The first time I attended a political rally was during the July 7, 1998 Saba Saba Day celebrations at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi. As I listened to the speeches, I was shocked at how a young student leader, going by the name Hassan Omar Hassan, had the audacity to abuse the then President, Daniel Arap Moi, Shetani Ibilisi (devil incarnate.). President Moi was the most feared man in Kenya at the time. The crowd roared at this and eventually, as is the norm today, the police unceremoniously dispersed us.
I have admired Hassan Omar since that day. I was just 15 years old. I covered him as a photographer and was always inspired by his intellect. I also consider him a friend. When he wanted to open an art centre in Mombasa, I helped him pick the name, Renaissance Centre. When I published my book, Boniface Mwangi UnBounded, he hosted the Mombasa launch. He is the only elected politician whose house I have visited.
Politically, though, our paths do not cross. I belong to Ukweli Party, while he was a member of Wiper, which is part of the NASA coalition. Ukweli isn’t aligned to either NASA or Jubilee.
On different occasions, Hassan Omar and I have debated the future of Kenya. And when rumours started going round that Hassan Omar was joining Jubilee Party. I defended him. I said that can’t be the case. I honestly believed he had left the NASA coalition for ideological reasons and that there was no way the firebrand, radical human rights activist could ever join the party that he has spent the last five years castigating. I was wrong.
I am still stunned by his decision, and I can’t stop wondering why he did it. At the time that Hassan was announcing his decision, I was struck by the irony of the situation when I recalled some advice that former President Moi had shared with me some time ago (He had requested for a meeting and the details of the story can be found in my book), when he told me never to trust politicians. How right he was.
Our politicians are, in every way, just like prostitutes. A prostitute will sleep with anyone if the price is right. A prostitute will do anything to survive. It doesn’t matter if the client is a priest, a murderer or their relative. For politicians, survival in power is more important than everything else and no compromise is too difficult for them to make.
Hassan Omar has joined many others who have gone before him; who have spent years in the trenches, fighting for some of the freedoms that we are enjoying today. He was, at one time, even expelled from University, a price that I’m sure he gladly paid for his beliefs.
As his friend, I am heartbroken to see someone whom I believed had a cleaner conscience than most betraying everything he stood for. He seems to have completely forgotten that there are many of us, including myself, who looked up to him.
But Hassan, now that you have President Kenyatta’s ear, tell him that the nurses have been on strike for 130 days and many Kenyans have lost their lives as a result. Tell him that his fight against corruption is a miserable failure and that our country’s debt is totally unsustainable. Tell him life is way too expensive for most Kenyans. Lastly, tell him to think about the legacy he will leave behind. Kenya will be here long after he is gone.
To those who think that I will someday defect, or swear allegiance to either Uhuru or Raila, I can tell you that it will never happen. I owe my allegiance to God and to the Constitution.
This article was first published at my weekly column in the Nairobian on 13th October 2017.