Hundreds of protesters in Kenya blocked one of Nairobi’s major highways with burning tires to protest government demolitions of the homes of more than 7,000 people and the closure of an adjacent food market.
Police used teargas and water cannons on the protesters, who then looted shops and parked cars.
“Police responded to a rowdy group that was destroying property on the road,” said Nairobi police chief Philip Ndolo. “If they have grievances they should express them through the right channels. We will not tolerate destruction of property,” Ndolo said.
The government had on Thursday closed Korogocho market which served an estimated 100,000 people who depend on it for their livelihoods and fresh vegetable produce, said Patrick Maina, the market’s chairman. He said the market serves several informal settlements.
Residents of Kariobangi, a poor informal settlement, woke up Monday to the sound of bulldozers crushing their rickety structures made of metal sheeting, said resident and human rights activist Habib Omar.
The demolitions continued through the week and displaced thousands of residents, who are sleeping out in the rain and cold because Nairobi has restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus.
The government claims that it owns the land where the demolitions took place and it ignored a court order that barred it from evicting the slum residents until their case arguing for their right to live on the land is determined. Some of the residents had official allotment letters dating to 2008 which give them permission to live there, said Omar.
“It is so inhuman for the government to evict us from our houses at a time like this. Where should we go. Where will I take my children because now I don’t have a house and there’s the curfew at night,” said Mary Njeri, a mother of three who also sells vegetables in the market.
For mechanic Kennedy Achoki, the demolition happened as they awaited another court decision.
“It is a violation of our rights because we have been living here for long,” said Achoki. “They should have waited for the court outcome because there’s an injunction in court. At least they could have waited for it and not destroy our houses during the pandemic.”
The government says it want the land for expansion of the capital’s sewerage system.
In a letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Housing Coalition, an alliance of non-governmental organizations, asked the leader to allow the residents to rebuild their homes until alternatives are found and the court decides on the matter.
“ It is unbelievable that this action should be taken by your administration at this time … For the last three nights thousands of displaced have slept out in the open during curfew. The stay at home and cessation of movement guidelines and economic hardships have made it even more difficult to stay with relatives or leave Nairobi at this time,” the coalition’s letter said.
The coalition said the government has done nothing to alleviate the suffering of those who are now homeless and instead arrested activists who presented a petition to the Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company that is seeking to repossess the land.