In 2011, together with other change agents in Kisumu, we led an effective boycott of products manufactured by the richest and most powerful industrialist in Western Kenya – one who had captured the administrative, legislative and judicial arms of Government using his riches – to force him to give up the fraudulent interest he had acquired on Taifa Park land through manipulation and bribery of public officials.
We undertook the boycott as a last resort, upon concluding that appealing to politicians, administrators, police or court would bear no fruit because of the immense power that the billionaire industrial monopolist, who produced bread, flour, soap, cooking oil, vinegar etc., had over the organs of government.
The boycott objective was clear and unambiguous. We demanded that the target gives up interest on the disputed land. And we assured him that once this is achieved, the boycott would end.
We did not intend to bring down the manufacturing conglomerate. Once our objective was achieved and the target publicly renounced his interest on the land, we ended the boycott.
The boycott was voluntary and not coerced. We held consultative meetings at neighbourhoods and villages and explained to the public, in detail, the reasons behind the boycott – providing copies of relevant documents – and explained to them their right to decide to join or not to join the boycott. We did not coerce or threaten anyone into joining us. We provided the people with alternative list of products that they could use.
Our consultations included meetings with retail shopkeepers, wholesalers and distributers, during which we explained the rationale for the boycott and gave them the opportunity to decide whether to join us or not, by deciding whether to continue stocking the targeted products or not.
We explained the fact that we had mobilized the masses to boycott targeted products and encouraged them to buy alternate products. We therefore invited the businesses to stock or distribute the alternates. We explained that the choice to stock or not to stock the boycotted or alternate products remained with them. We assured them that no one would harass them if the opted to continue selling the boycotted products.
We went further to meet with relevant sectoral and shop floor/ factory level trade unionists and discussed with them the impact of the boycott on employees. We assured them that the boycott was targeting the owners of the factory and not the employees. We discussed with them the labour laws that would come into play when the factory starts running on idle manpower due to lack of demand for products. We shared with them our plan to ensure that the factory did not ground to a halt, thereby necessitating layoffs; but rather how our boycott would “pinch” the owner just painful enough to make them good and responsible corporate citizens.
We stayed in touch with employees in the factory, who we had convinced to support our cause and monitored daily management updates on the effect of our boycott. It was clear that in the first week we had reduced sales of bread by half.
By the second week the bakery was literally grounding to a halt due to lack of demand for bread at community level. The same scenario applied to flour, cooking oil, soap, etc.
By the third week the powerful industrialist, known for impunity and corruption, who initially issued threats of arrests and corruption, started sending overtures requesting for a dialogue with us. Unsuccessful attempts were made to bribe us to call off the boycott.
We remained clear and unequivocal. Once the fraudulent private claim on Taifa Park was renounced, we would call off the boycott and encourage our people to buy the products once again.
In the fifth week, we made a breakthrough. The industrialist put an advertisement in the media renouncing his interests in the park land. We moved swiftly to call a rally/concert at the park to celebrate the win and to officially call off the boycott.
Our focus then turned on the then Municipal Council of Kisumu and the Ministry of Land. We gave a notice of seven days for the two entities to restore the title of the surrendered land back to the public, failing which we were to mobilize the residents of Kisumu to boycott payment of taxes to both Municipal Council of Kisumu and the Ministry of Lands.
Fate worked in our favour. On the day, we had called for a rally to announce the beginning of the boycott, both President Mwai Kibaki and PM Raila Odinga visited the town impromptu after attending the burial of William Odongo Omamo. Security agencies used the excuse of the VIP visit to demand that we call off our rally. The very organized and peaceful participants responded in unison that their rally would proceed and if the police did like it, they’d offer themselves to be arrested and charged.
The police were put in a dilemma. They could not attack a very peaceful rally of protestors who were willing to submit to peaceful arrest and prosecution. Again, they had no capacity to arrest, prepare charge sheets, take finger prints from, charge and remand over ten thousand protestors who had offered themselves to be arrested. They gave up on us and we continued with our rally up to 6.00pm.
From reliable sources, both the President and the PM, who were having lunch at Imperial hotel, nearly 500 meters from the rally at Taifa Park, enquired to know what the noise coming from the rally was about. With the powerful PA system, we made sure they too heard notice of the event. When it was explained to them, I am informed that they ordered the Minister for Lands to ensure immediate revocation of the fraudulent title and reissue of a title to the Municipal Council of Kisumu with a caveat barring any future grabbing. They also ordered the then Mayor and Town Clerk to travel to Nairobi the following day to pick the new title.
When the title was finally brought to Kisumu, we organized a rally at Taifa Park to celebrate the final victory and launch rehabilitation of the park. We mobilized in kind contribution of rehabilitation inputs from the business community and the public. The response was overwhelming. We planted new trees, grass and flowers to replace those that had been cut down by the land grabbers.
Today a beautiful and busy park stands. Another industrialist has supported the latest improvements of the park. The industrialist associated with the grabbing and destruction of the park is still in business – employing our people – but definitely more responsible and humble than earlier on.
Planning and strategy was our advantage. Non-violent mobilization and organizations were our tools. Clear objective was our pursuit.
By Joshua Odhiambo Nyamori