Opposition supporters gather in front of a burning barricade as they chant slogans against the Kenyan government during protests against the high cost of living in Nairobi, Kenya on July 19, 2023. AFP
The opposition called for three days of countrywide protests aimed at forcing the president to repeal a finance law imposing new taxes. Ruto had vowed that no protests would take place, saying he would take opposition leader Raila Odinga “head-on.”
Four protesters were injured in the Mathare area of the capital, Nairobi, according to a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media. The Associated Press witnessed one man shot in the shoulder and two others shot in the leg in Mathare.
In Nairobi's Kangemi area, health records worker Alvin Sikuku told the AP that two young men had been brought into the Eagle Nursing Home clinic. “Police are using live bullets,” he said. One man was shot in the back and severely wounded, and the other was shot in the leg. “We don't yet know if they were protesting or just walking by,” Sikuku said.
In the city of Nakuru, Nakuru Referral Hospital Medical Superintendent James Waweru confirmed that four people came in with gunshot wounds, two of them shot in the abdomen, one in the chest and another one in the leg. A fifth person had been cut and wounded.
The Interior Ministry said more than 300 people were arrested during Wednesday’s protests and that they will be charged with crimes including looting, destroying property and assaulting police.
The opposition in a statement condemned the arrests of seven elected leaders and two close associates of Odinga, calling it a “desperate attempt” by the Ruto administration to paralyze the opposition.
Businesses and schools in Nairobi were closed as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters.
Demonstrations were reported in several other parts of the country including the western counties of Kisumu, Migori and Kisii where the opposition enjoys huge support.
Police had said the protests were illegal as no permit had been issued, but the right to peaceful protests is enshrined in the Kenyan constitution.
The opposition has said protests would continue Thursday.
Last week’s protests killed at least 10 people, according to watchdogs, with a police officer confirming at least six to the AP. Many others were injured, including 53 children who went into shock after tear gas was thrown inside their school compound.
Religious leaders have called for dialogue between the government and the opposition to end the protests. Catholic bishops on Wednesday issued a statement reiterating that “no further blood should be shed” and urged the president to repeal the newly passed Finance Act that has agitated many Kenyans.
The law has raised the price of fuel to its highest level as the government implements a doubling of value added tax on petroleum products to 16%. The prices have taken effect despite a court order suspending the implementation of the controversial new taxes.
A Nairobi resident, Wycliffe Onyango, said his entire earnings are spent on food. “Right now there is no work going on. We are suffering. I plead with the government to deal with the cost of living,” he added.
The International Monetary Fund this week called the law's approval a “crucial” step toward reducing Kenya’s debt vulnerabilities.
Western envoys from 13 countries on Tuesday issued a joint statement calling for dialogue and expressed concern over the loss of lives and destruction of property.
The Kenya Medical Association said its members had attended to “hundreds of injured Kenyans and witnessed tens of fatalities” as a result of protests in recent months, and access to health facilities was limited for patients and workers, leading to increased mortality.
Human Rights Watch urged political leaders to stop labelling protesters as “terrorists” and respect the right to peaceful protests. The group also called out the police for using force and live bullets to confront protesters.