Violent clashes as Kenya opposition stages protests
Kenyan riot police fired tear gas and water cannon against veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga’s convoy on Monday, as clashes flared during protests against a severe cost-of-living crisis.
Running battles erupted between stone-throwing demonstrators and police in parts of the capital Nairobi and at least one other city, in the first major unrest since President William Ruto took office last year, AFP correspondents said.
Police also unleashed volleys of tear gas and water against a motorcade carrying Odinga, who had called for the day of action against Ruto’s government over spiralling prices and what he claims was a “stolen” election last year.
Odinga, who narrowly lost to Ruto in his fifth tilt at the presidency, called for weekly protests in the East African economic and political powerhouse.
“Every Monday there will be a strike, there will be a demonstration,” he told crowds of chanting followers in Nairobi. “The war has begun, it will not end until Kenyans get their rights.”
“Are you ready?” the 78-year-old said to cheers of “Yes” from his supporters.
Kenyans are suffering from spiralling prices for fuel, electricity and staple foods, as well as a slump in the value of the shilling against the US dollar and a record drought that has left millions hungry.
From the early morning, police used tear gas against protesters gathered near government offices in the heart of Nairobi and several other areas of the city.
About two dozen people were arrested in downtown Nairobi, mainly young people but also two opposition MPs, including Senate minority leader Stewart Madzayo, AFP correspondents said.
“We came here peacefully but they tear gassed us,” said Charles Oduor, 21.
“They lie to us every day. Where is the cheap maize flour they promised? Where are the jobs for the youth they promised? All they do is hire their friends.”
‘Destroying the economy’
Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua called on organisers to call off the “mayhem and the chaos”, saying the protests had cost Kenya about two billion shillings ($15 million) in lost business.
“What they are doing is destroying the economy. We had started showing signs of recovery from the economic downturn,” he said during a visit to the port city of Mombasa.
In Nairobi’s biggest slum Kibera, a bastion of Odinga support, people set tyres ablaze while police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse protesters.
Demonstrators and police also clashed in the lakeside city of Kisumu in western Kenya, another Odinga stronghold.
Nairobi police chief Adamson Bungei said on Sunday that police received requests to hold two demonstrations only late Saturday and early Sunday, when normally three days’ notice is required.
“For public safety, neither has been granted,” he said.
Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki warned on Sunday that anyone inciting public disorder or disturbing the peace faced prosecution.
‘Fighting for our rights’
Many businesses in Nairobi were shut ahead of the demonstrations, with some employers telling their staff to work from home.
“We are here trying to fight for our rights. Life is so hard. If you see, these young men and women, we don’t have jobs, people are losing their jobs. So that’s why we’re talking about our rights,” said Nairobi shoeshiner Henry Juma, 26.
Odinga, the leader of the Azimio la Umoja party, who described Monday as a “day of destiny”, continues to claim that Ruto’s election win was fraudulent and denounces his government as illegitimate.
According to official results, Odinga lost to Ruto by around 233,000 votes, one of the slenderest margins in Kenya’s history.
The Supreme Court dismissed his appeals, finding there was no evidence for Odinga’s accusations.
Ruto has declared that he would not be intimidated by the demonstrations, saying: “You are not going to threaten us with ultimatums and chaos and impunity.”
“We will not allow that,” he said, calling on Odinga to act in a “legal and constitutional manner”.