to support Mathare community members who are really struggling at this time.

Other community based organizations are doing similar work, and to find out about the work of other justice centres across Kenya, please contact the Social Justice Centre Working Group (SJCWG) at: socialjusticecentreswg@gmail.com

We keep praying and hoping that this situation will pass soon locally and across the globe, and that we will all be able to keep safe. Until then we keep on trying to make sure our communities are safe and healthy. We hope we can stand together to make this possible. Please see pictures below from ongoing community efforts during this time. Pamoja!

Pamoja!

 

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