Tear Gas, Arrests As Kenya Opposition Stages Protests

"Every Monday there will be a strike, there will be a demonstration," he told supporters in Nairobi. "The war has begun, it will not end until Kenyans get their rights."

People run to take cover from teargas fired by Kenya Police officers in Nairobi, Kenya on March 20, 2023. (Photo by Luis Tato / AFP)



Kenyan riot police fired tear gas and water cannon against demonstrators and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga’s convoy on Monday, as clashes flared during anti-government protests over the spiralling cost of living.

Running battles erupted between stone-throwing protesters and police in parts of the capital Nairobi and at least one other city, while a number of people were arrested including senior opposition figures.

It was the first major unrest since President William Ruto took office six months ago after a narrow election victory over Odinga.

The opposition leader had called for the day of action against Ruto’s government over the economic woes faced by ordinary Kenyans and what he claims was a “stolen” election.

And he upped the ante on Monday, calling 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 supporters 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 the crowds.

Earlier, police had unleashed volleys of tear gas and sprays of water against his motorcade near a Nairobi hotel where he had planned to hold a press conference but was forced to leave.

Odinga’s spokesman Dennis Onyango said a police bullet had hit the opposition leader’s vehicle, but it was not possible to independently confirm the claim.

– ‘Where are the promised jobs?’ –
Kenyans are reeling from the rising cost of basic necessities such as fuel, electricity and staple foods, as well as a slump in the value of the shilling 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 Senate minority leader Stewart Madzayo and his counterpart in the National Assembly Opiyo Wandayi, both members of Odinga’s party.

“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 had said on Sunday that permission had not been granted for the demonstrations as requests had not been made in time.

Interior Minister Kithure Kindiki had also warned that anyone inciting public disorder or disturbing the peace would face 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.

But not everyone was in favour of the rallies.

“We are six months after the elections, what are the protests all about, Raila should retire in peace,” said Jackson Mwangi.

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 by around 233,000 votes, one of the narrowest margins in Kenya’s history.

The Supreme Court dismissed the legal challenges by Odinga, who was making his fifth tilt for the presidency.

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”.