By Samuel Ouma
Transportation and business came to a standstill in Nairobi streets on Thursday morning after traders engaged police into running battles protesting against high rates, harassment by police and arrest of their colleagues.
The traders who are said to be plying their businesses at Wakulima and Marikiti markets within the city, lit fire smacks in the middle of roads causing a traffic snarl-up on Haile Selassie highway and Jogoo road. They hurled bottles and stones at the police.
The Thursday incident is alleged to be a culmination of tension that has been looming since Wednesday between the traders and County government officials. Police arrested five traders at Marikiti market among them being the traders association Chairman Cyrus Kaguta and seized their goods.
The move by police to arrest Cyrus Kaguta triggered verbal confrontation between the city authorities and traders and escalated to violence. The county officers were roughed up by irate merchants but the police came to their aid.
“The traders were angered by the arrest of their chairman and they proceeded to beat up one of the county officers and it is only then that the officers fled only for the police to show up this morning,” said one of the traders.
Police are being accused of persistent extortion and melee meted on traders and demanding for kickbacks to the tune of sh.1000 ($10). Traders are appealing to Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko to intervene.
“This has been going on to an extent that the authorities are now arresting innocent passers-by who are mistaken for traders. Governor Mike Sonko should intervene,” reiterated Maina Kago, one of the traders.
Central Police boss Robinson Thuku confirmed the traders were arrested for violation of City by-laws. Thuku said “We are yet to identify the crimes they committed but our obligation is to restore order. The protests are an act of hooliganism because once arrested it is only the court that can acquit the traders.”
Starehe Member of Parliament Charles Njagua dislocated his ankle when he was caught in a Wednesday standoff. He had moved in to calm the situation.
“I came to the rescue of the traders and tried to talk to talk to the officers but little did I know that they had called for reinforcement. They threw tear gas canisters, forcing people to scamper for safety, “said the legislator.
Traders have warned that they will continue to disrupt the business until those arrested are freed. They have vowed to give police uneasy time unless their grievances are addressed.