*By Concerned Comrade John Gwambo*
The giant and vocal student organization of Nairobi University SONU is a student body that has been stalked by controversy in various occasions but perhaps it is the 1987 office that holds the record. It is the shortest serving in the institution’s history having had office bearers for barely 9 days before it was disbanded. Robert Wafula Buke, a third year Political Science and Philosophy student had been elected its chairman. It was a period when the second liberation struggle was almost at its peak and university students had been roped in as well.
The underground political movements were on and several people had been jailed in connection with the Mwakenya Movement. So, by this time rising up to speak against the ruling regime in existence was unimaginable, it was like greeting your close relatives and bidding them goodbye bearing in mind that you could be gone and coming back was not a surety.
Wafula Buke and his team tried taking over the student leadership in 1986 but their efforts were thwarted by the system. Come 1987 he successfully ran for the chairmanship position and won in an election that was highly contested.
After winning his seat the new chairman constituted his kitchen cabinet of four namely: Kaberere Njenga as the secretary general, Miguna Miguna as the secretary in charge of finance, Munameza Mlegi as the foreign secretary and Munoru Nderi as the vice-chairman; all who agreed to push for one agenda – fighting for reforms. Wafula Buke admits that this was one of his happiest moments in life; when the five of them took a solemn vow to take the bull by its horns having been aware of the dire consequences that included not finishing their studies, being jailed or even heading for exile.
This was the era when university students were being viewed as the conscious of the society trying to raise issues that no one would talk about as there was no opposition with most leaders’ pigeon held by the state of one-party system.
Their philosophy was tailored around the cold war politics of the time which was socialism versus capitalism. As a strategy for ensuring that he would not be singled out by the establishment, he decided to develop radical policies for every ministry so that when they went to address students in a kamukunji, the five of them would come out strongly and unbowed. After fine tuning their manifesto, the newly elected SONU leadership which was only 9 days old in office called for a kamkunji at the university’s Great court to spell out their manifesto whose main highlight was that students be allowed to participate both in national politics and in day to day running of the university.
As a matter of fact, the student leadership by then attracted comrades with great oratory skills and articulation of radical policies from the days of James Orengo, Kihoro Wanyiro, PLO Lumumba, Aloyo Omondi and Mwandawiro Mghanga. This was greatly informed by the politics of the day.
President Moi had increased the student boom from Ksh.2,500 to Ksh.5,000 to avert any conflict with the university students but one Wafula Buke had a different opinion. He came out clearly on the issue and in the capacity of SONU chair saying he would not thank the head of state, reason being the increase was as a result in the change of economic conditions in Kenya and students were not responsible for that. Buke also banned tribal organizations saying they were being used by the establishment to cause more division among comrades and therefore declared them inconsequential.
However, to Wafula Buke (the shortest serving SONU chair whose term reigned for only 9 days) perhaps it was just a matter of time and on the 9th day at night state mercenaries pounced on him. Information from the National Intelligence Service had revealed that Buke’s room 101 hall 11 nicknamed The African National Congress headquarters by the students was a threat to the government. He had a good sound system that used to play radical speeches from Malcom X, Martin Luther King Junior, Luis Farrakhan and all the collection of speeches. He also had the pictures of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Thomas Sankara, Amilcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere and Muamar Gaddafi whom he confessed that he really loved for engaging imperialism in the world, clearly mounted on the walls of his room. Those were the heroes that he kept and besides that he also had clandestine materials with a defining mark of having a connection with the underground movements consisting of comrades who went to prison and left after serving their terms.
Most of Wafula Buke’s peers whom he went to school with including the current senate speaker Kenneth Lusaka have stated so many times that he is a born leader. In fact, when they were in the National Youth Service what used to be the pre-University service, he could lead people to resist some of the instructions that appeared mundane to him. He also asked the then KANU secretary general the late Mr. Nathan Mnoko why they were expelling people from the party and there was only one political party by then. Where did they expect people to go?
From here he was a marked man and even received summons from the institution for questioning into the reason why he was asking such radical questions to a high-ranking government official. But this did not stop him. He later transferred his calling and changed course from Kenyatta University which was by then a branch to main campus, University of Nairobi just to do politics.
After being held in various police stations across the country for 13 days, Wafula Buke was arraigned in court but pleaded not guilty on his seditious publications and was handed a four-year jail term from 1987 to March 1991. While in Kamiti, Naivasha and Bungoma prisons where he served his term, he continued plotting the struggle.
After leaving prison, Buke went as far as being trained in guerilla warfare in Uganda in an attempt to violently overthrow the one-party state, a plan which was shelved when the state relaxed its repressive laws and agreed to multi-party democracy in 1991. Buke was also hunted down in the early 90s for being associated with February Eighteenth Revolutionary Army (FERA), a ragtag militia that unsuccessfully attacked Kenya from Uganda in a failed coup attempt. Wafula Buke is currently serving as the deputy director in charge of strategy at the ODM party office.
Read more articles by John Gwambo:
1. A Parliament of Relatives. Click here to read.
2. Young Politicians in Kenya are a disappointment. Click here to read.
3. The Controversial Murathe. Click here to read.