Police in Nairobi yesterday adopted a surprising tactic in dealing with Cord demonstrators by leaving them to march along some city streets without barring their procession at any point.
Unlike two weeks go when Cord leaders and protesters ran into a hail of tear gas and water cannons, the demonstrators led by Raila Odinga encountered no police blockade as they marched from Uhuru Park, through Uhuru Highway, Kenyatta Avenue, University Way past the electoral commission’s Anniversary Towers offices and back to the park.
Led by Raila, senators Moses Wetang’ula, James Orengo and Kanu secretary general Nick Salat among other leaders, the demonstrators did not surge at the gates of the building housing the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) where only a handful of officers kept guard.
However, in Kisumu, things were not as calm as demonstrators became violent, leading to deaths of at least two people, apparently shot when part of the crowd engaged police with stones. Two supermarkets, Naivas and Tumaini were shattered with stones and goods worth thousands of shillings stolen as other property was destroyed forcing police to shoot in the air to disperse the looters.
The Nairobi demo had started on a rowdy note in Kibera and Mathare slums earlier in the morning with bunches of protesters barricading roads and lighting bonfires, forcing deployed police to disperse them. A vehicle was burned in Mathare where several business were looted, but the trouble was short-lived as police intervened.
However, in the CBD, things took a surprising turn as police retreated, shortly after High Court judge Justice Joseph Onguto ruled that Cord had a right to stage peaceful protests and even ordered Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet to offer them security. He made the ruling in a case that had been lodged by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and four other Jubilee legislators who had wanted the protests stopped.
The judge said he was not convinced that the demonstrations constituted an illegality on grounds that they were bound to cause an inconvenience to the general public.
“They are within their rights to picket, demonstrate and express their opinions. The police are, therefore, required not to abdicate their duty and should ensure law and order is maintained,’’ the judge declared.
Pedestrians and motorists appeared to leave the streets to the demonstrators but scores of plain clothes police officers were obvious among the crowd that chanted slogans and lifted anti-IEBC banners. The withdrawal by armed police appeared to defuse the clash with demonstrators, as Cord leaders also called for calm throughout the demonstration route.
In Kisumu, running battles between police and the demonstrators went on for the better part of yesterday turning the Lakeside town into a ghost-town with businesses and schools closed.
After calm returned, two bodies were picked from Jomo Kenyatta Highway and Carwash and taken to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching and Referral Hospital mortuary. Scores others injured were taken to the same hospital.
A matatu belonging to unidentified agent of a mobile phone company was reduced to a shell after it was set on fire by demonstrators.
More chaos were reported in Migori town where demonstrators lit bonfires on all major roads in the town as early as 6.30am, despite a directive by the county’s ODM chairperson for the protests to be peaceful. Police retaliated by firing tear gas and charging at demonstrators who hurled back stones at them.
Speaking at Uhuru Park Raila threatened to call two days of anti-IEBC protests next week if national talks on IEBC reforms would not have commenced. “If we do not have dialogue in the course of the week, we will have demos twice in the next week,” said Raila.
At Anniversary Towers only a handful of security officers manned the entry points to the building while groups of armed officers could be seen on the fringes in the background, seeming keen to keep far from the protesters.
Hundreds of anti-riot police were stationed at Central Police Station watching the demonstrators from afar. Meanwhile, a protest in Huruma estate turned violent as demonstrators burnt a mini bus. Other cases of looting and theft in the streets were also reported as demonstrators marched in Mathare and Kibera.