A day after violent protests rocked Nairobi's city center, many in Kenya are concerned about what the brutality means for the future of the country.
A protest on Monday was the third such clash in the last three weeks, and a number of demonstrators — who are demanding that allegedly partisan election officials step down — were hospitalized with severe injuries after a brutal response by police.
"It's total chaos and madness, people are being injured, really injured," says Ezekiel Kenyanya, a taxi driver in downtown Nairobi. "Just look at the pictures. They are bleeding. Kenya is bleeding."
Protests took place in five cities throughout the country and in the capital, Nairobi, riot police responded by launching tear gas and beating protesters with batons. According to local newspapers, police also fired live rounds, though authorities deny this claim.
Raila Odinga, head of the country's main opposition party, wrote on Twitter that his supporters have taken to the streets because they are tired of the "incompetence and corruption" exhibited by the country's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). Odinga also wrote that the protests will continue every week until the electoral commission is "reformed."
"I'm fearing that day by day it will become even more violent," says Justin Ombati, an informal vendor in Nairobi's city center. "The way the police have been handling the protests is very violent, they have been peaceful protests, but the police are beating people."
The protests on Monday were met with a marked increase in police brutality, and on Tuesday, Kenya's police chief ordered an internal investigation after a video surfaced of an officer repeatedly striking a fallen protester with his baton.
In the video, a young man wearing a bright green hoodie and jeans is seen sprinting from a sidewalk in downtown Nairobi. As he pushes past an Associated Press photographer, a policeman in green camouflage uniform and maroon body armor chases him, his club outstretched. Just as the young man reaches the other side of the road, a different uniformed officer hits him with a club.
The young man falls to the ground. His head slaps against the curb. By this point, the policeman in red armor has caught up to him. He begins to hit him repeatedly with the baton until the young man feebly lifts his hand, as if offering a white flag. The policeman then kicks him several times. With a final, passing stomp, the policeman walks away.
"It was very brutal, it was an ugly, ugly day for Kenya," says Boniface Mwangi, a prominent human rights activist in Kenya. "The police were not actually interested in arresting anyone, they were interested in making a strong statement that if you come to the street you will be chewed up."
The US embassy in Nairobi issued a statement on Tuesday criticizing the police crackdown on protesters.
"The United States deplores the excessive use of force by the Kenyan security services and the violence around the demonstrations," US Ambassador Robert Godec said in an email statement, according to Reuters. "We welcome announcements by Kenyan authorities that all reports of the excessive use of force will be investigated."
To many in Kenya, the violent reaction to Monday's protests was eerily reminiscent of the 2007 post-election violence in which an estimated 1,200 people died and more than 500,000 were displaced. In the months after the disputed election, both Odinga and the declared winner, incumbent Mwai Kibaki, were accused of inciting violence along ethnic lines. Kenya's current president, Uhuru Kenyatta, and his deputy, William Ruto, were both indicted by the International Criminal Court for their involvement in provoking violence during that time, though both cases were eventually dropped after recurrent and worrying cases of witness interference.
"These protests are the like drums, the drums of what happened then," says Simon Kariuki, a motorcycle-taxi driver in the city center. "They are drumming for what we don't want, we don't want to repeat that. Our friends, our relatives, they died then, our businesses were closed. We had to reach deep, deep in our pockets to rebuild what we lost at that time."
Kenya is not scheduled to hold elections until in August 2017, when Kenyatta is slated to run for another term. Politicians in the opposition such as Odinga have already begun to galvanize their party's supporters. Odinga ran in the country's last election in 2013, but lost to Kenyatta and unsuccessfully disputed the election results through legal means.
But now, some fear Odinga might be changing his tactics.
"If the leaders had stayed behind the level of brutality would have been minimized, but I think they want people to be beaten because they want to make a political statement," Mwangi said. "For the past three years there have been protests where people were brutalized and the opposition was not doing anything."
Many believe opposition members also paid protesters to take part in the demonstration, a common tactic used by politicians in Kenya when holding rallies or events.
'It's total chaos and madness, people are being injured, really injured. Just look at the pictures. They are bleeding. Kenya is bleeding.'
"These poor guys are being influenced by bigger heads, they are being used," says Derrick Mutune, a 25-year-old clothing vendor. "They are given a little money but the impact is big, they might destroy people's property or businesses or send the country into chaos."
Fifteen protesters were arrested on Monday and pleaded guilty in court on Tuesday to taking part in an illegal protest, though they denied the charge of being armed and breaching the peace. Many vendors in the area also accused the protesters of theft.
Mutu Nthenge, a 26-year-old soda and snack vendor based in downtown Nairobi's Central Park, claimed that men involved in the protest stole his vending cart and goods as he tried to flee the site of the demonstration.
"I saw them coming toward me and I started pushing my cart, but they managed to take all my things, I just surrendered it all to them," he said. "I don't think this thing will end soon, that is my fear, and when it continues businesses will close, the tourists will stop coming, the economy will go down."
As Nairobians began their commutes home from work on Tuesday, Nthenge sat on a worn out soda crate in a neighboring park, his friend and fellow vendor selling goods to passersby. On a nearby bench, three young chefs just off from work chatted in the cool air as floods of people hurried past on the sidewalk in front of them. Despite the normalcy that has returned to the city, none of them think it will last for long.
"Everything starts here in Nairobi, before it reaches the rest of the country," said Peter Ichita, propped on the bench's metal arm. "We don't know what the opposition is planning next Monday or what the government is planning. But if they don't come together and find a way to resolve this issue, then I'm really fearing what is to come."
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