Businesses in Nyanza towns remain shut over looting fears

Tuesday, March 21st, 2023 01:34 | By
Azimio protests. PHOTO/File

Most shops in major towns and shopping centres in Nyanza region remained closed yesterday amid fears of violence and looting as opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Azimio coalition called for nationwide protests against the Kenya Kwanza administration.

Several traders who opened shops, supermarkets, kiosks and hotels hurriedly shut them after picketers warned them of dire consequences if they kept off the demonstrations.

Consequently, businesses were largely disrupted in the region.

In Kisumu, police engaged the protestors in running battles. For over seven hours, it was a hide-and-seek game as protestors also pelt stones at police officers.

On several occasions, moved swiftly to avert damage to property by lobbing teargas canisters and shooting in the air to disperse the protesters.

At some point, the street battles turned ugly when some unruly youths shuttered window panes of the newly refurbished and branded Sarova Imperial Hotel.

There were no reported casualties apart from roads blocked, and businesses and learning paralysed in most schools.

Shops along major streets such as Oginga Odinga and Jomo Kenyatta remained closed. The town appeared deserted with only a few people seen walking on the streets. Minimal activity was also noted in Kisumu’s Kondele, Kibos and Nyamasaria among other areas.

At Kondele and Kachok roundabouts, protesters lit bonfires on the roadside as they waited for the start of the demonstrations. Transport was also paralysed as only a handful of PSV vehicles were spotted at the Kisumu, Migori bus terminuses.

Most matatu operators plying the Kisumu-Kisii, Kisumu-Nairobi and Kisumu-Busia routes kept off the road, fearing their vehicles could be attacked by the demonstrators. Roads to Kondele, Manyatta, Bondo and Siaya and Nairobi routes were barricaded by the picketers.

Learning was not spared either as most schools in the respective counties reported a low turnout of learners who reported after the mid-term break.

Some institutions opted to send back home learners over safety fears. At the County Government offices in Kisumu, there was little business as most workers kept off the offices.

Waves placards

This is after they were assured that all was well even if they staged a sit-on or were absent from work to picket.

Waving placards, Unga! Unga! Fuel! Fees! Fees! The picketers vented their anger by engaging police in a chase.

Nyanza Regional police boss John Karanja was on the ground with his team to deal with extreme acts of lawlessness. Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o warned criminals against taking advantage of the demos to loot and destroy property.

Subsequently, Nyong’o asked the security agencies to deal firmly with criminals posing as demonstrators.

According to Nyong’o, the demonstrations in Kisumu were largely peaceful until a group of hooligans infiltrated the crowd and started destroying property.

 He claimed that criminals posing as Opposition supporters stormed and damaged part of a hotel, a bank, Supermarket and a shopping mall within the CBD.

 “On behalf of the people of Kisumu, I strongly condemn this cowardly and criminal act. As the governor of this county I wish to reiterate that we stand for peaceful and orderly picketing with zero attack on individual or public property and investments,” he said.

 Governor called for a swift investigation by the police to identify and arrest the culprits.  He claimed that the hooligans were sponsored by some individuals to tarnish the name of Kisumu residents and Azimio La Umoja supporters as violent. “I wish to appeal to the people of Kisumu to help protect the image and investments in the city and its environs. In future demonstrations, our people should apprehend and hand over to the police, anyone damaging property.

We also appeal to the police to help protect lives and property during public demonstrations,” Nyong’o said.

Similar protests were reported in Migori’s satellite Awendo and Migori towns.

Awendo town residents blocked the busy Migori-Kisii/Isebania highway, and lit bonfire on the road.

Efforts by police to repulse them was futile, as they engaged the officers in a hide-and-seek running battles.

There was, however, no ugly incident reported. The demos remained largely peaceful save for stone-throwing.

Local leaders

None of the local leaders were reported in the streets. As the protestors continued to make their voice heard on the streets, traders on the other decried losses they incurred as a result of the mass action.

Ken Omollo, a businessman, said they had lost a fortune. “We are serving loans, how will we service them with this protest?” he asked.

Omollo was not alone, several other traders decried the same, and appealed to the government to listen to the people’s cries.

“When people are crying you cannot shut up your ears. Let the government find a lasting solution,” Omollo noted.

And learning institutions in Migori and neighbouring counties were deserted as learners kept off schools.

 Some were still on half-term break, while others were returning yesterday, but could not do so due to fear.

 Essential services that were to be offered by public offices were also paralysed as senior officials were kept off work.

 In Siaya, Ward Reps held a successful protest in solidarity with Azimio leader Raila.

The protests engulfed every sub-county, with the MCAs leading the residents in their respective jurisdictions.

In Yala, youths allied to Gem MP Elisha Odhiambo had cordoned off Nyayo Gardens, which is the historic site for gatherings, and blocked youths from entering it but they were later repelled by hundreds of protesting youths.

The protesters who included vegetable vendors, boda boda riders among others, were led by William Kinyanyi (Yala MCA) and Sylas Madingu (Central Gem).

 The lawmakers said they won’t cede till Raila gives direction.

Reporting  by Noven Owiti, Kepher Otieno and Eric Juma

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