I don't know who you are. But since you say that you are conducting "research" into the second and third liberation struggles in Kenya (and have raised questions about my individual contrubitions), I am providing you with an invaluable source that was first published in 1993, hence, it was done; not prepared due to any political interests I might now have. Also, I feel that you will find it useful to visit the archives of The Daily Nation, The East African Standard, Kenya Times and the Weekly Review from November 1987 to February 1988. Pay special attention to the period of November 14th 1987 to December 31st, 1987. In addition, kindly interview Wafula Buke and Kaberere Njenga. Buke works for the Poverty Eradication Commission of Kenya while Kaberere is completing his medical studies at the University of Nairobi. Try to locate the University of Nairobi Senate records for the same period. You may also find it useful to visit the Nyaho House Museum, if they will give you access and study the walls of the tiny holding rooms there - you will find my name on the walls if you examine them carefully. Now, please carefully read the article below. Peace!
LISTEN TO THE MUBLES OF THE RIVER NYANDO
By MIGUNA MIGUNA
It is around the people’s struggles that [African] culture takes on substance, and not around songs, poems, or folklore… Adherence to [African] culture and to the cultural unity of Africa is arrived at in the first place by upholding unconditional the people’s struggles for freedom. No one can truly wish for the spread of African culture if he does not give practical support to the creation of the conditions necessary to the existence of that culture, in other words, to the liberation of the whole continent.
This essay was written with a commitment to the spirit of struggles towards unequivocal, total and noncompromised liberation of Afrika and Afrikans. I dedicate it to all revolutionaries who have fought, died and suffered in order to realize both individual and collective freedom, equality and justice to all, without exception.
However, I must warn everyone reading this story to be careful, for it is an account of suffering, pain, triumph; yes, a live experience of the flowing rivers of blood, of shouts, of chants, from those who have and are still struggling, suffering and sacrificing their lives for the realization of a true total freedom and democracy in Kenya. Torrents of blood, tears, cries, wails and chants spill over and wet every single page of this essay; the wetness of blood/sweat/chants, etcetera, of sacrifice and struggle, will certainly dampen, drench and stick on the hands, eyes, bodies, brains and souls of those readers brave enough to brave the storm up to the end, yet I offer no apologies for any inconvenience resulting from such an experience.
When I was asked to write this essay for publication, I knew that both readers and publishers would be disappointed by my artistry, for I neither intended to nor could aesthetically clean, purify and present the story of my arrest, detention without trial and expulsion from the University of Nairobi in 1987 in a manner that would fulfill the in-house requirements of appropriate structure, genre, style, etcetera. I am not a “design” artist who employs his/her professional technical chisel to chop and chip away at the extra wood of the story to make it cute, readable, as well as entertaining. If and when asked to state what I consider myself to be, I always answer: first, a political activist; second, a political activist; and third, a political activist! If and when art finds itself embedded somewhere in-between, below, or amongst political activism, it has, and will, always be to facilitate my political activity. Art, therefore, is simply a means used towards achieving whatever end my political action dictates. So, when you, the reader, seem to be concerned about the sticky wet blood of Kenyan patriots oozing continuously from these pages, crying out to be avenged, I cannot help but remind you, the reader, that human suffering is not cute or artistic or entertaining; it is ugly and gross. I certainly did not intend, not could I manage to write, a well-rehearsed version of my experiences in Kenya or the experiences of those Kenyans whose existence resembles that of caged animals - whose blood now soak gullies in your brains, threatening to spill over into your neatly-pressed clothes. Anyone looking for entertainment should pay a visit to any local theatre, if they still have what would really be characterized as theatres, or go see what Hollywood came up with recently; they are real, alive, or, I desperately want them to be alive: protesting, demonstrating, chanting and demanding that our blood does not flow in vain.
My intention is to shower these pages with the blood of those Kenyans who have been caged and/or are still physically, socially, materially, mentally and psychologically caged like animals, so much so that by the end, if you ever manage to finish, exhausted and wet, you will have no opportunity, however much you try, to flush away what is contained herein as merely a story conjured up by a starving artist to panhandle some few cents of sympathy from your overburdened heart. Yes, I intend to completely block all weak points of escape and/or retreat into self and demand that you link hands, in solidarity, with the struggling, suffering people(s) of the world in order to remove, once and for all, the oppressive and exploitative structures, systems, institutions, groups and/or individuals. If I don’t succeed in convincing you to link arms with “the wretched of the earth”, I’m sorry, I won’t apologize!
However, I will continue to chant, with the late Sekou Toure that: To take part in the Afrikan revolution, it is not enough to write revolutionary songs; you must fashion the revolution with the people. And if you fashion it with the people, the songs will come by themselves and of themselves.
When I was admitted to the University of Nairobi in 1986, I had only two main interests in life: to study, research, learn and disseminate whatever I could; and to become a full-time political activist or agitator. I, however, realized that while the former required numerous hours of sweat at the libraries, classrooms, and in the field, the latter could only be accomplished through committed, disciplined and fearless public as well as underground work, involving unspeakable risks and innumerable dangers, which, although frightening, had to be faced if the goal was to be achieved.
Obviously, I felt the tensions and/or contradictions that emerge from such a combination. On the one hand, my life-long ambition of becoming a scholar - of whatever - simply a scholar, was now an ear-shot away, except that I had to spend a lot of time studying, writing, researching and/or doing other odd things that would eventually process me into a full-fledged scholar, with a string of degrees and irrelevant titles or credentials appropriately attached and exposed for virtually the entire world to see, and acknowledge, and recognize and accept and respect and pay for! Yet, on the other hand, my principled desire to champion the cause of the oppressed and the exploited called upon me to stand up and be counted. Could I effectively combine the two?
I spent sleepless nights trying to figure out how people such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Che Guevera, Eduardo Mondlane or Bantu Steve Biko managed to combine the rigours of university education with their political activities. Sometimes I was discouraged by the fact that Biko had to drop out of school in order to concentrate in the daily activities of political life. Ngugi, on the other hand, spent virtually all his undergraduate life studying and writing novels rather than engaging in any significant serious political activities. As for Mondlane, he resorted to revolutionary politics after his PhD and a short stint as a scholar in the United States of America. Even Che completed his medical studies before joining Castro in the trenches. The list of those who became active only after their formative years grew long and discouraging. It was difficult to resist the temptation to become complacent and opportunistic.
Yet, there were also numerous examples of those who, either through personal choice or by circumstance decided to take part in active radical progressive politics while still attending university. It was mainly these gallant fighters whose examples made me decide to enter active student politics. Although there are thousands, even millions, of such people, Fidel Castro, Titus Adungosi Oloo, Oginga Ogego, Mwandawiro Mgangha and Oduor Ong’wen come to mind immediately. Subsequently, I resolved that whatever I was going to do at the university had, ultimately, to promote justice, truth and equality. In fact, I had a banner with these words boldly printed and hung it on my door, facing outside for all to see.
Coming to the realization that active political activity was unavoidable, was both painful and important to me. First, I had finally resolved what appeared as a very deep contradiction. I could then manage my restricted time economically. With that heavy load of uncertainty lifted from my mind, I then plunged into my studies with zeal. I was thirsty for knowledge, and I knew where to get it from. And second, it was painful because I somehow felt as if I was betraying my friends, family and relatives. I could still remember the dreams of these people; that of seeing me “successful” after my university studies. For them, education and success was primarily about learning difficult concepts and eventually securing a good, comfortable job.
Although I could still relate to these opportunistic tendencies, I certainly resisted the temptation to kowtow to pressures aimed at reorienting me towards selfish individualism. Most of my friends and relatives, either not understanding my decision, or perhaps thinking that I would change if only they added a little bit of pressure, persisted in their quest to convert me. They seemed to believe I had betrayed their trust. How could I, a good Christian boy, be so rebellious? They had, for some reason, not noticed the dramatic changes which had taken place; my religious devotion to Afrikan attire, the fact that I refused to go to church, etcetera. Perhaps they thought it was just a fleeting adolescent rebellion. But they were wrong.
Yet, my heart bled whenever I thought about my mother. My mother had worked so hard to raise a family of seven, excluding her grand-children and other relatives who would come and go whenever they needed help of any sort. I deeply felt that my mother had the right to expect certain things of me at any given time. After all, I was her small “josi,” the little one. I understood that very well; I knew that, as the last born, I was somehow emotionally bonded to my mother in a way that no other person was. However, the fact that I had decided to rebel against what appeared to be a popular myth that university education opened all the doors to material prosperity may have alarmed my mother and may have sounded that red bell of betrayal. After all, her expectations were quite humble and reasonable. I could not honestly face my mother and bore her with a lecture on the political philosophy of imperialism. She lived it; her life was a complete reading of modern imperialism. She worked hard on the farms which, when they produced reasonably, ended up feeding some neo-colonial middle men and their godfathers in the metropoles of Europe, North America and Japan. The little grains that were sometimes left fed relatives, children and grand-children, while school fees and uniforms cleared the granary! How then could my mother be expected to understand my droolings about imperialism?
Yes, my mother’s main concern was how to feed and educate us to be decent, proud and responsible human beings. Politics to her was secondary; it was something politicians talked about after every five years; it was a topic that only idlers and thieves engaged in. My mother believed that a hard-working god-loving person had no time for politics, for according to her, politicians could not see the doors of paradise (or paradise!) And I understood her very well. I even agreed with most of what she said about Kenyan politicians. It was certainly impossible for me to rationalize my decision to agitate and risk being killed, detained, jailed and/or expelled from the university. If these things happened to me - and I knew my mother knew of people who had experienced these terrible things - it would be a calamity, almost a curse. And I dreaded the horrific possibilities, for example, disappearing in the middle of the night, sometimes without a trace, like others had, only to be found later, either in jails or in mortuaries! What then could I do?
I did not tell my mother about the decision to engage in active student politics. I had hoped that I would either not land into trouble or that if I did, then she would find out later when everything would be self-explanatory. I simply closed my eyes and said “come what may.”
As I sit here now, trying to remember all these things, I cannot help but announce that I may have been wrong in not letting my mother know. This is not meant to be a confession; I know I’m supposed to write an essay. Although my mother died in May 1987, almost five months before I officially made national news in Kenya, I realize how important it could have been if I had told her - explained to her my decision and the rationale behind it. Perhaps I could even have used that opportunity to discuss various issues affecting Kenyans with her. I know she knew all about poverty, exploitation and oppression. Maybe my mind would be settled now. For that reason Mom, Mama’s spirits, wherever and whenever you are, forgive my childish cold-footed apprehensions. Yet because I cannot undo whatever has been done, I offer my humble prayer! Amen.
November 13th, 1987, is one of the most significant dates in my life. Only two weeks before this date, I had been elected as a representative of the faculty of arts to the Students’ Organization of Nairobi University (SONU). Subsequently, I was elected, by SONU, to be its finance secretary, a position which required more than the ability to balance the books and manage the finances of the organization. It was politically controversial, sensitive and demanding, as the ensuing story will bear out. With me at the Students’ Representative Council (S.R.C.) were like-minded progressive students. Together we had campaigned on what was considered by the state security personnel as a radical platform. Unlike our predecessors who had actually been working very closely with the state to keep the students passive, we launched a protracted attack on all forms of domination and exploitation in Kenya. We attacked the historical gender and class inequalities which have been entrenched deeply into the social, political, cultural and economic life of Kenya. Rather than being pre-occupied with the formal proclamations of freedom and democracy, the new student leadership made fundamental demands for academic freedom, an end to detention without trial and political persecutions. We worked day and night to ensure that these positive changes occurred.
Historically, SONU had been engaged in constant conflicts with the Kenya government, especially over human rights record of the latter. Notable were students’ protests over arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, framed up charges, and general lack of democratic rights. Both students and professors at the University had been, and are still, harassed, intimidated, arrested, detained and jailed for no reason other than writing on, researching about and discussing issues that the Kenya government had proclaimed, and still regard as, subversive. Subsequently, critical thinking had been dabbed subversive and at times considered treasonable, while opposition of any form or nature was banned. For instance, professors Anyang’ Nyong’o, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Atieno Odhiambo, Maina wa Kinyati, Al-Amin Mazrui, Willy Mutunga, Mukaru Ng’ang'a and Kamau Kuria, among others, had been jailed, detained and/or exiled for allegedly preaching, writing and teaching socialist theories at the university. It did not matter whether or not such theories were part of the syllabus! The same type of treatment is frequently meted out to students who dare question, challenge or criticize the powers that be, either as part of their academic exercise or in the course of their daily expression of their constitutionally guaranteed rights of association, speech or assembly. Students such as Titus Adungosi Oloo, Mwandawiro Mgangha, Oduor Ong'wen, Adongo Ogony, et al, had been detained or jailed, and eventually expelled from the university without any rights or access to competent legal counsel or representation or a fair hearing or appeal. Most of these students had been sent to rot in filthy jails for periods ranging from five to ten years without parole. There are, of course, numerous Kenyans who have been physically liquidated or thrown into dungeons of death and/or jails without any records whatsoever.
Between 1986 and 1987, the government had imposed what we, as students, viewed as a “state of emergency.” During this time, all political, social and cultural organizations which did not conform with government decrees were banned, all critical and popular parliamentarians detained and heavy censorship imposed on all electronic and print media. The result was that people became apathetic, insecure and demoralized. Because of this situation, SONU, and indeed all democratically minded individuals and groups, faced the responsibility of struggling for both academic freedom and social justice. There was no easy way out…sacrifices were called for and we felt compelled to offer our necks for the state house slaughter chambers.
Addressing a mammoth rally on 13th November, 1987, the entire S.R.C. reaffirmed the right of the students to question social injustices being perpetrated by the regime, apparently under the guise of peace, love and unity. We denounced the rampant corruption, mass unemployment and continued incarceration of student leaders and other Kenyans who had gallantly stood up against the repressions of the government. In addition, we condemned the barring of student representatives (of which I was one) from attending the International Union of Students (I.U.S.) conference in Havana, Cuba, scheduled for later that November. The regime’s main fear was that we would be able to work in solidarity with all progressive, socialist minded forces the world over.
The S.R.C. provided a clear vision on the position of the mass democratic struggles going on in Kenya, and the regime felt threatened.
On the 14th November, 1987, at approximately 3:00 a.m., the Special Branch police raided the University of Nairobi Halls of Residence and abducted, at gun point, seven student leaders, including myself. We were detained incommunicado for about four weeks, during which time, torture became our daily food! During our brutal interrogation, we were accused of undermining, plotting and scheming, in cahoots with some foreign governments, to overthrow the Kenya government; that we had both individually and collectively, publicly disparaged the name of the head of state and demonstrated a total lack of respect and/or recognition of his office. The SONU chair, Mr. Buke Wafula, was later charged with subversion and jailed without legal representation for five years while the remaining six of us were unconditionally released and eventually expelled from the university, also without the right to be heard.
Although it is emotionally exhausting and tormenting to revisit my experiences beginning that fateful 13th November, 1987, up to the time when I, together with others, were released, expelled and subjected to persistent surveillance (after all, it has been over five years!) I am trying my best to give a coherent account. Readers should not be surprised if this account is not very successful because there are things I do not want to recount.
Electrified and angered by the continued repression of Kenyans by the Moi-KANU regime, and undaunted by the possible consequences of our activities, I delivered one of my best attacks against the regime. I aimed strong substantiated charges at almost all Kenyan departments, institutions and structures. Knowing that several secret security agents were in the crowd listening and taping our speeches, I patiently and painfully detailed the graphic accounts of human rights abuses which had been catalogued by Amnesty International in their 1987 special report on Kenya - “Kenya: Torture, Political Detention and Unfair Trials.” Cases such as the long detention and torture of Raila Odinga; disappearances or deaths after barbaric tortures in custody of Peter Njenga Karanja and George Byaruhanga; torture and ill-treatment of political prisoners like John Gupta Thion'go, Karige KIhoro, etcetera, were recounted. I also offered specific cases of government infringement on our academic freedom, specifically the stationing of security agents in class-rooms, halls of residence, and virtually everywhere where students and teachers happened to be. Finally, I publicly challenged the authorities to arrest me and bring charges against me if they viewed my utterances as constituting a criminal offence.
I was prepared for the consequences of my actions. And the students were happy; at long last they saw and heard someone who could stand up to the state bullies. They thunderously shouted: “Toboa! Toboa!” (or reveal! Reveal!) as I enumerated the machinations of the dreaded ubiquitous special branch. Their faces beamed with joy and satisfaction, and I could almost feel their heart beats thumping in readiness for action - whatever action the S.R.C. deemed appropriate. And I was happy too. For the first time in my life, I felt very powerful and unrestrainable. It felt good to openly defy the dictatorship. I could feel the helplessness of those few Special Branch officers who had been given special assignments to monitor our gathering and to report back on any indication of potential dangers on the security of the state.
Looking at the sea of faces, with mouths slightly opened, as if in awe, I knew that there was an urgent need for the removal of all vestiges of oppression and exploitation from the Kenyan society. And with almost the entire student body behind us, we were ready for the ultimate sacrifice. I felt light like a bird, ready to fly high over the sacred skies of jail and detention; with the fear of being incarcerated disappearing from my mind.
So, when the meeting ended, I found myself in the midst of a thick crowd, debating, discussing and strategizing ways of implementing what we had just proclaimed. This lasted up to midnight when I decided to catch some sleep, lest I found myself unable to attend classes the following day, thus giving the university administrators that rare opportunity of sending me packing.
I woke up with a start, then strenuously listened. Sure, there were timid knocks at my door. Could it be my cousin, just returning from Nyakach, his rural home; or was it one of those noisy late drinking friends who loved to hear me respond at their late night disturbance; or could it be that the S.R.C. had called an emergency meeting? One is never sure under such circumstances. However, one thing did not cross my mind - the possibility that the ubiquitous agents of state were looming around my residence, ready to swoop on me.
Five pistols and equally murderous faces greeted me and silently motioned me to be quiet. They forcefully opened the door and then closed it with the speed of lightning.
“Your name?” One authoritative voice demanded.
“Miguna Miguna.” My answer was terse and confident.
“O.K. Dress up!” Another voice ordered. Their command was betraying. Their voices quivered with anxiety, almost in confusion. They frantically looked at the posters on the floor. One to the left was Thomas Sankara’s. The one to the right was Malcolm X’s. And another one near my bed was Che Guevera’s. Many more were hanging precariously on the walls, defiantly staring at these state invaders.
“You communist agitator? Eh?” One rough hollow voice shouted. And in a moment of joy, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s arrest came to mind. Then I started whistling, silently singing one of Owino Misiani’s latest hits - the one about the cancerous corruption of those in power. I took my note book, student I.D., and keys. I momentarily noticed that I was still wearing only my underclothes. And it seemed as if my uninvited friends from the secret service were still overwhelmed by all the posters, leaflets and books that were clattered on the floor. For a moment, I actually pitied them. I pitied their ignorance, zeal and sense of duty on behalf of the regime.
“You communist agitator? I don’t know what is wrong with you Luos!” One of them remarked as they appeared ready, at last, to leave. I completely ignored the last outburst. Then they all seemed to be reading Che Guevera’s poster which had a bold proclamation: “The duty of a revolutionary is to make a revolution!”
They then turned, looked at me from head to toe, and then shook their heads, as if in agreement about something, before finally declaring that they were arresting me. However, before I could catch my breath and ask why, I had literally been carried six floors down, bound like a log of wood and then violently thrown into the back seat of a car that had been left, with engine running, along State House Road.
I had barely sat down when the car zoomed wildly towards the Central Police Station in Nairobi. The car that carried me was followed by four cars. To an uninitiated eye, the entourage would have appeared as a VIP escort, save for the supersonic speed of the cars, recklessly driven as if to cause fright in me or a politically orchestrated accident.
It took them just over two minutes to reach the police station; now I understand why that barrack of public coercion was strategically located near the University of Nairobi. It makes sense for a dictatorship; doesn’t it?
At the police station, a strange name was entered in the occurrence book instead of mine, yet my protest and attempts at correcting this was merely brushed aside by a thunderous shout to the effect that as a prisoner, I had no rights. I had been declared a permanent visitor of the state-run dungeons of death without legal representation or fair trials.
My blood turned cold and I steeled myself for the worst. Yet, discovering more comrades through the iron bars of the station resulted in my complete calm. Why fear death while so many have been murdered, are murdered everyday, every second? Why fear arrest or detention when you are in the struggle? You are either dead or alive; free or unfree. However, as Kenyan activists, we have always felt more unfree than free; more dead than alive. Now was our time to prove to these agents of state terrorism that we were not ready to accept death and lack of freedom as natural givens; that we would fight for our lives and freedoms even if it meant, ironically, the loss and denial of either or both.
My calm became defiance, and defiance grew into reticence. And I waited for whatever awaited me. Shortly afterwards, I was hurriedly taken away, blind-folded and driven through what appeared like meandering roads to a police station that might have been somewhere in the immediate outskirts of the city of Nairobi. In any case, at this time, it mattered less to me where I was.
Yet, apart from one unprovoked violent attack on me by an enraged policeman, and a few nasty remarks about my ethnicity, I was basically left undisturbed at the police station. And in the morning, when they tried to offer me tea and a despicably looking slice of bread, I stiffly reused, thinking rather naively, that I would be released soon after, maybe after students had rampaged over our illegal abductions, or after the realization by the authorities that we had actually done nothing criminal. Something within me also seemed to resist the idea of eating anything for fear of being poisoned. After all, some opponents of the system have been known to mysteriously appear as unclaimed bodies at mortuaries! I now realize that the main interest of the government at the time was to demolish the fervent student power, render it impotent by either criminalizing its leadership, or by completely removing a whole chunk of the same. To ensure that the Moi-KANU regime was not tumbled and then swept away by the hot typhoon of change jetting forth from the breaths, souls and minds of students, in particular, and the Kenyan masses, in general, the regime seemed to have realized that killing us would not be to its interest.
When a group of walkie-talkie-carrying-men appeared at the door of the cell again, I could tell from the expressions on their faces that hell was ready to swallow me whole. But I was already in hell and I had steeled myself to tackle the watchman at hell’s gat - Obell Sibuor (as Luos of Kenya would appropriately say.) They swooped on me like anti-terrorist squads. The cold cell which smelt of death suddenly turned into a ballistic centre, and I, an explosive, to be detonated. Then I realized how dangerous the bomb encased inside my small skull had become. They blind-folded me again, scurried as they walkie-talkied, then pushed me down into the car boot and drove in circles for hours.
Finally, we reached another dungeon where I was kept frozen in the basement of a tiny cubicle without windows. The big bulb that dominated the roof of this hell permanently bathed me with it’s a thousand watts plus power; their refusal to turn off the light, even when we needed to sleep, I soon learnt, was another mechanism of torture. I somehow had to learn to get used to it. (Of course, the effects became obvious when, barely a year after this tragedy, my previously healthy eyes required prescription glasses to be able to function adequately!)
I was abandoned and left to starve. And I starved for so long that I lost count of days and nights. Then the torture resumed. I was again blindfolded and then transported through a special lift, to what could be the highest point in the building (for I felt the elevator move until I felt like it could go no further.) Here, I was made to sit, still blindfolded, for about one hour. Then someone abruptly, literally, tore away the cloth that covered my eyes, then yelled at me to take off my clothes and sit on the cold floor. I refused.
What followed can only be characterized as frenzied violence. As if thirsty for my blood, the seven torturers jumped on me, kicking, punching and hollering. Some reached for my testicles and tried to squeeze them as hard as they could while I writhed in pain. They mocked me, saying that a true revolutionary did not have to cry.
“Remember Che! Eh? Remember Che?” One kept yelling.
“Where is Ngugi to help you now? Where is Ngugi?”
“Where is Castro? Where is Marx? Eh? Where is Ghadaffi?”
They went on and on and on. They beat me and swore about my alleged foreign co-conspirators. But however much they tried, I said nothing. I had long learnt that speaking to these idiots at such moments was both stupid and suicidal; they did not ask questions because they lacked or even wanted answers. They simply asked for the sake of asking. Again, it made them feel good about themselves; perhaps fooled them into thinking that they were actually working. Yes, building the lovely nation!
“I am not going to answer any questions until I am fed!”, I managed to shout amidst insults and whips.
“Hahahahahaha…! Look what we have here! A chicken!” One huge bully snorted. “Oh no! I thought you were a man…A REVOLUTIONARY!” Another one sneered.
“Yes, MISTER Marx, Engels, Castro and Che. Didn’t you know that revolutionaries don’t eat? They produce! Yes, communism is food. Isn’t that what you learn at the university? Isn’t it sweet my dear revolutionary? Isn’t it?”, the most vicious one thundered. He was excited, perhaps overestimating the effectiveness of their strategies.
Two hours later, they stopped suddenly and trooped out of the torture chamber, except one, who seemed to have been given the task of watching over the state prisoner. And when they returned, I was blindfolded again and returned to my cubicle the same way I was taken up. Some rotten food arrived, via a tiny opening of the door, shortly after I had been thrown back what was now my new home-cum-hell. Within two minutes, I had finished eating, and my persecutors were already there, waiting. Back to the torture chamber, they forced me to sit on the floor before proceeding to pour a barrage of irrelevant, unconnected, questions at me. This time, however, they behaved in a civilized manner. Perhaps they had realized that brute force and intimidation did not or would not, work with me.
Questions on Marx and Marxism, Libya/ Gadhaffi and the Green Book, the Ayatollah and Islamic Fundamentalism, Ngugi and Literary Criticism - everything. They seemed desperate, anxious, nervous. Perhaps they feared that they might have missed a golden opportunity to get a confession for their imagined crimes. Perhaps they feared the wrath of their enraged bosses who might have given specific orders on what was to be extracted. What were they going to do now that they were unfortunate enough to meet an impervious activist, unwilling to budge? After all, their work demanded nothing but force and violence. They did not care about the niceties of due process. As far as they were concerned, there was only one law and authority - and that was dictator arap Moi. They were going to serve this one man and his machinery of violence with utmost zeal and devotion. After all, it was/is to him, alone and directly, that they were answerable.
The state security boys desperately wanted to pick all rumours and lies, piece them together, and concoct a case on behalf of the head of state. Later, they could all use my bleeding blood to wash their tainted murderous hands, hoping that things would soon come to pass, and they would be forgiven or forgotten, even though they would be equally satisfied by the extravagant rewards appropriated from state coffers for a job well done.
However, the attempt to chain me inside the gates of hell failed. Day after day they came and repeated their rituals. Yet, day after day, they failed. I did not give them a chance to create a nest on wheels on which to transport my mind from one cataract to the next. Instead, I offered them free lectures on topics ranging from Marx to Ngugi; till they gaped, their mouths hanging like their rotten flag, flapping meaninglessly, emptily. For hours, between whips, insults and threats, I patiently explained the plight of the poor; those whose names are engraved in Kenya’s sandstones while the pot-bellied thieves have their names cut into marble, inspecting all places - yes, inspecting the pot-bellies’ destructions. In addition, I stressed and explained the failures of capitalism and articulated our principled stand on revolutionary progressive change.
This did it. Again, they swooped on me like vultures, kicking breathlessly. They tortured and swore, frustrated with my apparent stubbornness, then I was thrown back into the cell at he basement and kept in water for nearly twenty four hours. Almost one day later, they pulled me away from the water and locked me up in another cell, where I stayed wet and ill, for nearly a week, without food, medicine or a doctor. I nearly lost my voice, not to mention my life.
Afterwards, they came at inconsistent intervals to bring me food, and to find out whether or not I was ready, as they put it, “to cooperate.” However, each time they opened the door, I had only one answer: No! Meanwhile, I discovered inspirational words inscribed on the walls of the cell where I was kept. So, whenever I was left alone, I would preoccupy myself by reading these illegible words which had been written by some previous occupiers of this cubicle, which was now my home-cum-hell. I would read silently as I also listened to the rumblings and mumblings of the rivers in my brain.
Later, I tried communicating with another comrade in the neighbouring hell by knocking on the wall that separated us. I occasionally heard this comrade’s voice as he persistently asked the guards to allow him to visit the toilet. However, all these attempts at communicating with the “world out there,” beyond the confines of the hell that now became my home, was impossible. But I was glad to learn, when we were released, that Ngala Amuomo was aware of my attempts to contact him, except that he feared that if found, we might have suffered too much for it.
Having “gotten used” to the routine of torture, or so I thought, I never reflected upon the possibility of our release. All attempts I had made to either contact a lawyer or any member of my family had been frustrated by the security men (and the government) who believed that I actually had no rights. I was constantly reminded that the Office of the President was directly responsible for whatever happened to us. The last revelation always made me smile; that a head of state would find our activities, as students, personally threatening as to constitute treason, was certainly amusing. Of course, we were aware of the accusations regarding our alleged links with Libya and Uganda (after all, Moi had panicked so much as to sever diplomatic relations with Libya, and he nearly went to war with Uganda!) Yet, I still did not understand how long it would take Moi’s security agents to “investigate” or trump charges against us. The delay was difficult to understand, particularly because we were being held incommunicado.
So, when they appeared with the blindfolds again, my heart leapt to my mouth. I wondered what sinister plans were afoot. “Not another one of those state orchestrated suicides,” I desperately hoped.
“Court. Maybe court,” I said silently as my heart thumped wildly. However, I knew that even in court, there was no salvation. My personal experience of the “courts of injustice” always confirmed the following: at all framed trials, the accused did not have access to a lawyer, contrary to section to section 77 of the Laws of Kenya; the whole exercise was normally cordoned off from members of the public; and in addition, charges could be concocted, the accused tortured to swear falsely, evidence coaxed and witnesses bribed. In short, justice was, still is, trampled underfoot. Yet, I could still not fathom the reasons for the delay.
On November 27th, 1987, I was blindfolded, lifted and placed next to another body who later turned out to be Munameza Muleji, another comrade. Then zigzag drives for what could have been thirty minutes. When the vehicles stopped and our eyes freed, we were ushered into a secluded building that looked like it had been abandoned a decade ago. We were later rudely informed that it was the Criminal Investigations Department (C.I.D.) headquarters, and that we were meant to make statements before appearing in court. We found the other comrades: Kaberere Njenga, Ngala Amuomo and Munoru Nderi already seated, and eagerly waiting for our promised arrival.
We jumped at the first newspaper around. Then came the terse warning: No reading for prisoners! We were still visitors of the state and as such, still had no rights or privileges.
At first we protested and demanded to see Buke, the SONU chair, before we could make any statements. However, we were told that asking any questions would be considered subversive. We were further assured not to worry about Buke because all of us would face the same fate - that we would all be “reprimanded” before being allowed to resume our studies. Of course, we did not believe any single word those terrorists spoke. Yet, we still decided to write the statements, as careful as possibly could, as long as we were not returned to hell.
We were then taken to separate police stations in Nairobi, to spend the night with other Kenyans who had been welcomed as criminal visitors of the state. I spent that cold night at Langata Police Station. The night passed quickly because I spent it discussing and debating with some inmates that had been locked away simply for being homeless. These are the Kenyans who have been condemned to spend their entire lives living in jails - the one with walls and chains, and the other without, till we, all oppressed Kenyans, decide to take power by our blood and sweat.
At approximately 6:00 p.m. on November 28th, 1987, we were taken to the Nairobi Law Courts where a Kangaroo trial ensued. Although we were neither required to plead to the alleged offences nor to have legal counsel, we were handed hasty suspended sentences and taken back to the police car boots. Then followed our forceful evacuation from the deserted campus and an immediate expulsion.
“But where is Buke, the SONU chair?” I kept asking. No one seemed ready or willing to answer that question.
On November 29th, 1987, at Kisumu bus station, I bought a newspaper, there we were - headline news. “Varsity Expels 45!” the headlines cried out.
We had been disposed of like garbage, without shame. The most annoying thing was that dictator Moi kept attacking us through the media; accusing us of being unpatriotic and alleging, of course falsely, that he had unearthed a plot by us, working in league with the “Boers” of South Africa, Uganda, Libya and white supremacists of the United States of America to overthrow his “constitutionally legitimate government.” Nothing could be more preposterous!
On November 30th, 1987, we learnt, through their newspapers, that Buke had been charged, tried and convicted and sentenced to five years in jail for allegedly “spreading socialism on campus.” And I swore never to give up the struggle. I swore to keep chanting: ALUTA CONTINUA!
And now, as I sit here, in the bowel of the beast, listening to the mumblings and rumblings of river Nyando, and aware that our ancestors are angry, I am readying for tomorrow, at dawn, when I shall join waves of people at Kamukunji, and with our clenched fists up in the air, take charge of the ship of the state and steer it to the direction of our wind, chanting: “Power and land belong to the people!” TINDA!
Published in The Toronto Review, Vol. 11, No.: 3, 1993 and in Miguna Miguna’s Disgraceful Osgoode And Other Essays (Toronto: AV Publications, 1994).
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