NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 10 – A demonstration by University of Nairobi students turned chaotic Tuesday with looting, vandalism and other forms of destruction that lasted nearly six hours.,
The students had earlier held a peaceful march through city streets before the protest degenerated into a violent looting spree and destructive mission, prompting police who had been keeping vigil, to fire teargas canisters at them.
It all started at about 4 pm, when a group of students began stoning motorists on Koinange Street, and even looted food kiosks and bars.
They hijacked five trailers and a fuel tanker which they used to block the Uhuru Highway/University Way roundabout, paralysing transport in and out of the city centre.
The demonstrators were protesting the killing of their colleague Godwin Ogato, who was shot by police last Thursday, while he protested the assassination of Oscar Foundation founder Kamau King’ara and his Project Officer Paul Oulu.
“We are tired of these students, why are they stoning people and cars. They have vandalised my vehicle yet they are calling themselves peaceful demonstrators. Police should get them out of the city and lock them up in cells,” said an angry Patrick Kenani, whose vehicle was badly damaged on Tuesday.
Soon after the chaos began, ten trucks loaded with anti-riot police officers arrived and lobbed teargas at the protesting students.
They dispersed and re-grouped a few minutes later for yet another bout of violence.
For nearly two hours, the University Way roundabout through to Uhuru Highway joining the Museum Hill roundabout was a no go zone, as the students engaged the police in running battles.
The windscreens of at least ten vehicles were shattered and several people were injured in the chaotic scenes that went on until early Tuesday night.
The Students Organisation of Nairobi University (SONU) chairman Dan Mwangi later told Capital News that the ‘peaceful protests’ were hijacked by hooligans who took advantage of the situation to harass motorists.
“Our students were all peaceful. We do not know the people who have been throwing stones at motorists. The media is portraying us as looters,” he complained.
The union’s Organising Secretary Sissey Marvin urged the police to conduct thorough investigations to ascertain the real identity of the ‘looters’.
“I can assure you they were not students. The police have provoked students by throwing teargas at them, that is why they are charging back,” he said.
Nairobi Provincial Police Chief Njue Njagi, who led the Tuesday operation, told Capital News that the students were peaceful up until 1pm, when they turned rowdy.
“They were peaceful in the morning; we had an understanding that there will be no confrontations. I don’t know what prompted all this,” he said.
Some students were arrested and detained at the Central Police station, but no charges were immediately preferred against them.
Earlier in the day, the students had marched through the city streets to Police Headquarters where they presented Police Spokesman Erick Kiraithe with a memorandum, demanding the resignation or sacking of Police Chief Hussein Ali.
They also dropped petitions at Harambee House and Sheria House, demanding the dismissals of Internal Security Minister Prof George Saitoti and Attorney General Amos Wako respectively.
Before they left the city centre, the students dropped yet another petition note at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, which called for the sacking of Government Spokesman Dr Alfred Mutua.
Shouting ‘Ali, Mutua and Wako must go’, the students chanted anti-government slogans and even called for fresh elections, condemning the government for allegedly abetting extra-judicial killings.
“The Police commissioner should be sacked because he has failed to protect us. He has failed to provide Kenyans with their basic right to security. Instead his officers are killing people at will. They have even shot and killed one of our students,” a scholar, who only identified himself as Gilbert, accused.
Last Thursday, a 29-year-old political science student at UoN was shot by police who had gone to the university hostels to collect the bodies of NGO officials shot at close range hours earlier, as they drove towards the city centre.
Subsequently the students arranged protests for Tuesday, which received the backing of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who ordered the police to let the students exercise their ‘democratic right’.
Before the protests, Police Spokesman Mr Kiraithe said they were in consensus with the students not to cause anarchy during their demonstrations.
“We have talked to them and they have assured us that it will be peaceful,” he said on Tuesday morning, but was not immediately available for comment when the situation degenerated into chaos.