Activism and protest no longer the preserve of civil society or professional protesters

Friday July 15 2016

More by this Author

Something is erupting and soon may explode. Last week the Law Society of Kenya and civil society spent the week protesting the executions of the Mavoko Three. This week, the well-heeled students, governors and staff of United States International University - Africa (USIU-A) took to the streets to oppose the grabbing and resale of their university land.

Just when it appeared that greed had no shame, apology or age limits, the middle classes have finally woken from their slumber to shout from the rooftops that enough is enough.

Activism and protest is no longer the exclusive preserve of civil society or professional protesters. The difference of course is that the middle classes are eventually feeling the pinch and price of impunity and corruption.

For decades, they insulated themselves from the rot by acquiring private health, private security guards, private insurance, private education and DStv. They complained of course about the state of the country, but those complaints rarely went beyond the bars or salons. They lived comfortably, privately and quietly hoping that things would sort themselves out.

They never believed it was their responsibility to bring the much-needed change. They clapped approvingly when police executed suspects, gangsters, ‘terrorists’ and petty thieves. They never imagined that one day they, too, could be the target of the assassin squads. They knew that land grabbers targeted public land and settlement schemes, but they were comfortably settled and not affected. Now their private institutions are also targeted.

Suddenly, they have discovered that the rot is pervasive and endemic and hitting their own patch and pocket. They can no longer hide or avoid. There is another dimension to these protests that needs mentioning. That is the absence or invisibility of the political class. A few opportunistic ones joined at the last moment when they saw the size of the crowds, but the leadership in the protests has ignored the politicians and that is telling.


For the political class, this is new and unfamiliar territory; other sectors are setting the agenda and they are forced to play catch up.

This is a long way from the "tunaomba serikali" culture, which outlasted the emergence of the 2010 Constitution. But these recent moves are a hopeful sign that the Constitution is taking root, citizens claiming their rights and institutions expected to toe the line. Before getting carried away, however, let it be said that this is currently just a mind shift, but that is where change begins. The challenge for the Mavoko and USIU-A protesters is where to go from here. These forces for change, which are apolitical and beyond ethnicity, must combine energies and transfer the momentum into a movement that can set the agenda.

Setting the agenda in a smart, appealing and professional manner will capture the imagination of the masses and shift the attention away from the negative ethnicity, petty politics and profound ignorance that currently dominates the airwaves. Kenyans are ready for something new, attractive, inclusive that addresses real issues and that offers hope for their children. The country may have stumbled into its Arab Spring moment, but it is now time for the forces to concretise and articulate the changes they want.


[email protected]; @GabrielDolan1