Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga on Wednesday cancelled the planned rally at Kamukunji grounds, Nairobi, on a day of high drama and chaos where several people were shot, roads closed and shops looted.
Raila, unlike in the past did not venture into the streets but addressed a press conference where he claimed the Kenya Kwanza government orchestrated a sinister plan to unleash armed goons to disrupt the Kamukunji rally.
“Late last night, we received intelligence of a heinous plan by Kenya Kwanza to ferry armed goons to attack peaceful attendees of our rally in Kamukunji. These goons had express orders to shoot directly into the crow while enjoying police protection,” claimed the Azimio leader.
In light of the said intelligence, Raila was forced to cancel the Kamukunji rally which was to culminate in peaceful demonstrations in the central business district.
“In order to protect our people and avert more injury and loss of lives, we have taken the strategic decision not to proceed with the rally at Kamukunji this afternoon. In any case, the people have made the point,” he said.
The Azimio leader said their crew, dispatched to set up the rally stage in Kamukunji, was attacked during the early morning hours, resulting in damage to equipment and arrests.
There were reports of deaths in Mololongo, Emali and Kitengela where protestors battled with the police. Protesters vandalised Quickmart supermarket while some goons raided Eastmatt supermarket in Kitengela.
Three protesters were shot by police after they were found vandalising the Nairobi Expressway at Mlolongo. Earlier, the Nairobi Expressway was closed at Mlolongo, Syokimau and Standard Gauge Railway toll stations due to anti-government protests.
Raila’s remarks come in the backdrop of chaos that descended on Pumwani residents in a terrifying ordeal where vandals wreaked havoc after a prolonged confrontation with the police, in attempts to access Kamukunji grounds.
While many businesses had prudently closed their doors following Azimio’s declaration of demonstrations, those who remained open suffered significant losses as vandals looted their establishments.
Amid the turmoil, pedestrians found themselves in the crosscurrents of lawlessness, falling victim to vandals’ brazen acts of robbery. Some were violently tackled to the ground, while others suffered indignity of torn clothing, marking the extent of the ruthlessness.
The majority of looting occurred within an approximate one-kilometre stretch between two police barricades, revealing the authorities’ failure to contain the unruly youths and protect citizens.
These distressing events serve as a stark reminder of how criminals exploit unrest, using confrontations with law enforcement as an opportunity to create chaos and engage in acts of violence, ultimately leading to the pillaging of businesses and disruption of public order.
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By noon all roads leading to Kamukunji grounds were blocked by a visible wall of violence in form of burning tires, teargas and mayhem. Access from Jogoo Road was impossible while that from Eastleigh led straight to another dead end leading to deadly confrontations between police and rioters.
To those watching from a from a distance, the historic grounds where the first Saba Saba meeting took place looked like a figantic chimney.
Following the incident, Raila castigated the police for orchestrating violence arguing that his two visits to Nairobi CBD on Monday and Tuesday witnessed no chaos despite there being thousands of people in his impromptu meetings.
The growing public dissent captained by the opposition left Nairobi without much activity, businesses closed and different areas of the country rocked with chaos.
Raila expressed solidarity with the people, stating that they deserve a deal, not bullets and tear gas. He highlighted the need for President William Ruto to demonstrate willingness to listen to and respect the will of the people, stressing that Kenyans understood the potential consequences of allowing such “disrespect, dictatorship, and contempt for the people” to go unchecked.
“This struggle is not about Azimio or any party in particular. This is about Kenyans refusing to move on until they get a good deal. We agreed with them that this time round, there is no moving on until Ruto comes out openly and agrees to repeal the Finance Act 2023 and embark on other measures to lower cost of living,” Raila said.
Furthermore, the Azimio leader outlined key demands, including a bipartisan reconstitution of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and an end to President Ruto’s “interference with other political parties.”
He reminded Kenyans of the sacrifices made during the fight for multiparty democracy and a new Constitution, underscoring the importance of preserving the gains achieved.
In Mlolongo, which turned one of the epicentres of violence, protestors overwhelmed the police and broke into the Nairobi Expressway toll station at Syokimau where they destroyed the barrier, broke he cameras and took off with one of the safes.
The destruction caused closure of sections of the Expressway as Mololongo became inaccessible and motorists had to terminate their journey at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and use the ordinary toll free highway.
Meanwhile, after a five-day break, the Azimio leaders were expected back on the streets to lead protests, as they had earlier announced.
Nairobi was among the counties to watch after the opposition leaders told their supporters they would converge at the historic Kamukunji grounds.
However, for the better part of the day, the CBD remained deserted with little activities and few shops opened.
Unlike other days when there were demonstrations, some residents arrived early in the city centre to avoid any inconveniences.
Notably, residents thronged bus stops as early as 6am to board matatus to various destinations.
Earlier, there were fears that matatus would be unavailable after the operators threatened to strike over the government’s directive to retest drivers.
“People were in stages today much earlier than usual, I think they want to avoid any inconveniences during the day,” Alex Kimathi, a matatu driver along Mombasa road, told The Standard.
Several people who work in industries along Mombasa road were spotted heading to work.
Lang’ata Road, Ngong Road, Jogoo Road, and Thika road, were busy in the morning.
In estates, some parents were spotted accompanying their children to school, while others were picked by school vans.
However, some schools, had alerted parents that normal learning will be suspended until Thursday.
By 6:30am anti-riot police officers were stationed on various entrances to the city centre including National Archives, Railways, Uhuru Park Junction, Ngara and University Way
Notably, several parking spaces in the CBD remained unoccupied.
Downtown was a beehive of activity with some shops, supermarkets, and hotels open. Muthurwa and Wakulima markets were busy as usual. The opposition has insisted that the protests are aimed at pushing the government to address the high cost of living, and fuel prices among others.
Late in the evening, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki termed Wednesday a day of shame, violence and impunity. He said Nairobi and a few other towns witnessed widespread violence, looting and destruction of property.
He said the government would not sit back, but investigate the chaos and arrest those responsible.