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Lakeside city faces an uphill task of healing wounds inflicted by political violence.

By Kevine Omollo | Published Thu, December 28th 2017 at 01:00, Updated December 28th 2017 at 12:08 GMT +3
A protester brandishing a portrait of a politician demonstrates near a burning road barricade at Kenya Re area on May 14, 2017 morning. [Photo by Denish Ochieng/Standard]

From loss of lives and property, displacement of people, disruption of business, and psychological trauma, the memories of 2017 will haunt Kisumu city as the year comes to an end.

Even though the city faces an uphill task of healing from the ordeal of political violence, some residents have expressed confidence that the city will soon be up and standing.

Others are, however, pessimistic due to remarks by some politicians that the fight for electoral reforms was still on.

In an interview with the local media, National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga renewed calls to his supporters to remain steadfast as he got into the homestretch of his swearing-in.

Raila claimed that the Opposition had now accessed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) servers for the August 8, presidential election and had evidence that he trounced President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The low moments for Kisumu date back to late 2016, when the Opposition agitating for electoral reforms, with the removal of the then commissioners taking centre stage.

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But 2017 became the peak of violent demonstrations that saw several people killed or injured and life generally disrupted.

Even after the removal of the Ahmed Issack Hassan-led electoral commissioners in October 2016, the delay in constituting a new team and the pending reforms raised by the Opposition saw the demonstrations persist.

Kisumu, seen as the bedrock of Opposition politics, bore the brunt of police action against the many anti-IEBC demonstrations. And only a handful of the demonstrations ended without deaths, injuries, and disruption of business.

According to reports from the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, 20 bodies were received at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu between August 8 and 25.

The reports also show that between October 2 and 16, at least 91 people were treated at the same hospital, with 12 of them having gunshot wounds.

But the death of six-month-old Samantha Pendo due to police brutality in Nyalenda remains one of the most painful moment for Kisumu residents.

Identify perpetrators

The baby, who was reportedly hit on the head by police, died three days later while receiving treatment at the Aga Khan Hospital, prompting a public outcry that saw a public inquest set up to help identify the perpetrators. The inquest will begin its sittings on January 8, 2018.

Another death that shocked many was that of 18-year-old Michael Okoth, a Form Four candidate at Vihiga High School, who was allegedly shot in the throat by police during anti-IEBC demonstrations.

“It is true that Kisumu went through a very tough moment, and we do not want the situation to spill over to the New Year. Let 2018 be a year of healing and justice,” said Kisumu City Residents Voice Association Chairman Audi Ogada.

He added: “We have records of people who moved from the town because of the violence and those who lost their beloved ones. 2017 was basically a year of terror for the residents of Kisumu.”

According to the Kenya National Union of Teachers' Kisumu County branch treasurer, Ephraim Kanang’a, the ongoing political suspense might worsen.

“There is still talk of the swearing-in by the NASA leadership, and this continues to increase tension among parents, teachers, and learners, especially those who were affected by the political violence preceding the elections,” said Mr Kanang’a.

According to the region's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, investors experienced low moments in eight of the year's 12 months.

“It all started in the fierce party primaries which saw violence and demonstrations that affected businesses. In most cases businesses could only stock little merchandise for fear of looting and destruction,” said the branch chairman, Israel Agina.

Looting and destruction

He said the hospitality, transport, and construction industries suffered the most.

“Kisumu has been a supplier to most counties in western Kenya, but once business was interrupted, most people started looking to other places for stocks. In the hotel industry most conferences were transferred to other areas in the wake of reports of political violence,” he said.

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