Echoes from past protest heroes: Gen Zs writing their own story

Anti-tax protesters on the streets of Nairobi during the peaceful demonstrations.
Anti-tax protesters on the streets of Nairobi during the peaceful demonstrations.
Photo credit: File| Nation

The recent anti-tax protests evoked memories of the past when prominent Kenyan figures engaged in activism through public demonstrations, compelling the government to make significant concessions.

Just as it happened yesterday when President William Ruto agreed to withdraw the contentious Finance Bill, 2024 following days of countrywide protests by the majority of young Kenyans, it mirrored former President Daniel Arap Moi’s regime which ceded ground on the reintroduction of multi-party democracy.

Interviews with past protest heroes including; James Orengo, Koigi wa Wamwere, Professor Kivutha Kibwana, Reverend Timothy Njoya, Njeru Kathangu and Martha Karua draws similarities and parallels with the recent anti-tax protests in the country.

Mr Orengo, now Siaya Governor, became well-known for his fight against unjust rule and spent several years in detention as a result.

In an interview with Nation on Wednesday, June 26, Mr Orengo explained that unlike during their past struggles, the recent Gen Z protests “had much sense of information,” despite a crackdown on some of its influencers by the government.

“This Ruto government is a clown of the Moi State. It has come back with all characteristics of Moi State.

“Coming to the lessons, young people are better informed than during our time. They have access to social media which immensely contributed to message dissemination during the struggle,” Mr Orengo said.

He said that the recent protesters were better equipped to deal with the State than they were.
He argued that despite the new Constitution 2010, not much had changed in terms of governance “since those in power did not support its promulgation.”

Mr Orengo, however, insisted that despite the withdrawal of the Bill, “we have reached a stage where the legality of this government has been called into question.”

“This is on the basis that they have undermined the Constitution. You cannot say you are the government in power and continue undermining the Constitution,” he said.

Mr Wamwere, a former Member of Parliament, human rights activist, journalist and writer became famous for opposing the Jomo Kenyatta and Moi regimes. Both sent him to detention.

“No revolution does not need the wisdom of old revolutionaries. Those who ignore the cry of the people always fail whoever they are.

“Currently in Kenya, history is repeating itself with possible consequences of tragedy and failure,’ he told the Nation.

He went on: “As the tyranny of one party State failed for ignoring the cry of the people for freedom and multi-party democracy so shall rulers of Kenya fail for ignoring the cry of the people for a reduction of the cost of living and raising taxes to raise the wealth of the rich against the poor. Aluta Continua!”

Former Runyenjes MP Njeru Kathangu, another renown activist of the past, argued that the youth revolution in the country was for the good of the public.

“They are on the right path and must not be stopped by being called criminals because every government system in the world does not like to be challenged.
“It is only the very wise leaders who like to listen to the voices of the people.”

He faulted President Ruto’s statement on Tuesday night before he climbed down yesterday.
“Ruto’s statement was full of chest-thumping, and dismissive of Kenyans as small little puppies, criminals and misguided.

“He used treasonous which means facing the firing squad in military language and hanging in judicial language. I urge him to retreat from such thoughts going forward for they only have the capacity to ferment a revolt,” Mr Kathangu told Nation.

He said that the Gen Z generation that spearheaded the recent anti-tax struggles are on the right path.

“They must, however, make sure they are very close to identifying a leadership to steer them and negotiate for them,” he said.

Mr Kathangu, however, faulted the government over what he termed as “handling the protests in a criminal way.”

“It was wrong to handle largely peaceful demos with loaded rifles and poisoned canons. It was not right to have snipers aiming at young unarmed people dancing on the streets,” he said.

On the abduction of some protesters, the former MP said it was meant to extract information and instil fear in them.

“But no society is intimidated by eliminations when they are determined to change a country,” he said.

Former Makueni governor Prof Kibwana and ex-spokesperson of the National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) that spearheaded various struggles during the Moi regime, advised on the need for the current regime to listen to its people.

“You cannot deal with such protests using threats, deploy the military or police or through abduction of ‘influencers’. We cannot use old tricks to suppress the current voices,” he said.
President Ruto, Prof Kibwana said, needs to find a way of building more consensus with the people instead of using the past strongman tactics.

“Abductions and arbitrary arrests only reflect a return of detention without trial. People must understand that there is a time frame to take people to court.

“What’s happening is completely illegal and unconstitutional. Our country is not ready to go back to that situation where there was no respect for the Constitution.”

Reverend Njoya, popularly known for being one of the Church leaders who publicly spoke and protested against the autocracy and brutality of the then President Moi in the 1980s and 90s said he was happy with the recent happenings where the Church took a firm position.

“I am happy that senior clergymen and politicians are not trying to steal the Gen Z revolution to make political mileage.

“I’m glad that they took the initiative to pressurise the State to stop being stubborn and it yielded to public demands,” he said.

Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua was also a member of the opposition political movements that successfully agitated for the re-introduction of multi-party democracy in Kenya in the early 1990s.In light of the recent protests, she said that it was wrong for the police to shoot unarmed protesters.

“The conscience of the nation was scarred, when a young man was shot by a sniper in the head, and his brain matter bled at the gate of Parliament.

“This young man was the brother of a police officer. We remind Ruto and his regime that they will account for that individually,” Ms Karua said yesterday.

The former Azimio la Umoja presidential running mate says the President and other officials ought to uphold the Constitution and serve the people of Kenya.