The police yesterday lobbed teargas canisters to break a demonstration at the Nyali Bridge crossing where protesters were opposing an order that gave Kenya Railways (KR) monopoly to transport all import cargo from the Port of Mombasa.
Twenty people were arrested.
It was the third time protesters in Mombasa were rising up against the decision favouring KR to transport all import cargo at concessionary rates through the Standard Gauge Railways (SGR) freight services.
Coast politicians, scholars and activists want the flow of cargo controlled by market forces and argue that the decree has shrunk Mombasa's economy by 12 per cent and wrecked the transport and logistics sectors leading to job losses.
Yesterday, the protesters were stopped as they tried to march from Nyali towards the office of the Coast Regional Coordinator on Mombasa Island to present a memorandum.
Last Thursday, local leaders led by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir met Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and his Interior counterpart Fred Matiang'i in Nairobi to plead for a reversal of the decree.
The Transport CS later announced the order had been suspended, but local leaders wishing for immediate results doubted the State's sincerity and took to the streets to pile pressure on the Government.
The police pounced on the group, teargassed and arrested dozens as the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) and the umbrella body for the private cargo stations reported the Transport CS's order was being implemented.
We established that by yesterday KPA had allowed 1,114 containers to Container Freight Stations (CFSs) but it was unclear whether this will satisfy demand.
Yesterday, KPA MD Dan Manduku suggested that the demonstrators were either dishonest or had misunderstood how the port operates.
"This order (by the Transport CS) came on Thursday and we have a 14-day plan in the shipping sector. We had to consult shipping lines and by Saturday we had begun nominating cargo to the private stations," said Manduku who indicated that by yesterday most CFSs' had received 74 containers each or more.
But the activists remained undaunted, arguing that the claims are not true or that there is danger of the Government going back on its word when pressure dies down.
Those who were arrested included Executive Director of Haki Africa Hussein Khalid, Mathias Shipeta (Rapid Response Officer), Michael Musembi (field officer) and Mr Francis Auma of Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri).
Several human rights activists and sympathisers, including the Mvita MP, rushed to Nyali Police Station following the arrest of the activists.
Mr Nassir said the Government had lied that it had suspended the directive to have all Nairobi-bound cargo ferried via SGR.
He said the directive had not been effected on the ground, and vowed to organise fresh pickets on Monday.
Speaking outside the Nyali Police Station, chairman of the Fast Action Business Movement Salim Karima said they were taken aback by the police action despite having notified them of the impending demonstration.
"We will not be intimidated by police action. We have been peaceful in our street protests and have always followed the law. There is no amount of intimidation that will scare us from achieving our goal," Salim said.
Ms Salma Ahmed, deputy executive director at Haki Africa, said there was no offence that civil rights activists had committed during the protest march.
Civil society activists dismissed the announcement on suspension of the SGR order, alleging that while they welcomed the announcement, it remained an illegality that cannot be suspended but rescinded instead.
Meanwhile, KPA managers and industry players said yesterday Government confirmed the resumption of nomination of containers to private CFSs from last Sunday.
Business people said there was hope of business being revived in the port city.
The KPA management confirmed trucks were picking up cargo from the port although it was at a slow pace and was hoped to improve by next week.
Yesterday, Container Freight Stations Association chief executive officer Daniel Nzeki confirmed that each CFS was allocated 74 containers on Sunday, giving a ray of hope that they may get back their businesses.
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