Notes from the ICC demo

Posted by on 21st January 2011

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By Mzalendo Contributor – Moreen Majiwa

I’ve never been involved in a Kenyan demo before but I’ve seen the pictures andnewsreels. The ones where demos look like small-scale wars: baton-wielding police infull riot regalia, shields included. Armoured vehicles, tear gas, demonstrators scattering and trampling each other to avoid police batons, others hurling rocks, dummy rounds fired into the air, demonstrators ushered violently into police trucks as arrest are madeleft and right.

I also have an MO during demonstrations avoid CBD, avoid Uhuru High Way, andUniversity Way unless completely necessary. Stick to the back routes, traffic and distance be damned. I avoid demonstrations studiously.

So how did I end up at this demonstration? First I believe in the cause, I believe the ICC process is right for the Kenyan context, the failure of the MPs to set up as a local process thus far speaks to this. And as one of the organisers stated, “If MPs can manipulate an international process like the ICC processes in the way they are doing now, can you imagine what they would do to a purely internal process?” The thought is scary.

Like other Kenyans at the protest I’m 100% against the MPs move to pulling out of the ICC, or using public funds to defend the Ocampo 6. Most of all I’m fed up with watching from the sidelines while our politicians try their best to turn the country into a banana republic. So the demonstration seemed like a place to commune with like-minded Kenyans to express our views to our parliamentarians.

Needless to say the demonstration was nothing like I expected. Apart from the late start,
when I arrived at 1.00 pm the press outnumbered the demonstrators and most people did not
arrive until about 2.00 pm. However when did arrive they were raucous and eager.  Chanting
and weaving their way round Freedom Corner carrying placards and wearing t-shirts with
slogans like ‘Yes to the ICC’ ‘Defending Suspects Not with my Money’ ‘Yes to the ICC!
No to Impunity!’

However,  like some of the demonstrators and the press I was under impression that the
demonstration would proceed to parliament. I also expected that it would result in the
prototypical demonstration violence. In fact I was prepared armed with a bag packed
lighter than its been since giant bags became fashionable,  appropriate clothes and
shoes, and a more than healthy amount of vigilance. However ,it turned out that none of
this was necessary, the demonstration was peaceful.

The one hitch other than the late start happened when it dawned on some of the protestors
that the protest would not leave the park.  One particularly irate young Kenyan woman
heatedly accused the demonstration organisers of being hypocritical and looking for a
photo op. She likened them to the MPs against whom they were protesting coining the
phrase ‘civil society, evil society.’  As she began to lead a small section of the protestors,
mostly women in the direction of parliament chanting “We go, we go!”

As the organisers tried to explain to the lady that the permit allowed only permitted
demonstrations within the confines of the park and she counter argued that if contained
to the park that a demonstration was no demonstration at all but rather a workshop
or conference, as it would no way affect the MPs who were sitting comfortably in parliament building a few blocks away. Saying the confrontation between the lady and the organisers was heated would be an
understatement there is no way to describe it you had to be there.

Looking back at the original communication there’s nothing in it to indicate that
the demonstration would proceed outside the bounds of the park, but clearly some miscommunication happened at some point.  While I may not fully agree with the way the lady raised her the issue I get it, I get the pent up frustration that the lady felt. I get the feeling of needing to take immediate
and drastic action because our politicians refuse to listen to reasoned debate. I get ‘the
let’s take it to the street’ sentiment expressed by the irate young Kenyans present.

Yet, in the heat of the moment it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture.  Yes, street protests
that turn violent get more press. Do people get injured? Yes. Do such protests change
things? Rarely and at great cost. Do you ever wonder what happens to the people who
get injured in protests or to the families of those that die? They often carry the burden on
their own, other protestors having returned to their day jobs.

Is freedom free? No. But maybe it’s time to flip the script, have a more Gandhian kind of
demo that doesn’t end in injury or death, a build of peaceful protests leading to climax.
A build up that impresses upon the consciousness of our politicians that things have
changed, that they can no longer take advantage us.

What are your thoughts?


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