Nairobi — At least one person was shot dead and several injured during Saba Saba protests in Kenya Friday as Opposition leader Raila Odinga re-ignited demonstrations against the high cost of living.
The man whose age was not immediatey established was shot in lakeside city of Kisumu where two other people sustained serious gunshot injuries while four others were hit by blunt objects.
“One person died of gunshot wounds”, Alex Ochieng, an administrator at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching & Referral Hospital in Kisumu, said. “We have two other people with gunshot wounds and four who were hit by blunt objects.”
In the capital Nairobi, police fired tear gas on Odinga’s convoy after he addressed a rally in Kamukunji and ordered his supporters to follow him to Central Park in town.
The march was, however, thwarted by teargas and live ammunition.
It was not immediately clear how many people were injured.
But Odinga’s convoy proceeded with the journey to town, escorted by a water canon truck as it snaked through the CBD to his foundation office in Upper Hill where he addressed the media.
“As you can see they shot directly at my cars and the damage is clear, we don’t know what their intention are but this is what they did,” he said.
Similar protests were reported in Kisii, Mombasa, Kitale, Turkana, Homa Bay among others where rights groups condemned “arbitrary arrests”.
Security was tightened for the latest round of protests called by Odinga this year against the policies of President William Ruto’s government.
At the rally, Odinga announced plans to collect 10 million signatures in a bid to remove his arch-rival from office.
The 78-year-old lost the closely fought August 2022 election to Ruto and has repeatedly denounced the poll as “stolen”.
“Kenyans elected leaders to parliament and they have betrayed them,” he said to cheers. “Ruto himself who took over power illegally has betrayed Kenyans.”
Odinga’s Azimio alliance had called for protests over the impact of the new taxes on Kenyans already suffering economic hardship and soaring prices for basic necessities.
Last week, Ruto signed into law a finance bill which is expected to generate more than $2.1 billion for the government’s depleted coffers and help repair the heavily indebted economy.
The Finance Act provides for new taxes or increases on a range of basic goods such as fuel and food and mobile money transfers, as well as a controversial levy on all tax-paying Kenyans to fund a housing scheme.
– ‘Excessive force’ –
Previous protests have sometimes descended into violence and looting, with two people killed in separate clashes between police and demonstrators in March.
Amnesty International’s Kenya chapter said Friday that it had “received reports of arbitrary arrests of protesters in Nairobi and Western Kenya and selective excessive force” deployed by police.
A coalition of rights organisations, including the Kenya Human Rights Commission, said their representatives saw “protesters being dragged on the ground while others were being carried to the police vehicles to be transported to police stations”.
“We have witnessed the police, yet again, lobbing tear gas to otherwise peaceful protesters, arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters and brutally handling them,” campaigners said, condemning “the excessive and arbitrary use of force by police”.
Odinga’s Azimio alliance said they would hold another rally in Nairobi on Wednesday, calling for “nationwide demonstrations”.
Critics accuse Ruto of rowing back on promises made during his election campaign, when he declared himself the champion of impoverished Kenyans and pledged to improve their economic fortunes.
But the 56-year-old rags-to-riches businessman has defended the taxes, saying they will help create jobs and reduce public borrowing.
– Court challenge –
The high court in Nairobi last Friday suspended implementation of the legislation after a senator filed a case challenging its constitutional legality.
Despite the ruling, Kenya‘s energy regulator later that day announced a hike in pump prices to take account of the doubling of VAT to 16 percent as stipulated in the law.
In Nairobi’s central business district, where main government buildings are located, police were patrolling on foot, in vehicles and on horseback, while several roads in the capital were closed.
“I hope this demo will make a difference,” Alex Dwisa, a 24-year-old manual worker, said.
“The cost of living is too high, I don’t have 10k (10,000 Kenyan shillings/$70) to send my two kids to school.”
The protests have been dubbed “Saba Saba” (Seven Seven) as they are taking place on the seventh day of the seventh month, symbolising the day in 1990 that the opposition rose up to demand the return of multi-party democracy.