A group of 17 Kenyan activists who took part in Occupy Parliament protests on Tuesday 14 May in central Nairobi are due to be charged with breach of the peace.
The protest, which included the release of live pigs outside the parliament gates, was sparked by a pay rise demand from members of parliament, who campaigners have dubbed ‘MPigs’. They have demanded a rise from $78,500 to around $126,000 a year – over 100 times the av-erage annual salary of Kenyan workers. Demonstrators are calling on them to accept their current salary or resign.
According to one of the organizers of the ‘Occupy Parliament’ protest, photo-activist Boni-face Mwangi, the pigs – which were labelled with names of MPs – symbolized the politi-cians’ insatiable greed.
Led by renowned human rights activist Reverend Timothy Njoya, campaigners donned white t-shirts labelled ‘Occupy Parliament’ and criss-crossed Nairobi’s streets with placards criticis-ing the MPs’ pay hike demands, while thousands of Kenyans remain in poverty. Kenyan MPs are some of the highest paid in the world.
Njoya, who has been very active in challenging state autocracy in Kenya, said he was not surpised by the request: ‘We changed the constitution and the government but the individuals in the government are still the same,’ he said. He added that while Kenya has given birth to a new constitution, Kenyans cannot ‘sleep and say it’s over.
‘To change a country is not an easy thing. It’s intergenerational and long term. That’s why we are here: to change this country from a market to a nation,’ said Njoya.
Activists have said the protests will go on until the MPs drop their demands. ‘Things will change because the poor will stop one day siding with their MPs and leaders and they will know these are their enemies,’ Njoya warned.
The protest remained entirely peaceful from the start. Beginning at Uhuru Park Freedom Corner, the demonstration took a novel twist when protesters stopped at the parliament gate, released a hog and dozens of piglets, which fed on 120 litres of cow blood spilled around them. Police turned water cannons on protesters and fired tear gas into crowds.
The presence of the protesters and the pigs at the parliament gates hindered MPs from accessing the main building, forcing anti-riot police to use water cannons and teargas to disperse the protesters.
In the confrontations, 17 activists were arrested and detained at the parliament police station, only to be released hours later on cash bail. They are due to be charged with breach of the peace next Monday 20 May.
Musa Haron is a reporter with Radar (@OnOurRadar).