Violence rocks Nairobi CBD as protestors reject spending plan

Protesters make signs with their arms in front of Kenya police officers during a demonstration against tax hikes on June 18, 2024. [AFP]

Teargas, running battles, heavy police presence and arrest of protestors characterised Tuesday’s demonstrations as Kenyans came out in large numbers to oppose the Finance Bill 2024.

Journalists were among those injured during the demos held in Nairobi where hundreds of activists were arrested, as they complained of police using excessive force to disperse an otherwise peaceful procession.

For the better part of the day, business premises remained closed in the Central Business District.

Following an altercation with the police, protesters chanted down the government for being insensitive and not even frequent lobbying of teargas canisters stopped them from participating.

This came as the US embassy issued an alert, urging its citizens to exercise caution owing to the Finance Bill protests in Nairobi.

“Organisers have stated that the events are intended to be peaceful.  However, large public gatherings can turn violent at any moment.  It is recommended to remain vigilant and aware of circumstances and avoid large gatherings.  Traffic disruptions are expected,” the alert stated.

The embassy also urged its citizens to, among other things, avoid protest areas and demonstrations, monitor local media for updates and to review their personal security plans.

“Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists/foreigners. Have travel documents up to date and easily accessible, carry proper identification, including a US passport with a current Kenyan visa and have evacuation plans that do not rely on US government assistance,” said the embassy in the advisory.

At the same time, Law Society of Kenya (LSK) condemned the police for disrupting the demonstrations, particularly, Nairobi Region Police Commander, Adamson Bungei, for ignoring a notification of the protest by organisers.

LSK President, Faith Odhiambo threatened to take legal redress against Bungei and any other officers who violated the rights of protestors for interfering the protests in Nairobi and condemned what she described as outright contempt by the police.

There was heavy police presence across the CBD, who dispersed crowds while others barricaded Parliament Road to avoid protestors from accessing the area.

“It has been brought to the attention of LSK that the Nairobi Region Police Commander has instructed officers under his command to interfere with the peaceful protests organised by Kenyans outside Parliament Buildings over the Finance Bill. The running battles and use of teargas on protesters that we have seen images of this morning are a despicable affront to the rule of law,” she said, in a statement.

The LSK termed it as unfortunate that  Bungei, on a frolic of his own, chose to ignore a notification of the protest from the organisers under the guise of lack of form and directed him to retract a statement claiming to call off the protests.

Odhiambo sounded a warning to Bungei and all officers acting under his command from taking any act of aggression against the protestors in the name of giving effect to this unlawful, unreasonable, and irrational directive.

“Kindly note that should you proceed to disregard our request, we will initiate court proceedings against you based on the doctrine of command responsibility and proceed to seek orders holding you personally liable for harm caused by the police to protesters,” Odhiambo said in a letter to Bungei.

Attempts by the LSK to intervene over the arrests were thwarted as police teargassed them.

“Police have decided to teargas advocates and LSK council members who were at the Central Police Station seeking the release of innocent protestors. ‘‘This is a new low for the police service. Our resolve remains unchanged, we must stamp out impunity,” Odhiambo said.