Kenya and the World Changed in 1989 – How Will It Be This Year?

It was my first year in a newsroom. Just about everyday, there was a breaking news event locally or abroad.

The most shocking news of the year came on June 4 when the Chinese army used tanks to disperse a students’ demonstration.

An estimated one million students had camped for days at Tiananmen Square in central Beijing to demand political reforms in the country.

The riot act was read and the students given an hour to disperse.

But hardly five minutes later, the army opened fire with automatic rifles as snipers rained bullets from rooftops.

Army tanks then rolled in, grinding to pulp hundreds of students who had joined hands to form human chains.

Fleeing students were bayoneted as they tried to break through the cordon of soldiers.


Chinese authorities said only 300 died but Red Cross workers at the scene said they counted up to 10,454 bodies crushed beyond recognition.

Bulldozers were brought in to sweep away the bodies for incineration, as flowing blood was hosed to the gutters.

It was a scene from hell that left the world numb with shock and wondering what the men of power in China smoke in the morning.

Thirty years later, the Chinese still struggle to delete Tiananmen from memory.

There is no mention of Tiananmen in the Chinese media and there is no Chinese book with a record of the horror events of the day.


The year also saw the demise of communism, a political ideology that ruled the roost in the Soviet Union and in the countries of eastern Europe that made up what was called the Warsaw Pact or the eastern bloc.

When it existed, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a vast empire of 15 states and made the world’s largest country occupying a sixth of the total earth surface.

With 10 out of the 24 world time zones, it would be daytime and night at the same time in the USSR, which made it the only country in the world where the sun never set.

The disintegration of the USSR had a domino effect in Eastern Europe, with formerly communist regimes among them East Germany, Romania, Hungry, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Albania falling one after the other.

The big drama in the fall of communism was the demolition of the concrete wall that divided then East and West Germany to be followed by unification of the two formerly hostile neighbours.

The two Germans had come into existence after the Second World War with East Germany going communist and West Germany taking the capitalist path.


The fall of communism and subsequent wind of democratic change in Eastern Europe soon swept southwards to Africa where formerly one-party authoritarian states came under pressure to style up and open the democratic space.

In November 1989, Smith Hempstone was posted to Kenya as US ambassador.

He immediately threw his lot with, and emboldened, the reformist movement to the chagrin of powerful honchos in then single-party Kanu, who nicknamed him “Nyama Choma” because of his forays to Kariokor meat market to mingle with ordinary Kenyans.

As the year came to an end, PCEA clergyman Timothy Njoya fired the first salvo by declaring 1990 would be the year of multiparty in Kenya and Africa.

Politicians hit the roof and called for his detention as President Daniel Moi toured the country and decreed that debate on Kenya’s return to multiparty must come to a stop. Anglican Bishop Henry Okullu told him “No way!”


Eighteen months down the line, multiparty came to Kenya, even after President Moi had vowed it would never happen in his lifetime.

The year 1989 was also a bad year for dictators. Romanians gave the world a Christmas by overthrowing their killer President Nicolae Ceausescu.

The man, who had earned himself the nickname the Butcher of Bucharest for slaughtering thousands of his citizens, was captured and executed on Christmas Day as he tried to escape the wrath of angry citizens who had stormed his palace.

A year before, the Romanian leader had been to Kenya on a state visit and to reciprocate on a visit made by President Moi to his country the previous year.

It is from Romania that the Kenya government got the idea to set up the dreaded torture chambers at the Nyayo House, and form a killer police squad modelled on Ceausescu’s murderous police unit called Securitate.


Yet another dictator, Ferdinand Marcos of Philippines, bit the dust. He’d been overthrown three years earlier and had fled to self-exile in the US.

During his reign, President Marcos and his wife Imelda visited Kenya and the couple gave State House protocol people a headache getting them enough space to accommodate the huge wardrobe the Filipino First Lady had carried to Nairobi.

When her husband was in power, she had stocked for herself over three thousand pairs of shoes, meaning she could have gone for about 10 years without wearing the same pair twice!

But some good men also surfaced in 1989. In South Africa, reformist President Frederik de Klerk came to power and immediately put in place measures to bring to an end the obnoxious apartheid racial discrimination policy.

He also visited jailed freedom fighter Nelson Mandela to pave the way for his release a few months later, before finally granting independence to the southern Africa country.

He would serve as Mandela’s vice-president in the first free South Africa government.


Locally, the year opened on a bad note when 10-year-old Eric Omondi, a son of then assistant minister Archbishop Stephen Ondiek, was kidnapped and murdered in a lodging downtown.

Mr Musalia Mudavadi, too, lost his father, Cabinet Minister Moses Budamba Mudavadi, the “King” of Mululu and only politician other than the President allowed to host delegations at his private residence during the Moi era.

In 1989, Richard Leakey was appointed director at the Kenya Wildlife Services and vowed to make poachers endangered species by slaughtering them the same way they were killing animals.

President Moi helped to raise Sh8 million for Murang’a schools, an amount Deputy President William Ruto would today have delivered in a rucksack at one go.

Twenty-eight-year-old Uhuru Kenyatta quit the bachelors’ club by marrying formerly Miss Margaret Wanjiru Gakuo at the Nairobi’s Holy Family Basilica, and Vice-President Josephat Karanja was forced to resign hardly year after he was appointed to the country’s Number Two job.


Certainly there are no indications that 2019 will be as tumultuous as was 1989.

But you really can never tell with a Donald Trump at the Oval Office, the Chinese dragon loose with the wallet, a Theresa May haunted by Brexit, and one or two rogue Third World leaders at the helm.


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Publish date : 2019-01-06 08:34:33

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