A day in the life of an arrested Kenyan activist


by Nekessa Opoti | February 20, 2009 •
A few days ago, Kenyan activist Philo Ikonya was arrested for protesting her government’s inaction towards a looming famine in the country. It was a peaceful protest; but she was soon arrested. The 50yr old poet and writer was beaten and thrown in a jail cell. Released. And then thrown back in.

Philo Ikonya (photo courtesty of Dipesh of http://sukumakenya.blogspot.com)

So every time you think that people are not doing anything to change the lives of millions whose leaders don’t seem to care, remember Philo Ikonya. Remember her strength. Her passion. There are hundreds others like her.

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In between her arrest and re-arrest, she wrote a note describing her experience. You can read the notes in their entirety here. Below are excerpts.

Her clothes were ripped off as she was getting arrested:

But every time we meet in the little antechamber of the halls, I remind the police officer that I have no clothes on my back, since his boss, the Deputy OCPD tore them up on the street. I complain bitterly about having a bare back and being in the same room for the roll call with men arrested for different purposes… one of them told me he was definitely going to be hanged for robbery with violence and he said this after suddenly taking charge and yelling at Fwamba [another activist who was also arrested that day with Philo] whom he told he was worse than the policemen whom we seemed according to him to cow.

A young man in one of the jail cells knows about Philo’s battle; her fight for those who will not be heard. He says to her:

Madam, they are trying to break your voice.. but it is powerful and unbreakable.. is your spirit. I saw it here in the cells… you have made me.. we were wondering who will speak since we lost voices to politics…. I will never be the same again … just watching how you deal with things here…” Sorry it was about me.. but I have to be honest.

They cannot silence her:

I am horrified for indeed each time he hit me I told him to look into my eyes and see God and his eyes looked opaque and distant… he hit me again saying he would take us where we could never talk again- I suppose he meant the grave. But I continued to tell him, ‘ My father had never hit me, nor any man on the streets nor any male in my life… no one… and that therefore, since he was oppressing me in the car –

She sings:

And suddenly we women have a chorus – I had sang a few on my own to keep from reflecting too directly- and it goes like this:” Did you say you have an eight month old alone at home, I was worried for my six year old!”And I for my 8 year old son… And I for my 13 year old who is a candidate this year… .