I can’t pinpoint exactly when I began fighting for justice but I got demoted from being Head Boy during my A-levels for not naming students I caught breaking seminary rules and would have been expelled,” Omtata says. He’s glad that today the four rule breakers are now good priests. Bright but controversial, he substituted a Bachelor of Commerce course at the University of Nairobi for priesthood at St. Augustine Seminary, Mabanga. Strangely, Omtatah doesn’t consider himself an activist. “I’m a Christian following the example of Jesus. I correct wrongs in my society. I don’t fight anyone or anything, I’m picking thorns from the path for the good of the next person,” he explains.
His nonviolent Mahatma Gandhi-esque approach contrasts with the Kenya Police’s clobbering tactics. Omtata is known for his daring acts of bravery. On January 17th, 2008 amidst the post-election turmoil, he chained himself to the gates of Kenya Police headquarters at Vigilance House. “I’d sought audience with the police heads to raise my concerns over civilian killings by security agents but realising they were brushing aside my efforts, I changed tact,” Omtatah explains. He was unchained after a two-hour effort, arrested and charged with “attempted suicide and causing public disturbance,” then later released.
He says, “During the past regime, the Norfolk Hotel tried to illegally take over the Kenya National Theatre. I protested against that [on his own] and when locked up, went on a seven-day hunger strike and the takeover didn’t happen.” Omtatah has a remarkable grasp of constitutional law for a layman, and he believes that lack of awareness about civil rights, is one of the primary reasons that the political elite is able to abuse and oppress the people. But activism is an expensive affair and although charges against him are often dropped, hiring lawyers, transporting witnesses and serving court papers to defence attorneys is costly. Neither is his family spared. “I forfeit the pleasure of visiting my children in school to keep them from my public life,” he reveals.
His family, he says, needs to lead a normal life that includes privacy. “I don’t see myself a victor. I keep hope alive as written in Acts 1:7-8.” he concludes, boarding a matatu on Tom Mboya Street. Besides crusading for human rights (which he finances through private enterprise), Omtata is a poet, playwright, novelist and author. He has penned plays such as Voice of the People, Damn Patriotism, Taken for Granted, Chains of Junkdom, Cosmetic and Luanda Magere and a novel, A Brood of Vipers. He also chairs the Writers in Prison Committee and Pen International (Kenya). Omtata is about to complete a Masters in African Development Studies at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
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By Mark Namaswa