Sunday, August 8, 2010

This is a clean break with the past

Sunday Nation 07 August 2010

One quiet August morning 28 years ago, a six-year-old boy ventured from his house on Muyuyu Street in Eastleigh to go to the nearby kiosk to buy milk and bread as was his daily routine.

On this day, things seemed different. He did not manage to buy the provisions he had been sent to get because he found that all kiosks were closed and, instead, all he could see were heavily armed uniformed soldiers everywhere on the street.

He went back home and explained to everyone why he had been unable to get milk and bread, but had difficulty understanding the significance of the armed fellows at every street corner.

Today, he remembers sitting on the floor in his bedroom, scared stiff, as explosions went off at the nearby Eastleigh Airbase. Leonard Mambo Mbotela’s voice still rings in his mind as he announced on the then only national radio station that ‘‘serikali imepinduliwa. Polisi wanatakiwa wakae kama raia’’ (the government has been overthrown and the police are advised that they are now civilians).

He remembers the soldiers who later visited his home and went from room to room looking for ‘‘subversive material’’, some of which, like The Green Book by Muammar Gaddafi, had been hidden away in advance.

Publications from the then Soviet Union on communism and socialism had also miraculously disappeared from the bookshelves long before the soldiers came calling.

He remembers later that evening watching on television as the President, dressed in jungle fatigues and flanked by a contingent of soldiers, announced that the elected government was back in control.

This boy lived through the transformation of the Moi regime from a benign paternalistic government into a violent dictatorship.

This past week has brought back all those memories as the country marked the 28th anniversary of the 1982 attempted coup and at the same time voted to radically alter the governance landscape for the first time since independence.

History will record August 4, 2010 as the day when Kenyans spoke up unequivocally to change every aspect of their governing institutions, giving themselves greater say in matters of state.

Although it is fair to assume that the majority of the voters did not vote on the basis of their reading of the proposed constitution, the overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote maintains the reform momentum that has built up since the chaotic 2007 General Election.

Kenya is now irrevocably set on a path to institutional reform that may yet prove to be the most fundamental change in the history of our young republic.

We must not rest on our laurels. The country faces perhaps the most dramatic times since independence and the citizens must not relax their vigilance in ensuring both the legislature and the executive arms of government fulfill their responsibilities as outlined in the new constitution.

The little boy of 1982 is now an adult Kenyan, trying to do his bit to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

I know a lot about that little boy because, in 1982, that little boy was me.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

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