Twenty nine years ago today, an event took place that changed the country’s political landscape forever: the formation of the Saba Saba movement.
The movement was critical in pushing President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi to repeal Section 2A of the Constitution and paving the way for the reintroduction of multi-party democracy.
The movement got the name from the date — July 7 ,1990 — when its leading lights were to hold a rally at Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi, only for police officers to disperse opposition supporters violently.
Members of that movement — from the academia and the civil society — meet at Jumuia Conference and County Home, Limuru on Sunday to take stock of their achievements.
The main theme of Limuru III Conference, as the organisers have called the meeting, is to reflect on the achievements of the Constitution that was promulgated in 2010, amid the increasing divisions on whether it should be amended.
“It has been taken back to Limuru because that is where it all began,” said rights activist Wainaina Ndungu, referring to the inaugural meetings in 1990 by opposition figures to craft a strategy to end Moi’s rule.
Among those expected at the meeting are Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, Dr David Ndii, an economist, and anti-corruption crusader John Githongo.
The movement was the brainchild Kenneth Matiba, a wealthy businessman and politician who had been stripped of his ministerial and Kanu party posts by Moi.
At a press conference on May 23, 1990, Matiba and former Cabinet minister Charles Rubia called for the reintroduction of multi-partism and announced that there would be a rally at Kamukunji grounds on July 7.
Four days before the rally, Matiba, Rubia, Raila Odinga and other leaders associated with the opposition were arrested.
That did not, however, stop their supporters from thronging the grounds.
In the ensuing clashes between police and the opposition supporters, several people were killed, hundreds injured and others arrested and locked up across the country.
The hot blooded “Young Turks” got the blessings of senior politicians like Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Masinde Muliro, Phillip Gachoka, Ahmed Salim Bamahriz, George Nthenge, Martin Shikuku and several others to the chagrin of Moi and Kanu.
Matiba, Raila Odinga, Rubia, Njeru Gathangu, George Anyona and other opposition figures were in prison when the Constitution was amended in December 1991, thus paving the way for the 1992 multi-party elections in which a deeply fractured opposition lost to Moi.
Saba Saba was the beginning of open defiance against the ruling Kanu party and Moi government. However, the significance of the day has diminished over the years.
“Saba Saba became the most important day in the Kenyan freedom calendar,,” constitutional lawyer Yash Pal Ghai said in an article published in the online magazine The Elephant to mark the day last year.
“Some steam went out of it after the end of tyranny in 2002 (when Moi left office), but freedom fighters continued to celebrate July 7.”
Besides the 2010 Constitution that guaranteed political space and civil liberties, the March 9, 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his main challenger in the 2013 and 2018 elections has reduced the significance of Saba Saba.
Former Imenti South MP Gitobu Imanyara, who was arrested and charged with subversion for publishing articles deemed by the State to be in support of Saba Saba, says the ideals and heroes of the second liberation have been forgotten. Mr Imanyara published the Nairobi Law Monthly.
“We take freedom for granted,” the former lawmaker, who will not be attending today’s meeting in Limuru, said.
“The ideals and freedom Kenyans fought for are under threat once again. Kenyans should rededicate themselves to the realisation of the promise of our Constitution that guarantees the rule of law as the basis of our governance.”
Last year, Mr Odinga spent the day in Kitui town opening a hotel owned by Prof Makau Mutua, another fighter for the country’s democratic space.
Orange Democratic Movement Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna on Friday said the party would issue a statement to mark the day and remind Kenyans of the democratic long and difficult journey they have travelled.
Last year’s commemoration was organised largely by young people drawn from several slums in Nairobi with the theme “The Fight for Social Justice and Human Rights”.
It was without the politics traditionally associated with the movement and day.
Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga and Prof Ghai who gave speeches.
Prof Ghai told those who attended the meeting — about 1,000 in his estimation — that his generation has not protected the Constitution.
“It is now up to the younger generation to ensure its implementation,” Prof Ghai said.