Raila says Kenyans united against punitive taxes and police brutality

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga addressing the International Press Association at Kempinsky Hotel in Nairobi.  [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Kenyans long wait for a possible return to what was once an easy life when basic commodities and fuel were affordable might take longer to realise as politics takes precedence.

In a candid address to the International Press Association of East Africa (IPAEA) in Nairobi, yesterday, Azimio leader Raila Odinga expressed concern over police brutality during protests against the high cost of living.

Raila said despite Azimio initially initiating the demos they have transcended party, political and regional divides, becoming a united cause for Kenyans demanding relief from punitive taxation and lowering of cost of basic commodities.

He noted that the unbearable tax burden has transformed from a party issue to a collective concern. “After the passage of the Finance Act, Kenyans have defied party, political and regional divides and united to resist punitive taxation and demand lowering of the cost of basic commodities. That the tax burden is unbearable is no longer a party issue; it is a Kenyan issue,” he said.

However, in a statement to the Press, Interior PS Raymond Omollo dismissed the claims saying it is the police who were on the receiving end. He stated that more than 300 officers were seriously injured and one succumbed to the injuries.

“The new trend of negatively profiling, harassing and attacking security personnel saw a total of 305 offices injured and 1 fatality while executing the cardinal responsibility of protecting lives and property,” Dr Omollo said.

In the past month, amid a challenging business environment, low incomes, soaring cost of living, and a politically charged atmosphere, the government’s primary focus has been quelling the protests.

This has seen police arrest opposition leaders and violently disperse protesters leading to deaths and injuries.

Civil societies within and on the international stage are piling pressure on the government to address police brutality on protesters.

But President William Ruto has publicly ridiculed Azimio for calling anti-government protests saying they are sabotaging the economy and won’t lower the cost of living.

Yesterday, Raila said things have taken an ominous turn as the State’s response to the protests has led to unprecedented police brutality, and the “state resorting to armed militia to quell protests.”

“The response by the State to the protests has given way to something that now looks even more ominous than the high cost of living that the protests were initially about. We are witnessing unprecedented police brutality. We are also witnessing an unprecedented phenomenon of State resorting to armed militia to quell protests,” he said.

Raila said the Azimio leaders have visited hospitals and morgues, and the findings were deeply disturbing.

“We have established that police and hired gangs have shot and killed or wounded scores of people at close range. Some have been shot from the back as they fled or in a position of surrender,” he said.

“The shots have been aimed at the vital organs and delicate parts of the victims like the stomach, the spine, the heart, the chest and the head. All victims have been unarmed,” he added. The Azimio leader maintained that protests are protected by Section 37 of the Constitution and there is no legal basis for the police to intervene forcefully.

He castigated the use of live bullets against unarmed civilians and condemned the police’s excessive force in handling the protests.

Moreover, he expressed concern that the security forces appeared to be acting with partiality, focusing on specific ethnic groups and pursuing an ethnic agenda. This, he warned, could potentially lead the country into the formative stages of genocide and political persecution.

Following last week’s demonstrations, Nyalenda residents in Kisumu County found themselves in the hands of police officers who broke into their homes and unleashed violence, clobbering them and even shooting others.

“If the aim is to break up protests, then what is the justification for police to pull people out of their homes and shoot or clobber and kill them as is happening in parts of the country particularly in Kisumu and slums of Nairobi? When police follow you into your house and start clobbering or shooting, what are you supposed to do?” Posed the opposition leader.

“We expect security forces to carry out their duties and responsibilities with complete impartiality and without regard to ethnicity, political persuasion, or other partisan consideration,” he added.

This week will however see Azimio hold public vigil to mourn Kenyans killed by the police during the demos.

Kenya Kwanza leaders have criticised the move saying it’s another ploy by the opposition to secure political advantage and has nothing to do with Kenyans.

UDA Secretary General Cleophas Malala alleged that intelligence shows the vigils are meant to spark violence.

“We know you want to conduct criminal activities at night. Anyone who will propagate crime we want to tell them that the president has given the order that there will be safety at night,” said Malala.

As the situation unfolds, Kenyans remain caught in the crossfire between their demands for economic relief, politics and the government’s response to the protests.