Chaos, destruction, looting during protests in Kenya


Lerato Khumalo

Clouds of smoke and tear gas over Nairobi: During protests against a new tax law, demonstrators stormed the parliament in Kenya’s capital. But violence did not only occur there.

After peaceful protests, anger and violence exploded: Hundreds of demonstrators stormed the parliament in the Kenyan capital Nairobi in the afternoon.

Parts of the building were set on fire, furniture was destroyed, while media reports said MPs fled the building through basement corridors. Television images showed fences being pushed down.

In the late afternoon, the City Hall, the regional government building in Nairobi, was set on fire and partially looted, as television images showed. Looting and burning vehicles, as well as peaceful demonstrations, were also reported from other parts of the country.

A highly controversial tax law was put to a vote in parliament. Many people fear that the law will further increase the cost of living. Churches and business representatives have also spoken out against the law.

Kenyan President William Ruto has blamed “organized criminals” for storming parliament. The protests were infiltrated and subverted, Ruto said in a televised address.

“Kenya has experienced an attack on democracy and the rule of law today,” Ruto continued. “Today’s events are a turning point in how we respond to serious threats to our national security.” The government has mobilized all resources at its disposal to ensure that the incidents are not repeated, the president said. Defense Minister Aden Duale has already announced that the military will be deployed to support the police.

According to the Kenyan Human Rights Commission, a demonstrator was fatally shot when police fired shots in front of parliament. At least three people suffered gunshot wounds. According to unconfirmed reports, the number of people killed could be significantly higher. Participants in the protests reported eight to ten deaths on social media, but there were no official figures until early evening.

Hospitals and medical organizations reported numerous injuries, but were unable to provide a total number. Television images showed the arrival of numerous emergency vehicles at Kenyatta Hospital, Nairobi’s largest hospital.

The protests began peacefully in the morning. As in the previous week, the police, who had cordoned off large areas of the streets around the parliament building, cracked down hard on demonstrators. They used tear gas and water cannons as well as live ammunition. Several human rights organizations have repeatedly sharply criticized the actions of the security forces. Journalists and lawyers were also attacked and hindered in their work.

Kenyan media outlets reported in the afternoon that they had been threatened with closure by government officials because of their coverage of the protests.

The protest movement that has developed over the past two weeks is mainly driven by young people who have organized themselves through social media. Kenya has a high rate of youth unemployment. Even many well-educated college or university graduates cannot find work.

Since taking office two years ago, Kenya’s President William Ruto has introduced a series of new taxes to improve the strained financial situation of the East African country. In view of the planned further tax burdens, many Kenyans fear an increase in their cost of living that is almost impossible to manage, while entrepreneurs and business people expect significant losses in view of declining purchasing power.