The hearing of 12 members of the Communist Party of Kenya (CPK) at the Kibera Law Courts in the capital city of Nairobi, has been postponed to Monday, April 12. They were detained on Wednesday and released that evening on a free police bond on the condition that they appear in court on Friday.
“Today when they appeared in court, the prosecution was not ready to proceed,” Booker Ngesa Omole, vice-chairperson of the CPK, told Peoples Dispatch. “The charge sheet was not ready. The prosecution did not have any substantial charge to pin on them. So they are buying time.”
He maintains that even now, the 12 members have not been informed as to what exact charges they are being tried for.
Protests to alleviate pandemic impact
The police action came in the backdrop of the demonstrations that the CPK, along with the Hotel and Entertainment Workers Union (HEWU), had been organizing to protest the disproportionate burden of the pandemic on the working class.
The government has released a COVID-19 stimulus package but it offers little to workers. Funded by the World Bank, most of the money that was part of the package was transferred to the employers on the assumption that it will trickle down. “But, of course, that has not happened,” Omole said.
Protesting against this, hundreds took to streets on March 31, demanding suspension of rents, compensation for job losses during the pandemic and food subsidies. Another crucial demand was that the government should halt its negotiation with the IMF for loans, and share with the public all the documents regarding the negotiations so far.
The Jubilee Party government led by President Uhuru Kenyatta has come under flak in Kenya for its increasing reliance on the IMF. Kenya’s public debt between March and November of 2020 has increased by Sh971 billion.
On April 2, after the IMF approved a loan of another Sh257 billion, an online petition against it gained the signatures of over 150,000 Kenyans within 24 hours. The petitioner complained that while “Kenyans are choking under the heavy burden of taxation, with the cost of basic commodities such as fuel skyrocketing,” there has been “nothing to show for the previous loans”.
Protesters also demanded that “the Kenyan government must employ a scientific way to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. When the presidential directive was passed to impose the lockdown, people were expecting that it would be accompanied by mass-vaccination and testing. But that is not happening. Only the rich, who are the political elite, are able to access testing and vaccination,” Omole said.
He further said that although the frontline health workers are officially a priority, only about 10% of them have access to testing and vaccination. The wealthy, he alleged, are the top priority of the government and all the COVID-related measures aim mainly at protecting their interests.
The first demonstration on March 31 around these issues was a success, Omole said. Their plan was to continue this into a weekly demonstration to build momentum for a broader movement. The next demonstration on April 7 was broken up by the police in the morning, and six CPK members, who are also unionists with the HEWU, were detained, charged with violation of COVID-19 lockdown rules, and fined.
Later that afternoon, the CPK’s headquarters, where a meeting was ongoing after the dispersal of the demonstration, was raided by the police. According to Omole, the police also tried to break into the “strong room” where the party documents and membership folios are stored.
They were, however, stopped from entering, and forced to leave after the intervention of lawyers. However, 12 people were arrested from the headquarters and detained till evening.
“Persecution of communists is nothing new”
“The persecution of communists in Kenya is nothing new,” Omole added. Until the 2010 constitutional amendments, communism was a criminalized ideology, because class struggle itself was regarded as criminal under the colonial laws which are still in place decades after independence.
Even after the 2010 amendments, the parliamentary legislation to bring these amendments into practice was not passed for another decade. “As a result of these circumstances, we were registered under the cover of a social democratic party, even though we were never reformists. It was only in January 2020 that we could finally register ourselves as the Communist Party of Kenya,” Omole explained.
In February 2021, there was a failed attempt in parliament to yet again criminalize class struggle. While expecting more repression, Omole nevertheless remains confident that the party will endure. The CPK is preparing legal documents to sue the police for barging into its headquarters and detaining its members without warrants.
Condemning the “police invasion” and expressing solidarity with the CPK “and the working class of that country in these difficult times,” the Communist Party of Swaziland (CPS) said in a statement, “The anti-communist and anti-working class agenda is rife among many elite African leaders and is set to deepen as the revolutionary movement of the masses continues to grow. Many African leaders continue to dutifully play their puppet roles with distinction in the benefit of imperialism, a permanent enemy of the African peoples.”
Several organizations in Kenya and abroad, including the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), also expressed solidarity with the party.
Appreciating these solidarity messages, the CPK has said in a statement that it “will continue to reject the irrational COVID-19 restrictions while demanding for more concrete support for the ordinary people in these difficult times. The Party will also continue working with other progressive organizations in rejecting IMF/WB policies in Kenya, and demanding that those who steal COVID-19 funds be prosecuted.”
An earlier version of the report said the Communist Party of Kenya was registered in 2021. It was registered in 2020. The error is regretted.