Broken Dreams; The Aftermath of Protests

Broken Dreams; The Aftermath of Protests
Kakamega Referral Hospital

By Sharon Ambani

On Tuesday, 25th June 2024, the air in Kakamega town was thick, filled with tension and the pungent smell of teargas as over a thousand youths filled the streets with blazing passion, protesting against the punitive Finance Bill 2024.

Amid the chanting and chaos, anti-riot police clashed violently with demonstrators. Their attempts to disperse the crowd escalated to the firing of live bullets. The streets became a battlefield where lives encountered fate brutally. 

Joseph Mwanza, a 19-year-old ice cream vendor at Muliro Gardens, was swept into his current state of conflict.

Joseph Mwanza being assessed by the doctors.

On this fateful day, he recollects fleeing towards Cooperative Bank for cover when the clash between the police and protesters started. He was caught in the crossfire, a bullet tearing through his left arm.

"The demonstrations started well without any commotion. I was in Muliro Garden selling ice-cream as usual.  However, the clashes started in the afternoon. I was running for safety when I felt my left hand shrink and numb. I thought it had twisted, so I told the guy next to me to help me out. It is then that he brought to my attention that I had been shot and I was bleeding profusely," recalls Mwanza.

The next thing he remembers was being rushed to a nearby private hospital. He was given first aid and later transferred to Kakamega County General Hospital for further treatment.

Mwanza is a recent high school graduate with dreams of studying Physiotherapy at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. The unforgettable physical and mental scars he bears mar his educational dreams.

"I was going to use the money I get from my job to finance my studies when I join university. I doubt I can continue with the hustle while in this state. I am also forced to depend on my mother, who does casual jobs around Kakamega town," he notes.

Despite Mwanza nursing his wounds on a hospital bed, he is happy the actions of his fellow youths bore fruit.  

"Although I was not part of those who demonstrated, I am proud. At least President Ruto heard their cry. However, my call on the police is to observe the constitution and if it is necessary, then they should use rubber instead of live bullets," he says.

Just a few steps away from where Mwanza was shot, Luis Makatiani, a 22-year-old boy, suffered the same fate.

Luis Mulefu Makatiani, 22 year old victim of gunwound

"I was returning from my lunch break. As I approached my  Mpesa shop near Cooperative Bank, I felt a sharp pain in my left hand. It felt like it had fallen off my body. A bullet had hit me. I took the t-shirt I was wearing and wrapped my bleeding hand in it. My friend rushed me to the hospital. All this time, I had not noticed that my thigh had also been shot," says Luis

The Fourth-year student studying for a degree in Information Science at Moi University, now with injuries to his hand and thigh, holds an uncertain economic and educational future.

"Amid the chaos, I lost Ksh 50,000 and airtime scratch cards worth Ksh 5,000. These are the funds I desperately need to pay my school fees. I also have exams next month which I am afraid I might not do if I don’t heal soon," he explains.

Luis' anguish was not confined to him alone. His father, Protus Makatiani, feared the worst when he heard the news about his son from his wife.

"I was at home in Shivehe Sub-location in Ikolomani when I received a call from  his mother that Luis was shot. I feared he was dead, like those I had watched on TV on that day. Fortunately, she assured me he was still alive," says Makatiani. 

"I rushed to Kakamega Referral Hospital, where I found my son post-surgery, with stitches on his arm and thigh," he adds.

When asked whether his family would take a legal step against the police officer who shot his son, he states, "Right now, I am concentrating on my son's medical condition. We will decide on whether to press charges or not after he recovers,"

Makatiani's reaction is a tortuous reminder of the brutal reality and health challenges faced by families and victims of police brutality amid similar protests.

Apart from these two cases, two people also succumbed to gunshots with their lifeless bodies lying in a pool of blood on the streets of Kakamega town. One of the victims, 35-year-old Caroline Shiramba from Musoli location in Ikolomani Sub-County, was allegedly going home after work when she met her untimely death. 

Protesters attend candle lighting even at Kakamega funeral home

Her death has filled residents of Kakamega County with rage.

"We are angered by the police's dubious action of gunning an innocent person who was not part of the demonstrations. Why use extra force on people who were practicing their rights? We want action taken on the rogue police," said Silas Chebuche, one of the attendees of the candle-lighting event at the Kakamega Funeral Home.

There is no clear report indicating how many people died or got injured during the anti-Finance Bill demonstrations held across the country. Claims of over 20 gunshot-caused deaths have been raised.

However, in his speech on Wednesday, when he declined to sign the passed bill, President William Ruto only recognized six fatalities and 214 people injured.

The Law Society of Kenya, led by its President, Faith Odhiambo, among other human rights organizations, is disputing the figures rolled out by President Ruto.

"We will not allow any of the numbers to be swept under the carpet. We will be working with other human rights groups and doctors to compare the number of deaths so that we table the report to IPOA and the public," Odhiambo said.

The police have always been criticized for using excessive force on protesters. Despite the raised alarm by different stakeholders, questions remain: would justice be served, or would the cries for change be lost in the haze of teargas and gunfire?