NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 23 – Dozens of people were wounded and many others robbed in full view of the police on Monday, when chaos broke out in downtown Nairobi between the law enforcers and protesting mechanics.,
Close to 1,000 mechanics who repair vehicles at make-shift garages were enraged by reports that their land had been sold off to a private developer who hired youths to fence it off on Sunday night.
The mechanics woke up to find vehicles and spare parts kept at the garages vandalised, sparking off violent protests.
“We earn our daily bread from here, how can someone claim he is the owner of this land. We want to know who this person is,” one of the mechanics yelled as others pulled down a fence that had been put up.
Armed police at first clashed with the mechanics and managed to clear them off the premise by firing teargas canisters at them.
They also shot in the air to disperse the angry group that was armed with metal bars and other crude weapons.
They were later joined by area legislator Dr Margaret Wanjiru who urged them to stay on the land and defy any attempt to evict them.
“This is your ground, nobody shall evict you from here. Go back and proceed with your businesses,” she told the mechanics.
But soon as she left, the situation degenerated into an all-out war, with the mechanics blocking the entire Globe Cinema roundabout during which they stoned motorists and pedestrians.
Public service vehicles ferrying passengers to town from Thika road were forced to drop off passengers in Ngara, from where they walked into town.
Many of them were roughed up and robbed at the roundabout as the police watched.
The rioters specifically targeted people of Somali origin. (It is understood that the developer at the disputed plot may be Somali)
A man who identified himself as Mohammed Abdi, 28 was roughed up as he tried to gain access to Kijabe Street. His clothes were torn and his shoes stolen.
The man was later rescued by the police and taken to the Central Police station, alongside five others who lost money and other personal belongings.
Some suspects and demonstrators were arrested but no charges were immediately preferred on them.
Police led by Nairobi Area head of Operations Wilfred Mbithi engaged the rioters for nearly four hours, mainly tear-gassing them and firing live ammunition in the air to ward them off.
“We want order, no matter what they are demonstrating about. There should be some form of order because what they are doing is definitely not the right thing,” he said.
At some point, a contingent of more than 200 officers from the Administration Police, General Service Unit and regular Police were overpowered and had to scamper for safety.
The youths, armed with all manner of crude weapons marched at the round-about and lit bonfires as they shouted anti-government slogans, accusing President Mwai Kibaki’s administration of failing to cater for the interests of poor.
“It is not our choice to be here, this government should understand that we are also entitled to eke a living from these small businesses,” a mechanic Duncan Ojiambo said.
Central divisional deputy Police chief Richard Muguai said many of the demonstrators were thieves who took advantage of the protests to cause mayhem.
“The people we are dealing with here are not all mechanics, robbers have taken advantage but we are in control of the situation,” he said.
The chaos lasted until at about 2pm, when the situation slowly returned to normal.
Traffic was interrupted in and around the city as the youths faced off with the police.