The “Day of Rage” protests turned to the Day of mourning after police opened fire at protesters, killing at least two people on Monday. The protests were aimed at bringing changes to Kenya’s electoral commission and had been organised by the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy alliance led by Raila Odinga. The alliance has been holding protests every Monday but violence broke out in Kisumu where the police opened fire and used tear gas and water cannon to quell protests. The Red Cross revealed that six protesters had been taken to Kisumu’s main hospital suffering from gunshot wounds. Nairobi’s police chief had reportedly warned opposition supporters not to take part in Monday’s protests if they valued their lives. At least three people were killed in similar protests on the 23rd of May- two were shot by police while the third died from a fall while fleeing tear gas. Kenya sparked outrage in May when officers were pictured brutally assaulting demonstrators in Nairobi.
On Sunday, Japheth Koome, the Nairobi police chief declared in not too many words that the police would kill protesters if they dared go out and protest. He said, “No demonstration. That’s the message. If you have nothing else to do, sleep. It will not be allowed.” The declaration was however nullified by Judge Joseph Onguto who ruled that CORD had the right to demonstrate on Monday, the 6th of January, the day of the protests. Protests took place in several towns but in Kisumu, they took an ugly turn after the news of the deaths started spreading. Dailymail reports that another 61 people were injured in the clashes with 20 having been hospitalised with bullet wounds or cuts. This was confirmed by Ojwang Lusi, the chief health officer in Kisumu County.
CORD began its protests in April to call for electoral reforms in Kenya. In short, the alliance sought and still seeks a change of leadership of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) ahead of the 2017 poll which is 15 months away. On the 23rd of May, three other people were killed in Siaya but the police said one had sustained injuries after falling.
“Last time they shot someone dead and claimed he suffered injuries as he was falling down. What will they say today after the death of this man because he was clearly shot?” said a Kisumu resident, Mr Charles Otieno to AFP. The police reportedly also shot a six year old, one Jeremy Otieno Adongo in the back while in their house. There have been claims by the Presidential spokesperson Manoah Esipisu that the police only shot at looters.The state will however have a hard time explaining how a young boy was caught up in that violence.
On Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta called for an end to the CORD protests saying, “We want dialogue like yesterday but it must be held within the confines of the law. Dialogue is not about going to the streets or meeting in tea rooms.”
It is after these statements that the chief of police in Nairobi issued a warning on Sunday that any attempt to picket would probably turn lethal. The Kenyan authorities have therefore set themselves up for widespread condemnation as the deaths now prima facie look like a premeditated event that was rooted in the President’s own call to end protests. Some serious fire-fighting has to be done to clean up the image of the state. A few weeks ago, images of an officer in riot gear emerged, exposing Kenya’s police force instituted brutality. It is unfortunate that the protesters themselves have not been on their best behaviour. They loot and vandalise property thus providing justification for altercations with the police. It is no wonder then that the Presidential Spokesperson argued that the police opened fire at looters. The looting and the violence have only provided a justification for the state and the opposition is not doing itself any favour by diverting from its mandate by looting. It is hard for the activists to be taken seriously when they call for reforms and break into supermarkets. The 2017 elections look almost certain to be marked by violence and the potential is affecting Kenyan economic prospects . Violence might seem like a necessary evil to the government seeing that it is cornered but dialogue and concessions are likely to produce better results.
Image by: Daily Mail