Kenya: Two dead and hundreds arrested during anti-government protests

Two people were killed and more than 300 arrested in several cities in Kenya on Wednesday during protests led by the opposition against high prices and government policy.

“There are two bodies with gunshot wounds in the morgue,” George Rae, head of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Hospital in Kisimu (west), the stronghold of rival Raila Odinga, told AFP by telephone. Fourteen people were also admitted to the hospital after the clash with the police, he said.

Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki said earlier, “More than 300 people have been arrested across the country and will be charged with various crimes including looting, malicious damage to property, arson, robbery and assault on law enforcement.”

Demonstrations in Kenya (AFP – Sylvie Hassan, Sabrina Blanchard, Valentin Guellet)

The mobilization seemed relatively calm compared to recent weeks. On the previous day of protests, on 12 July, 9 people were killed and more than 300 were arrested.

The protest movement, launched in March by the opposition coalition Azimiyo led by veteran Raila Odinga, has fueled incidents of vandalism, looting and violence in recent weeks, killing at least twenty people.

On Wednesday, heavily deployed security forces fired tear gas to disperse small groups who pelted stones, particularly in Kibera, a slum in the capital Nairobi, and in the cities of Kisumu, Homa Bay, Kisii and Migori, strongholds of Odinga supporters in the west of the country.

Hailing an “extremely successful” day, Azimio called on Kenyans to “come out even stronger” on Thursday, the second of three days of action against the Ruto government’s policy scheduled until Friday.

Elected in August 2022 on a promise to support the most disadvantaged, William Ruto faces growing opposition, especially since the announcement in early July of legislation setting up new taxes that add to the daily hardships of Kenyans.

Visiting the city of Kericho, the head of state condemned the attitude of his rival during the last presidential election in August 2022, which he accused of inciting “anarchy”.

“We don’t want a country of violence, fighting or destruction of property…the police have to make sure they are tough on criminals, gangs, anarchists and anyone who creates chaos,” he said.

– “wrong direction” –

The government, believing that these demonstrations were “nothing more than a threat to national security”, placed Nairobi as well as Mombasa (south-west) and Kisumu under tight police surveillance.

He also ordered the closure of public schools in these three cities. Schools will reopen on Thursday.

In Kenya’s capital, usually busy streets were quiet and many businesses had closed their shutters, AFP reporters said.

The movement divides the population of Kenya, East Africa’s economic locomotive which is fighting against relentless inflation (8% over a year in June) but also finds itself crippled with each day of mobilisation.

Unemployed 47-year-old Fred Ongere supports the protest because he believes Kenya is “going in the wrong direction”.

Monica Njoki wants this gathering to “stop”. “The demonstrations have greatly affected my life, I cannot go to work freely”, the 45-year-old businessman explains, believing that it is necessary to “give the president time to keep his promises”.

– ‘High level of violence’ –

This is the third time since the beginning of July that the opposition has organized such action days.

The police were severely criticized for their crackdown, including with live ammunition, following the 12 July mobilization.

The NGO Human Rights Watch urged Kenyan authorities to protect citizens’ right to peaceful demonstration.

Thirteen Western countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, expressed their concern at the “high level of violence” during the latest demonstrations in a joint statement on Tuesday, and urged the various parties to “peacefully resolve their differences”.

According to a federation of private sector organizations (Kepsa), each day’s mobilization costs the country’s economy the equivalent of 3 billion shillings (about 19 million euros).

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