Roundup: Kenyan police clash with opposition protestors against high living costs

  • World
  • Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

NAIROBI, March 20 (Xinhua) -- Sounds of gunfire, teargas fumes, bonfires, and running battles chocked the Kenyan capital of Nairobi and other towns Monday as police clashed with opposition supporters protesting the high cost of living.

Normal activities were disrupted in the capital city all day as police battled the protestors and their leaders to prevent them from grouping on the streets. Most shops across the city center remained shut as traders feared their businesses would be looted.

Equally, most motorists in Nairobi, the lakeside city of Kisumu, Trans Nzoia and Migori counties kept off the road for fear of the anticipated chaos, with the Nairobi city's perennial traffic snarl-ups missing Monday.

Police blocked all roads leading in and out of Nairobi to prevent the anti-government protestors from getting into the city center. Similar security checks were witnessed in most regions across the East African nation, in particular opposition strongholds in western Kenya, which remained "ghost towns" as businesses were shut.

One person was reportedly shot near an open-air Toi market in Kibera, a slum district in Nairobi, and one of the epicenters of the protests as the confrontation with the police escalated. The injured were rushed to a nearby medical facility.

Raila Odinga, leader of Azimio la Umoja -- One Kenya Coalition Party, said it was of utmost importance that the government reins in the high cost of living for the benefit of ordinary citizens.

He, therefore, noted that the opposition will keep on the pressure, as he announced that protests would be held every Monday. "It is of utmost importance that we rein in the runaway high cost of living for the benefit of ordinary citizens of our nation. This issue motivates us and keeps us going."

Edwin Sifuna, the senator for Nairobi and one of the organizers of the protests, said the aim of protests is to make the government bring the cost of living down.

"The cost of maize flour, rent, and electricity has gone up, yet the government is doing little to bring it down. They seem to have forgotten the common person after winning the polls," said Douglas Kalasinga, one of the protesters.

Kenya's inflation rate accelerated to 9.2 percent in February, a rise from 9 percent in January, and above the central bank's ceiling of 7.5 percent. The surge was due to an increase in food and cooking gas prices, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Food prices have mainly increased in Kenya due to a prolonged drought that has cut production and global disruption in the supply of commodities like maize and wheat.

A decline of the Kenyan shilling against major international currencies has further exacerbated the situation for Kenya as imports become too costly. The shilling has declined about 15 percent against the U.S. dollar year on year to trade at 130 Monday, making oil and imported manufactured goods expensive, therefore, piling pressure on inflation.

Kenyan Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua said the Monday shutdown had cost the Kenyan economy about 2 billion shillings (about 15 million U.S. dollars).

"This has happened because of lack of business in Nairobi and other towns, and this is money that should have been circulating in the economy," said Gachagua as he asked the opposition to call off the protests.

On Sunday, the National Police Service outlawed the protests and warned opposition supporters from engaging in them.

Nairobi County Police Commander Adamson Bungei said while it had received a notice to hold the protests from opposition coalition Azimio, it had not granted them the go-ahead.

"We are obliged to protect the law and property and maintain order. The public order act provides that they notify the police of such intent at least three days prior and do so peacefully and in an orderly manner," said Bungei.

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