Maandamano: Chaos, rebellion as Kenyans protest over high cost of living

Photo credit: Nation Media Group

Chaos. Anarchy. Disarray. Unruliness. Mutiny. Rebellion. Six words that define the scenes witnessed across the country on Wednesday as thousands protested against the high cost of living and the Finance Act, 2023. But six words that, in the context of the civil unrest, are scant definitions or descriptions of the wave of violence that engulfed the country on a day that President William Ruto was hosting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, and on the day that Azimio leader Raila Odinga vowed to lead the nation in a protest movement against the ruling Kenya Kwanza’s policies.

In the end, Mr Odinga did not need to physically lead the demonstrations. He did not even need to make his signature appearance at Kamukunji Grounds in the city atop his car. For in the six-or-so-hours between sunrise and the time he called a press briefing to announce the cancellation of the Kamukunji rally, parts of the country had already ground to a halt. Mobs of rioters had disobeyed a police directive not to venture out and protest, and they had been met with brute police force. There were reports of seven deaths as scores were injured.


 Women in Gesore, on the outskirts of Nyamira town, hold a sufuria during anti-government protests on July 12, 2023. 

Photo credit: Ruth Mbula | Nation Media Group

In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the boom-boom of gun salutes had echoed from the lawns of State House in Nairobi as President Ruto welcomed Mr Raisi. Barely a kilometre away on Ngong Road, a bunch of young men had sneaked out of Kibra and were heading towards the city for a face-off with the police. In Kisii, rioters were already on the streets, as they were in Mombasa, Kisumu, Nyeri, Murang’a and Nakuru.

These contrasting images were a remarkable commentary of the two worlds in Kenya; one where the rule of law and order carried the day, and the other where civil disobedience brought economies, livelihoods, and even lives, to a violent end. One where the President was unperturbed by the disorder outside the gate to his office and was in fact on a diplomatic foray, and one where thousands poured to the streets, burning tyres, ejecting passengers from matatus, chanting anti-government slogans and engaging police officers in day-long running battles.

Raila cancels Kamukunji rally, says armed goons sent to attack Azimio leaders

If Kisii was the poster child of a region engulfed in total chaos and pandemonium, the small settlement of Mlolongo on the outskirts of the city was the epicentre of riots that disrupted transport, vandalised the Nairobi Expressway, and generally caused mayhem. So bad was the violence in Mlolongo that the ‘Nation’ team there reported the deployment of what appeared to be Recce Squad officers, the special, highly trained police unit from Ruiru that has in recent days only been deployed on VIP protection assignments and anti-terror operations.

Video footage from the scene showed the burnt shells of a pick-up truck and what appeared to be a small truck upturned in the middle of the road. In the far distance, the dividing wall of the expressway had been vandalised, the iron fence looted and the thousands of flowers lining it crashed onto the scorched tarmac.

Mlolongo is strategic as it sits on the transport corridor from Mombasa through Nairobi to Western Kenya and the Great Lakes region. Thousands of trucks pass through here every day, ferrying cargo to and from the East African hinterland, and the blockade on this crucial transport artery could have led to the loss of millions of shillings and a logistical nightmare for traders beyond the Kenyan borders.

But the violence was not restricted to Nairobi, as at least 20 counties, including those in Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s Mt Kenya backyard, joined in the anti-government protests. Mobs poured into the streets in Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Nyeri, affecting business and disrupting transport in a region that voted overwhelmingly for the Ruto administration in the last elections, and where the President still enjoys considerable support.

At Sironga-Mabundu junction in Nyamira, protesters chant "punda amechoka".

Photo credit: Ruth Mbula | Nation Media Group

The scenes here were a drastic departure from those witnessed last week during the Azimio protests, when just a handful showed up for a march organised by Mr Odinga’s running mate in the last elections, Ms Martha Karua, in her Kirinyaga backyard.

In Nairobi, Moja Expressway Company, the firm that runs the Nairobi Expressway, announced the closure of sections of the road, but normal traffic flow resumed shortly after 5pm last evening. ‘Nation’ reporters at the scene reported that at least three people had been seriously injured in the melee. Some reports indicated that the three had died of gunshot wounds, but the ‘Nation’ could not independently verify the claims by the time of going to press.

In the neighbouring Kajiado in Kitengela area, rioters torched the offices of an assistant deputy commissioner and a local chief and destroyed an unknown number of uncollected identity cards and government documents. The Kitengela rioters also broke into the Eastmatt Supermarket.

A few kilometres away, a mob attempted to overrun the Kitengela Police Station but was repulsed by sentries at the gate. Three police officers were injured in the confrontation while two civilians sustained gunshot wounds. The protesters had overpowered heavily armed regular police officers, who called for backup from their Kitengela Prison colleagues.

Anti-riot police take cover after protesters overpowered them in Wote, Makueni

Scenes of violence were reported in at least 20 counties across the country — Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Meru, Kisii, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Kakamega, Nyamira, Homa Bay, Machakos, Makueni, Kajiado, Kilifi, Laikipia and Trans Nzoia.

In the Mt Kenya region, sporadic violence was reported in Meru, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, and Laikipia. In Meru, the protesters were joined by Ms Karua, former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, and embattled Jubilee Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni; while former Laikipia governor Ndiritu Muriithi led protests in Nyahururu town.

Blocked Embu-Kutus road

In Kirinyaga County, protesters blocked the Embu-Kutus road to demand the resignation of President Ruto, saying he had failed to revive the economy and bring down the cost of living as he had promised during last year’s campaigns.

In the President’s Rift Valley backyard, protests erupted in Nakuru, Trans Nzoia and Kajiado. In Nakuru, demonstrators poured into various parts of Nakuru West and East, blocking roads and lighting bonfires.

protests kenya bullet man

A protesting youth holds a bullet shell as he screams during anti-government protests in Shabab estate, Nakuru, on July 12, 2023.

Photo credit: Boniface Mwangi | Nation Media Group

For the first time since Mr Odinga started calling for the civil unrest to push President Ruto to the negotiating table, protests rocked parts of Mazembe, Ponda Mali and Shaabab in Nakuru West, disrupting transport and halting businesses. In Shaabab, traders closed their shops after rowdy youths started vandalising properties.

On several occasions, police officers drawn from Kapkures, Kaptembwa, Bondeni, Rhonda and Nakuru Central stations had to seek reinforcement from the Prisons Department. In Mazembe area, protesters overwhelmed the police officers, forcing them to retreat.

“I never knew that Nakuru could be hit this badly by protests,” said a terrified Ms Catherine Njogu, a trader in Shabaab.

Another trader, Mr John Kamau, said the protesters had broken into his shop and looted it before disappearing into the alleyways of the vast settlement.

“They broke into my shop and stole wheat and maize flour, milk and sugar from the shelves. They left me counting losses from which I will take long to recover.”

In Nairobi County, few companies opened for work in the morning, while in many others workers who reported for duty were asked to leave for home early. A factory worker, Ms Janet Nyamogo, said her employer had asked her and her colleagues to “just go home and follow the day’s proceedings on TV”.

Vandals destroy sections of expressway in Mlolongo during Azimio protests

In the Kamukunji grounds, where Mr Odinga has earlier indicated he would address a rally, police took charge and engaged in cat-and-mouse games with protesters all day long. It was only after Mr Odinga announced that he would not make his way to Kamukunji that the protesters started dispersing. Normalcy here had been restored by last evening.

In Mombasa and Kilifi counties, protests paralysed businesses and transport operations all day long. In Mombasa, Azimio politicians stormed the Central Police Station in attempt to secure the release of 18 protesters who had been arrested during earlier demonstrations in the coastal city’s CBD.

“Why are they arresting the protesters when they were just expressing their rights to demonstrate as per the Constitution?” asked Likoni MP Mishi Mboko, adding that a letter notifying police of the demonstration had been submitted to the leadership of Central Police Station, “so we are not doing anything illegal”. Mombasa Senator Mohamed Faki accused the police of harassing innocent civilians.

Bonfires lit to baricade the Siaya~Kisumu Highway. Businesses closed down as youths took to the streets.

Photo credit: Kassim Adinasi | Nation Media Group

In Kilifi, ODM legislators Amina Mnyanzi (Malindi) and Paul Katana (Kaloleni) and their supporters engaged riot police in running battles for the better part of the morning, while in Makueni, a young man named Brian Muendo was killed when police opened fire on demonstrators at Emali Township. His mother, Ms Mbithe Kanavu, said her son was shot outside their rented home.

At Wote Town, police lobbed tear gas canisters to disperse a convoy of local politicians led by Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka. Mr Musyoka was scheduled to address a rally at the county headquarters, but the rally did not happen. Instead, the police chased the convoy out of town as they engaged dozens of demonstrators in running battles.

In Kisumu, one person sustained gunshot wounds while two others were injured after being caught in a confrontation between the police and members of the public at Kondele area. A human rights activist, Collins Kodhek, who was a boda boda passenger, also met the wrath of the demonstrators after his motorcycle was mistaken for belonging to the government. In the ensuing melee, a number of vehicles and shops caught fire after a barrage of tear gas canisters thrown by police officers exploded.

Earlier in the day, Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o, his deputy Mathew Owili, Kisumu Central MP Joshua Oron and his Muhoroni counterpart Onyango K’Oyoo had led demonstrations before the police moved in to disperse them.

In Homa Bay, 15 people were arrested and detained at a local police station, while in Oyugis town, Kasipul MP Ong'ondo Were led the demonstrations. Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo and Homa Bay Woman Rep  Joyce Osogo also led demonstrations in Rangwe Town and Kendu Bay, respectively.

In Kisii, a 23-year-old man was last evening nursing injuries at Bosongo Hospital after he sustained panga cuts during anti-government protests in the area. Residents said Mr Dennis Mogeni was attacked by a militia group that attempted to counter the protesters earlier in the morning. A clinical officer, Mr Benson Okong’o, who received the victim said the young man’s fingers had been severed.

Azimio protests

Police fire tear gas to disperse protesters in Mombasa on July 12, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media group

In Kakamega ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya's vehicle was damaged after it was hit with stones and tear gas. Mr Oparanya, Roots Party leader George Wajackoyah and MPs Geoffrey Odanga (Matayos) and Oundo Mudenyo (Funyula) converged at Bumala town, where they addressed their supporters, rallying them to append their signatures on the ‘Tumechoka’ petition forms to force President Ruto out of office.

They then headed to Busia town where they had planned to address a rally but they were blocked from the venue by a rival group that pelted them with stones as police tear-gassed them, forcing them to scamper to safety.

But, as the rest of the country erupted in chaos, the North Rift region was largely peaceful throughout the day, with residents saying they were not going to protest but will give the government time “to put things in order”.

In Turkana County, Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai warned residents against participating in mass protests called by his party leader, Mr Odinga. “I will not commit time, resources and the workforce of Turkana County government to go and demonstrate in town and portray my people as coming from an ignorant community,” he said. “Let us give President William Ruto time to repair the economy. I believe it is just a matter of time before the prices of commodities come down.” Calm also obtained in Uasin Gishu, Baringo, Nandi, Turkana, West Pokot and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties.

Reporting by Stanley Ngotho, Mercy Chelangat , Mercy Koskey, Collins Omulo, Gitonga Marete, James Murimi, George Munene, Mwangi Ndirangu, Alex Njeru, Anthony Kitimo, Kevin Odit, Brian Ocharo, Maureen Ongala, Farhiya Hussein, Kalume Kazungu, Evans Jaola, Sammy Lutta, Florah Koech, Oscar Kakai, Sammy Kimatu, Pius Maundu, Victor Raballa, Wycliffe Nyaberi, Ruth Mbula, George Odiwuor, Kassim Adinasi, Shaban Makokha and Derrick Luvega.