By Mercy Wangui

‘Woi! Woi! Sisi tunataka katiba ibadilishwe!’

‘Moi must go! Moi must go!’

These are some of the chants that filled the air on the fateful Saba Saba day. Crowds of people in the streets holding up banners demanding free elections; for better leadership. As I watch these clips, I am amazed by how much unity there was in demanding for what people believed was just. They knew the possible consequence of getting involved as it was no secret what happened to those who went against Moi’s government. We’ve heard of the horror stories of Nyayo house and how our parents could not say anything against Moi and his government.

The year is 1990, and the people were fed up with Moi’s government and leadership. Led by Rev. Timothy Njoya, James Orengo, Martin Shikuku, Charles Rubia, Kenneth Matiba, Raila Odinga, Njeru Gathanga and George Anyona among others, a demonstration was planned. The meeting point was Kamukunji on 7th July, 1990, hence the Saba Saba term as it was the seventh day of the seventh month.

The plan? To demand for constitutional, political and socio-economic reforms. People wanted democracy to prevail. They wanted multiparty democracy, political pluralism.

Charles Rubia, once defined Saba Saba in one of his statements as a leap in the dark, born of hopelessness. It was the culmination of what had begun in the early 1980s. In 1982 there was an attempted coup d’état. This is believed to have been the beginning of dictatorship in Kenya during Moi’s tenure, and people were tired of it.

Three days before Saba Saba day, on 4th July, 1990, Raila Odinga, Njeru Gathanga and George Anyona were beaten up and detained for allegedly orchestrating the demonstrations. On the actual day, the police force was used to disrupt the movement, brutally so. The riots took place in different parts of the country and went on for 4 days. During this time, 21 people lost their lives and over 1,000 people were taken to jail. This day is instrumental in Kenya’s history of democracy.

This is a day that should be acknowledged but will never be given the recognition it deserves. The sacrifices and efforts of active Kenyans who were not politically popular have been erased while some of the Saba Saba organizers and leaders have since become the same politicians that they went to the streets to call out. The democracy we have today, albeit still limited, came at a high price.

To date, Kenyans still fight for true democracy and their rights. We still complain about authoritarian leadership, bad governance, heavy taxes and poor social services. For the past few years, human rights groups and activists have organised protests every Saba Saba to call for respect for human rights, an end to police brutality and extrajudicial killings. Even though Saba Saba may not mean much to you or any other Kenyan, we must remember that true freedom happens when every Kenyan experiences the same freedom. So why do we leave the fight to a few?

Are we not tired?

This is our country, we must not let the injustice weaken our love for Kenya. This Saba Saba day, I ask you to self-reflect on how you are honoring the sacrifices of those that came before us and what you are contributing to make our country better for yourself and those to come.

This Saba Saba, we honor the lives lost in 1990 at the Saba Saba March. We honor every life lost in the hands of the police. We honor our freedom fighters.

Indeed, it is NOT YET UHURU. And the fight must go on. Do your part.

Cover Image: @someone_who_celebrates on Instagram


About Author

A girl trying to learn, unlearn and relearn hoping to leave a mark of authenticity to those she encounters




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