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courage, there is no room for fear


When in Dec 2007 our beloved country Kenya had a period of political unrest and many people were killed, I used to dress in a sack and call for peace talking to all on the street. Day One, a friend and I did it.. we never knew it would lead so many people to listen to us and what we had to say. We spoke peace: soldiers listened
passers by and all were keen. I did not think this would be that way but it was. After some days I was wearing it alone. I still have it and whenever things go really wrong, like now when some activists (2) were killed and there is this feeling of no space .....

It sent a message for being a sack and I think for being an old biblical symbol and for so many other reasons i can never tell but you might be able to tell me.
When Carsten all the way saw a feature BBC did on it on the web, he wrote this poem. Please tell me, why is such humble material so powerful. It has also given me power and courage. Of course I also got criticism. Some even close relatives could not imagine me in town in a sack and now they occasionally refer to it with some sacarsm. Now my sack is embroidered with these words : I love, hope and believe Kenya!

The Bulletproof Sack

By Carsten Trotowski, September 25th, 2008
This poem has no translations yet.

(for brave Philo)

So please prepare this order
And buy from over border
A bulletproof sack.

Our state, it's in disorder
We know Policemen's order
For mercy to lack.

Her life, it is in danger
From any unknown stranger
From privileged pack.

So bolt your wheels much tighter
Beware the cigarette lighter
And lock tight your shack.

The sack will show the masses
That all suppression passes
That freedom's on track!

Not only girls will wear it
But all the free shall share it
We - all - shall sail tack.

That symbol from the Great Book
Will open up the outlook:
Democracy's back!

We'll meet in parks and houses
Until nobody rouses
Our bulletproof sack.


I was arrested in 2007 for singing peacefully... and recently i have had some police brutality on mybody. You know once arrested and was in the car, I looked at his fist and for a moment never believed it was going to land on me but it did repeatedly on my neck and on my colleague in human rights. Now there is fear for activists here as two have been assassinated... and the situation is being so mixed up with other issues.. but we must not be afraid... I told him many times as he hit me again on that arrest: "God bless you! Look in my eyes and you will see God! I look at yours and I...." I do not know where that came from.

I was arrested for protesting the sale of maize to neighbouring lands as 10 million Kenyans face starvation. So I have been quiet a while on Pulse.. but am back!! hey who had the patience to read all that?

then let me post some more....

Outside Kenya’s Parliament, I, Philo Ikonya, and a colleague, Fwamba N.C. Fwamba, were beaten up by a senior male policeman for saying that Kenyans were hungry and that our maize had been stolen outside Kenya’s Parliament – They called us Illegal Assemblers. This is the same policeman who beat up and arrested other civil society activists and who is accused of sexually harassing Ann Njogu as they campaigned for the resignation of the then Minister for Finance Amos Kimunya.
The minister got a vote of no confidence but has recently been said to be innocent and is now Kenya’s Minister of Trade. The secret sale of a hotel, another scandal he was involved in as the hotel was in receivership after its owner was found to owe billions of shillings to the Central Bank of Kenya was yet another scandal. The list does not end there… there are the disappeared and many who have died in the hands of the police. Now we are faced with death as a result of famine. And it is not about rain failing. It is about having squandered what was in the silos selling it to neighboring countries at a high price. If we did not speak up who was going to say that we were sick of all this? The nation is furious but people are afraid to speak…

The Kenya I cannot stand; the horror of police brutality
By Philo Ikonya

If all I have said is that old women, children and men are dying of hunger in the country side... that ten million Kenyans are faced with death due to starvation and indeed that means a third of Kenya’s population is dying because maize has gone missing from Kenya’s silos through corruption; if all I have done is to say we deserve better and that this situation is immoral, then ‘Why do you strike me?’

After being physically and mentally tortured by a policeman who is in charge of the Nairobi Central Police station, it is not possible to enter this assault into the station’s Occurrence Book which is the first step for us to press charges. But charge us with illegal assembly. We spent five hours in his station before he had us whisked off to a different station. No one was supposed to know where we were being held. This is a common Kenya police tactic where human rights activists are concerned.

On the way and in the dark, all his men talked about how they would deal with us in the forest. They told me and Fwamba a fellow activist that we would die and never be seen again. One of them asked me: “Madam, how do you think you will die?” I calmly told him, “In my bed and surrounded by loved ones and books… at close to 100 years.” One of them within a minute of leaving the station had told me that I was going to die and go to hell.

They kept saying on their radio that they were very near the forest where we would die. We would be dying for having a voice. One policeman even told us he is Number One Police killer in Kenya. It may be funny to them to say such things, but in the backdrop of the many who have disappeared never to be seen again I Kenya and so many extra-judicial killings and in any circumstance, this is not the way for a force that is paid to protect and serve civilians or any force in the world.

They left no doubt that they are fed up of human rights activists and people who can speak out about issues in the country. They said they were only doing their job which is to shut us up so that we would never be heard again. They told us they act on behalf of the Executive.

But the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and a flurry of letters and messages from diplomats and Kenyan writers and others here and in the diaspora worked for our release on bond. We went back to the station and insisted on entering into the Occurrence Book that the Officer Commanding this police Station beat us up in the car after arrest. The junior officers in the station say they cannot allow us to enter this complaint in their boss’s book. We were sent to the Officer in Charge of Crime but he taunted us telling us to go to the Commissioner of Police Ali a man whom Phillip Alston UN, Special Rapporteur on post poll violence in Kenya has said should be sacked. It we were to press charges, another man whom the same report also says should quit, the Attorney General, could enter a nolle prosequi on the case.

Activist Ann Njogu, lawyer and Executive Director of Centre for Rights Awareness Education (CREAW) too could not enter a complaint against him even as she explained he harassed her. Instead, he was promoted for at the time he was a Deputy Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD) and now he is the acting OCPD.

Between the two way road to and from Parliament Buildings, Parliament Road in Nairobi and the side walk directly opposite the buildings is a grille fence which keeps pedestrians off the fenced -in car park of the Kenyatta International Conference Centre (KICC). It is on this side that a fellow activist and I have marched up and down almost 12 times telling both pedestrians and motorists, some of whom recognize us that we have had enough of corruption. In an A4 brown envelope inside my bag I have written in bold black letters, Corruption = Death.

My colleague carried the same words on a big pink placard. I had with me two 2 kg empty packets of flour on my hands like gloves. On that afternoon of February 18th, Parliament had a censure motion on the Minister of Agriculture who has not explained to everyone’s satisfaction what happened so that thousands of bags of maize which could now sustain life in the dying had disappeared from the stores.

In fact he had to explain if in some cases; he was not involved in singling out middlemen most of them maize millers who then bought maize for low prices selling it at much higher costs in Kenya and our neighboring countries. There was also the question of the maize being bought from the Kenyan farmer by the government at a very low price and then being sold at almost triple that price to the millers.

We saw a policeman running in front of us on the road and outside the grille barrier and he hedged us in between the barrier and the fence. I looked back and his boss in beige clothes and a hat was behind me. He grabbed my colleague’s poster. Kamotho, a young activist who had who had been with us initially had been arrested at the VIP entrance of Parliament after showing the placard to one minister whom he did not identify save for his huge limousine that flew his flag. Dipesh Pabari an avid blogger had got wind of it and alerted all media houses. I saw how the Acting Officer Commanding Nairobi Central Police was pulling Fwamba’s trousers up from his belly and slapping him. I continued to give my message and to ask the police to release him and to stop hitting him. I noticed many journalists had come and hoped their presence would deter him from beating him further. Little did I know what was awaiting me.

My long boubou, which I had deliberately worn as a sign of peace- I was not participating in a violent demo- was pulled off my back and torn by the same policeman who now charged at me like a fuming buffalo. He got a hold of my clothes from the back and pushed me down. I fell to the ground and held the base of a tree determined not to leave my colleague and not to get arrested. We were both arrested.

Now we were in the car and I certainly did not expect that the senior police man
to turn behind from the front seat and leaning over begin to box us but that is what he did. Fwamba could not believe he was boxing me on my neck and as he did this he was saying, “Now there are no cameras here! You will see!” he said also shouting at the other policeman to beat us. But he would not. At the roundabout near the Hotel Inter-continental and Kenyatta’s Mausoleum he rained such hard blows on us that I tried to yell through the window that we were going to be killed but again the Officer shouted at his colleague to keep me down and he pushed me closer to the man who did not unfold his fists all the way to the Central Police Station where he put us under arrest. But that was not before locking up Fwamba in his office to ask him who I really was and to tell him to explain our connection with Mwalimu Mati who on December 12th had been arrested and released without charges after three days. His arrest together with his wife was based on the fact that they were wearing black T-shirts which we wore that day to protest Members of Parliament not paying their taxes. That was extortion of information.

In the police cells, every few minutes they called us (over 50 men (5 women) out for a roll call. The Officer In-charge of the cells, not the boss, asks them what is their problem and they come forward fearfully and mutter something. “I need to see a doctor, my chest hurts.” ”Rudi ndani….. utamwona” which is Kiswahili for “Get back in there, you will see him…”

A young woman comes up and pleads her case. “Bwana Officer, I need to go home, I am now here in the cells for three days, my eight-month old baby is in hospital admitted and I have nobody to help me take care of him.” Others come up with, ‘I need… I need and I need’…..But really all the officer is doing is intimidating them making all their fears more poignant. No doctor will come. The eight- month -old baby will continue to search all over for Mama’s warmth.

Here comes a young man with a big swollen cheek. He talks to me, “Madam, I am sorry that they boxed you…you see this huge swelling on my cheek, I was not like this before…. They hit me.” For M, who pleads a case of mistaken identity the 24 hours of being in the cells are long gone. But three days after my release, I am to be plagued by uncomfortable thoughts. The man who said he was in for mistaken identity and the one with the swollen face turn up at the gate to the flats I live in and are apparently looking for a flat according to the gate men. But they recognized me and spoke to me. They told me they were visiting someone. Later I discover they were looking for a flat in my block and just below mine. I had asked them how they got out and they confessed they bribed the police for almost 1000$. So in the wake of the other two telling me that they are followed by in buses and matatus by plain clothes policemen, I keep wondering… were those not informers thrown in with us to get the information the Boss was trying to get out of Fwamba? Inside the cells, there were many moments of interaction with the male prisoners since every roll call moment and the evening meal time male and female mixed in this cell that is suppose to only hold people for 24 hours. Is it possible that Kenya has slipped back to darker days than Moi times? Well, no shopkeeper wants to stock John Githongo’s book on corruption: Our turn to eat, by Michela Wrong.

They will not let us stay here, not the human rights activists. Apparently it is too easy for us to be accompanied by other activists outside the station since this is in the middle of the city and besides we are crusading for change of government and politicians through the next ballot even here in this discomfort where I will have no clothes on my back for a while in spite of the fact that my friends have brought them. In fact, Mwalimu Mati and his wife Jayne has brought the resistance black T-shirts and the police angrily throw them out. I keep pleading for something to cover my back.

A woman who comes in with a blank stare is speechless as she lands in the cell. She is with another woman who also does not speak. This is her mother. I speak to the younger woman and after sighs of pain and disbelief she tells me she is seven months pregnant and was beaten up by ten police women upstairs in a private room. Her mother was beaten up too. She was threatened with having red hot pepper driven pushed into her vagina and being kept like that for an hour. Her head aches and she is in emotional turmoil.

The place is crawling with lice. The toilet for women is a little hole as the so called ‘proper toilet’ is inside the gate of the men’s cells. Yes, there are gates inside here and they have lock and key. Now since they learnt that the two of us who are human rights activists are in here, they tell me it had not been so strict for the women until I came. We are now thrown into an innermost cell and locked up more securely, it seems. The place stinks.

Many complaints and petition came in for our release and I think that was the only reason why I was set free at night. The public had seen the scenes on TV and there were many appeals. Emails had also come in and text messages directly to the President and the Prime Minister urging our release. A Kenyan poet, Shailja Patel had set up an action chain on the internet. It worked. But none of these things which keep bothering us seem to matter to the people in whom we invested so much hope taking our country back from the ashes of the post election violence after the election of Dec 2007 and vesting our trust in that they had learnt some lessons.

Kenya has been through so much. There is no let up in corruption. It was fuel one day, maize the other, money stashed in billions abroad, Goldenberg and Anglo leasing scandals unresolved. No one was going to answer even for post poll chaos it seemed for the Waki Report on the violence which had recommended a Local Tribunal in the country for the trial of those mentioned was also getting trivial treatment. To us human rights activists who like a volcano erupt with just anger, they come with chains and guns.


I finished writing this article and my cell phone rang. It was a fellow writer on the phone; she asked me if I knew that two people had been shot dead in her neighborhood near State House. Within minutes our world of human rights was frozen. Yes, they lay down dead, accused of organizing a day long demonstration in support of Philip Alston’s report on extra-judicial killings which the government has rejected. Kamau King’ara and Paul Oulo, human rights activists are dead. A university student too had been killed in the process- shot. And a watchman who was passing by…



Maria de Chirikof's picture

Hugs and love!

I have to say how wonderful you and your friends are for fighting for change like this! All my love and best wishes go to you and your friends.

It is truly beautiful that you do not give up and work against the odds like this. It is such an inspiration to read your stories and I hope my love and encouragement helps sustain you a bit longer. I wonder what I could do to help but feel so far away then remember this is a global age and with the internet we are practically in the same room. I am on several sites that let us know when things happen so we can send emails to those involved to let them know we are aware of what is happening. Is there one for your area that I can join? I think it helps a little when they hear from people from all over that we are aware of what is going on and want it to change.



I am amazed at how fast you have connected with us here in Kenya and are happy that you are sending so much positive energy, much love and hugs that suddenly you made things look so much brighter. I can't think of a group here right away but I am sure I could add you email to a listserve if you like. I am so happy with your encouragement. Sometimes, it is all that one needs. It will help me encourage many younger people and older ones too. Thank You for loving my country. You moved me to tears...


"Communication is the real work of leadership" Nitin Nohria

Adam Obeid's picture

this is very good

realy you are did very valuable things god help you ,no doubt your story is very pecious made me read it up to end.

philo Ikonya Gacheri's picture

So many thanks..

Hi Adam,

So many thanks for your blessings... I take them very seriously. and for reading up to the end...

all the best,

"Communication is the real work of leadership" Nitin Nohria

Pascaline's picture

Njeri,one day....

One day i will read your posts and laugh,now they make me cry because they are so true and painful.I am not sure i will ever know what to say though because today is now..and we are hurting...but one day....Big on the love,the prayers and the support

I believe in every woman's heart and soul.

philo Ikonya Gacheri's picture

thank you so much


thanks so much for that.. yes, we must keep going.... step by step even though sometimes it may look like we are zig zagging.. changing direction in order to take steps ahead... and you know this and long for it...thanks so much....


"Communication is the real work of leadership" Nitin Nohria

Your courage is such an inspiration, and all of us at the World Pulse office are so thankful that you are safe. Thank you for reminding us how far Kenya has come but how much work is still needed. With all the positive stories we hear from members such as yourself on PulseWire, we forget how fragile the country is. I so applaud the efforts of courageous women like you, who dare to speak out and in turn, educate us on the challenges facing people in Kenya every day.

An article appeared recently in the New York Times which highlights some of the conflict that still goes on today. Although so much good is being done every day by amazing women (and men) whose names we may never know, I want people to realize that there is still much to do to bring peace to our sisters, brothers and neighbours in Kenya. Our hearts go out to your countrymen and we will hold them in our light until the day they are not Luos, Kikuyus, Luhyas, Merus, Kalenjins, Kambas or Kisiis; not rich or poor; not urban or rural... but Kenyans, bound together by a love for their country and their fellow citizens.

In solidarity and love,
PulseWire Community Director

Dear Janice,

You are helping mold us from right there. It is powerful to read how you name all those ethnic groups..... and call us to be Kenyans and yes! YOu are helping bring change to us from right there! Thank you so very much!


"Communication is the real work of leadership" Nitin Nohria

Ila17's picture

thank you

I deeply admire you. Your courage is profound. Thank you for everything you are doing for humanity. love


philo Ikonya Gacheri's picture

thank you IIa

Dear Ila,

Thank you for your affirmation! I know that you too are doing good things and so you encourage good deeds. Thank you. Philo

"Communication is the real work of leadership" Nitin Nohria

Joannes's picture

you are inspiring

Philo, you have always been a source of my inspiration by your strength and your style of saying 'no' to any form of human injustices. In a country like Kenya where there are all forms of brutallity, you have always had the courage to make your point to the unreachable greedy leaders.
and i have realized that it only needs inner courage that you have to pass information to the deaf greedy leaders that kenya is made of. thumbs up!

We Can Do It!

philo Ikonya Gacheri's picture

ooops Joanna!

Dear Joanna,

I have been off pulse for a while but how delighted I am to find your very great comments to me. Thanks for your genorosity.. If only I could do some more.. and answer messages with such hope on time.... I am sorry I did not get a notice in my mail so I never knew anyone had written... I like your generosity. And really what you mean is that you too are really great and good... and that is why you see something good in others. Yes, Our darling Kenya.. that I love so much must change for the better.. if only because of our love all the brutality would vanish.. if only we could love strongly and bond across borders... our small borders which we are seemingly poor at erasing... borders we have erected with politico trabalism.... You are a great Kenyan!


"Communication is the real work of leadership" Nitin Nohria

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