The article below is based on the book We Lived To Tell: The Nyayo House Story “which
documents experiences of Kenyans who went through the infamous Nyayo House Torture Chambers.They tell harrowing stories of scary hounding by security agents, arrests, torture, jail and detention. Their experiences reveal an intolerant, oppressive and paranoid government that could not stand criticism”.
We lived to tell ~ A triumph of knowledge
In 2006 WikiLeaks a nonprofit organization released its first document, exposing a plot to assassinate government officials in Somalia. This was just the first step in what is hitherto considered the largest release of diplomatic cables and classified information in the history of the world. In this single act of self-knighted bravery and what can also be perceived as unequivocal chivalry, Julian Assange and his team made public, secrets and atrocities committed by governments in the world over .What followed was a swift and prompt response from implicated governments, which demanded that WikiLeaks be shut down with immediate effect as it was a threat to world peace.
In this guise of world peace and welfare, governments sort ways of bringing the organization down. This selfish act to suffocate the truth and suppress transparency revealed that in as much as we speak of democracy and openness, past and present day governments still have alot to hide from their people.
December 12 1963, the prospect of a post colonial Kenya is brimming with life. Independence is finally here – this is all Kenyans have dreamt of and now that it has been obtained, the future holds nothing but promise.50 years since independence, as one sits down to evaluate the country’s progress economically, socially and politically it is clear that something must have gone wrong. From the ubiquitous tribal mentalities to dictatorial regimes and rampant corruption one may simply call it a leadership flaw .A leadership flaw so large it would transcend through generations for nearly 50 years. Judging by the swift transition from the tyrannous Kenyatta regime to an even worse Moi administration one may argue that Kenyans knew nothing else. Still, why would it take so long for change to finally come?
Reading through “We lived to tell”, one thing seems to resonate louder than anything else. A central theme materializes in what seems to be an “ingenious” yet monotonous master plan that all oppressive regimes seem to follow to the T. The suppression of knowledge and the stifling of new progressive ideas. Taking into account the despotic Moi regime which stifled the country for nearly three decades. It is evident that the only way to suppress the conscious uprising was to literally hunt down and break the spirits of those keen on awakening the masses and those who were keen on exposing sham practices. Through its endless tactics to suppress the spread of revolutionary ideals and ideas, the regime clearly demonstrated one thing: that it had an Achilles heel .A point of weakness that would eventually render its demise and despite the fact that it took close to 24 years to do so, the inevitable happened.
Some may say that the regime ended because it was simply time for it to end. Some may attribute the end of the regime to the intense pressure applied by the international community. Others may attribute the end of the regime to the hundreds of people who were tortured in the Nyayo house chambers. Yet others may credit the end of the regime to the clandestine movements or even the underground literature that encouraged people to wake up and fight for their rights. Regardless of the numerous reasons that may be sighted, one thing remains transcendent in all the above, the spread of knowledge and awareness was key.
Where it is a question of education and empowerment, the role of the university as a force to reckon with comes out profoundly within the book. The government termed it the unofficial opposition and on one too many occasions Nairobi University was closed down. University unions and leadership bodies were banned and accused of wanting to “destabilize the country”. As the roots of dictatorship were beginning to take firm within the country .The university was the only body that came out to challenge the oppressive laws and repressive governing being practised by the government.
“Progressive student leaders like Onyango C. A., Mwakuduwa Mwachofi, Oduor Ong’wen, Justice Maurice Adongo Ogony, Paddy Onyango and Mwandawiro Mghanga galvanised the university community to demand the release of all detainees and a national referendum to determine whether the majority of Kenyans wanted the single-party system legalized.”
In retrospect, one can majorly attribute the eventual attainment of multi-partism and recognition of human rights in the country to the university body and intellectuals, who refused to be silenced. Who unlawfully proliferated underground literature to awaken the masses, who even in prison had covert communication syndicates where they would still discuss the welfare of the country in spite of their vapid states.
“It is apparent that between 1982 and 1986 Mwakenya activities centred on the publication and distribution of its underground literature calling for the unity of all patriots to change the oppressive Moi government. “
On the more comical side, it is hard to believe that the government even went to the extent of removing all Lenin-Marxist/Che-Guevara/Malcolm X books from the university library claiming that the books would poison the minds of the students with their foreign ideologies. As if the books forced you to read them, as if they stalked you as you walked around in the library and when you least expected it pounced on you with pages wide open. This is the extent to which the government was willing to control what people knew, to the point of controlling what it is that you read and what it is that you didn’t read.
Special branch police invaded the university libraries and removed all books by or on Vladimir Illyich Lenin, Karl Marx, Che Guevara, Malcom X, Franz Fanon, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Maina wa Kinyatti and Fidel Castro from the shelves “ where they lurked in wait to ambush young innocent Kenyan minds with their subversive foreign ideology ”
“… after he expressed displeasure with the keeping of beards, calling it a communist fashion, it suddenly became almost criminal to be seen with one. Civil Servants who wanted to be seen as “Nyayo followers” and “patriotic citizens” had to shave clean and not be seen to wear a semblance of the “seven bearded sisters” or “Marxists.”
Such occurrences make you wonder, what it is exactly that makes someone feel that they are justified to treat someone else in such sadistic ways? Is it power that causes one to be so paranoid? Or is it money that makes one believe that they are invincible?
The book contains harrowing experiences, stories and accounts of persons who underwent dehumanizing ordeals in the hands of a sadistic regime. Stories enough to make you cringe while reading them, stories enough to make you hate the very soil that you tread on.
There is an array of feelings brought out as you read it. Firstly, you want to blame someone; you want to direct all your anger and your indignation towards someone. You want to blame Moi , you want to blame all those interrogators cum cold-blooded torturers at Nyayo House you want to blame the prison wardens at the prisons who treated political prisoners as scum. You want to blame all those sycophantic politicians who carried the regime’s banner high on their backs and never once spoke word of the atrocities being committed.
On the other hand you also want to thank someone; you want to thank the SONU leaders the likes of Titus Andugosi and Mwandawiro Mghanga. You want to thank writers like Ngugi Wa Thiongo and Maina wa Kinyatti .You want to thank the students, professors, professionals who championed for the rights of Kenyans. You want to thank the leftwing politicians who had the voice to expose the regime for what it really was, who made more impact by going to jail than any parliamentarian ever did. You want to thank the families and friends who hid political refugees. You want to thank all those who risked their lives and the lives of their families to champion for the rights of Kenyans.
It is not enough to have an empowered leadership and a disenfranchised people. People who are susceptible to political hogwash and propaganda. It is not enough to trust that empowerment and awareness trickles down. In the same way, it is not enough to simply believe that dissemination of information, knowledge and awareness has a top down approach. Just as plants grow from bottom up, buildings are built from bottom up, so does empowerment start from the bottom up. Have a foundation that lasts, a foundation that stands for what it believes in.
The end of the Moi regime symbolized a triumph of knowledge over power. It symbolized the determination of a people to fight for their rights and their will to survive against all odds. JM Kariuki famously stated that:
“We do not want a Kenya of ten millionaires and ten million beggars” JM Kariuki
In the same way we do not want a Kenya of ten knowledgeable people and ten million ignorant people. This is what prophet Mohammed meant when he said “The ink of a scholar is worth a thousand times more than the blood of a monarch” – Scientia est potential ~ Knowledge is power.