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…
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.
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.
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.
This article would never have been possible without the generous contributions by my fellow compatriots:
- Alaman James, Adminstrative Coordinator at Dandora Community Justice Centre (DCJC).
- Brian Mathenge, Organizing Sec. at CPK Youth League and a founding member of Githurai Social Justice Centre (GSJC).
- Faith Kasina, Co-cordinator of Kayole Community Justice Centre (KCJC).
- Mary Njeri, Adminstrative Coordinator at Mathare Social Justice Centre (MSJC).
(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
Cde. Gathanga Ndung’u,
Political Ed. Coordinator,
Ruaraka Social Justice Centre.