Kenya dispatch: a day of mass protest starts with abductions, continues with a march on Parliament, and ends with police brutality and deaths Dispatches
© JURIST // Kirubi Maina
Kenya dispatch: a day of mass protest starts with abductions, continues with a march on Parliament, and ends with police brutality and deaths

David Odero is a law student at Kisii University and a special correspondent for JURIST. He filed this dispatch from Nairobi.  

Sleep is for the weak and the wicked, as the saying goes, and this sentiment never made more sense than on the morning of Tuesday, 25 June. Individuals alleged to be members of the police force were at the doors of popular anti-Finance Bill activists by 3am and 5am Tuesday morning, armed with heavy weapons. At the break of dawn, reports reaching the public were that two activists had been abducted together with the chief of staff and the personal assistant of the president of the Law Society of Kenya. This aroused high emotions among the public with protesters taking it to the streets as early as 4 am.

All the fuss is in the wake of the ongoing demonstrations against the controversial Finance Bill 2024. In the previous week, the parliament had passed the highly contested Bill through its first and second reading, with 204 members of parliament voting in favor and 115 against it. The bill was tabled on Tuesday 25, June in parliament for the third reading after undergoing the committee stage and the report stage. In this reading, the Members of Parliament (MPs) were expected to read the bill clause by clause and vote on each amendment. At the end of the day 195 members of parliament voted in favor of the bill, 106 rejected it and 3 spoilt.

Since its commencement last week, the #RejectTheFinanceBill2024 protest has gathered support from the whole country with Kenyans from different areas taking their frustrations to the streets. In what had been designated as a week of rage, Kenyan citizens were called upon by anti-Finance Bill activists to come out to the streets Tuesday for a demonstration dubbed #TotalShutdownKenya #OccupyParliament. The strike was nationwide and all persons were offered a day off and parents asked to keep their children home in solidarity.

What had started in Nairobi as peaceful demonstrations later turned sour with anti-riot police not only lobbing tear-gas and using water cannons but also using live bullets against protesters. A sniper seen at the top of the parliamentary building is believed to have been behind the shooting of a number of demonstrators. With the passing of the controversial Bill, hell broke loose, and MPs reacted in horror as the demonstrators managed to make their way into the parliamentary buildings and literally occupied parliament. MPs had to be evacuated using underground tunnel connecting the National Assembly and the Senate with Bunge Towers. The Speaker of the Senate, Amason Kingi, had to be whisked away in an ambulance while injured persons were losing their lives on the streets. Other legislators in the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC) building had to be evacuated using helicopters.

Five people, including one who was shot at ten times, are reported to have been killed at the entry of the premises with over 120 casualties admitted to hospitals with gunshot wounds. These are the figures that have been released to the public, but more people are alleged to have been killed.  A police officer is also confirmed to have been among the casualties. Additionally, the Senate was broken into and the mace is reported to have been stolen.

In various parts of the country, businesses affiliated with the MPs who supported the bill were looted and later on set ablaze. Additionally the home of  the chairperson of the finance committee, Mr. Kuria Kimani, was also set on fire by angry protesters. As the evening drew on, the government deployed military personnel in the capital to contain the security emergency. This was absent any approval of the national assembly, thus violating Section 33(2) of the Kenya Defence Forces Act No. 5 of 2012.

Following the killing of a police officer in Githurai in the evening, the police opened fire on everyone with live bullets being fired all round, killing a handful of women in the market. This is the estate where I sought shelter for the night after the main road leading to my place had been blocked by demonstrators. The whole neighborhood is terrified with people locking themselves in their houses. Gunshots could still be heard as late as 9 pm. The Law Society of Kenya has released a statement condemning the encountered atrocities.

In a late press briefing, President William Ruto has termed today’s demonstrations as treasonous and branded the protesters as criminals vowing to enact an expeditious response. On the other hand, the office of former President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a statement on his X account (formerly known as Twitter) immediately afterwards, urging Ruto to speak to the people and not at the people.

The passed Finance Bill is set to be presented for presidential assent on Thursday ahead of the planned demonstrations to #OccupyStateHouse where all the main roads leading to Nairobi are set to be blocked by protesters. In my opinion, the brutality of the police that was realised today is proof of a regime feeding on its own people. The fact that the president neither uttered a word on the controversial Finance Bill 2024 nor addressed the killings that were carried out today shows his intentions of ruling the country with an iron fist. He instead went ahead to call victims of police brutality criminals drilling a nail on the already shattered hearts. The people may forgive but will not forget and neither will they relent. #RejectFinanceBill2024.