Sunday, 25th August 2013. I’m scheduled to attend Street Poetry after a long absence. It’s the one and only poetry event that takes place in the open probably in the whole of Kenya. I’m spruced up for a relaxing afternoon after a restful Saturday following the success of Fatuma’s Voice at Nairobi Cinema that Friday. The event is supposed to commence at 3:05pm but this time at a new venue; Parliament Road, beside the Jomo Kenyatta Mausoleum. Even though I had expressed my fears concerning holding it there due to obvious reasons, I just cannot miss this new experience, if all goes well. My cousin visits and I get late to get out of the house.
2:45pm I call Poppa Stevo, the event organizer and MC, to enquire the exact place where people are meeting. ‘We are seated at the water fountain beside the mausoleum’, he replies. So I direct some friends who had called me earlier to ascertain the same.
‘Uko wapi wewe?’ Poppa asks me.
I was on Mombasa Road then. Being a Sunday, there is never a traffic jam at Nyayo stadium in the afternoon. I’m browsing on my phone and I read an update by one Shiru Wa Mum, a poet who must have been at the event, stating that ‘Tumefukuzwa #StreetPoetry’. Curious, I text Poppa but he does not reply. I sense danger. The first thing that comes into my mind is that they were stopped by the police.
3:30pm, I text Eddy Ongili and Shiru Wa Mum, asking them if there is any problem. They confirm my fears. Yes, it’s the police! Apparently the event was going on smoothly, Flow Flani was performing when a man in civilian clothing approached the gathering, warning them to get out of there. He did not identify himself. There were photographers at the water fountain taking photos of families and love birds who were from having a nice time at Uhuru Park, so it was difficult to fathom that man’s identity.
4:35pm, I land in town. The news I’m getting is that four people from #StreetPoetry have been arrested. The man who warned them to vacate the place they stood on came back with three armed policemen who asked for the people who were taking photos. One of them innocently raised his hand and was whisked away towards the inside of the mausoleum. Wanting to know what was going on, Poppa, Volcano, a poet, Wachira, a band member of H_art The Band, followed suit. Once the four get in, they don’t come out. We later learn that they get physically harassed by the officers manning the mausoleum. Tension…
I am received by gloomy and worried faces at the venue of the event. People’s hearts are cold despite the sunny weather. We hold a few conversations as we try to figure out what to do next. Poppa calls Dorphan from inside to notify him that they have been beaten up and their clothes are muddy. They need to change. We quickly assemble to gather four t-shirts and Richie Maccs issues some money to buy trousers. Tear Drops and G-Cho Pevu rush to Muthurwa.
6pm, we head to Parliament Police station where the four are being held. Ian, the photographer is limping, badly injured. We camp outside the station for close to an hour. One of the officers calls us and he says that the four cannot be released because the OCS is away in Athiriver, that we come in the morning. He is too convincing but we humbly request to see our boys. They are in good shape, funny clothing, but Ian is not too well.
I was just wondering why they had to be roughened up yet they did not even resist arrest and were unarmed. And even if the police want to use ‘taking photos at the mausoleum’ as the reason for arrest, then what validated the other photographers doing business at the water fountain? Are our police that poor in communication that they cannot explain a simple concept when they have a problem? We still do not have a clear reason as to why the four had to be beaten up. This is an institution we are supposed to respect. This is Kenya at 50!