Millicent Nyong’o, an ambitious woman in her twenties, contested for political office in her local area in Kisumu. She lost, but keeps her zeal on. She was born and raised in Kisumu, the western-Kenya city famous for being a bastion of some of the longest serving opposition politicians.
Kisumu can be rightly called the heartbeat of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s political life. Most residents follow Mr. Odinga with a deep and intimate allegiance. They call him ‘Baba’, Swahili for father.
For this reason, Kisumu, throughout history, has witnessed many politically instigated anti-government protests. The city has earned a reputation for being a fearless hotbed of political activity.
Kisumu’s ongoing protests
Millicent Nyongo has been part of the recent anti- government protests since the Kenya Supreme Court annulled the election in which the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, was announced winner.
The streets of Kisumu where Ms. Nyong’o and her campaign team once walked to look for votes just a few weeks ago, have now turned into a stage for violent confrontations between police and protestors.
Many of the demonstrations start off as peaceful but end up chaotic, violent and fatal. Millicent Nyong’o has been taking part in the street protests. ‘’For a long time, Luo people have sworn allegiance to Raila,’’ she told me. She stressed that for her the protests are primarily about reforms and credibility.
I asked Ms. Nyong’o what she meant and felt about the violent protests that have led to the deaths of at least 5 children and a teenager. She explained, ‘’I have been part of the people organising these protests. It’s not about Raila Odinga. We want a credible repeat poll. We want reforms and a government that works for us, not one that builds the fish factory in another town, yet Kisumu has the lake with the fish, this is like taking our livelihood from us.’’
She added that she, like many Kisumu residents, was very angry. ‘’Why are the police killing our people? Our little children have died! Were they protesting too? ‘’
Looking for answers
Millicent says that she confronted a local police chief to get answers on behalf of her community. The police told her that people responsible for the killings were not police officers.
Kenya’s interior minister, Fred Matiang’i, has issued a statement denying police involvement in use of live bullets or excessive force. Many Kenyans are dissatisfied with his explanations.
Human Rights Watch has accused the Kenya Police of excessive use of force and disappearances
Kisumu residents rage on with what they called demand for reforms. They are however alarmed by increased presence of uniformed armed security personnel on their streets.
Security for Kisumu or a threat message?
One local journalist spoke on condition of anonymity, she explained that Kisumu residents say they feel threatened by heavy military and police presence. ‘’The residents often hurl stones at moving or parked security forces vehicles. They are venting their anger because of previous police beatings and shooting of protesters,’’ she added.
In the protests following president Kenyatta’s victory announcement, a number of protesters were killed, some injured by gun shots according to a recent Kenya Human Rights Commission report.
Kisumu Governor Professor Anyang’ Nyon’go, claims bodies were found dumped in the city’s Lake Victoria.
The ministry of interior has denied any involvement of its armed personnel in the mentioned deaths.
The power struggle goes on
‘’If the head of the Electoral body confessed that he cannot guarantee a credible repeat poll, then how can I be sure that my vote will count? All we want is reforms. Reforms are not for Luo people only,’’ Millicent added decisively.
Critics of the opposition have dismissed the anti-government protests as mere fracas from the Luo ethnic group, Raila Odinga’s home base.
Ms. Nyong’o does not agree. Despite being a Luo, she is a member of a little known political party, the Democratic Party. Her party, however, aligns its ideology with that of the main opposition alliance NASA, led by Raila Odinga.
‘’I have been part of the people organising these protests. It’s not about Raila Odinga. We want a credible poll,’’ she reiterates.
Critics in the opposition have dismissed Raila as a power hungry politician who thrives on a personality cult.
Despite all the drama and danger, Mr. Odinga and Kisumu, through fearless opposition and standing up for what they believe in, have drawn unwavering support, even at the cost of lives.
Story by FRENNY JOWI