Kenya dispatch: demonstrations are plunging the country into violence and uncertainty as President Ruto praises police Dispatches
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Kenya dispatch: demonstrations are plunging the country into violence and uncertainty as President Ruto praises police

Aynsley Genga is a JURIST Senior Correspondent in Kenya. She files this dispatch from Nairobi.  

On Thursday, July 20th, Kenya entered its second day of demonstrations, in a series of nationwide opposition protests planned from Wednesday to Friday this week. Since Wednesday, most businesses have been closed, either in support of the protests or due to fear of being looted during the chaos. The streets of Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD) have mostly been empty except for the presence of activists or protestors. The government has closed off all day primary and secondary schools for the entirety of the protests. Even transport services have gone on a go-slow. Most of Kenya is definitely at a standstill. Everyone is waiting to see what will happen after the Friday protests.

The demonstrations began on Wednesday and residents of counties such as Mombasa could be seen blockading their roads as early as midnight on Wednesday. We have even had counties such as Marsabit joining the demonstrations this time around, which was quite shocking since they never participate in such activities. There is also Kisii county, which has shocked many with how active they have been in the protests since the beginning of the new demonstration wave in July.

The protests have however not been calm and peaceful, especially with the presence of anti-riot police who have caused more havoc than good. As of Wednesday, Azimio party members such as Babu Owino (Embakasi East Member of Parliament), Calvin Okoth A.K.A Gaucho, Kilifi South Member of Parliament (MP) Ken Chonga and Kilifi Speaker Teddy Mwambire were arrested due to their involvement in the protests. Babu Owino was arrested a few hours before midnight on Tuesday at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi, after arriving from Mombasa. There was also the arrest of Maina Njenga (former Mungiki leader). His family claims that the police came for Maina on Wednesday night. “Maina, his personal assistant and his brother were taken by men who claimed to be police in the middle of the night. They were beaten and harassed despite it being way past the end of the first day of demonstrations,” Maina’s father said. Maina’s lawyers have come out to say that they will be treating this case as an abduction instead of an arrest. Even Raila Odinga’s personal bodyguard, Maurice Ogeta, was declared missing after an alleged abduction on Wednesday. Raila released a statement on his Twitter handle today after false news was being spread online that his bodyguard had been found. According to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) director of communications Philip Etale, he stated that Ogeta was accosted by unknown assailants suspected to be police officers on his way to work from home who flagged him down and then bundled him in his car’s boot. So many political arrests have been occurring during these demonstrations that some people have started comparing President Ruto’s regime to the dictatorial regime of the late president, Daniel Arap Moi.

Multiple incidences and videos of police brutality have gone viral online. Many people have come out to condemn the acts of the police and many are wondering why the government has said nothing about it. In fact, just today, President Ruto was seen praising the actions of the police in regards to controlling the demonstrations in Isiolo County. He said: “I want to congratulate our police for being bold and ensuring that there is peace and ensuring that action is taken on all offenders so that we ensure that there is peace in Kenya and people’s property is protected.” His speech has left some people online wondering if he actually even cares about the good of the people of the nation. After all, since the demonstrations began in March this year, Amnesty International has reported that 30 people have died while numerous have been injured during clashes with the anti-riot police.

On Wednesday this week, a video of police throwing teargas at people who were at a gas station went viral as many questioned the safety of such actions. There have even been videos of police looting stores amidst the chaos. Videos of police officers dressed in plain clothing have also spread online. This is because these plain-clothed police are the ones who have mainly been spotted shooting at protestors as well as civilians. Basically anyone whose caught by these individuals outside during the protests regardless of whether they are part of the protests or not is at risk of injury or worse death. Additionally, on Wednesday, a video of a man asking the police to stop throwing teargas mindlessly since his child had just fainted due to exposure to high amounts of teargas. The man claimed he was not even part of the protests and yet the police were treating him like a criminal. However, the man’s pleas fell on deaf ears as he was dramatically dragged away and arrested by a policeman in plain clothing. Another video that has gone viral is one of a woman being dragged out of her house by more than seven police officers. Why she was being taken by the police, nobody knows. Why she was being treated like a criminal and her whereabouts are also still unknown. Even children were not spared: a boy whose leg was shot by the anti-riot police has spread like wildfire online. The video of that boy was simply heartbreaking to watch. The pain that innocent boy must have been going through at that time… words cannot even begin to describe it. These are but a few examples of the incidences of police brutality that were taking place in different parts of the country on Wednesday as well as on Thursday.

As it stands, people are waiting to hear from Raila as the demonstrations for the week approach the last day. This is because Raila has not made a public appearance in any of the areas where protests were taking place. Many have begun to question his whereabouts especially after it came to light that his bodyguard might have been abducted. Many of his supporters were hoping that he would talk today but other than his posts on Twitter in regards to police brutality, detention of Azimio members and the arrest/abduction of his body guard and his spokesperson, Dennis Onyango, Raila has remained silent. Some have even begun saying that Raila is “all bark and no bite” since he and his fellow Azimio principal have not made an appearance during this week’s demonstrations. Others are saying Raila is simply wasting people’s time, they argue that the time spent on the demonstrations could have been used to make the money needed to survive in this economy. Of course most of his supporters still believe in him but some have been demoralized, especially with the recent political arrests and acts of police cruelty on demonstrators.

Today evening, Babu Owino, Gaucho and five others were charged with conspiring to commit subversive activities and were arraigned at the Milimani Law Courts. Their lawyers tried to ensure that they were released today and were even able to bring to light on the fact that Babu Owino’s affidavit was one that was used in a former case of his that was dismissed in 2017. They further argued that their clients’ rights were infringed during their detention since Babu was not even provided with food for the 3 days he has been in police custody and they denied him medical aid despite him being unwell. The court declared that judgment would be delivered on Friday in the morning hours. In regards to Maina Njenga, despite the police saying he also been held at Milimani Law Court, no one has really seen him, so many doubt if the man is actually been kept there. There is also Raila’s bodyguard and spokesperson who are still missing.

In regards to Babu and Maina, there are those who hope for their release but there are also those who hope they are jailed due to their past actions. Especially, in Maina’s case there are those who can never forgive due to his involvement in the 2007 post elections skirmishes.

As I conclude, so much is currently happening, no one really knows how the wind will blow on Friday. Too much is at stake and whether these demonstrations will amount to something good in the future, only time will tell.