A bit of History

For decades, the Kenyan doctor had suffered and worked under circumstances that were at best to be abhorred. Disillusioned, many chose to leave hoping for a better future for their families elsewhere. Inevitably something had to give.

In 2010 as the camel toiled under the heavy burdens, its back finally broke when the government decided to throw on more baggage. Sponsorship was stopped for post graduate doctors and enough being enough, the young doctors arose.

Dr. Mwika, Dr. Somba and Dr.Ndolo in a casual meeting decided to do something. Initially, they approached the ministry and when they were dismissed in the manner that has become customary at Afya house, they decided to rally doctors and stand up to the policy makers. That same week, they called a meeting/demonstration at Afya house to which all post graduate students whose sponsorship had been stopped were invited but also invited Dr. Ng'ani to join the leadership for specific reasons. 23 attended. Petitions were delivered to senior officials including both ministers but their manner did not suggest the slightest change of stance.

Coming from the meeting, it was clear that they had to spread the word about what was happening to all doctors. The press was an immediate obvious choice and they knew how to get them to their direction but we had no forum as yet.

As this was ongoing, Thika was abuzz. Dr. Onyimbo had strongly expressed his distaste for the developments to high ranking health officials in the region, a move for which he was later to pay with his job. Working with the local (THIKA) KMA branch, particularly Dr. Lemmy, they organised a meeting (the Thika meeting) to discuss these concerns. This would be the perfect forum to launch the awareness campaign and begin the next steps. With no existing database, they needed to send out information about the meeting to as many doctors as possible in the limited time to the date of the meeting.

They opted to use direct phone calls, chain sms’s and the internet including existing groups such as united against the poor pay of doctors though they weren’t sure how effective any of these means would have been .

By the Grace of God, something had happened in the preceding month that was very much to their advantage. The new constitution that entrenches the right of every Kenyan to form a union in the bill of rights had been adopted. Also, In the week prior to this meeting, Dr. George Got who was also among the group of yet to join postgraduate students, joined them and he was a great addition to the steering team. He was by far better informed than any one of the others about legal matters and in particular labour laws including trade union’s act – in the new constitution! He was the first to suggest the formation of the Kenya Health and Allied Workers Union and had it included in it in the press statement that was later released at the Thika meeting. This proposal for Union would later take on its own life albeit under many different names.

Thika was a success. Approximately 67 doctors attended from all over the country and these efforts made the news (please see NTV’s video titled “doctors in strike threat” on youtube - seated are Dr. Somba, Dr. Ng’ani, Dr. Mwika, Dr. Got, and Dr. Lemmy while Dr. Onyimbo was behind the Cameras with the press). Following this meeting, Uhuru park 1 was decided on as the next course of action. The challenge remained communication as 67/6000 was still negatively remarkable. The same means were to be adopted in addition to the expected news bulleting which was unfortunately truncated at editing. Dr. Karuri pointed out that one of the existing facebook groups, United against the poor pay of doctors, which had been created more than a year prior to that date by Dr. Makenzi already had in excess of 1000 members a majority of whom may have been doctors and therefore it constituted the single largest forum of doctors in the country. They decided to use this group and to encourage doctors to join in order to have as close to live updates of the ongoings as possible. Dr. Karuri was tasked with generating a mailing list and contacting the administrators of the group who included Dr. Mati and Dr. Chitayi.

Uhuru park 1 took place with a lot of intimidation and threats in the background resulting on a less than impressive turnout. Because of these threats, Dr. Mwika and Dr. Somba who though present allowed Dr. Onyimbo Dr. Chitayi and Dr. Mati and Dr. Wambui to address the press on behalf of the doctors and lead proceedings that were localised to the park. However this small turnout had a huge impact also making the news (see NTV’s “doctors demand 600% pay hike” on youtube. Leading the march are Dr. Onyimbo, Dr. Chitayi, Dr. Mati and Dr. Wambui). Following this demonstration, Uhuru park 2 was decided upon to be held two weeks thereafter.

With the increasing awareness among doctors, this was a greater success in terms of turnout. Dr Ng'ani was the doctor’s spokesperson to the press in this demonstration and thereafter marched to the Prime Minister’s office where they met senior officials and delivered a petition with a list of grievances. The negotiating team consisted of Dr. Ng’ani, Dr. Gakonyo, Dr. Mati, Dr. Wambui and Dr. Mutisya (former AMSUN Chair).

By God’s grace, as the rest of the doctors were dispersing, COTU’s Mr. Atwoli was driving by. He stopped, listened to their concerns, voiced his support and invited them to send a team to his office for guidance on the process of forming a union. They tasked Dr. Mati to lead this team as the meeting at the PM’s office would continue into the mid afternoon.

A lot of effort and negotiations had gone into trying to get KMA to fight this battle, but the results would epitomize futility. They realised that for meaningful progress to take place, there would be need for radical changes to bridge the disconnect between this professional organization and the young doctor. Yet while medical practitioners were grappling with this challenge, young pharmacists, Dr. Sultani Matendechero and several others, had not only made these changes to PSK, but also put in progressive structures to begin to promote the young pharmacist. The future lawyer to the union, Mr. Mwaisaka had been a friend and a classmate to Dr. Were who himself had been a student leader and was lobbying for the registration of the Union.

This is a group of doctors who besides seeing the mentioned problems, experienced them and decided to stand up and do something about it at great risks and at great costs. Please, let each person note how the steering committee selected itself, not selected by an individual, but selected itself based on passion, initiative and participation from the front, with their respective histories and stories prior to this, gender, cadre, position, not having been a factor.

This group has worked extremely well, each one of them being tasked with duties that have been judiciously carried out and achieving what our opponents thought we could not do, in record time (and they haven’t seen anything yet) Please let us all always lend them our unwavering support.

Let us keep the faith, keep the fire burning and keep praying!

Dr. Ng'ani.

Article Tags: #kmpdu #history
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