By Gacheke Gachihi
Between 1997 and 1999, I had attended several Saba Saba rallies and the ‘no reforms’ protests in Uhuru Park and the historic Kamukunji grounds to demand for a new constitution. I was later invited to be a member of the National Convention Executive Council, NCEC, the vanguard pushing for constitutional reforms in Kenya, as a council member representing grassroots social movements. This was an important political opportunity that gave me a chance to engage with the civic and political developments, and to interact with luminaries of the reform movement such as Dr.Willy Mutunga, the Late Prof Apolo Njonjo, former secretary of Social Democratic party Dr. Kamau Kuria, Rev Timothy Njoya, Bonny Khalwale, Nobel laureate Prof Wangari Maathai, Paul Muite, Prof. Anyang Nyong’o, and Farah Maalim.
During the Saba Saba commemoration of 2001, I was at freedom corner with comrades from Muuugano wa Wanavijiji, The National Youth Movement, The Social Democratic Party, The Green Belt Movement, Safina Party, Peoples Party of Kenya, Saba Saba Asili, Mungiki, and as part of the new sprouting resistance which was called by Dr. Willy Mutunga and Mugambi Kiai as a breed of a new alternative leadership from below, since at that time Raila Odinga had the KANU/Liberal Democratic Party (L.D.P) cooperation.
On this day, we had organized a tree planting in commemoration of the young people who were killed between 1990 and 1997 for participating in the then government’s opposition pro-democracy reform rallies, evolving alternative new resistance in struggle and honoring the memory of those who were killed during the Saba Saba massive demonstrations in 1997.
Prof Wangari Maathai was to plant a tree this day in their memory. The gathering faced rough state aggression by being teargassed, arrests and torture in the notorious Central Police Station in Nairobi. A renowned police station in history that once repressed demonstrators who had gathered to demand the release of Harry Thuku in 1921, leading to the deaths of innocent Kenyans. To this date, I cannot recall how many times I have spent nights in Central Police Station, or had my name feature in the Occurrence Book. It is the same police station that came to define my struggle in building grassroots movements that later become Bunge La Mwananchi (Peoples Parliament).
It was during this time that I started organizing youth around Huruma car wash on several issues that affected them, and consequently formed a community based youth network named Starehe-Kasarani Youth Network (KASTA) that was formed by Ngei 1, a youth group based in Ngei ward, bringing in Mathare and Huruma car wash youth groups.
I started the initiative as a low income earner, an ordinary human working as a car washer in Huruma car wash. Later we invited Chemi Chemi ya Ukweli, an inter-denominational religious network, to conduct a civic training to our Kasarani-Starehe youth network in Kilimabogo on non-violent protests as a model of organizing. We also partnered with The Green Belt Movement to organize civic and environmental seminars that Prof. Wangari Maathai was giving at the Green Belt headquarters in Kilimani, Nairobi named Kwimenya (to consciously know yourself), after which we would establish environmental advocacy units and the ‘greening initiative’ groups in our areas. The movement would in turn participate in tree planting in and around Kariobangi Market (1999-2000). This initiative with the contributions of the youth helped to mould the emergence of a critical grassroots social movement that would later provide support to the reform movements during the negotiation conversations on the merger of The Peoples Commission led by Oki Ombaka and the Commission on Constitutional Reform led by Prof. Yash Ghai at Ufungamano House. The meetings were being organized by The Peoples Commission under an interdenominational faith led, peoples’ driven constitutional review, which was chaired by the secretary General of National Council of Churches NCCK, Mutava Musyimi.
It is during one of these meetings that I learned of many tactics in building social movements and political organizing from the late comrade George Mwaura Mburu who was also a member of National Convention Executive Council (NCEC). The Late Mwaura Mburu had initiated Peoples’ Assemblies in Limuru and Kiambu town and was a founder member of the Peoples Party of Kenya (PPK), a foot soldier of the second liberation struggles. He also had a special distinction in being a peasant leader and participating in shaping the middle class constitutional reform struggle in Kenya since 1992. He spent the last days of his life pushing the ‘Katiba Sasa’ campaign during the 2010 constitutional reforms referendum.
Comrade Mwaura PPK, as we called him, was a great freedom fighter of the people of Kenya and Africa at large. His life in struggle remain a significant beacon of hope immortalized in the minds and peasants struggles in Limuru where he organized Bunge La Mwananchi peoples’ assemblies to raise consciousness and advance the peoples’ struggles for liberation in Kenya. The late George Mwaura’s contributions helped to build my grassroots politics in Kenya during my early formatives stages in the civil society movements. I remember one historic moment in June 2001, during the merger of the Ufungamano constitutional initiative which had formed the Peoples Commission. The People’s Commission was supported by many Kenyans, progressive movements, and political parties who were opposed to the merger of the Ufungamano constitutional initiative and the Prof. Yash Ghai led commission that was appointed by Moi’s KANU regime and that had no trust with most of Kenyans.
The Ufungamano initiative was made of 54 stakeholders who were to vote that day and merge the Peoples Commission with Prof. Ghai’s team that had many Moi and KANU’s political sycophants. Most of the 54 stakeholders that made up Ufungamano initiative were conservative political parties and religious organizations. Democratic Party (DP) was one of these ideologically bankrupt political parties that were represented in Ufungamano by its then Chairman Mwai Kibaki and the then Secretary General Joseph Munyao. On the other side, progressive forces were social movements like NCEC, Muugano Wa Vijana Wazalendo (MVUA) and political parties like the Social Democratic Party, Peoples Party of Kenya (PPK), SAFINA and many grassroots formations. The Late George Mwaura Mburu was the Secretary General of PPK and he had developed a political pamphlet about the history of betrayal of our freedom struggle that embodied Mwai Kibaki. That day, Kibaki was attending the event at Ufungamano House to vote on behalf of DP as its chairman. The DP was among the parties supporting the unpopular merger between the two parallel constitutional reform processes in 2001. The headline of the pamphlet was about Mwai Kibaki’s neoliberal policies in Kenya.
MWAI KIBAKI’S betrayal legacy and the year listed;
1. That removing KANU was like cutting Mugumo tree with razor blade.
2. Introduced cost sharing in hospitals (curtailing right to health care)
3. Leader of IPPG that betrayed Kenya constitutional reforms in 1997.
4. Dividing the opposition in 1992,
The list goes on to detail a dozen of betrayals that Mwai Kibaki’s personality embodied in his political life, and that was to manifest at Ufungamano House during that merger. The pamphlets were shared through underground tactics in order to reach as many delegates convened at Ufungamano House, and who were opposed to the merger of which the DP was supporting under Mwai Kibaki’s leadership.
The Late George Mwaura Mburu had one pamphlet copy that he wanted to give to Mwai Kibaki as he entered Ufungamano House, intended at reminding him of the many times he had betrayed the Kenyan people in their time of need. This was a necessary political propaganda that needed courage. The task of giving Mwai Kibaki a copy of the condensed list of betrayals to the peoples liberation struggles was bestowed to me by the late Mwaura PPK as my patriotic duty to shame Mwai Kibaki: a task that I did with utmost courage and great sacrifice as it was a revolutionary act to deliver a copy of the pamphlet.
That was done through a disguised handshake handing over the day’s program to Mwai Kibaki. True to the wording of the pamphlet, upon reading it, Kibaki stood to speak and address the gathering in support of the merger in Ufungamano House. His reaction was clear as he started with a historical perspective of his political life. With difficulty of reconciling the political contradictions ensuing in his political life history, as was reflected in pamphlet, and which had invited his conscience to reflect on his continuing betrayal to our motherland Kenya. At this point, political activism that had rooted Comrade George Mwaura’s peasant life in Thigio village in Limuru was one of the many tactics and skills that he used as a community organizer and member of grassroots social movement to give political education to the masses and recruit new cadres for revolutionary struggles in PPK and Bunge La Mwananchi. That was part of my generational inheritance as part of social struggles in Kenya. which is part of my reflection in the last 15 years of grassroots struggles in the era of neoliberalism and colonial poverty in Kenya
I had a great opportunity to interact with Comrade Mwaura Mburu in many of the NCEC council meetings in Nairobi and Limuru, where we developed our comradeship that helped me to understand Mwaura’s struggle with the peasants in Limuru and Kenya at large. I was invited to PPK meetings often which Mwaura had organized with very little resources and challenges that came with political parties. The late Comrade Mwaura was also a delegate at the Bomas Constitutional Reform Conference representing PPK, and participated in the devolution committee that advanced the values of participatory democracy. Our late Comrade Mwaura will remain a hero of grassroots movements, as he shaped the politics of ordinary people in many political meetings that he attended around the country. He was a pillar of the Bunge La Mwanachi Movement, where we used the PPK party to organize Bunge la Mwananchi Movement in the grassroots and empower our people. I will remember him greatly in the contributions he made in the movement that today has continued to inspire more grassroots activism in Kenya. On 12/02/2011 in Limuru Thigio village when the remains of George Mwaura Mburu were returned to the soil of our ancestors, there were no tears from comrades who gathered in his grave that day; the only action was to continue organizing towards realizing his dream of social justice in liberating Kenya. And we prayed to the revolutionary spirit of our ancestors Kimathi, Nyerere, Pio Gama Pinto and Jaramogi Odinga who manifested in the Great Rift Valley in our rivers, who raised the sweetness in Mumias sugar cane and comrade George Mwaura Mburu’s peasant struggles. We committed ourselves to continue organizing our people from where he had left and as most comrades from Bunge La Mwananchi said. Comrade George Mwaura Mburu was killed by the cancer of the betrayal of our second liberation struggles.