Protest in Nairobi

Saba Saba, Gen Z and the third liberation

Tomorrow is Saba Saba day. That historical moment was pivotal, led by the anti-colonial generation and Generation X. What is the significance of the current Gen Z movement, and what opportunity does it offer our collective future?

On 7 July 1990, Kenyans across 6 towns took to the streets to demand free elections and an end to the authoritarian practices of the one-party state. Police killed 20 and arrested and charged 1,056 people. Unable to pay the high bail terms, several protestors remained in remand for 2-24 months. No police commanders or their officers were charged with human rights violations. With 41 deaths, 1,009 arrests and 32 abductions in 20 counties over the last three weeks, Kenya finds itself in another defining political moment.

However, this #RejectFinanceBill2024 movement is very different from the Second Liberation leaders. It is led by people in their teens, twenties, and thirties. They are digitally savvy and very clear politically, economically, and socially. They may be tribeless, but they are leader-FULL rather than leaderless. No one person represents the movement. The movement boldly crowd-thinks, crowd-funds, and crowd-organises.

Those clever folks at Nendo have analysed 25 million tweets to tell the data story behind the three most influential hashtags – #RejectFinanceBill2024, #OccupyParliament and #RutoMustGo – in Kenyan history. Their analysis suggests that those at the forefront of anti-femicide activism at the beginning of the year accelerated much of the recent digital conversations. X (formerly Twitter) has resurrected as one of the platforms for Gen Z alongside TikTok and FaceBook.

This Third Liberation movement is not agenda-less; they are agenda-FULL, and that agenda keeps shifting. It calls for prioritising health, education, agriculture, and jobs. It demands transparent budgeting and an end to the wastage and rampant corruption. Politicians, civil servants and their tenderpreneur cousins must stop stealing, money laundering and buying allegiance at the pulpit, funeral and wedding harambees. What started as a tax revolt has shifted to a detailed policy discussion of how our taxes are spent. This is the accountability movement we all needed to wake up.

Remarkably, without the formation of a single commission or the start of any state-proposed multi-sectoral dialogues, elected representatives are soul-searching. Their public displays of opulence and unexplainable wealth are no longer cool. Their apologies are both profuse and public. Glimmers of Chapter 6 requires state officers to avoid any conflict between personal interests and their official duties in public and private life (Art.75), which can be seen again. However, they must do much more. The very same Senators are mutilating The Conflict of Interest Bil. The bill is in danger of legalising conflict of interest and personal enrichment rather than stopping it.

Over the last seven days, President Ruto has orphaned the 2024 taxation bill, committed to reducing the confidential budget, relooked at unconstitutional and duplicative offices, and addressed corruption. Under Articles 131 and 132 of the Constitution, the President has significant and far-reaching powers. Should he take decisive executive action, he can still restore public trust and confidence in the Executive and Parliament.

Panicking, some state agencies are rushing to deflect public attention, strangle rather than breathe life into this Damascus moment. Hooligans are being introduced as a pretext to criminalise peaceful protest. That negative ethnicity demon is being poked again. Online campaigns are being funded to smear the more vocal of the protesters. Human rights, medical and legal professional associations are being directly targeted.

Closer State attention still needs to be paid to who will be held accountable for the deaths of 41 protestors. Men, women and children like Rex Masai (19), Valentine Njeri and Kennedy Onyango (12). Who will be prosecuted for the blatant ongoing abductions and disappearances of bloggers, advocates, students and other protesters? How do we exorcise the mass trauma after all the gory images? Can Kenya Kwanza collectively seize the opportunity to listen better, communicate, reform itself and act on the issues several generations of Kenyans are now discussing?

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]