Anti-tax demos: How tear gas choked youthful protester to death in Mombasa

Emmanuel Tata

Emmanuel Tata, who died after inhaling tear gas at Mwembe Tayari in Mombasa County during protests against the Finance Bill 2024.

Photo credit: Pool

As youth protesters marched through Mombasa City's Central Business District on Tuesday, June 25, 2024, against the Finance Bill 2024/2025, Emmanuel Giggs Tata, 20, could never have imagined that he would become part of the statistics of lives lost in the nationwide protests.

At the Barclays roundabout, Emmanuel was dancing with his friends to make their point, just minutes before police began firing tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Samson Mwasa Nzamba, his cousin, said tragedy struck just as Emmanuel decided to make his way home.

A tear gas canister was thrown in their direction and he inhaled the gas and started struggling to breathe.

"The police fired tear gas canisters from both sides after cornering us. By then Giggs was unable to walk and told me that the tear gas had got into his lungs and he was having difficulty breathing," he said.

Emmanuel's father, Mr Paul Tata, said his son had just returned home from Meru National Polytechnic. He said he was trying to raise the school fees required for him to resume his studies in July.

"I would just like to ask the President to dialogue with the youth. I raised Giggs in the struggle, along with his sister. I made it possible for him to go to university and now his life has been cut short. He was my friend, not just my son," said Mr Tata, overcome with emotion at the loss of his son, whom he named after former Manchester United player Ryan Giggs.

The family has appealed for help from the government and well-wishers to give their son a proper send-off.

A number of people have been admitted to the Coast General Teaching and Referral Hospital with gunshot wounds and other injuries.

Sources at the hospital said as of Tuesday evening, one person was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital, another was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and about nine others were admitted with serious gunshot wounds.

"They had gunshot wounds, some in the neck, others in the hands and other parts of the body. The severity of the injuries depended largely on where they were shot," said an official at the hospital, requesting anonymity.

According to the official, some of the patients' bones were shattered by the impact of the bullets, especially those who were shot in their limbs.

One of the patients, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, said his mobile phone saved him from death after he was shot several times.

The protester said he was shot in the arm and thigh, but his phone in his pocket absorbed the impact of a bullet.

"We were demonstrating peacefully before the police provoked the protesters by throwing tear gas (canisters) at us. When they started firing live bullets, I was hit on my arm and thigh, where my phone took the hit for me. It still has a bullet hole in it," he said.

Another victim, Mr Jonah Shikoli, 21, was lucky to survive a bullet that hit him in the back.

Live bullets

"I was in a lot of pain when I was brought in yesterday (June 25), but I was taken care of and now I am feeling better. I am waiting to be taken back to the theatre to have a bullet removed from my body. It's sad that the police used live bullets; what I pray for is peace," said Mr Shikoli, who works as a beautician in Mombasa.

He said another young man with whom he was travelling in an ambulance on the way to hospital was pronounced dead on arrival.

At the time of the interview, Mr Shikoli was on an underwater seal chest tube, a system that helps drain fluid from outside the lungs to help the patient breathe.

In another ward of the hospital, Mr Silas Oliech, 30, a mason from Changamwe, said he was returning home after an unsuccessful job search when he encountered the chaos.

He and another Kenyan in the ward, who did not want his identity revealed for fear of intimidation, were shot in the arms and were recovering after the bullets were removed from their bodies.

"I just ask the Kenyan government not to use such violence against its people. I was running away when people were in a chase with the police in the CBD and when they shot at us, my arm was hit. I am better now that it has been removed," said Mr Oliech.

According to Human Rights Agenda, a human rights activist organisation, about 15 youths were injured in Tuesday's anti-Finance Bill, 2024 protests.

Mombasa Governor Abdulswamad Nassir visited the patients on Tuesday evening and said the county government would waive fees for the treatment of the protesters.

Mr Nassir, who had earlier clashed with police officers on the street for violently dispersing protesters, confirmed that 11 people had been taken to the referral hospital with gunshot wounds, but some were treated and discharged while one succumbed to his injuries.