Greetings, friends:

This week marked the 30th anniversary of the Kenyan pro-democracy demonstrations we colloquially call Saba Saba (7th July). If you were born on that day in 1990, 68% of Kenyans today are younger than you! Hard to believe, but age 30 in Kenya is actually on the older side of life – demographically speaking. And if you were 30 years old on the day of that first Saba Saba demonstration in 1990, 95% of Kenyans today are younger than you. 

Think about that – going by data on (a website and dashboard I typically waste a lot of time on) nearly half of the Kenyan population today was born after the year 2000. Half! I was thinking about this when I read and watched much of the media content commemorating that day. Mwangi Githahu writing in The Star reminds us the Kanu government claimed the protests were the work of “drug addicts”, but that the uprising “was brought about by poverty, injustice, disregard for human rights and a lack of free public participation in national affairs.”

Kwamchetsi Makokha writing in The Elephant emphasizes the unfinished nature of the revolution, and that many of the people who were at the forefront of the movement “have died or have been accommodated by the rapacious state.” 

This past Tuesday, groups of grassroots organizers based at social justice centres Mathare, Kayole, Dandora, Kibera and other meeting places were stopped even before they left their neighbourhoods. They were demanding an end to police killings; the right to live without fear in safe communities. But many of them were unable to even begin their demonstration – as early as 7.30am, police officers had already begun blocking their passage and arresting whomever they thought was an organizer.

The demands thirty years ago were grand in the geopolitical sense – Charles Onyango-Obbo in his latest column for the Daily Nation situates the original Saba Saba protests in broader shifts and movements that were destabilizing the old order of things – Nelson Mandela had been released from prison earlier that year, the Berlin Wall had come down the year before, other African countries like Benin and Zambia had shown that an end to old independence parties and military governments was possible in Africa.

What struck me this week is captured by journalist April Zhu’s tweet as she followed the protests on Tuesday.

“The cruelty of today’s violent police response manifests in the sheer minimality of demonstrators’ demands. They said, ‘Stop killing us. We have the right to live.’ And the state literally said, ‘No you don’t.’”

It seems that the shrinking of demands and the suppression of the possibility to even express the demand – even if the problems remain the same and the revolution unfinished – is the legacy of the past thirty years, and is the reality of life for the majority of Kenyans alive today. What does that mean for media expression in this moment? Are we likely to see the growth of a nihilist, absurdist creative movement as hope and meaning becomes increasingly impossible to envision?

I don’t know, but something is happening.

Yours in solidarity,

Christine Mungai

Curator || Baraza Media Lab

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