JIENJOY

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Kenya’s reformists want recognition

BY EVELYN NJOROGE

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 24 - As the country prepares to celebrate the promulgation of the new Constitution, people who have suffered in the clamour for reforms want the government to recognise them during the occasion on Friday.

National Network of Victims and Survivors Chairman Wafula Buke told Capital News that although their views were not sought in the drafting of the new Constitution, their participation in the country’s reform process should be appreciated.

“If this was a government that respects sacrifice, first we would be guaranteed a slot in Uhuru Park where we can say this is a freedom fighters’ section. I think this time they ought to provide such space,” he argued.

Mr Buke started featuring on the national platform of the ‘struggles for change’ in late 1980s when as a newly elected Chairman of the Students Organisation of Nairobi University (SONU), he was arrested during a rally and taken to the infamous Nyayo House Torture Chambers.

After 16 days of unbearable suffering, Mr Buke said he was taken to court and pleaded guilty to charges amounting to being a spy.

“Given what I had gone through, I thought the most sensible thing to do was to plead guilty to what they called an act prejudicial to the interest of the Republic of Kenya and they managed to secure a sentence of five years imprisonment,” he explained.

He served his five years jail term and when he was free again he says he ‘went on with work because we were very fired despite the imprisonment,” he added.

Mr Buke’s enthusiasm for reinforcing democracy in the country did not escape the authority and 45 days after he was released, they started searching for him. This time however, he managed to escape to Uganda where he joined another democratic force.

Fast forward to early 1990s during the clamour for multi party politics and Mr Buke was at it again. He came back to the country and was among those organising the Saba Saba riots, ‘stay home campaigns’ which again led to countless more arrests.

This ‘sacrifice’ and desire to see Kenya become a country that enjoys the various democratic freedoms, which he’s quick to add was inspired by the selflessness of the Mau Mau Freedom Fighters, meant that due to the incarceration, he had to miss out on college and failed to complete his studies.

“My resolve to take part in the struggles was a conscious decision. We knew what the consequences were; that you could not finish your studies and we agreed on that. We knew that going to prison was a possibility and we did not expect any sympathy from the enemy,” he says of his daring moves.

However, although he does not regret his role in the country’s democratisation process it seems to have dawned on him that nearly two decades after their ‘struggles’, most of the ‘freedom fighters’ find it extremely hard to secure jobs in the formal sector.

Mr Buke, who is now a Project Officer in charge of civic education at the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission, reckons that the government should work out a mechanism which ensures that many of them are able to get jobs in the government.

“All these jobs, they look at the CVs (curriculum vitaes) and you can’t give a CV of a reformer. We may not be having papers, but participation in the struggles is an experience that creates cadres,” he argued.

“Philosophers like Mao did not have study philosophy but they are referred on matters relating to politics. So if they came up with that particular approach, then we would find most of our developed cadres getting space within government and influencing things for the better,” he went on.

Mr Buke decried the little attention that they have received from the government, but was quick to point out that he’s glad that the new Constitution provides equal opportunities to all Kenyans including their children.

Although he had misgivings about the Kibaki government, which many ‘reformers’ thought would not be accommodating to them, he is happy that governance in the country has improved.

In the post-Moi regime, he says they have been able to enjoy their freedoms and liberties and can exercise their rights as Kenyans including opening up businesses without being harassed.

“I have read the Constitution in its entirety and I can say without any fear of contradiction that it is a huge step forward because of the Bill of Rights. Once people are free to speak freely, you can expect that the country will deliver,” he adds.

The introduction of checks and balances in the governance structures of the new dispensation, Mr Buke says provides a platform where Kenyans can exploit their full potential that is needed to spur economic, political and social development in the country.

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