Friday the 13th is a black spot in most people’s calendars. The date is generally associated with evil and bad luck except for the non- superstitious people who view it as any other normal day.
13th December had been declared a public holiday to the amusement of the working class and the varsity students who had been given an extra day to study for their ongoing end of semester exams.
Having had a nearly “productive” day studying for three straight hours, I felt it fitting to reward myself by frying my brain cells watching a sitcom I had been eyeing for months. Just as I was settling into bed, I received a text from a friend warning me not to leave my hostel as there was a demo being orchestrated. I shrugged and put away my phone, not giving the text much thought.
At around 7:30pm, the din of noises outside and the “Comrades Power” shouts announced the beginning of the infamous Nairobi University strikes that saw motorists suffer great damages at the hands of angry students. I figured the riots would last just a few minutes and activities will be back to normal in no time. However, unlike the power outage demo that took place earlier on during the week, this was not to be the case.
I logged onto to twitter to find the occasional “Avoid State House Road, Mamlaka road and Uhuru Highway, UoN students are on a rampage” tweets. It was then that I learnt that the cause of the strike was not a trivial issue as I had initially presumed. A male engineering student had lost his life while in police custody. The police had stated that the cause of death was “suicide”. Comrades were not very convinced about the statement and matched to Central Police Station in solidarity to protest.
What ensued was not a peaceful demo but a stone Vs Tear Gas canisters battle. Screams and shots rent the air and for a moment I was half scared. I put on loud music to distract my mind from all the commotion but to no avail. Girls were screaming all over the building as tear gas begun infiltrating rooms via open windows causing watery eyes and sneezes.
This wasn’t one of the usual strikes that we had grown accustomed to. Two hours after it all begun, the students were still as relentless as ever. Rumours were going round that police were using live bullets to disperse the rioting students.
I just wanted it all to end; all I cared about at the time was my Monday paper. I could not study amidst the fracas. It was selfish of me to think of myself when my fellow students were in protest to avenge one of their own but what was the point? The protests would definitely not bring back the dead to life; neither would stoning somebody’s cars do anyone any good.
At about midnight, there was some calm and I immediately went to sleep hoping that there would never be a repeat of the day’s events.
The atmosphere around campus on Saturday was charged. There was unrest and tension everywhere. The posts on the student’s forum groups on social media platforms did not help matters either. “Kamukunjis” were being held to plan the way forward.
Evening came and the cat and mouse games begun all over again in the cover of darkness. The dreadful fear that we had experienced the previous night was back to haunt us. Yes, some of us are cowards. We can’t all be brave and selfless.
The gunshots and tear gas canisters being fired; the stones being hurled; the screams. Anxiety defined my very existence and I was a wreck of nerves.
Then I heard that some students had been shot, there were actual casualties with some being fatal. The fact that doctors were on strike worsened the situation, the casualties could not get immediate medical attention.
This wasn’t supposed to happen…no one was supposed to lose their life… I wept silently, not knowing any of the persons involved yet feeling the pain.
What if I had been in the shoes of the said casualties? I would be no more but a statistic in government records. I couldn’t imagine the pain that the families of those who had died would experience upon hearing the news. This wasn’t supposed to end this way…
Blood had been shed, whether intended or not, guilty or innocent. A mother somewhere had lost her only son, the beacon of hope in her family.
If only there had been a better way to resolve these issues, then we wouldn’t have had to pay the expensive price of human life in the quest for justice.
Today marks exactly a week since the whole ordeal took place. I dedicate this blog to all those who lost their lives during the riots, the ones I know of and the ones I do not know. To the Policeman that lost his life in the line of duty, to Edward Kubai who died before his time, to Abok; none of you deserved death. Rest in Peace. Fare thee well