Two imposing police trucks bearing water cannons stand side by side like a pair of fearsome giant warriors. All around, stones bedeck the tarmac and the choking stench of tear gas pervades the air.
This was Stage Two in Kawangware, Nairobi, yesterday — a veritable battlefield. Abandoned shoes, worn-out t-shirts and used tear gas canisters captured the pitched battle between Opposition supporters and anti-riot police officers.
The two antagonists, for the 20 minutes that the battle lasted, ceased to be united by the common blood of motherland Kenya and came to blows in a life-and-death struggle for the right of way.
Each possessing a strong will to show their might, the rubber literally met the road. Azimio supporters on one side and the police on the other, none was willing to blink first but one side had to give and it was the former.
The isolated area was the climax of the second Monday of anti-government protests where tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and police batons meted violence on Opposition supporters.
Azimio leader Raila Odinga, in his characteristic beige combat gear with hordes of his supporters in toe and a section of Opposition leaders in the entourage, was in his element in an area where he enjoys near-fanatical following.
The former premier had about an hour earlier emerged from Chungwa House in neighbouring Lavington — around 1.30pm — making his way to the informal settlement. He showed no signs of anger or edginess. He was calmness personified.
Unlike last Monday when he had been holed up in the city centre, this time round, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM )party leader had escaped the dragnet of the anti-riot police. Nonetheless, some plainclothes officers had pitched camp outside the gate in their conspicuous Subaru car.
The veteran Opposition leader had kept many guessing of his whereabouts until towards 1pm when word went around that he would surface from Lavington and not Serena Hotel as was the case last Monday.
In his black Lexus, he quickly made his way into Covent Road towards Kawangware as a crowd started gathering along the way. Mr Odinga was out in a flash, giving us no chance to elbow our way in and sneak a quick word with him.
Barricading the road
However, armed to the teeth and menacing in their approach, the anti-riot police officers swiftly moved into action, barricading the road as the Azimio leaders attempted to break through.
The police hurled tear gas canisters and volleys of water cannons in every direction, sending the leaders and their supporters scampering to into cars and alleyways under a thick cloud of tear gas and volleys of water while the crowd retaliated with a barrage of stones.
Not even a battery of local and foreign journalists were spared as their vehicles were targeted.
Amid the melee, a police car was burnt by the protesters but no one was injured in the process.
The police had won the battle but not the war. After the battle at Stage Two, the leaders later regrouped and traversed Kawangware, braving through plumes of tear gas.
At every stop, Mr Odinga was quick to tell his supporters to join him in compelling President William Ruto’s government to lower the high cost of living.
“Si mpaka bei ya unga ishuke? (Don’t you agree with me that the price of unga must come down?)” he posed the question rhetorically, his voice booming in the loudspeaker as his supporters vociferously cheered him on.
Kawangware was a place of contrast though. Gatina, Stage 46 and 56, and Congo were characterised by running battles from agitated youth who spent the better part of the day trying to overrun the police. Little business went on because of the combination of fear of looting and some traders joining in the protests.
However, the other side of the sprawling informal settlement neighbouring Riruta, Satellite and Dagoretti Corner remained relatively calm with shops and stalls opened while matatus also plying their routes.
The only time the stretch experienced tension is when the Opposition convoy made its way towards Ngong Road through Naivasha Road before being repelled by police and turned towards the Jamhuri area.
The skyline around Dagoretti Corner for minutes turned white as police officers used all the tear gas at their disposal to repel the surging youth.
Down but not out, the leaders together with their supporters turned towards Jamhuri Showground before making their way to Mr Odinga’s political “bedroom”, Kibra, minutes after 4pm.
Here, he did not let the weariness of the day show as he continued to ask his political nemesis, President Ruto, to lower the cost of living, open the servers of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to audit the results of the 2022 General Election, and stop the ongoing recruitment of new IEBC commissioners.
But as the Opposition leader traversed the capital in defiance, an armed group invaded a vast property owned by the family of former President Uhuru Kenyatta — whom a section of Kenya Kwanza leaders has accused of financing the weekly anti-government protests — in Kamakis on the Eastern Bypass.
The protesters, who were chanting Mau Mau slogans, could be heard saying that they too are Kenyans and deserve to own land just like the Kenyatta family.
The gang also burnt trees and bushes. Guards employed to take care of the land watched from a distance as the drama unfolded. Armed police officers present did not intervene to stop the looting.
Mr Odinga’s properties were also not spared as thugs attacked a company linked to the Odinga family, East Africa Spectre Ltd, in Industrial Area.
The Azimio leader condemned the invasions of both his company and the Kenyatta farm.
He maintained that the Azimio outfit remained resolute in its quest and called upon his supporters to show up for peaceful demonstrations on Thursday.
“I am confident that we will succeed in our quest to have President William Ruto heed to our demands,” he said.
However, this story cannot be complete without beginning from where it all started. Early in the morning, anti-riot and General Service Unit officers erected roadblocks on every road into the city centre.
The mission was simple; make sure no protesters made their way into the city centre — and they succeeded.
Unlike last week where bands of rioters managed to sneak into the city centre, this time the capital city was calm as the police managed to keep the demonstrators at bay. Not even a rat suspected to be pro-Opposition could sneak into the city centre.
Meticulously executed, the Central Business District remained a near-ghost town. Most shops remained closed and only a handful of vehicles ferried commuters to the city.
On Sunday, Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome banned the demonstrations, saying, Mr Odinga had not been granted permission to hold the protests.
“I ask all Kenyans to go on with their business as usual. We are out to ensure that more officers are stationed in different parts of the city to deal with any chaos,” Mr Koome said.
He noted that police officers would not bow to intimidation and would instead work hard to keep the environment conducive for business.
Mr Koome accused the Opposition of stoking chaos, arguing there are other ways to have their grievances addressed.
But Mr Odinga was hearing none of the threats from the government, announcing that he will continue leading the anti-government protests.
As minutes turned into hours, palpable tension began to build across the city with residents in informal settlements showing little patience. Unlike across the swanky suburbs where relative calm characterised operations, there was tension galore in the poorer neighbourhoods, particularly areas where the Opposition enjoys massive support.
Kibra, Kawangware and Mathare stood out as youths lit bonfires and barricaded roads.
This was in stark contrast to the affluent neighbourhoods of Lavington, Kileleshwa, Kitisuru, which maintained studious silence.
Here, empty roads save for some vehicles, boda boda operators with a handful of pedestrians could be seen. Some businesses remained opened with no police present.
In Westlands, matatus plied their routes oblivious of the storm in neighbouring Kwangware and Kangemi. For them, it was a normal working day, save for being a tad too slow.
Along Ngong Road, GSU officers were strategically stationed closing ways into and out of Kibra. The police had ringed-in the protesters, containing them within the slum but not venturing in.
Haile Selassie Avenue, Kenyatta Avenue, Moi Avenue and Tom Mboya Street, all battered by the protesters last week, saw little action this time round.
The usually packed “jobless corner” outside the former Hilton Hotel was empty with GSU officers taking over the benches.
The usually grid-locked Thika Road was clear with countable vehicles dotting the superhighway. Outside Mathari Hospital, GSU officers patrolled the area.
At NYS headquarters, NYS officers with rungus lined the fence as they observed the road. At GSU headquarters, commonly known as Allsops, business was going on as usual.
We made our way along Outer Ring Road and the same scenario was witnessed although business was subdued.
But it was not until Juja Road where the smell of teargas dominated the air. Just outside Moi Airbase, pockets of youth engaged police officers as they tried to block the road by lighting bonfires.
It turned into a cat-and-mouse game as the rowdy youth threw stones at the officers chanting “Ruto must go”.
The road soon became full of stones as the anti-riot police officers repulsed the protesters into the estates charging at them with batons. Stones flew from all corners.
A late entrant into elective politics, Mr Odinga, popularly known as Baba or Agwambo by his diehards, has developed into a thorn in the flesh of successive governments since the era of President Daniel Moi. He is now at the stage of his political career where every move must be well-calculated as he nears retirement.