Saturday, 23 February 2013

A Franciscan Benediction


May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Amen.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

SUPPOSE...

Yesterday
They had us 
At each other's throats
Neighbour killing neighbour
Brother maiming sister
As we rose up 
To defend 'our own'

After the dust had settled
We dried our teary eyes
To find them 
Holding all the power
And we, 
All the broken dreams

Then followed the familiar script -
Maize scandals and oil scandals
Grand regency and grand typos
Salaries raised, taxes unpaid
It was their turn to eat!

Now
Yesterday's enemies are best of friends
And yesterday's friends, worst of enemies
Same cast, different roles
All promising
A better Kenya
Where they can share all the wealth
And we, all the poverty

Suppose just this once
We change the script
And seek out real leaders
Who actually care
About the same things
We care about?

Friday, 15 February 2013

UAMUZI NI WAKO

UAMUZI NI WAKO.

Let's learn from history. In 1776, the US became independent declaring that 'all men are created equal'. But the 'all men', did not include blacks, for slavery continued to be legal until 12th June 1865 when the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution abolished it after a bloody civil war. 

The founding fathers who expelled the British and passed a liberal constitution could not free slaves because of entrenched interests. Many of those who signed the constitution owned slaves. They left the battle for full freedom to another generation. Indeed they hoped that the new liberal constitution would, over time, be used as an instrument to bring freedom to all people and lead to a more perfect union.

But that was not to be. The brand new law was not strong enough to break long-entrenched shackles and enable the country to move forward. This was because the aristocracy had a vested interest in continuing the institution of slavery. So what could not be achieved through legal means had to be achieved through extra-legal means.

And herein lies the lesson for Kenya. In 1963, we achieved independence, but we soon realized that the colonial state was never dismantled, it was only inherited, and by and large, we remained enslaved with only a few families living it large as they held brief for foreign interests. 

In 2010, after a long struggle, we gave ourselves a new constitution with the hope that it would enable us to finally dismantle the colonial state and give us all an equal share in the fortunes of our land. But over the last two years, we have seen the forces of the status quo back-peddle on the promises of the new constitution. For example, one of its key promises is land reform, and yet we have seen the President who swore to defend the constitution blatantly ignore it and a court order to boot in failing to gazette the validly appointed land commissioners, despite the fact that land has been at the centre of all our conflicts. 

Makau Mutua was recently vilified for predicting that there would be a military coup if a particular side won the forthcoming elections. I wouldn't put it exactly like that because that risks placing me on one or other side of the Jubilee-Cord divide while I don't believe that either of them is committed to fundamental change. My point rather is that if the outcome of the March 4th election is such that the fundamental changes envisaged by the constitution are rolled back, no matter by whom, then I fear that this country will have missed one of its last chances to achieve peaceful transformation. For those who make it impossible to achieve change through peaceful means make it inevitable for the oppressed to pursue it through violent means. 

The future of this country is in our hands. The character of this nation and the fortunes of generations to come shall be fundamentally defined by how we vote on March 4th. Shall we take charge of our collective destiny, or are we content to become the laughing stock of neighbours near and far; the subject of whispers about a people who once seemed to be going somewhere but who got shipwrecked in the high seas of tribalism, greed, economic collapse, socio-political confusion and moral decay? 

Uamuzi ni wako.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Be My Valentine

BE MY VALENTINE
By Njonjo Mue

You drew your bow of love
And shot your arrows of passion
Straight through my heart
And there was no escape
As I yielded to your beauty
Surrendered to your charm.

I gazed into your eyes
But there was nothing there
To betray what you really felt
I searched your face
For just a hint
Of emotion
But all I saw
Was that haunting smile
That declared that I belonged to you
Even though you could never
Really be mine.

But there was no escape!
I lay helplessly in your arms
Abandoned in my love for you
And wanting so desperately
To believe in yours for me
For there was no turning back.

Many moons later
I still search
But I am no nearer
To capturing your heart
Though your mind and body
Are always there
For me to behold.

I ask you one more time today
Knowing what your answer will be
But still offering you a love
Beyond hope, beyond reason
A love you already know
To be yours forever...
"Won't you be my Valentine?"

This Park is our Park!



“My land is Kenya….from the islands to the sea. You’ll always stay with me, here in my heart….” so says the singer, Roger Whittaker, proudly extolling the virtues of Kenya and proclaiming from the rooftops how proud he is to belong. That particular Saturday, however, was one full of contradictions, and about the only thing that that those who had come out to attend the rally had in common, was the fact that they did not share the singer’s enthusiasm for belonging here.

At least they thought that a few things needed changing, but the powers-that-be were not listening, hence that day’s planned rally which was an attempt to get a hearing; but not only was the Moi State grossly ignoring the reformers’ rising voices, it had declared the planned gathering illegal, and had warned of dire consequences to whosoever would tread where eagles dare.

It was the last day of May 1997 and the eve of Madaraka Day, the day in 1963 when our country gained internal self government on her way to full independence six months later. It was a great irony that 34 years since those hopeful beginnings, Kenya remained a dictatorship presided over by an ageing autocrat who believed it was his divine right to rule and had resisted multipartyism till the last possible moment. Once pluralism had been allowed he had used all the means at his disposal to frustrate the opposition. He would also not let the people re-write their own constitution.

1997 was a year full of activity as civil society and democracy activists engaged the police in street battles in our push for a new constitution. Earlier that year in March, 600 delegates had gathered at the Limuru Conference Centre for the National Convention Assembly, which became a Citizens Movement to press for constitutional reforms. The launch of the NCA had been followed by several rallies planned by NCA which were predictably banned leading to ominous stand-offs with the police and running battles in the city.  

Back to May 31 1997, I could not help thinking what a land of contrasts Kenya was. On that cloudless Saturday morning, these contradictions began to show early. By the time I arrived on the grounds of St. Andrews Church, the pre-arranged venue from whence we were due to march to Uhuru Park, there was a funeral service going on while just outside the church, another party was busy preparing the ground for a wedding ceremony that was to follow on the heels of the funeral.

Outside the church, pro-reform activists had started gathering as early as eight o’clock, most of them still tired from having spent the night before at a fellow freedom struggler’s (some would say sufferer’s) pre-wedding party – after all doesn’t the Bible say that even in the last days, people will be marrying and getting married?

By 10.30 a.m. the parking lot was filled not just with vehicles of the mourners inside and those arriving for the wedding to follow; it was also fast filling with several familiar people who gathered around in small groups with determined faces discussing strategies on how to storm the Park, for the government had predictably declared our rally illegal the night before. I could see Rev. Timothy Njoya, who had become the icon of our struggle, in deep conversation with Prof. Kivutha Kibwana, then co-convenor of the NCA. From my vantage point, I couldn't really tell the exact subject of their conversation, but I was willing to bet they were not discussing plans of forming a Joint Stock Company!

A small group of university students who had been getting rather jittery, had now decided to calm everybody’s nerves by singing spontaneously composed freedom songs, “Poliiisi… we baki nyuma, mi naenda na haki. Poliisi… we baki nyuma mi naenda na haki! and “Polisi wenyewe wakisoma, polisi wenyewe wakisoma, risasi na bunduki zitakoma…”

The latest situation report from the Park where the eagles dare was not encouraging, at least not from the new Constitution’s point of view. We were reliably informed by our scouts that virtually the whole police force and paramilitary GSU were out in full colour smelling of war, in immaculate new uniforms and combat gear. At this stage, reformers were merely demanding minimum changes to the constitution to facilitate a fair general election due later that year, but the forces of tyranny had come out comprehensively armed to deal with this perceived threat to national security. Kenya, the land of contrasts!

Being a war zone, the Park was uninhabited by anyone but blood-thirsty hounds with helmets, guns, truncheons and teargas canisters; they had also invited the journalists to record proceedings (a Kenyan first since journalists usually became fair game for police in these events), but since no one else was allowed anywhere near the green, the pressmen and women were walking around in groups of twos and threes as if they were just enjoying a spot of mid-morning golf. But looks can be deceiving; at any rate the seeming tranquility on the faces of these brave folks was anything but an accurate indication of their thoughts, for they knew from past experience that they were surveying what in a few moments would resemble Mogadishu in 1992. This was just the clam before the storm.

Back at the church, there was an air of anticipation. For the last half hour we had been hearing sporadic cheers and jeers from crowds gathering as near the Park as they could safely get. The songs from the students had intensified in tempo. It was not quite clear why we were not making a move ourselves. At any rate, those shouting from afar sounded to me like the crowd was fast becoming like the biblical sheep without a shepherd since all the leadership was still gathered outside the church.

It was clearly time for the games to begin

The air was pregnant with meaning; even the birds seemed to be singing, “The Constitution must be changed!!!” And the heavy air that earlier seemed to envelop our modest gathering seemed to have lifted; just as the casket had left the church and soon thereafter the somber mood had been replaced by celebration at the wedding ceremony now underway. One could not help but hope that this was a harbinger of things to come – constitutionally speaking, that is…

Just as the butterflies in the stomachs of some of us were threatening to fly out of our mouths altogether, the trumpet call to battle was sounded. Well, not quite a trumpet, for that would disturb the good folk inside the church who were just then busy promising to love and to hold, for better for worse, good Constitution or bad. And so we were just summoned by sign language to gather together and we were led in a short prayer by Rev. Njoya.

And the grand march to Uhuru Park began. To whom did this historic Park belong? To the gangsters in uniform, serving masters too afraid to hear what their people had to say, or to the people themselves? This was the question that had to be resolved shortly.

We marched out of the church compound, a handful of people in three short columns. In the front, marching side by side with Prof. Kibwana and Rev. Njoya, was Maina Kiai who, despite being of average height, towered over the rest of us in stature as he stood with the confidence of Kilimanjaro and moved forward with the determination of the Nile. He had seen and led enough marches in his day, you see. And on this day he was undoubtedly the star that inspired the march at that early stage; he and Rev. Njoya in his crimson cassock and leather-bound Bible, plus the bag hanging on his side containing bottles of water for quenching the fumes of teargas that would soon be tossed our way.

But if these two inspired us, it was the youthful singers in our midst that cheered us on and helped ease the tension as we marched forward for freedom. As soon as we were on Uhuru Highway marching alongside the fence of the Park whose ownership had yet to be resolved, thousands of people seemed to materialize from nowhere and soon we were a mass of humanity singing, chanting and marching determinedly to the Park.

“Nasikitika sana moyoni mwangu,” we grieved in mournful song. “Ni nani aliye muumba Moi?” We were telling God how sad we were that someone had created Moi, and wondering who had done the world such a disservice. “Si wewe Mwenyezi Mungu, si wewe Mwenyezi Mungu,” – it’s not you almighty God – “Muumba Moi ni shetani” – Moi’s creator is Satan. The song was not theologically accurate, but it expressed the deep angst we felt against the dictator who was standing in the way of our aspirations to get a new Constitution.

Marching ahead of the group, resplendent in his crimson cassock, was Rev. Njoya, leading God’s democratic forces for change. In front of him was a small army of photographers and videographers who had to perform the seemingly impossible task of doing a hundred metre dash backwards while clicking and whirling away to record the momentous events of this day so that they could convey how the ownership of the Park was resolved for the benefit of those who would be sitting in their living rooms eating their dinner. It reminded me of Henry Barlow’s poem, Building the Nation, for we too were building the nation different ways.

By now we had taken over Uhuru Highway; surely the motorists could indulge us these few minutes, after all we were going to discuss the Constitution, a very important document. But before this mother of all discussions could begin, the ownership of the Park needed to be resolved.

For the moment, those who temporarily occupied the Green all appeared ready to shoot – the policemen with their guns and batons, the pressmen with their cameras and notebooks. What about us? What would we shoot with? We the crusaders of a more just order? We had come armed with the sword of peace and were protected by the breastplate of truth. These have triumphed over many a gun and bullet throughout the history of humankind; they would not fail us this time.

Halfway between St. Andrews and the monument erected to mark ten years of Moi’s rule, our group led by Njoya suddenly took a sharp right turn and we were in the Park before you could say Katiba Mpya! This Park was our Park!! The swiftness with which we claimed the Park would have made any professional invading army green with envy.  Many of us actually could not believe that we were actually in the Park. We had gotten so used to being intimidated and beaten and tear gassed and driven out of Kamkunji grounds by sheer brute force that we had seriously come to doubt whether this Park would ever be our Park. Especially after the previous night’s ominous statement from the government.

The mass of humanity was now gathered around Rev. Njoya. He was hoisted shoulder high and was trying to say something through the small portable megaphone, but people were too busy loudly and cheerfully celebrating their storming of the Park and could not make out what he was saying.

“Let us pray…,” Njoya was struggling to be heard, but only a few people could hear him. I turned to him and asked him to use the only prayer that all Kenyans knew by heart and could say without prompting. And soon the Park, our Park, reverberated with thousands of voices singing that eternal prayer for our country, “Ee Mungu nguvu yetu…”

We sang the national anthem not once, but three times in Kiswahili. For many, it seemed like the first time they had actually thought of the national anthem as a prayer and as a clarion call for our dignity as a nation, and they sang it with much relish and emotion. 

Soon thereafter, we moved to higher ground where we were joined by our elected leaders among them Mwai Kibaki who was the official leader of the opposition, Martin Shikuku, Kiraitu Murungi, Kennedy Kiliku and James Orengo. We were in ecstasy. The Park had been reclaimed. Our leaders were here. We could now go ahead and change the Constitution!

Soon, the proverbial long arm of the law made its presence felt as the heavily armed policemen approached the gathering and took position obviously preparing to attack. They formed a single file parallel to Nyerere Road fence. They were just a few metres from the gathered crowd. As the organizers were busy trying to seat the crowds down so that the rally could begin, some of us confronted the police reminding them that this Park was our Park and that they were welcome to join us to discuss the constitution but could not disrupt our peaceful meeting.

The police were in no mood to listen or reason. They ordered us to disperse. I persuade a number of young people to join me in forming a human shield between the police and the people in order to defend democracy against tyranny. Together, we moved to within one metre of the police line and knelt them, the barrel of a gun within a few feet of my face. In so doing, we were making the point that we were unarmed and wanted to force the police to make the choice of beating peaceful protesters on their knees and worsening their already bad record, or to change their tactics and let the people proceed with their meeting.

But I did not have my troops in the army of kneeling activists long, for as soon as the meeting got underway, they got excited and abandoned the ranks and rejoined the bigger group. I was left on my knees alone, facing the police, right against might!

Behind me, I could hear Rev. Njoya start to say the opening prayers of the rally. Meanwhile the armed, uninvited and for now unseen (our eyes being closed in prayer) guests took ten paces backwards, and I sensed that there was going to be some nasty goings-on in this Park, our Park!

Before you could say ‘Kenya Tuitakayo’, all hell broke loose. It began with the police rapping their rungus against their new plastic shields emblazoned boldly with the word POLICE at the front – which was probably a good thing since their behavior was not altogether police-like; and without that word, one might have mistaken them for something other than whom they claimed to be. They continued to raise their voices at random to create panic among the crusaders for change.

Suddenly, the uninvited – and now very seen – guests charged towards the crowd, hitting them indiscriminately and tossing tear gas at us. I was among the first to taste their wrath. Still on my knees closest to the charging, marauding goons, I was kicked on the chest and clubbed squarely on my left shin. I was certain that I would never walk again. But fortunately, in such situations, things can greatly exaggerate themselves.

I remember Mwai Kibaki, who had never been on the battlefield before, choking and in tears looking completely lost. We gave him some water because we thought he would collapse and as he recovered, he said memorably in Kikuyu, “Kai ikoragwo i nduru atia? Uguo niguo muiguaga? Kweri mukiri omiriria.” (You mean it stings this much? Is this the way it always is? In that case you people are brave!)

The people were violently driven from their Park. All but two handfuls, one comprising activists from civil society, and the other of opposition politicians. Journalists continued milling about taking our photos and statements, and we all liberally condemned the government for this latest act of cowardice.

Our group included Maina Kiai, Prof. Kibwana, Rev. Njoya and Kamanda Mucheke. Soon after we washed our eyes of the fumes of violence and could see and breathe again, and when we had had our fill of condemning the government so that those who would be sipping their drinks and watching the evening news could know what we were demanding, we settled to singing freedom songs such as ‘We shall overcome some day’ and ‘Oh freedom.’

Prof. Kibwana read to us one of his poems, Kwani mimi si mtu?, and Rev. Njoya encouraged us with some words from the Sermon on the Mount: 


Blessed are you when people persecute you and say all manner of evil about you for my sake; for there is great reward for you.

As I reflected on the meaning of what had taken place there that day, I lifted up my eyes to the sky. A dark cloud was descending on the Park, our Park, still surrounded by the forces of tyranny. But we were still in the Park where we were warned the evening before of dire consequences if we dared come. Only a small group of determined crusaders remained; but we were here!

Soon others would come…. the whole city, the whole country. And the scene outside the church earlier that day would repeat itself; our funeral dirge would become a wedding song as we celebrate the true meaning of freedom, and sing with thunderous jubilation, ‘This land is our land…’

Saturday, 9 February 2013

And Justice For All - Part Two

In July 1994, President Daniel Arap Moi shocked the nation by revealing the existence of the February Eighteenth Resistance Army, a rebel group based in a foreign country whose aim was to destabilize and eventually overthrow the government of Kenya by unlawful means.

As loyal Kenyans turned out in the streets to burn effigies of on 'Brig.' Odongo, the leader of the movement, what they did not know was that what the government was 'revealing' as a threat to state security was a long-spent force and the information now being made public had been in the hands of security forces and the government for over a year. In the second part of And Justice For All, Njonjo Mue tells how he stumbled upon some of the inside story. 

*The names of some people have been changed to protect their identities.

SET THE CAPTIVE FREE

My sojourn as a guest of the state at Industrial Area Remand Prison had began a day earlier when I spent a night at Kamkunji Police Station ahead of my appearance in court and eventual transfer to remand.

It was a chilly November night in 1993 in Nairobi. I tried in vain to get some sleep on the cold concrete floor of the Kamkunji Police Station men's cell. I had lost track of time. I would drift in and out of sleep, more from fatigue than from an environment conducive to snoozing.

For in addition to the floor being deathly cold, the stench emanating from the two buckets that served as toilets was utterly emasculating; the cell doors opened and shut with annoying frequency as yet another drunk was thrown in to join our miserable ranks.

At the same time, there were regular night-piercing screams coming from the 'torture chamber' of the Station as some unfortunate soul paid dearly for some unknown sin. And the beating seemed to continue all night!

"Why do they treat fellow human beings like animals?" The soft voice was coming from somewhere to my right. I could barely make out the shadow of the speaker in the semi-darkness. The cell had no light of its own but relied on a soft glow from the Station reception a few metres away.

"And probably the only offence that one has committed is to have one too many at his local pub," I opined above the latest screech from the tortured soul.

"My name is Wekesa," volunteered my new unseen friend.

"I am Njonjo," I said offering a hand to meet his already outstretched one.

"Why are you here?" Wekesa inquired in a disinterested monotone.

"It's a long story. It began with a minor traffic violation," I answered, hoping that my own tone would discourage him from seeking to know more details of my ordeal. Fortunately, he seemed more keen to talk than to listen.

For the next hour and a half, Wekesa told me his story. In the previous six months, he had been in more police station cells thank he could remember. They would transfer him after every few days. His family had no idea of his whereabouts and the police would not take him to court.

"What did you do?" I asked, but he hesitated, only telling me it was a matter of state security. He was beginning to think that he would never see the outside of police cells again, he said. I told him that I was a lawyer that that perhaps I could help.

The revelation of what I did for a living seemed to ignite a spark within him, rekindling his will to live. His despair seemed to evaporate before my eyes (ears, actually, since I still could not see him clearly). Soon, he embarked on a monologue of what it was that the Moi state held against him.

"I come from Bungoma," he began. "In 1990, I did my O-Levels but was unable to find employment. After a while, I was approached by someone who said that there was an opportunity to do business in Uganda and asked whether I was interested. Of course I was!"

"We soon thereafter left for Uganda, but when we got there, I was placed in a camp in the East of the country where other young people were undergoing training. It was a rag-tag 'army' that was preparing to overthrow the Kenya government, which it accused of being a dictatorship. To tell you the truth, I can't say that I was disappointed to join such a movement.

"On February 18, 1991, the Movement named itself the 'February Eighteenth Movement (FEM) and the army christened itself the 'February Eighteenth Resistance Army (FERA). I was told that the date was deliberately chosen as it coincided with the date in 1957 when Freedom Fighter, Dedan Kimathi, was hanged at Kamiti Maximum Prison. According to the founders of FEM and FERA, their vision was to complete the struggle for Kenyan independence that Kimathi and other authentic heroes of the struggle had began but had not lived to complete. FERA was led by a 'Brigadier' Odongo, and we were assured that it had the full support of the Museveni government and that, when the time came, the Ugandan National Resistance Army would fight alongside us in the war to liberate Kenya.

"I became a diligent soldier and quickly rose through the ranks. Soon, I was selected for further training first in Libya and then in North Korea. This took a total of eight months. When I got back to Uganda, I was put in charge of supplies and promoted to the rank of Captain. This was in mid-1992.

Despite my personal good fortune, it was clear that morale was low among the ranks. The Museveni government had reduced support. 'Brig.' Odongo informed us that Museveni had been willing to lend support when Kenya was a one-party dictatorship, but now that Moi had agreed to multiparty elections, there was no further need for guerrilla activity.

"At this time, toward the end of 1992, Moi announced a general amnesty and asked all those who had fled abroad for political reasons to return. I weighed my chances and thought that there wasn't a future with 'Brigadier' Odongo and his youthful army; most of them had deserted him, anyway.

"Trusting the word of the President, I made my way back to my village in Bungoma. I reported to the provincial administration who were already aware of my involvement in anti-government activities. Our local DC took me to see Elijah Mwangale, then Minister for Agriculture.

"The Minister was very happy to see me and even said that he would arrange for me to meet the President to seek his forgiveness at a public ceremony. But before my meeting with the President, I had to be debriefed by the CID. Accompanied by a fellow guerrilla, Elias Muhanji (not his real name) we were driven to Nairobi to meet with Noah Arap Too, the CID Director.

"Our meeting with Too was cordial. He expressed great admiration for our courage in coming back and assured us that we would not be harmed but would be treated as heroes once we met the President. However, he said that first it was necessary for the intelligence service to get more information on the guerrilla movement in order to effectively deal with those still out there.

"For this purpose, Too was sending us back into Uganda with specific instructions to obtain all the information we could lay our hands on - documents, payroll, invoices, etc. He gave us KShs. 20,000/- each and a car to take us up to the border. We were given two weeks within which to return.

"We had not made it known at our camp that we had returned to Kenya. It was therefore relatively easy to get back with a business-as-usual air. Being in supplies, however, I had been missed during my brief absence, but when questioned, I concocted a story to the effect that I had fallen ill and been briefly hospitalized in nearby town.

"I quickly went around surreptitiously gathering all the information I could lay my hands on. Unfortunately, most of it had to do with supplies. Muhanji did manage to lay his hands on ration records - the boys were not paid salaries, they just got by on subsistence.

"We returned to Kenya after a week and called Too on the special number he had given us to inform him of our return. He sent two vehicles to Bungoma to take us 'to meet the President' at State House Nakuru. But when we got there later afternoon, we were informed that the President had had to leave for Nairobi and that he would see us there at 7.00 a.m. the following morning.

"The following morning, Muhanji and I sat sipping coffee in the waiting room at State House Nairobi. We could here the President's familiar voice drifting towards us through the partly opened door as he conferred with a cabinet minister. Neither of us would admit it, but we were both thinking the same thought: 'How much money will the President give us in gratitude for our patriotism?'

"Just when we thought it was out turn to be ushered into the posh presidential office, the two CID officers who had driven us from Bungoma came into the waiting room to inform us that Too needed to see us before our meeting with the President. There were a couple of minor details he needed clarified from the information we had brought back, they said. Our appointment with the Head of State would be pushed back to 10.30 a.m.

"We were never to see him. The two officers drove us to CID headquarters and that is where my nightmare began. Instead of being ushered into Too's office, we were thrown into the cells there, for the next one week, we were beaten and tortured half to death. I spent nights in a water logged cell; they put pins under my finger nails, squeezed my private parts and beat the soles of my feet all the time telling me to tell them when the plot to overthrow the government was to be carried out. However much I tried to tell that that Too already had everything I knew, they would not listen.

"After a week, during which I did not see Muhanji, we were brought together again in Too's office where a senior CID officer told us that we were required to instigate a border crossing by one of 'our' men from Uganda so that he would be 'arrested with weapons and help the government win the election' that was then just weeks away.

"I was not aware how we were supposed to somehow convince a rebel soldier to cross to 'enemy territory,' but I was too sick to ask. I could hardly walk. Still, at the taxpayer's expense, we were driven back to Busia by four CID operatives, one of whom had a camera, evidently to capture this 'public relations' coup.

"When we got to the Kenyan side of the border, one officer ordered us to do as we had been told. It was as if we could summon someone the border by remote control. I asked them to let one of us cross the border in order to instigate their 'coup'. They agreed. Muhanji was the obvious choice since he could still walk.

"No sooner had he crossed the no-man's land than Muhanji let out a shrill laughter and waved goodbye to us all. We would not see him again, but I was going to pay the price. After waiting at the border for almost two hours, we drove back to Nairobi and my torturers resumed their favourite pastime with renewed zeal.

"In late December 1992, after months of torture, I was finally taken to court and charged with uttering false information to a police inspector. The Charge Sheet read that I had falsely stated to a CID officer that I had seen some men crossing the Kenya-Uganda border armed with rifles and grenades. The lie that they had tried to make me manufacture was the same one that they were now turning on me! Imagination was clearly not high on the CID training curriculum.

"After my second appearance in court, my family, who had been alerted of my whereabouts by a newspaper story, hired a lawyer for me. But as fate would have it, in early January, my lawyer was nominated to Parliament by the new Moi government and he dropped my case like a hot potato. Since then, I have never been returned to court. They have instead taken to ensuring that I get to know the inside of every police cell in Nairobi, Thika, and Kiambu in this never-ending cycle that I am trapped in."

"What about your family?" I asked. "Do they know where you are?"

"How can they?" Wekesa asked dejectedly. "When you are constantly on the move, even you find it hard to keep track of yourself," he laughed gently without any feeling.

"Why do they keep playing this game of musical chairs with you?" I asked.

"I don't know," he answered. "But I suppose they are afraid that if they take me to court under this false charge, and a trial is held, the real circumstances of my arrest will come out and embarrass them. But if you are really a lawyer, then you can help me, can't you?" There was so much hope in his voice. He pressed some papers in my hand and told me that it was his detailed statement.

The anger in my voice was palpable as I told him that I hoped to be out the following day and I would certainly see that justice, in his case having been delayed by almost one year, was finally going to be done.

The first light of dawn was streaming in through the tiny window near the roof of the cell. It exposed several drunks still snoring blissfully away, oblivious of the discomforts of the accommodation that the tax-payer so generously provided for his wayward brethren.

I glanced to my right and saw Wekesa for the first time. He was young, barely twenty, and of medium build. He wore a simple shirt that was once white, and a pair of brown trousers. And, apart from the dusty pair of old soldier's boots that he still wore, one would never have guessed that he had once trained to overthrow the government.

As morning slowly drifted into our tiny cell, I heard my new friend sob softly. It was a cry of hope after so many months of pain and despair. The tears that slowly trickled down his cheeks and dropped onto the cold cell floor were tears of relief. They told me that he had needed to tell his story for a long, long time. They also made one other thing clear: this young man was no soldier; this was a boy who had escaped from a world of killers only to be thrust into the lap of merciless goons. And he was clearly in need of help.

I knew I had my work cut out for me. As soon as I left the confines of Kamkunji, I was going to engage the state in a dangerous game of one-upmanship. After many months of unjust suffering and unlawful incarceration, it was clearly time to set this captive free.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL - PART 1

* The names of some people have been changed to protect their identities


"Cover! Tano tano tano, kanuni ya serikali; na mtu an swali aulize lakini asiulize swali la ujinga!!!"

With those words, emanating from a mean five foot tall prison warder, the residents of Cell Block D2 in the Industrial Area Remand Prison dove for places to squat so as to be counted in one of the thrice-daily roll calls - the dramatic highlights of otherwise very dull days!

It was early November 1993. It was my first day as a guest of the state and I did not understand the rush to squat since the shrill voice preceded the small body of the screaming afande by at least two minutes. Little did I know that anyone left out of a group of five was to be severely punished for 'laziness' in not 'covering' as soon as the command had been given. This Thursday evening, I was squarely on the receiving end and I got several kicks on my back for a crime I was not aware I had committed.

I had arrived an hour earlier at about 5.30 p.m. aboard the infamous Black Maria - that contraption which was the dread of all drunks, prostitutes and night time revelers without IDs. This time, it had ferried us from the High Court Building to what was to be our temporary aboard, while the state decided what to do with us for our various misdeeds.

On arrival, as soon as the prison gates shut, we were all ordered to strip bare so that we could be searched for weapons and other illicit substances. It was easy to tell who among the group was a new comer and who was returning after a court appearance. The former, of which I was part, naturally hesitated once the order to strip was given. We needed some encouragement from the warders who walked among us lashing out with whips and indiscriminately whipping the flesh that was now very quickly coming into view.

When we were all stripped bare, the afandes searched through our clothes painstakingly, with the patience of forensic scientists. I pondered how sixty odd characters, brought together by diverse sins against the state, but having little else in common, could suddenly look so alike as they stood stark naked, shivering in the light evening breeze.

But if there was indignity in being forced to bear our all in public, we took a certain solace in the fact that there was also a strange measure of anonymity in stark nakedness, there was little point in one prisoner staring at another as he had his own state of undress to worry about!

"Wewe Mhubiri, kuja hapa," the Senior Warder seemed to take a sudden interest in me once I was fully clothed and he noticed my NIV Bible which I had carried with me as I was scheduled to go for a Bible Study that evening. I couldn't help wondering how interesting it was that a moment ago, while we were a mass of naked bodies, he could not have distinguished the preacher from the murderer!

I made my way to him and he started inquiring as to who I was and why I had been arrested carrying a Bible. "Kama hukuiba pesa za kanisa, uliiba nini? Biblia" he asked, much to the delight of his junior colleagues - though it was obvious that most of them laughed out of a sense of duty rather than an abundance of mirth.

I took advantage of this lighthearted banter to seek permission to take my Bible into the cell block  with me. I knew that I might be in custody for two weeks or more and I certainly needed spiritual nourishment - not to mention how useful the Bible became later as a makeshift pillow on the cold cement floor where I lay night after night during my incarceration. Permission was granted, and I whispered a silent prayer of thanks.

A number of us were frog-marched to Cell Block D2, a long block on the East side of the prison. D2, the largest of seven blocks, was initially meant to house about forty inmates. It was currently holding in excess of 120. As soon as the new intake was pushed in and the warders left, a whole new pecking order became apparent.

The huge cell block was virtually divided into several 'estates' depending on the proximity to the unbearable stench that emanated from the toilets. On the far left, closest to the toilets, was 'Korogocho'. Next to that was 'Mathare' followed by 'Kibera'. Then came 'Eastlands' - 'Umoja', 'Donholm', 'Buruburu' in that order. This was followed by 'South B' and 'Ngummo'; then came Lavington and Muthaiga. On the far right, farthest from the stench of the toilets, was 'State House'. It was called State House because those who occupied it, all long term remandees, rarely moved out. The resemblance of the defacto permanent tenancy to that other place, whose then tenant had been in residence for almost two decades was uncanny. New inmates started out occupying Korogocho and moved up to 'better' estates to take the place of those who left either due to conviction or acquittal. As they did, new inmates came in to take their place.

When we got into the cell, just as we, the freshers, were being herded to Korogocho, one of the state house inmates, noticing my Bible, intervened and ordered that I occupy a space in Buruburu next to a 'fellow preacher' who had himself made it from Korogocho on merit. And thus I was saved from the virtual hell of sleeping practically inside the toilet. Not that it made much of a difference since the whole block stank of urine mixed with sweat.

I was a guest of the state for the next five days. Five days of sleeping on the concrete floor without beddings, so packed that we had to all lie facing one side and we would be woken up on intervals to turn to the other side in unison. Five days of surviving on a diet that never changed, perhaps only got worse - a diet of porridge in the morning, ugali and boiled cabbage for lunch, and ugali and boiled beans for supper. Five days of getting only on hour of exercise outdoors and being locked in the rest of the time.

It was an experience that one does not forget easily. But I will resist the temptation to recount it here, and focus on instead on the story of the central character of this story, one Emmanuel Wekesa (not his real name)

-------------------- END OF PART ONE ---------

In Part 2, we meet Wekesa, a young unemployed school drop-out who is driven by desperation to join a group of youths who are removed surreptitiously from Kenya and taken for military training in in a North African country through a neighbouring country. We learn how FERA was formed and its eventual collapse.

Wekesa recounts his tale - how he went abroad and returned to take advantage of a presidential amnesty which turned out to be a hollow promise which quickly degenerated into a nightmare and how Wekesa's path crossed eventually mine.


Season of discontent.


I stand accused of creating a disturbance by jumping over the fence in Parliament and stripping a flag off a cabinet minister's limousine to symbolize the government's loss of moral authority to govern. - Dec 2004. (Picture courtesy of the Daily Nation)


2004 marked a season of discontent in Kenya. It did not take long for a country that had been voted the most optimistic nation on earth following the NARC victory in December 2002 to sink to the depths of despair as the lofty promises of the rainbow dream dissipated into a mere mirage and the political elite descended into the gutter of mudslinging and name calling in the wake of a dishonoured MoU. The only thing the new government seemed agreed upon was the urgent business of raising MPs salaries and processing their non-refundable duty free car allowances and tax-free mortgages. Corruption skyrocketed with the advent of Anglo leasing hot on the heels of the yet to be resolved Goldenberg scandal. As usual, it was the ordinary citizen who bore the brunt of the failure of governance, struggling to eke out a living amidst skyrocketing inflation.

Rather than merely join in the chorus of disapproval that was taking place in every bar, bedroom and boardroom, I decided to dramatize the outrage most people were feeling but did not know quite know how to express. But first, I took three weeks to do a whistle stop tour of all the eight provinces speaking to ordinary people about the performance of their government to ensure that I was not alone in the despondency I felt towards the new government and its broken promises. Visiting all the eight provincial capitals, I rode on buses and matatus, slept in lodgings and hang out in bars, listening to the ordinary people express their despair especially as they watched the news on television. Indeed I was not alone. 

Towards the end of November 2004 on returning to Nairobi from Garissa which was my last stop, I drafted a 10 point recall notice addressed to the 9th Parliament making a cogent case why the MPs had lost the moral authority to govern and should vacate the august house to enable the people to elect a truly representative and effective parliament. I proceeded to post the memorandum on the main entrance of the National Assembly. In doing so, I was following in the footsteps of Martin Luther who posted his famous Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31st 1517 to protest oppressive practices in the Catholic Church leading to the founding of protestantism. From Parliament, I visited the leading media houses in Nairobi and distributed the Recall Notice and also did some television interviews. I also distributed the Notice via email and it was shared widely that weekend among Kenyans of various persuasion.   

A few days later, on Tuesday 30 November 2004, intending to escalate the debate and dramatize the government's and parliament's failure to govern, I planned a visit to Parliament. I took the afternoon off from the international NGO where I was working as head of advocacy and went to Parliament Buildings. All the while, since posting the Recall Notice and doing media interviews, I knew that I was being trailed by my old friends from the national security agency. And so it did not surprise me that as I queued to get into the public gallery and just before I went in, a young police woman came running from the Parliament Police Station across the road from parliament and announced that the public gallery was closed to public. Never mind that a good number of people had already gone in and others were waiting in line. When I protested, she told me that those were her orders and  if I had any questions, I would have to go and see her boss at the police station. 

I had made a reconnaissance tour of the site the day before. I had noticed that Parliament had two fences; the outer perimeter fence which was about four metres high, and an inner fence which separated the public area from the private members parking and the chamber beyond. This fence was about four feet high and easy to jump over. There was a public booth at the entrance to the private area manned by one or two policemen who were busy processing constituents going in to see their MPs. 

My plan had nothing to do with going into the public gallery that Tuesday afternoon. I only did so as a decoy to confirm that indeed I was being watched. Rather, my plan was to scale the inner fence and get into the grounds of Parliament. Having been refused entry into the public gallery, I did not argue further. Rather, I walked as if to go to the police station but instead of turning right and crossing the road, I turned left and entered the public parking within parliament buildings. Ensuring that the policeman at the booth was too busy to pay any attention, I scaled the fence and strode casually unnoticed towards two sleek Mercedes Benz vehicles, one belonging to the Speaker and bearing the registration plate SNA 1, and the other a GK belonging to a Cabinet Minister. Each had the mandatory symbol of governmental authority, a pennant flag on the front left hand side of the car. I had no immediate quarrel with Speaker Francis ole Kaparo. It was the politicians who had pissed us all off in the preceding months. So I removed a pennant flag off the Cabinet Minister’s limousine. In so doing, I hoped to symbolically demonstrate the government’s loss of moral authority to govern. Contrary to press reports that appeared the following morning stating that I had slapped Assistant Minister George Khaniri in the process, my action was entirely nonviolent as Khaniri himself later confirmed. 

Shortly after I had taken custody of the ministerial flag, Assistant Minister George Khaniri strolled out of the Chamber accompanied by two gentlemen whom I did not recognize. "George," I spoke to him calmly not using the title 'honourable' as I did not think there was anything particularly honourable about this bunch of MPs. "The Kenyan people are completely fed up with your shenanigans and those of your fellow MPs. You made all these fake promises when you came to power and promptly forgot them as soon as you assumed office. Well, the people of Kenya want their government back. I am taking this flag to demonstrate the simple fact that the NARC government has lost its moral authority to govern. Indeed, it has only demonstrated to us through its many sins of omission and commission that NARC really stands for "Nothing Actually Really Changed!" Khaniri looked terrified but he need not have been, for I meant him no personal harm. 

I was promptly arrested by armed policemen and frogmarched to Parliament Police Station. I stayed there in the holding cell for the rest of the day before being transferred to Central Police Station where I was locked up for the night. The following morning, I was loaded into a police truck along with other miscreants and we were carted off to the High Court. I was produced in Court Number 1 before Chief Magistrate Aggrey Muchelule and charged with creating a disturbance in a manner likely to cause a breach of the peace.

“Yes, I am mad!”

Knowing that if I pleaded guilty or not guilty the story would merely fizzle away, when the charge was read out before a packed courtroom and in front of TV cameras, I opted not to plead, but rather to sing the national anthem to further dramatize the nature of and the reason for my nonviolent protest. Magistrate Muchelule patiently waited as I sang the entire national anthem in Kiswahili.  

"Mr. Njonjo Mue, you are the most patriotic Kenyan I have seen in a long time," he said with genuine admiration. "Not many people can still remember all the words of the national anthem." Still, he ordered that I be taken for a psychiatric examination. At that point, I addressed the court:

“Your honour, if in Kenya today it is considered normal for ministers to drive vehicles worth ten million shillings while a family of six in Kibera subsists on forty six shillings a day, then you don’t have to ask a psychiatrist, I will tell you myself, I am mad; if it is considered normal for MPs to be taken to Mombasa on fully paid holidays by BAT to be bribed to block tobacco control legislation while our people continue dying of tobacco related ailments, then I am mad; if it is normal for our leaders to traverse the land hurling insults at each other while our people are robbed, raped and murdered, then I am mad; and I take comfort in the fact that I am not the only one, we are millions of mad people who do not want to act normal while watching our country going to the dogs.

“As for the charge before you, your honour, I beseech you not only to find me guilty, but to hand down the harshest sentence permitted by the law.” I concluded.  

While many dismissed my actions during that November of discontent, a few read it for what it really was, a legitimate and well targeted act of protest against the country’s failing leadership. Writing later in an article aptly titled, Kenya – a nation in despair that appeared in a local daily and on the African Economic Analysis blog, one commentator, Michael Mundia Kamau, said:

There is something terribly wrong in this country. There is a devastating and looming crisis in our midst, and direction out of this needs to be established fast. Government and local authority functions have crumbled to the detriment of an entire nation. It is this sheer frustration that drove an exasperated Njonjo Mue to confronting two government ministers on the grounds of parliament on 30th November 2004. Njonjo Mue’s bold and courageous act of confrontation will one day rank alongside that of the Boston Tea Party of 1773, the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14th 1789, the beginning of the modern civil rights movement in the United States on December 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Montgomery, Alabama and the brave, bold and courageous manner in which civil rights activist James Chaney met his death at the hands of white captors in June 1964 by telling them to their faces, “I aint running”.

After paying tribute to other Kenyans throughout history who had gone against the grain and stood up for what they believed in, Mundia went on to say:

Njonjo Mue’s bold and courageous act of 30th November 2004 is nevertheless an enviable and inspiring wake-up call to both the entire Kenyan leadership and to the ineffective and heavily compromised Kenyan middle class in deep slumber, a heavily compromised 21st century Kenyan middle class that makes 18th century France’s Marie Antoinette and her callousness, appear saintly. The Kenyan middle class on which the country relies on for direction and intellect is decadent, and hopelessly preoccupied with sex, pleasure, alcohol, flashy cars and flashy cell phones. Fresh impetus and direction needs to be given to the Kenyan dream, struggle and movement, and Njonjo Mue played a shining role in this respect on the 30th November 2004. Sanity and direction urgently require to be restored in this country. (http://www.africaeconomicanalysis.org/articles/gen/kenya1204.html ).

Writing in her weekly column in the influential regional newspaper, The East African, on 13 December 2004, in an article boldly titled: Bravo, Mue, we all don’t believe in NARC, The Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Muthoni Wanyeki, commented:


I felt the same way on learning that it was actually Njonjo Mue who had scaled the walls of parliament and torn a flag off a government car. Mue was protesting what he felt was our new government’s complete betrayal of all of the ideals, all of the people’s struggles, that brought it into power. His audacity made me feel somewhat gleeful – for I find I have to try harder and harder every day to continue to believe in all of the reforms initiated or promised by the National Rainbow Coalition. And although, unlike Mue, I am dealing with my disillusionment from the comfort of my organised, safe work space and certainly not scaling parliamentary walls, it gives me great pleasure that someone else is. Because I do still believe in dialectics – thesis, antithesis, synthesis. And actions like Mue’s enable, make possible, the kind of actions I contemplate now. Actions like Mue’s highlight, in all the ways that organised advocacy, diplomacy and negotiations of the kind that many organisations do not, the basis on which we are all acting. So, I agree with the National Constitution Executive Council in their calls for all charges against Mue to be dropped on the basis that they constitute legitimate protest – an exercise of his freedom of expression. Dramatic gestures. They have their uses.


Back in Court No 1, Muchelule ordered that I be remanded in custody for a week during which time I was to be taken for psychiatric examination. It was not the first time I would be a guest of the State at the Industrial Area Remand Prison and it certainly wouldn't be the last.


TO BE CONTINUED.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Memories of High School - A Pastor's Remark and Religious Freedom in the Old School

HOW A PASTOR'S REMARK LED TO RETHINKING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE OLD SCHOOL

BY NJONJO MUE  ALLIANCE HIGH SCHOOL, CLASS OF 1986.

1985 marked a watershed year in Bush. One of those years when old traditions are questioned and a new generation sticks its neck out to quench its thirst for freedom. It was a Sunday morning and the whole school had gathered for chapel service as usual. Reverend Fred G. Welch, more popularly known as Contra, had just led us in prayer and invited the day's guest speaker to preach the word.

Pastor Ambrose Nyangao of Parklands Baptist Church was the preacher for the day. He was a regular visitor and we simply loved him for his passion, sense of humour and the way he easily connected with us through his preaching that was interspersed with sheng, making the Bible come alive in a way few other preachers did. I still remembered the last time he visited. He had brought the house down with the Ambrose Standard Version of the Jesus and Zaccheus story in Luke 19:1-10 - "Jesus akamuita Zaccheus, 'ebu teremka, leo nita-dish kwa hao yako.' Walipoenda home, bibi ya Zaccheus akaanza kuzusha, 'mbona hukuniambia Jesus ana-come?' Zaccheus akaanza kujitetea, 'si fault yangu, ni Jesus aliji-invite..." 

And so no one expected any drama during this Sunday service except the usual sprinkling of humour. Neither do I think that Pastor Ambrose deliberately set out to cause an age old Alliance tradition to be overturned. He was just being a preacher delivering his message passionately as usual. His sermon was about the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I forget all the details now. I only remember the one part of the message that caused a mini tremor in the old school 

"The Bible says that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord," he said quoting Philippians 2:9-11. Nothing controversial there. He was, after all, just quoting Scripture. But then he went on to expound what he understood this verse to mean. "Jesus is Lord!" he thundered. "Everybody else is subject to Jesus Christ. Buddha is subject to Jesus Christ. Mohammed is subject to Jesus Christ..."

At this point, Munir Sheikh, the usually uncontroversial and sharply dressed Form 5, stood up and started for the door. He was joined by several Muslim students rising from various parts of the Chapel where their houses sat. From the balcony where Sellwood House was sitting that term, I saw Majid Twahir, the Medical Prefect, rise and join the walk out followed by all the Muslims seated at the balcony. What started as a trickle soon became a flood as virtually all Muslim students, from First Formers to Senior Prefects, left Chapel in protest at the pastor's last statement. 

This may seem like a minor event to those who went to the school in the 1990's and later, but for us and previous generations, attending chapel was compulsory for all students regardless on one's faith. Every student had to sign a commitment form upon admission that said that Alliance was founded on Christian traditions and all students were expected to attend chapel services five times a week including Sunday service. To my knowledge, this rule had never been questioned. For students to walk out in the middle of a service with a guest speaker preaching was unfathomable. The tradition of Alliance High School was that if you encountered an injustice you endured it and then complained later. Alliance was a community founded on the rule of law and that had enduring faith in due process. Except seemingly this once. It would appear that our Muslim colleagues felt the injustice this time required an immediate and dramatic response. 

Pastor Ambrose went on with his sermon though most of us by now had our attention elsewhere. We were deep in thought about, with some even whispering to each other as to, how this crisis would be resolved. Would all the Muslim students be punished? But how could they be? They had walked out in an orderly and respectful fashion when they felt their religion attacked. Would they be let off without consequence? But then what would be the implications of this for other faiths, for example the SDAs who were required to attend classes on Saturday morning? What about others who might come up and say their religions forbade them to run cross country, or to do farm work, or to wash toilets during morning work? What sort of compromise could be reached to acknowledge that an injustice had been done to the Muslim students while at the same time upholding school traditions? We could not wait for the service to end so that we could discuss the implications of what had just happened in Chapel that Sunday morning. When service ended, we spent the rest of the day huddled in small groups in kamkunjis discussing the momentous happenings in Chapel that morning. 

On Monday morning, the Muslim students who had walked out of Chapel were summoned to a meeting with the Headmaster. There were no recriminations. In the old Alliance way where the old starts to give way to the new, a compromise was reached. Muslims would no longer be required to attend Sunday Chapel services, but would be allowed to go to the Mosque instead. But they were still required to attend Chapel on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. I am not sure how long this arrangement was maintained or whether it still obtains today.

What I do know is that the courage of Munir Sheikh and his colleagues paved way for a new era where religious freedoms and cultural diversity could start to be seen as part of the Alliance mosaic and where the message could be sent that even though the best school in Kenya had been founded by Christian missionaries, its vision was big enough to accommodate all who were committed to being strong to serve, no matter the faith tradition they happened to come from.

Memories of High School - Let's drink and make merry, for tomorrow... we get saved.

LET'S DRINK AND MAKE MERRY, FOR TOMORROW... WE GET SAVED. 

It was show time again. The Nairobi International Show, that is. The year was 1984 and I was in Form 4. As usual, there were several bus trips ferrying students from Bush to Jamhuri Park and everyone had to be on their assigned trip on either of the two buses - the new school but whose registration number I forget, and the old faithful loaf-shaped KMG. We had connived to be assigned to the last trip out of school, because that also meant that we would be on the last trip to leave the Show. 

For us, the show was not about ogling at exhibitions of new products or friesian cows as they competed for first prize, after all, we had dropped Agric as a subject at the end of Second Form. Instead we spent part of the morning watching acrobatics at the tattoo ground while waiting for the real show to start - the disco at Namis Club which was graced by Maroon Commandos live band. 

I was particularly popular with my buddies around show time because I had an uncle who was an officer in the army. I would take my buddies to the officers' mess at the show ground and ask to see him, hoping that he was actually not in. If he happened to be in, we would go in and say hi and he would buy us lunch and we would be on best behaviour as we ate great food and drank coke and fanta. But if he happened not to be in, then we would lie that he had asked us to wait inside for him, and as soon as we were let in, we would cover our school uniform in jackets or sweaters that we had carried, sit at a corner and order beer at greatly subsidized prices. Thus the afternoon was spent making merry courtesy of the Kenyan armed forces. 

On this particular day, my uncle thankfully happened not to be around and we spent most of the afternoon drinking duty free alcohol. When we felt sufficiently drunk, we went off to dance the evening away. But we had to be careful not to miss the last bus to school which we calculated would leave from the pick up point at a Petrol Station at Dagoretti Corner at about 9 p.m. 

All too soon, it was time to go and we staggered merrily to Dagoretti. Thankfully, we found the bus just about to leave. We hopped on singing our hearts away but no sooner had I sat down than I noticed Isaac Lenaola sitting soberly on the same bus and I knew we were in trouble. You see Isaac was the Junior Library Prefect and straight as a rail. He was also a Christian. We were not as close as we later became and I fully expected that he would certainly take this matter forward. I sensed a suspension coming my way.

When we got to school, my friend and drinking mate, Adongo Adeya, insisted on holding my hand to escort me to my dorm despite his being equally drunk. We both caused quite a scene as we staggered from the parade ground past the grave yard and the Grieve Library towards Sellwood House. Little did we know that Mahinda Macharia, the Chapel Prefect who was the Senior PoD that week had caught sight of us. 

No sooner had I slipped into bed in Dorm 21A than Mahinda walked in. "Njonjo, have you been drinking?" he asked with fatherly concern. "I had a few sodas with some friends from Lenana," I lied. "And it seems like they put something in my soda because, although I don't know how it feels like to be drunk, I am feeling a bit funny."

Mahinda proceeded to tell me how bad drinking was. He was more concerned about the state of my soul than the fact that I had broken a cardinal school rule. "You are a good boy with a great future ahead of you," he said. "Satan knows that and he is not happy. You see, the thief comes to steal, to kill and to destroy, but Jesus came that you may have life abundantly. Njonjo, alcohol will not give you abundant life. Only Jesus can. And the only way you can experience this life is if you give your life to Christ. Would you like to receive Christ as your Lord and Saviour?" Mahinda asked. 

I was ready to do anything. Giving my life to the Lord was a small price to pay to avoid suspension. So, with all the holiness I could muster, I told Mahinda that I had actually been contemplating salvation for quite some time now, and God must have sent him to pray for me. And pray he did, earnestly but softly so as not to disturb the other junior boys that were already asleep. I myself was drifting in and out of sleep throughout the prayer, not paying much attention, only being relieved that I was off the hook. Except of course, if Lenaola decided to take the matter forward. 

In the event, Lenaola called me aside the following day after lunch and told me that although it was his duty to report our drunken behaviour to the authorities, he had decided to let it go on condition that we promised that it would be the last time it would happen. I promised profusely and the matter rested there. 

The Bible says that the word of God does not return to him void, neither do prayers said in sincerity of heart. I got saved in jest that night to avoid suspension, but God did not relent in pursuing me. I believe that Mahinda's faithfulness in praying for this wayward junior boy and Lenaola's magnanimous forgiveness sowed a seed that would slowly but surely germinate inside my heart. Seven years later, in January 1991, that seed was ripe for harvest and I gave in to the charm of the Holy Spirit as I invited Jesus Christ into my heart to be Lord and Saviour of my life. I have never looked back...

 My testimony as to how the Lord finally caught up with me can be found here: 

http://njonjomue.blogspot.com/2011/11/just-as-i-am.html