, NAIROBI, Kenya, May 14 – A police truck was burnt down and dozens of public vehicles vandalised in day-long skirmishes ignited by mechanics and traders in downtown Nairobi.
Three police officers and several other civilians were wounded in the Thursday protests by the mechanics, who were fighting to reclaim a piece of land that they alleged was grabbed by a private developer.
The mechanics have been operating their businesses from the land in question and many of them said that they feared they may be rendered jobless if the private developer takes over the ground.
“We have been operating from here for over 20 years, we cannot allow someone to come and claim that this land belongs to him. Where will be operating from?” Johnson Ndolo, a mechanic who also runs a food kiosk at the site wondered.
Mr Ndolo told Capital News that they woke up to find the grounds fenced off and guarded by a group of youths, who were armed with machetes and clubs.
“There is no way we could allow them to guard our business premises. They were trying to keep us away but we forced our way in and overpowered them. That is when trouble started, because we had to open our businesses,” he added.
Mechanics who had arrived to carry out their businesses clashed with the armed youths, forcing the police to intervene.
“Police did not come to protect us, they came and ordered everybody out of the grounds, that is when the riots started. We mobilised ourselves and blocked roads,” another mechanic Martin Owuor narrated.
For close to four hours, Globe cinema roundabout and adjacent roads were impassable as the mechanics engaged anti-riot police in running battles.
Muggers took advantage of the situation to rob pedestrians and even snatched items displayed for sale on Kirinyaga road, Kijabe Street and a section of Moi Avenue.
Police who had arrived in trucks abandoned them at the Globe Cinema roundabout and crossed over the Nairobi River to evacuate the mechanics.
“I think they underestimated the power of the protestors; they did not know there was another group on the other side because as they kept firing into the air and lobbed teargas. Another group surrounded one of the police trucks and set it ablaze. The driver was just too lucky,” Samson Gumbihi, a guard who witnessed the vehicle as it burned said.
Nairobi Deputy Provincial Police chief Julius Ndegwa said sixteen suspects had been arrested over the incident.
“They (suspects) are being interrogated at the Central police station. They will definitely appear in court once the investigations are completed. But we are still looking for others,” he said.
It was the second time in less than two months that mechanics were protesting over similar grievances.