Title: Undaunted: Stories of Freedom in A Shackled Society

Author: Gabriel Dolan

Year of Publication: August, 2021.

Publisher: Zand Graphics Limited

No. of Pages:184

When a young Irish priest landed in Kenya in the wake of a failed coup in 1982, he never imagined that apart from his liturgical and missionary endevours, injustice, oppression and blatant impunity awaited him in colossal amounts.

Father Gabriel’s Dolan new book Undaunted: Stories of Freedom in A Shackled Society is a memoir of bravery, pain, courage and reluctance to take credit in a society where “I was the one who did it” phrase is synonymous with those fighting for rights of the oppressed.

In the foreword, the renowned human rights activist Maina Kiai who recounts the long, yet tortuous journey of Father Dolan’s activism since his coming to Kenya. Maina Kiai first met Dolan in mid-1990s in Lodwar when he was part of an evaluation exercise to see how to strengthen the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. Kiai’s account paints the image of a man who believes in truth and justice and remained committed to its pursuit despite immense risk to his life.

Father Dolan begins the memoir with his early days in Turkana where he gladly took preaching and teaching roles in the classrooms of Lodwar High School in the early 1980s and participated in building primary schools with the hope that the next generation would get better opportunities to pursue their dreams.

His biggest stride in Turkana was the formation of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission to give voice to the downtrodden in a society where toxic patriarchy laced with impunity reigned unabated. If his acts and mission to change a shackled society ruffled feathers and pushed him to an edge of a knife in Turkana, his tribulations and triumphs in Trans Nzoia and West Pokot counties between the years 1999 and 2007 evokes pain and empathetic thoughts for a man whose audacity is greased with truth as his only weapon against actions of the mighty in the society.

Newspaper articles and pictures, and numerous references to investigative reports and news reports, presented in the book, show a clergy whose life is constantly in danger from those keen to silence the truth. A Daily Nation article in chapter three details how unknown persons sent threats to Father Dolan in a mailed letter, accusing him of supplying guns and ammunition to bandits in a bid to cause lawlessness in Pokot region. The People Daily of October 30,2000 recorded him asking former Attorney General Charles Njonjo to petition former President Daniel Moi to apologise on behalf of the government for its active role in the land clashes. This was not an easy task especially in a period when the ruling Kanu regime unleashed terror to its real and imagined critics.

With an experience in constant fight for the down trodden, Father Gabriel has caution to current and upcoming rights activists and actors. He advises them to not dare to speak on behalf of the oppressed but give them space and a forum where they can speak for themselves. He also observes that those who suffer the most should be willing to invest in their own liberation. Maina Kiai, in the foreward, stresses that:

“Father Gabriel reminds us that true transformative change comes from the people themselves, from the bottom up. This is a challenge that the social justice/human rights practitioners must internalize and the sooner the better. The idea of being the “voice of the voiceless” must transform to facilitating, encouraging and giving space to those who suffer the indignities of injustice, violence, poverty and repression. Indeed, one of the most significant tasks for the human rights community is to devolve away from Nairobi, in real, practical, and substantive ways.”

With torture, arrests and arbitrary detentions being norm in Father’s Gabriel’s activism life to an extent of sometimes being disowned by the very church he belongs, the journey of this fiery cleric replicates that of the late Father John Kaiser and Bishop Alexander Kipsang Muge who paid the ultimate price for speaking the truth. Perhaps Father Dolan’s life hasn’t been extinguished by oppressors because God still wants him to do more for a society where those harbouring impunity are getting bolder each day.

Land is an emotive issue in Kenya because of its unjust distribution and allocation. With other rights actors, Father Dolan has spent the biggest time of his activism seeking to have land grabbed from the poor and voiceless returned to them. This has seen him tortured and sent inside prison and police cells. Sometimes the land question becomes too sensitive, emotive and “unwarranted” to highlight or talk about especially when it touches those in power such as the Taita Taveta land where the Kenyatta’s are accused of grabbing from the poor. Even during such times, the cleric calls it as it is.

“To free oneself or assist in liberating others involves taking risks, being suspicious of the status quo, leaving the safety of the shore and launching out into the deep and the unknown. This is a very lonely calling too as one immerses oneself into the whole of reality with courage to confront and listen. Yet, the calling is not to be the liberator of the oppressed but to make a commitment to fight alongside them.”

Paulo Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

The book also has numerous articles he penned for the Daily Nation and Standard newspapers before the two leading papers began censuring his work over bold positions on issues that placed those in power at the centre of conflict and conflagration with the media owners. Despite resigning in protest from the two newspapers, the digital space such as Twitter has accorded him space to continue voicing his concern against those perpetuating impunity.

When reading Father Dolan’s memoir, it leaves you yearning for more. You want the nitty gritty of the arrests, planning, disappointments and all that. Perhaps his refusal to take credit gives credence to this approach of to-the-point writing.

Maina reminds us that that:

“It is not easy for a white man, with all the attendant privileges that brings, to become an integral part of the struggle for pro-poor transformative change in Kenya, and be subject to arrest, harassment, and repression. For those who read these memoirs, please circulate them to everyone you know. Translate them, read them in the mosques, churches and under trees so that Kenyans can get a sense of where we have come from, what we should avoid, and what it takes to make some gains that benefit the majority of our people.”

You can buy the book from Prestige Bookshop or Nuria Kenya Books. It retails at Ksh 1,750

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