Freedom Will Come
Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters, invited guests;
Have you been to prison? Like me, have you been to jail?
I was born during the freedom struggle and at that time my parents and my older siblings lived in a concentration camp – a prison per excellence. Luckily, after a fierce seven yr struggle, Kenya attained freedom from Britain and thus ending my short stint in that prison.
However that was not my last time in prison.
The second time I found myself in a dungeon was the year Tom Mboya was short. I was six. I accepted to go to school. What a prisoners life it was attending six hours of primary school every day crammed in those mud walled classrooms, that we would smoothen with cow dung, jam-packed 3 to a desk, while my young mind yearned the freedom to roam the thick bushes that doted the country side of the adulating slopes east of Mt.Kenya, to savour the succulent wild fruits, and berries and other delicacies abounding there in.
In between being taught English in our vernacular,
Teacher: ĩno ĩtagwa mbotoro.
freedom meant playing in the rain, pulling jaw-dropping stunts while sliding downhill on our bare backsides. And for our effort, we would be handsomely repaid with the smothering kisses of a bamboo stick to the very backsides. There were promises though that life would be freer in secondary school.
But was it?
In secondary school my very first English vocabulary to learn was out-of-bounds. Getting to within 30 paces of the school’s perimeter fence could turn a boy, not much taller than the slasher he wielded into a loan mower for an entire Saturday, An outing Saturday at that! By then the most treasured freedom was the day out. The occasional dance was good yes, but nothing could beat a day out. A whole day without the ubiquitous eye of our dreaded headmaster who perpetually lamented that we had nicknamed him ID Amin, while according to him, his nickname while in Alliance had been Carey Francis!
Just us I was preparing for my forth form exams the soldiers of the Kenya Air Force staged Coup de tat and rendered jobless for half a day the man from Sacho, also referred to as M-O-one. On that Sunday morning to get home from school, I had to criss-cross the City centre of Nairobi that had suddenly turned into killing fields not much different from Mai-Lai of South Vietnam of 1968 effectively rekindling the memory of sporadic machine gun staccato that pervaded the villages, and gun powder smells that suffused the cold nights during the freedom struggle days. On that day, indeed the entire August of that year, the only freedom that mattered was an end to the six-to-six curfew.
First forward to a decade later, and as a fresh graduate, the ink still wet on my Physics degree certificate, the quest for multiparty politics – christened second liberation – had reached fever pitch! Freedom, to the agitators, meant more political parties. But for me, prison break would have been freedom from the forced KANU party membership. Well, that was before the police, and the G.S.U, a.k.a Fanya fujo uone (cause trouble and get it) descended on us the demonstrators with their gun buts, giant buttons, lashes and teargas on that fateful Saba-Saba day. Just hours, hours and the word freedom took a sudden new meaning! I will never forget Kisamkasa, a fellow demonstrator who was cornered outside Burma market and lynched like a deadly animal, the jungle fatigue clad law keepers continuing to kill him long after he was dead until what remained of him looked considerably worse than your average dead body. At that moment as we watched helplessly from our unlikely hideout, neck deep in muck, while the pungent smell of burning tires and the obnoxious stench of human waste merrily fused with tear gas to to effectively camouflage any tinge of gunpowder, freedom meant getting out of that sewer manhole in one piece.