BARUA YA BARAZA: Gen Zii, #RejectNotAmend, Mashujaa Week

Greetings, friends:

It’s been an incredible week in Kenya, and I am happy to continue the tradition of passing the mic to members of our community to guest curate this newsletter. This time we’re doing it a little differently, with three voices sharing their reflections on From The Curator’s Desk: Benter Dongo, HR Lead at Baraza Media Lab, Cynthia Adongo, Comms Asssociate at Baraza Media Lab, and Kevin Mwachiro, journalist, podcaster and activist. Our regular compilation of jobs and opportunities are on the Baraza Opportunity Board, linked at the bottom of this newsletter.

Please send your guest writing pitches for this section to chris@barazalab.com if you’re interested in being our guest curator on the newsletter, and you have something of interest to share to our community — a trend you’ve noticed or something you’d like us to think about. 

~ Christine

BENTER DONGO: Gen Zii

Historic and beautiful. Two words to describe the magnanimity of the moment I felt as I stood in awe, surrounded by young people, reminding me of my campus days. I soaked it all in, the pungent sharp smell in the air stinging the insides of my throat, eyes bloodshot and teary as we took selfies for commemoration. Vuvuzelas, whistles, motorbikes, speakers, chanting- beautiful chaos and a painful song about resistance. What a time to be Kenyan! 

I was scared to show up on Tuesday because I have an infant. I showed up on Thursday for my infant. 

Life in this country has become ridiculously expensive and unbearable yet we continue to receive lacklustre services and false promises year in year out. To peg one’s election campaign on the hopes and backs of struggling mama mboga and bodaboda guys, only to turn your back on them, now focused on ticking off all the countries visited in your bucket list, is despicably inhumane. 

And that’s what the new generation has refused to tolerate. We did for a good while, witnessing how regimes took advantage of our parents and grandparents, era after era. Mismanagement of public funds daily, unaccountability, subpar infrastructure, division along tribal lines, disingenuous elections, and a dire lack of opportunities to advance. This is the state you want to overtax Mr. President? A people can only endure so much. The youngins are now here to tell you enough is enough, in uncut words.  

On Thursday, the streets of many different Kenyans towns looked and sounded radiant. Countrywide, fear is slowly being thwarted as we show up one by one to explicitly tell the government, ‘This country is ours, not your backyard’. Whatever international strings are being pulled by neocolonialists to keep us shackled, find an alternative way to fix it, that’s why Kenyans elected you. 

I bet you’ve seen photos and videos of brave citizens standing up to authorities unmoved, celebrating every time a canister of tear gas was hauled, some even turned the exchange into a game of tennis, water cannons sprayed forcefully but protesters rising again with more defiance. What am I saying? A revolution is taking place and Kenyans led by young people have refused to be intimidated. 

Before I left the office that Thursday afternoon for the streets, I asked the activist that I had just interviewed in her protest attire, “What are the chances of me getting arrested? Because I have a baby that needs weaning this evening.” “Very high,” she said, “But you’ll be out by night since it’s unconstitutional.”

“Wait for me, I’m coming.” I said. 

The fear and apathy of Kenyans have been replaced with fury, and it’s about damn time. Let the dissent continue- this one will be for the books. 

  • What I’m Reading: Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah – it marries two things I’m crazy about, history and an old-fashioned love story. A tale set at the outset of the 20th century on the East African coast, as colonization began popping its ugly head, taking us on an intricate journey of a place, its people and culture. 
  • What I’m Watching: Bridgerton, finally catching up on the latest part II because I love me some Lady Whistledown drama, her lyrical writing, and the show’s good ole English. It also makes for reflection and appreciation of how far women have come and evolved in a man’s society. 
  • What I’m Listening to: Learning Curve With Mr. Chazz who navigates the highs and lows of parenting with impeccable EQ. As a new mama, I’m slowly learning that discipline doesn’t have to be harsh. I’d like to retain some aspects of our African upbringing and improve on those that didn’t work out great for us. You feel me?

Proudly defiant,

Benter Dongo.


CYNTHIA ADONGO: #RejectNotAmend

This past week, the youth in Kenya said “not today” to the proposed Finance Bill. They didn’t need a political leader or fancy permits to coordinate the protests. They just whipped up the hashtags #RejectFinanceBill2024 and #OccupyParliament and rallied the troops online for a countrywide protest to make their voices heard. The younger generation, popularly referred to as Gen Z, is showing the world how social media can be more than just “Get Ready With Me (GRWM)” videos and dance challenges.

The digital natives, with most owning smartphones and a significant portion already spending hours online every day, are re-writing the rulebooks on formal and hierarchical forms of organization to embrace a more leaderless, participatory and decentralized structure. They used the hashtags as a digital megaphone to raise awareness, collect funds for the protests, get volunteer lawyers, techies and medics to support the protesters in their various capacities, and even show support for those who got detained in action.

During an address on the first day of the peaceful demonstrations, President William Ruto said he was happy that we’re now having a conversation, but later on, advised Kenyan Members of Parliament to vote Yes and approve the proposed Finance Bill for a second reading. Some of the clauses in the controversial bill were eventually amended, only to be countered with yet another hashtag, #RejectNotAmend, just in case the message was unclear before.

The coolest part? The online movement even surprised the grown-ups. Parents who were once wary about their kids participating in maandamanos have suddenly become the biggest cheerleaders after seeing the movement unfold. I remember feeling anxious on my way to the first demonstrations but seeing the crowd that can only be described as mammoth awakened a new wave of defiance in me. We trusted our leaders with our future and watched them betray us right in front of our eyes. I didn’t have the luxury of being afraid.

Unfortunately, the peaceful and unarmed protesters were attacked with tear gas canisters and water canons, arrests, and verbal and physical assaults from officers in plain clothes and uniforms. This aggression, however, only further fuelled the bravery of the young activists who once again marched fearlessly on Thursday into the thick tear gas clouds towards City Hall, eyes watering and chests congested, carrying placards and chanting “Reject Finance Bill!” over and over without tiring. It was during one of these altercations that Rex Kanyike was fatally shot by a police officer. May his soul rest in peace. 

This Kenyan uprising is a sign of things to come. Gen Z is here to stay, and they have a serious case of social justice warrior spirit. The question remains, how will governments and institutions respond to this new wave of digital activism? 

In the meantime, here’s:

  • What I’m Reading:  I’m in My Danielle Steel era, currently reading The Klone and I. Love is a beautiful thing, even when it’s fictional.
  • What I’m Watching: The News. I’m glued to the screen at 7 o’clock, and then again at 9 pm in case I missed anything in the Swahili version.
  • What I’m Listening To: I’ve been playing Reject Hio Bill, by Sabi Wu, nonstop for the past couple of days. Tujiangalie by Sauti Sol has also always been a favourite, even more so right now. What a powerful message!

With love,

Cynthia Adongo

 

KEVIN MWACHIRO: Thank you, Gen Zs, for Mashujaa week

 

It took a while to fall asleep last night because images of the Gen Zs protesting in Nairobi and from across the country kept me awake. My emotions were all over the place, and it’s been like that since Tuesday. June 18, 19, and 20 have just birthed Mashujaa Week. I have cried tears that have freed the despair that has been planted in mine and many others’ hearts by a system that has collectively beaten us down for years. We had succumbed to a fatalistic- bora uhai -it’s never that serious -this is how things are done in Kenya, way of living.

 

We believed that Kenyans would never take to the streets like we did this week. We were reminded mambo bado yawekezana. The Finance Bill may have gone through the second reading, but there were several victories that we should remember and must remember. Our Gen Zs have made our ancestors and the country proud.

 

The revolution was not just televised; it was tweeted and retweeted on X, and we trended globally. This was more than getting likes, shares or garnering followers. It was about wanting to still live, dream, build and hope as Kenyans. Kwa mara nyingine tena, we were being pushed into a corner. However, we fought back, with strength and courage but also with kindness, doggedness, creativity, savviness, innovation, humour, music, dance and the determination to change how this country was being run and led. Zakayo was laid bare.

This is the week, Wakenya walirudi kwa streets. Even though most of the demonstrators were of  the younger generation, the boldness in their hearts took us ‘analoguers’ with them huko kwa ground. Weuh, my tears welled up as I watched history being made. The streets of Nairobi, often seen as cold and heartless, saw shop owners offer safety from batons and boots. Restaurants did the same, even taking it a notch higher by donating food and water. Java love was real. Mosques offered shelter and first-aid. Property both public and private wasn’t vandalised. There were no goons nor politicians (you can use those words interchangeably) to steal the limelight. Young women, who already have the scars of misogyny and femicide to deal with, stared ana kwa ana into cops, reminding us that they are the daughters of Mekatalili, Field Marshal Kirima and Wangari Maathai. Our learned friends were not only offering free legal services but also singing and shouting for the freedom of protesters. We were given a front-seat view of what tireless service looks like. Meanwhile, on the interwebs, the Finance Bill was translated into vernacular, pap! Gen Z’s were proving that they were unbwogable and can utilise tech in ways that us Xers and Boomers are yet to fathom.

 

You know, we really shouldn’t be surprised by this generation of change-makers. They have grown up with the internet and know that the world is their oyster. They are a lot more self-aware, better educated and can see through the bullshit, hypocrisy and stiltedness of earlier generations. They also know they aren’t perfect and are a lot more open, less judgemental and have not been suppressed by the coloniser, religion, a single-party system, and 8–4–4. They want more for themselves and their future. They know this is their moment.

This week, we witnessed the launch of the upgrade of maandamano and were shown that a great nation is not built on paper or rhetoric but on its people. But more than anything, our Gen Zs showed us that a better future for all of us is just a click away.

PS: Travel well, Rex Kanyeki. You will not be forgotten.

  • What I’m Reading: I found myself buying the dailies after so long. I needed  to see what our news hacks were doing. My fave was Taifa Leo and I realise that my Kiswahili isn’t too bad. I’ve started reading Big Girl by Mecca Jamillah Sullivan. 
  • What I’m Watching: The Perfect Match. How watching one episode ended up  being a whole season I don’t know. With all that’s been happening, I need to watch something that was light and rosy. Perhaps also to believe love still exists huko on the streets. 
  • What I’m Listening To: Afriwetu has been in the house. I’m a lover of African history and I get fascinated learning about the continent’s old kingdoms. A curated playlist called  RnB Tearjerkers. I blame the Perfect Match.

In Solidarity,
Kevin Mwachiro

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