Azimio demos

A police officer fires tear gas at rioting demonstrators in Mathare, Nairobi County, during anti-government demonstrations called by the opposition on 12 July 2023.

| Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Kisumu residents tell of renewed police brutality during Azimio protests

For an expansive estate that is usually busy and full of life, Nyalenda in Kisumu City was oddly silent on Saturday, July 22, 2023.

The new coat of tarmac meandering in the estate is not smooth. Rocks and charred remains of burnt tyres are all over the place. Teargas fumes hit the nose and cause an itchy feeling in the eyes.

Residents are huddled in small groups, speaking in hushed tones, most recounting the sad tales of the last three days of anti-government demonstrations that took a different dimension from what they are used to.

Police, or people who identified themselves as such, raided the slum, leaving many injured, traumatised and shocked.

While locals said previous cases involved police officers remaining on roads, it was not the case this week.

For Ms Selina Wycliffe, July 20 will be a constant reminder of police brutality.

Her seven-week and two-year-old children had an uncomfortable experience with fire and teargas.

Nyalenda fire

Sylvester Lumumba, a carpenter, shows the losses he suffered after a teargas canister blew up starting a fire at his workshop in Nyalenda in Kisumu on July 22, 2023.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

The day that had begun normally ended on a sour note at 4pm when her house caught fire.

That was after a uniformed police officer lobbed a teargas canister at her compound.

A workshop nearby went up in flames.

Ms Wycliffe told the Sunday Nation that she was in the house with the children and househelp when three officers kicked the metal gate open.

Two went behind the house while shouting that protesters had run into the compound. They left on finding nothing.

Protesters dispersed by anti-riot police along the Ring Road in Nyalenda, Kisumu

“Before they left, I heard a bang and when I peeped through the window, I saw the workshop near my house on fire,” she said.

By the time she got out, the fire had started consuming her house.

She quickly returned to the house and helped her children out. She was also shouting for help.

Luckily, some neighbours went to her rescue and helped extinguish the blaze.

She also contacted her husband at work.

“Getting to my house was not easy as police officers had barricaded most roads. Only the most daring residents dared use the main road,” the woman’s husband, Wycliffe Odera, said.

Two days after the incident, the couple’s two-year-old daughter is to come to terms with what happened.

Fidel Castro Ochieng’

Fidel Castro Ochieng’, 19, at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital in Kisumu on July 21, 2023. He had nine bullets lodged in his body. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

According to Ms Wycliffe, the young one can no longer stand any form of noise or shouting and cries when someone speaks loudly. She also covers her ears.

“This has been the case since the Thursday evening incident. She appears very traumatised,” she said.

Mr Sylvester Lumumba, the owner of the workshop that was reduced to ashes, said the fire started when a canister exploded on one of the seats.

The carpenter lost many seats, a motorcycle, bags of cement and tools.

Mr Steve Otieno, 24, said he is lucky to be alive after an encounter with “rogue police officers”.

He says a bullet was fired in his direction but it punctured a wall and ricocheted towards him. Mr Otieno added that a man in a white shirt and riding a motorcycle, fired towards him two times.

The bullet that hit the wall also hit him on the back of the head.

Mr Otieno insisted that he was not armed and does not know why he was shot at. He said he had gone to buy household items from a friend’s house since most shops had been shut.

He added that a 13-year-old girl was operated on to remove a rubber bullet in her chest at the hospital he had gone to seek treatment.

Steve Otieno

Steve Otieno shows rubber bullets and the cap he wore when he was shot by police with rubber bullets in Nyalenda, Kisumu on 22 July 2023. 

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

Mr Sylvance Okinda is also nursing wounds on his knees, back and arms he got through beatings by people he is sure were police officers.

The 25-year-old has not sought treatment though he cannot walk as his legs and arms are swollen.

Mr Rooney Omondi’s case is different.

The 24-year-old said he and two of his friends were attacked by five officers in uniform as they were having a chat in his house.

He said the police officers may have suspected that his house, which is near a feeder road, was being used by demonstrators as a hideout.

Three police officers ordered them to open the door, threatening to lob teargas canisters in if did not do as directed.

They broke into the one-room house when the occupants refused to open the door.

“We were given the beating of our lives. Only one of us escaped,” Mr Omondi said.

He added that the other friend was taken to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital with serious chest injuries.  Nyalenda locals said officers terrorised them from 8am to 9pm on those three days.

They attacked the residents with rubber or live bullets, teargas and batons, they say.  The residents of Nyalenda, Manyatta and Nyamasaria estates also said the officers direct the teargas canisters in their compounds, forcing them to flee before shooting.

“Very many children still have red itchy eyes, resulting from the teargas,” Ms Anne Atieno, another resident of Nyalenda, said.

Kisumu County Police Commander, Alphonse Kimathi, did not respond to the numerous phone calls and follow-up text messages.

The Sunday Nation wanted to Mr Kimathi to respond to the complaints of residents against uniformed officers and plainclothed people with teargas canisters and guns who reportedly attacked homes in Nyalenda, Obunga, Nyamasaria and Manyatta estates.

Video clips that have since gone viral appear to show police officers ejecting residents from their houses and subjecting them to all forms of torture.

Kisumu County Child Network Regional Coordinator, John Onyang, said many children had been badly affected by the teargas and gunshots.

“We have reliable reports of teargas canisters that were lobbed in school compounds as children attended lessons,” Mr Onyang said.

“There are cases of guardians and parents who have succumbed to or nursing gunshot wounds.”

He appealed to the country’s political leaders to end their differences through dialogue and other peaceful means, saying the demonstrations and the subsequent police reaction have led to unnecessary loss of lives, injuries and property destruction.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital administrator, Alex Ochieng, said 18 people with gunshot wounds had been treated at the centre on Friday.