Grief and Outrage: Parents Mourn Children Killed in Finance Bill Protests

Grief and Outrage: Parents Mourn Children Killed in Finance Bill Protests
Embakasi East MP Babu Owino speaks to Rex Masai's parents at City Mortuary

By Brenda Gitonga, Nairobi 

The violent demise of young, unarmed protestors demonstrating against the controversial finance bill and government oppression has left a trail of sorrow, pain, and agony.

According to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) on 25th June 2024, at least 23 people were killed, with Nairobi witnessing the highest number of killings at 18. Many others sustained life-threatening injuries from police batons and bullets. More deaths and injuries were recorded on Thursday.

The finance bill, proposing significant tax hikes, sparked widespread protests across the country. Many Kenyans, already struggling with economic hardships, took to the streets to voice their dissent. 

Among the crowds were students, workers, and activists who believed in the power of their collective voice, not knowing it would tragically cost them their lives.

The brutality of the police response left many parents in shock and disbelief. The loss of a child is an indescribable grief, understood only by the parent.

For these parents, the agony lay not just in the loss itself but in knowing their children were taken in a violent and unjust manner by the government they voted in two years ago. They grappled with questions that may never be answered: Why did their children have to die? Could anything have prevented these senseless killings? What did they do to warrant such violence?

In Mombasa County, Paul Tata struggled to hold back tears as he viewed the body of his son, who died after choking on tear gas fumes.

"I never imagined that a government I voted in would, two years later, kill my son," he said.

His son, Emmanuel Tata, a second-year student at Meru National Polytechnic, was caught in the clash between police and demonstrators at Mombasa's Mwembe Tayari Bus terminus. Tata said his son was not part of the protesters; he had left home in Mikindani for Mombasa's Central Business District with friends to run errands.

"He was my firstborn child, God-fearing and a staunch Christian who never got into trouble. I hoped he would complete his education and help turn around the family fortunes," he said.

The mourning father had a message for President William Ruto's government, stating that the youths protesting have nothing to lose.

"We, the surviving parents, are left mourning their loss. I toiled hard to make ends meet and give my son a decent education, only to lose him at 20. Let the President consider meeting with the protesting youths. It would have been better if I had died since I have lived long enough," he said.

In Nairobi County, where the death toll was highest, families searched hospitals and mortuaries for their loved ones. Rex Masai, 29, was struck by a police bullet on June 20th, 2024. Masai's mother, Gillian Munyao, said Rex was at work when the bullet hit him.

"The police officer who committed this crime should know the pain I am going through as a parent; it is the same pain he will feel when he loses a loved one," she said.

Evans Kiratu, 21, died after reportedly being struck by a tear gas canister fired by a police officer. Kiratu's mother, Ann Wanjiru, was informed by a good Samaritan that he had been badly injured. On rushing to the hospital, she found her son had died.

"The government we elected two years ago needs to explain why it is killing our children," she said, struggling to hold back tears.

Caroline Mutisya, mother of Erickson Mutisya, a 25-year-old butcher shot in the chest behind Parliament, recounted her last moments with her son before leaving for upcountry, unaware he would participate in the protests.

"I bid them goodbye as I left for Machakos in the morning. I left him getting ready for work. I called him in the afternoon, and someone else answered, telling me my son had been shot and was no more," she said.

Mourning her son as hardworking, obedient, and polite, she questioned why the police opened fire on him when he was unarmed. James Mutisya, Erickson's brother, called for justice and demanded accountability from the police officer responsible.

"The demonstrations were peaceful. The death of my brother has left a huge gap in our family. I urge the president to listen to the youth and act," he said.

In Nakuru County, two families sought justice after their children were killed by police repulsing protesters attempting to enter Nakuru State Lodge on Tuesday. One boy, struggling with mental illness, was caught up in the chaos after being sent to look for his brothers and was shot dead. He had six bullet wounds in his leg, neck, head, and stomach.

In the aftermath of the protests, calls for accountability and justice have grown. Human rights activists demand thorough investigations into the deaths. However, for many parents, the road to justice seems long and fraught with challenges.

Roseline Odede, chairperson of KNCHR, said the police response was excessively harsh.

"We witnessed the use of live bullets, rubber bullets, beatings, and indiscriminate tear gas. The police seemed tear gas-happy, driving into peaceful areas and dropping tear gas on citizens," Odede said.

She criticized the police for attacking journalists covering the protests and medical personnel aiding the injured.

"It seems in Kenya today, peaceful protests are impossible. Protesters are always met with tear gas and force. We ask authorities to grant Kenyans full access to their Article 37 right to protest."

"There is deep-rooted anger among Kenyans. We urge the president to engage with citizens to understand and address this anger," she said.

"This anger transcends all demographic groups—age, sex, tribe, socioeconomic status."

Amidst the grief, some parents find hope in the solidarity and support of their communities and Gen Z. Vigils have been held, and tributes paid to the young lives lost, remembering them as heroes.

The pain of losing a child is a burden no parent should bear, and the agony of those whose children were brutally killed during the protests remains a fresh wound.