I arrived in Nairobi early this week to help Radio Ergo set up a Freedom Fone service to be used to receive voice and SMS queries and feedback from Somali listeners living in and outside Somalia.
Whenever I’m in Nairobi I have to depend on taxis to ferry me around, giving me a great opportunity to catch up on local politics and social issues with the ever-opinionated drivers.
I was here last in February this year, just ahead of the March 4 elections. Then, animated conversations revolved around everything to do with the elections - presidential candidates, debates, corruption, International Criminal Court charges and more. Very interesting and stimulating.
This week it looked like I might be stuck talking about the weather, as my drivers seemed to have wearied of the topic of election results and Raila Odinga’s election challenge. And then Occupy Parliament and the Pig Protest happened on Tuesday May 14.
I first came to hear of the event when I caught my taxi to work this morning. The driver’s radio was tuned to a local talk show host who was discussing the protest. He was clearly in support of the demonstrators but was concerned that a pig had been butchered at the scene as part of the theatrics. He wanted listeners to call in and discuss the morality of such an action.
A quick bit of web research revealed that organisers had planned their protest to highlight a move by newly elected MPs to increase their salaries shortly after being elected. Incensed by the insensitivity of already well-paid MPs to the plight of poorer citizens, the demonstrators released a large pig and a number of piglets daubed in muck and graffiti outside the gate to parliament. Their point was made graphically with slogans like “MPigs” and “Don’t like the pay? Quit!” emblazoned on pigs and posters.
Turns out that buckets of blood had been spilled on the ground and possibly over the pigs, painting a shocking and dramatic scene. A clever ploy, but pity the poor pigs caught up in the mêlée of protestors, teargas and water canons.
Image by THOMAS MUKOYA/Newscom/RTR
Kenyans have come a long way since they ousted President Daniel arap Moi in democratic elections in 2002. Unhappy with his successor, President Mwai Kibaki, voters came close to ejecting him too but were thwarted by a flawed election in 2007. In 2013 voters once again rang the changes, voting Kibaki's party out and Uhuru Kenyatta in during this year’s high profile election.
Divided during elections, the nation seems to speak with one voice when it comes to the issue of MPs salaries. They will not tolerate it.
According to The Telegraph, “Kenya's MPs were among the world's best paid before a national commission earlier this year ordered their salaries cut to £51,000 from £82,000… Candidates standing for office in last month's elections knew the amended rates, yet their first order of business after they are sworn in on April 16 is likely to be an attempt to overturn the income cut.”
I heard these facts first from impeccable sources - my taxi drivers.
Drivers and other Kenyans I’ve spoken to feel very strongly that the new MPs are out of line and that they will use their vote in the next election to show their displeasure. In the meantime it looks like civil society activists don’t intend to wait that long.
Hopefully Zimbabwean politicians are paying attention and Zimbabwean activists are learning a trick or two from their East African counterparts. The people’s revolution is slowly moving down the continent.