Monday, June 10, 2013

Struggle within a Struggle in Kenya Civil Society

The world watched in awe as a group of activists damped a drove of bloody pigs on the gates of parliament to protest against the legislators clamour for a pay rise. To many Kenyans, and the world at large, this was a show of solidarity a spectacle of audacity unseen before.

The unprecedented event was organized by a group of civil societies under the umbrella of Kenya for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ).

But as we learnt, a battle of supremacy simmered beneath the dramatic display of pigs and running street battles with the police.

“That days demonstration was a well-choreographed ritual by the elite career activists and it was supposed to be performed and executed as per the planned script,” explained a civil society insider who talked on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media. “As pre-planned they knew ten demonstrators will dare the anti-riot police, be buttered, clobbered and arrested and after wards they will be rewarded Ksh50,000 each”.

But the plans are said to have crumbled after young volunteer activists from like Dandora, Kibera and other poor neighbourhoods driven by a patriotic desire to tell off the “MPigs” joined in. The mainstream organizations are also said to have paid the bail out money for those who were arrested.

These are the characters that were dancing and chanting around the blood licking pigs while lifting up piglets and hog heads. With most of them young and enthusiastic they are the ones that were adding vigour and verve to the whole fanfare.

“From the outset, any one might have thought that the demonstrators were one as hand, and united in their purposes and strategies against collective greed of MPs, our source explained. “But unfortunately they found themselves in the logger head with the elite career activists who tried to physically elbowed, ejected and kicked them out of that days ritual.”  

He claims that although the civil society gathering presented a united front they were inspired and driven by overlapping agendas and vested interests.

It was noticeable that while the young activists were busy chanting and jumping their older and well known colleagues like Maina Kiai and Yash Pal Ghai were giving interviews for both local and international channels.

“I never do this for money and if somebody thinks that’s the case let them come with the evidence and I vow I will never go to the streets again,” declares Boniface Mwangi, one of the architects of the MPigs campaign. “Why should I setup myself to be clobbered whereby I can even be shot dead, get a lifetime injury or end up in prison?”

Mwangi says contrary to the rumours that he is a gun for hire, the says he makes his money through photography and giving talks in various institutions across the world.

“I travel to at least six countries every year where I am invited by academic and other institutions to give talks on issues to do with social justice and photojournalism,” the two times CNN Photojournalist of the Year explains. “I make good money from these activities hence I don’t need anybody’s bribes to demand justice and create a better Kenya for my children”.

Mwangi denies that there is an undergoing struggle explaining that he and his associates directs all their energies towards fighting for a better Kenya rather than jostling for fame and fortune.

But our informer maintains that there is a “struggle within the struggle” in the civil society circles pitting “professional activists” whose economic endowment affords them abodes in upmarket neighborhoods like Lavington, Kileleshwa and Kilimani against those genuinely concerns citizens from Kibera, Dandora, Korogocho and Mathare.

“As the demonstration was going on, Boniface Mwangi a lone ranger demonstrator who came to lime light through his pet project Picha Mtaani fame, and has formed his own movement Kenya Ni Kwetu, was seen manhandling his fellow comrade in activism Getonga of Bunge La Mwananchi Gitonga,” he explains. “He forcefully snatched Gitongas mega speaker and threw it inside parliament’s perimeter wall, saying he has enough money to buy him another one”.

But Boniface Mwangi says Gitonga was paid by politicians to come and disrupt the peaceful protest so that it can be dispersed by the police.

“He was telling people to storm the parliament compound which is trespass hence would have resulted in people being arrested and beaten by the police,” Mwangi claims. “For these reasons I took the loud speaker after the police refused to arrest him. I told him I would buy him another one, and the pledge still stands”.

The activist who is organizing another demonstration next Tuesday says Kenyans should brace for a surprise, yet again.

“We are determined to use all the means within our reach to ensure the MPs get the point that the whole country is against their abnormal pay demands,” the photojournalist says.

Others who are said to be having beef with each other are Gacheke Gachihi of Release Political Prisoners (RPP) and Fredrick Odhiambo, the man who famously heckled Retired President Kibaki during Jamhuri Day in 2008.

Okoiti Omtata, a veteran of Kenya’s civil society movement, says that he does what he does because of his love for this country and not because of money.

“I dedicate one percent of my time and ten percent of my income to agitating for the right of citizens through civil society engagement,” Omtata says. “This I do as a way of giving back to the Kingdom of God since am a devout Roman Catholic. Even Jesus Christ was an activist because he spent his life on earth advocating for justice and fighting religious dogma”.

The playwright says he works like any other Kenyans and he is not paid by anybody to do what he does.

“I write books, do farming in western Kenya, give talks and do consultancy work for people hence I am not under anybody’s payroll or I don’t know of any activist that is paid to be beaten on the streets,” Omtata claims. “There is also no struggle within the civil society as you say and I can tell you that most of the young people that you saw during the anti-MPs protest outside parliament are young patriots driven by passion for a better Kenya”.

However, he admits there are those who form organizations in order to attract funding and these are the ones who gives the civil movement a bad name.

“These are lobbyists who are paid to agitate for a certain agenda and their mission is supply-driven,” Omtata explains. “On the other hand, activists are patriots whose actions are demand-driven and most of them do what they do because of an inner conviction that goes beyond money”.

While lobbyists are paid to advance courses like tobacco bill to ensure they favour the industry players, activists demonstrate to demand the repair of a damaged road or reconnection of water supply.

He says organizations like the Mau Mau and individuals like Dedan Kimathi, Martin Luther King Junior were all activists because they were spurred into action by the demand to see change in their society.

“Those who say people are being paid should know that sometimes we contribute to give the young men bus fare to go home after a protest since most of them come from very poor backgrounds,” Omtata told writer. “Therefore the issue of people being paid to be in the in the streets is a lame excuse by cowards who don’t have the guts to face the police in a protest”.

He says he has an organization called Kenyans for Justice and Development (KEJUDE) whose activities are funded by monthly contributions from members.

Okoiti is remembered for chaining himself outside the police headquarters and successfully suing the government to unban the controversial play Shackles of Doom.

He cites Grannies Against Greed and Gluttony, an organization of grand mothers who participated in the demonstration against the MPs’ pay rise, as an example of the fact that the civil society is not a money-driven sector.

The same sentiments are echoed by Gladwell Otieno of African Center for Open Governance (AFRICOG) who says claims that activists do what they do because of money is part of a smear campaign against the civil society by those determined to undermine its course.

“Most of those who work in civil society organizations are driven by a desire to see change in our country besides the fact for some who work there full time it’s a job,” she explains. “As an organization Africog acts what it preaches and that’s why we display our financiers in our website for everyone to see”.

Among those listed as Africog funders in its website include the British Department for International Developemnt (DfiD), Embassy of Finland in Kenya, Royal Netherlands Embassy in Kenya, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and German International Cooperation (GIZ).

“Although we are donour funded we turn down any funding that comes with conditions or attachments that we consider not to be in line with our vision and mission as an organization,” Otieno explains. “Therefore those who says that we are puppets of our funders expose the nature of their greed-driven personalities rather than the other way round”.

The AFRICOG board of directors includes Maina Kiai, John Githongo, Gladwell Otieno, Nigerian scholar and gender activist Funmi Olonisakin, Stella Chege and Duncan Okello.

Besides being part of the team that organized the pig-laden demonstration outside parliament a few weeks ago the organization was also one of the three petitioners who challenged the election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the Supreme Court after the March 4th elections.

“AFRICOG contributed cash which enabled Boniface Mwangi purchase and transport blood, mother pig and its piglets from Dagoreti to the gate of parliament,” our source reveals. “Muslim for Human Rights (MUHURI) also contributed in printing T-shirts and Transparency International Kenya was in charge of media mobilization”.

He claims that while big civil organizations facilitated the event financially the real work was done by the poor grassroots organizers from Kangemi, Kibera, Mathare, Mukuru, Ndandora, Korogocho and Majengo.

“Elitist civil society activists are hypocrites per excellence. None of them was arrested, tear gassed or clobbered,” the source adds. “They purported to occupy parliament as an up rise against collective greed of Kenyan MPs, but their act was not for the purpose of keeping parliament in check, neither were they in the course of trying to re-shape the state and government behavior”.

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