Hundreds of opposition supporters took to the streets of Kenya’s main cities Friday in defiance of a government ban on protests as the country is gripped by uncertainty over its presidential election.
In western Kisumu, a stronghold of opposition leader Raila Odinga that has been a hotspot for demonstrations, protesters blocked key roads and set piles of tyres on fire.
Police in coastal Mombasa fired teargas at a crowd trying to march into the city. In Nairobi riot police were deployed ahead of expected protests.
Security Minister Fred Matiangi on Thursday banned rallies in the centre of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, accusing opposition supporters of lawlessness after incidents in which property was destroyed, passers-by robbed or assaulted, and business disrupted.
However the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition vowed to push on with a planned protest Friday, and stage rallies every day next week.
“We will continue with our demonstrations as planned across the country,” said one of the coalition’s leaders Moses Wetangula.
The protests come as Kenya is mired in confusion over a presidential election that is due to take place in less than two weeks, on October 26.
The country’s Supreme Court annulled the results of an August 8 election — won by President Uhuru Kenyatta — citing irregularities in the counting process and mismanagement by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
The decision was a rare victory for Odinga, a veteran opposition leader who failed to win election in 1997, 2007 and 2013, claiming to have been cheated of victory in the latter two votes.
Many observers agreed the 2007 election was deeply flawed, and it triggered politically motivated tribal violence that left more than 1,100 dead.
Violence in the days after this year’s election left 37 dead, according to a local human rights group which said these were mostly at the hands of police.
Several were treated for gunshot wounds on Wednesday in Kisumu, according to a doctor at the local hospital.
The Supreme Court said a new election must take place within 60 days, and Odinga has demanded fundamental reforms such as the sacking of top IEBC officials and the recruitment of new companies to print ballot papers and run election technology.
While the IEBC has made some concessions to the opposition, it says these demands are impossible to meet in the constitutionally-mandated period.
Odinga has argued that his withdrawal from the race forces the IEBC to cancel the election and begin the whole process from scratch — allowing more time for his reforms.
However the IEBC appears to be pushing forward with plans for an October 26 vote, saying only that Odinga had yet to submit the required form to officially pull out of the race.