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Cablegate: Independence Day Celebrations Marred by Police

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OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHNR #2864/01 3580804
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 230804Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY NAIROBI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8044
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHDJ/AMEMBASSY DJIBOUTI 5506
RUEHDR/AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM 6272
RHMFIUU/CJTF HOA
RUZEFAA/CDR USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RUZEFAA/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NAIROBI 002864

SIPDIS

AF/E FOR SUSAN DRIANO, DRL FOR MOLLIE DAVIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM KDEM ASEC KE
SUBJECT: INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS MARRED BY POLICE
CRACKDOWN ON PROTESTERS

REF: NAIROBI 2850

SUMMARY
-------

1. Celebrations of Kenya's 45th Jamhuri (Independence) Day
in Nairobi on December 12 turned slightly chaotic when police
cracked down on protesters who disrupted President Mwai
Kibaki's speech. Civil society aimed to use the event to
highlight widespread discontent about skyrocketing food
prices and the refusal of Members of Parliament (MPs) to pay
taxes on their exorbitant allowances. Journalists and media
personalities were also present in a parallel, but separate,
protest over the passage by Parliament on December 10 of a
draconian Media Bill (Reftel). Police arrested 51 persons in
Nairobi. Most were released without charge. However,
Mwalimu Mati, a prominent anti-corruption activist who police
believed was the protest organizer, and his wife were also
arrested while trying to enter the stadium where Kibaki was
to deliver his Jamhuri Day speech. Police held the pair for
two days, before releasing them without charge. In Garissa,
the capital of Northeastern Province, four civil society
activists were arrested and charged with unlawful assembly
when they tried to attend Jamhuri Day celebrations. None of
those arrested had legal permits to demonstrate. Civil
society leaders plan to continue protests, but these have not
yet materialized. We will continue to follow these issues.
The Ambassador has subsequently spoken out on the important
role that peaceful protests play in a democratic society and
on the importance of respecting the rule of law. END
SUMMARY.

PUBLIC DISSATISFACTION SPURS PROTESTS
-------------------------------------

2. Public discontent had been building for months as food
costs spiraled. For example, the price of cornmeal, a staple
food for many Kenyans, has doubled during 2008. The
government's ineffectual response to the crisis has failed to
reduce prices of staple products. While ordinary Kenyans
struggle to feed their families, Members of Parliament (MPs)
twice voted down a Ministry of Finance initiative to tax
their monthly allowances of approximately USD 10,000. Adding
to public frustration, Parliament on December 10 adopted a
Media Bill which allowed the government wide scope to
interfere with media freedom (Reftel).

3. Civil society activists harnessed this dissatisfaction
and called for nationwide protests. Their efforts focused on
the traditional celebration of Jamhuri Day by President Mwai
Kibaki which is held at Nyayo Stadium and consists of a full
military parade and a speech by the President. Civil society
printed up black T-shirts with slogans protesting
parliamentarians refusal to pay tax and distributed them to
the public. Police presence at the venue was strengthened in
anticipation of protests. Police prevented anyone wearing
such T-shirts from entering the grounds. However, many
protesters avoided detection by hiding the T-shirts under
clothing and entered the stadium. These protesters
congregated in one small section of the stadium.

4. The atmosphere remained peaceful, if dull, as President
Kibaki received the military honor guard and delivered his
remarks in English. However, when Kibaki began to deliver
off-the-cuff remarks in Kiswahili, parts of the crowd who,
after entering the stadium had donned the black T-shirts,
began to shout, "We are hungry," and other slogans, causing a
disturbance. At the same time, one civil society activist,
Alfred Odhiambo, had managed to access seating behind the VIP
dais. Odhiambo created a stir by shouting down the President
as he was delivering his Kiswahili remarks. Members of the
presidential security detachment forcefully removed Odhiambo
from the dais in full view of the media. Odhiambo was
hospitalized with soft tissue injuries from the rough
treatment he received. Separately, a prominent media
personality appeared on the grounds wearing a striped shirt,
pants and, cap similar to the standard Kenya prisoner's
uniform. He was also forcibly removed. He later explained
that his outfit was to symbolize that, due to the passage of
the Media Bill, journalists in Kenya were now prisoners of
the government.

PROTEST ORGANIZER ARRESTED
--------------------------

NAIROBI 00002864 002 OF 002

5. While police simply turned away most people believed to
be protesters, police denied entry to, and arrested, Mwalimu
Mati, a noted anti-corruption activist who police believed
was the organizer of the protests and his wife, Jane. The
pair were held for two days before being released on December
15 without being charged with an offense. Police stated the
case is still under investigation, but the pair's lawyer,
Harun Ndubi, believed no charges would be filed.

FOUR ARRESTED IN GARISSA PROTESTS
---------------------------------

6. Protests also disrupted Jamhuri Day celebrations in
Garissa, the capital of North Eastern Province. Four
activists were arrested there for wearing T-shirts bearing
slogans calling for MPs to pay taxes. The four were held for
three days and released after being charged with incitement
and posting a Ksh 5,000 (approximately USD 75) bond. Their
lawyer, Harun Ndubi, told poloff that the four will file a
constitutional challenge to the charges before the January 10
hearing date for the incitement charges.

COMMENT
-------

7. These protests should serve as a wake-up call to the
government and Parliament that they need to adopt policies
and laws that will deliver concrete benefits to the public or
risk further protests. Civil society leaders have told us
that they intend to continue protests although we are likely
to see a lull with the Christmas holidays approaching.
RANNEBERGER

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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