Kenya dispatch: more demonstrations over high cost of living prompt brutal police crackdown Dispatches
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Kenya dispatch: more demonstrations over high cost of living prompt brutal police crackdown

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

On Wednesday, 12th July, Kenyans once again took to the streets to demonstrate against the tax-laden Finance Bill and the current high cost of living. The demonstrations took place under the guidance of Raila Odinga, Azimio party leader and the face of opposition in the country. As compared to the demonstrations that took place last week Friday, these demonstrations were a very clear message to President William Ruto that many Kenyans are frustrated with the high cost of living. Demonstrations took place in 20 counties throughout the entirety of Wednesday and this is despite the fact that Raila was unable to make it for his rally at Kamukunji grounds after receiving word that Kenya Kwanza (the ruling party) planned to hire goons to attack the attendees of the rally. Even public transport service providers joined the demonstrations due to how costly fuel has become and because of the government’s plan to force all public transport drivers to sit for a test that will determine whether they are qualified to maintain their jobs. Many are questioning the validity of such a test and many suspect that it might be a ploy by the government to earn money through it.

The scale of the latest demonstrations definitely came as a surprise to many since most people thought that it would be the usual areas such as Nairobi and Kisumu that would be participating in the protests. This time around we even had counties such as Nakuru (a county known to be vocal supporters of Kenya Kwanza) taking part. Due to how big the demonstrations were, the anti-riot police were overwhelmed in a lot of areas which led to the biggest concern of this entire protest: police brutality. Through out the day, videos of running battles happening across the country went viral online. In some areas, civilians were even able to record police in plain clothing carrying guns and in some videos one could hear gunfire ringing through the air. A good number of protestors either got injured or lost their lives due to this. In areas like Kangemi, pupils had to be rushed to hospital due to exposure to high amounts of teargas. Videos of police beating up unarmed protestors also went viral while in Nakuru the police actually entered a school and the teachers could be heard pleading with them not to hurt the children. There was also the issue of Sondu town (a small town on the border of Kericho and Kisumu county that is famous for the tribal clashes that occur between the Kalenjin and the Luo tribes) that arose on Wednesday evening. Word of the police hiring goons in Sondu to attack the Luo’s residing in the area spread like wildfire on Wednesday night. The incident left many wondering why the government is remaining silent on the matter. Moreover, the various acts of police brutality happening across the country left many thinking that maybe the police had been given the green light by their superiors to carry out such acts since no one has been called to account for the actions of the police.

Despite the aim of the protests being the reduction of the high cost of living, not everyone was for them. There are those who were against due to their businesses being disrupted, and there are others opposed due to the insecurity risks. We also had those who were against it since some people usually take advantage of the chaos and end up looting various businesses, as was seen on Wednesday when various supermarkets in Kitengela and Kangemi were robbed.  Additionally, there is also concern about damage to property that happens during demonstrations. They are also those who just do not trust Raila and claim that he is wasting people’s time in order to remain relevant.

As it stands, based on the demonstrations seen on Wednesday, the group that President Ruto should fear is not the Azimio Party but the common man himself. What was seen very clearly yesterday was the fact that people do not need Raila to be there in order to go out and demonstrate, they can clearly do it themselves. After all, this is a democratic state and in all democracies, power has always belonged to the people, not their representatives.

Next week, demonstrations are expected to run from Monday to Wednesday. This was announced on Thursday morning by Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna. He claimed that this decision was influenced by the fact that President Ruto has refused to listen to Kenyans.