Opinion: Police Must Embrace Dialogue when Dealing with Demonstrators

In mid 2016 there was a major demonstration called by residents of Oloolua and Ngong ward requesting to be given 70% share of all jobs in the SGR project.  The youth marched towards the SGR site in Vet farm, chanting “haki yetu”. They blocked the exit road with rocks, forcing a few trucks transporting ballast to turn back.  

Allegations

The protesting youth had alleged workers were being brought from other areas denying them opportunities to work.  The second allegation was that, one had to pay cash to a few corrupt individuals to secure a job.

 

Communication Barrier

There was a language barrier between the demonstrators and the Chinese workers.

The protesters arrived at the site office and demanded an audience with the manager.  The manager was not in and the only representative on site could not speak in English or Kiswahilli.  Luckily Oloolua ward 2017 general elections Mca aspirant Bryan Sekento speaks the Chinese language and was able to translate for both sides.


As Sekento was translating, the site administration police officers led by an officer identified as Ruto acted very professional. The officers contained the situation from escalating by keeping their calm at a safe distance and allowed the agitated youth to air their grievances peacefully.

Sekento told the youth the Chinese bosses were on their way to the site.  Some of the youth suggested complete shut down of operations on the site to force the Chinese bosses to come to the site faster.  Shortly after, riot police arrived under the command of Ngong OC Crime Martin Fwaba. The youth declared they would not move anywhere until their demands were met.  

The police surrounded the demonstrators fully armed with tear gas, rungus and guns.  The OC Crime did something special by allowing the politicians and the protesters to air their grievances uninterrupted.  Finally, the protesters agreed to appoint a few people who will dialogue on their behalf. One by one the protesters walked away.

Peaceful demonstrators beaten

Earlier this year, when SGR construction started along Kangawa Road, allegations of workers being ferried by buses every morning from Rongai at the expense of local youth gained momentum.   A few days later a group of youth assembled at the Kangawa site near drive 18 and demanded to have an audience with the site management.  

The human resource team arrived accompanied by about 8 police officers armed with the dreaded rungu’s and guns. Some of the youth got scared and fled as the police officers approached them, but the majority remained.  The police without giving the youth an opportunity to express themselves started beating them with rungus. One woman was hit so hard the rungu broke into pieces. The youth ran off chased by the officers. Our reporter spoke to a few of the youth a day later and they expressed bitterness towards the police and the SGR contractors.

Give dialogue a chance

Some trucks were forced to turn back during the 2016 demonstrations

The police should always embrace the tactics of OC crime Martin Fwaba, Officer Ruto and their team of officers who were facing a larger and more agitated group of protesters right in the SGR site but chose dialogue to calm the situation.  Everyone went home safely that day. There were no more demonstrations in the remaining period of 2016 and 2017.

The SGR project is expected to pick up pace in the next few months. There are still allegations of local youth getting a raw deal when it comes to employment.  There was a planned demonstration on Thursday 5th April 2018 along Kangawa Road to highlight the issue.  The demonstration was called off.

Give local youth jobs

Irregardless of who is right or wrong, dialogue must remain as the first option. Beating already demotivated youth will only sow the seed of bitterness.  The SGR contractor should work with local leaders to ensure local youth are given first priority in employment opportunities as mandated by the constitution.