By-elections in Kenya come and go, but few command attention in the form of drama or uniqueness. Among the few was the one held in Kamukunji constituency last Thursday. The turn-out was only 30 per cent of the registered voters.
Kamukunji is a special constituency that has, over time, acquired the status of a political shrine thereby giving the name Kamkunji to have extra political meanings. It is symbolic of struggles as well as a political weathervane. In colonial days, it acquired a reputation as the place where Africans could hold rallies, mostly political, because there were no other venues available for “natives”. It was an open field, surrounded by heavily crowded “African quarters” such as Shauri Moyo, Kaloleni, Muthurwa, Majengo and Gorofani.
Famous African markets like “Burma” and Gikomba are not far. It was accessible to “natives” walking from Bahati, Makadara, Eastleigh and Mathare, Kariokor, Ziwani, Starehe, Pumwani. A big pipe acted as a bridge, across the dirty river, on which people could walk from Gorofani to Kamukunji to listen to famous political orators.
Subsequently, the name Kamukunji became so synonymous with politics that its meaning metamorphosed. University students adopted it to refer to unofficial meetings as they plotted challenges to authority.
Members of Parliament, some of them former student leaders, imported the concept to Parliament where informal parliamentary meetings to plot and caucus on issues are called Kamukunji.
When politicians want to be seen to identify with wananchi, they prefer to do it at Kamukunji.
Thus when in March 1990, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia held a press conference to demand political change, they called for a rally at Kamukunji on Saturday, July 7, 1990. Although the government locked up Matiba and Rubia to stop the rally, there were confrontations at Kamukunji, which came to be known as Saba Saba. Later the aborted Forum for the Restoration of Democracy rally at Kamkunji in November 1991 paved the way for repeal of Section 2A.
The by-election became a mini-presidential contest and all sorts of political parties, with their promises, descended on Kamukunji. Even the newly registered UDFP thought of joining the fray, but did not. The voting was generally peaceful although some people were arrested for electoral malpractices. There was even a confrontation between one prominent candidate and election officials.
There were two winners in the Kamkunji by-election, one Party of National Unity (PNU) and one Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). First, PNU’s Yusuf Hassan, a journalist and a United Nations operative, appeared suave and calm throughout the campaign.