Kenyan authorities have arrested protesters who allege equipment to fight COVID-19 is being mismanaged. Police used tear gas to disperse the activists at a park in central Nairobi.
Kenyans, led by local activists, took to the streets of Nairobi Friday. Wanjeri Nderu, one of the protest organizers, said police should be investigating those who stole public money.
“We are demanding for the arrest of the people who are known thieves, who are known to have stolen COVID-19 [equipment], but they are still free. The police, instead of coming to tear gas us, they should be in the offices investigating, making sure these people are taken to court and jailed. We cannot live in a country where we are ruled by impunity, and we have a system that does not care for the people of this nation,” Nderu said.
Before the protest began, police lobbed tear gas canisters at demonstrators and arrested at least five people. Kenyan media report police said the protest was illegal, and the protesters’ action went against health ministry protocol to contain the virus. Nderu said she is not happy with the police.
“We do not need to seek permission from the police for them to allow us to congregate and what they have decided to do is to disperse us using tear gas. We organized ourselves into four groups; one was here, the other group was in town, even the groups in Jevanjee have been tear-gassed, the group at archives has been teargassed; we cannot work with the police like this. The police cannot make us [their] enemy,” Nderu said.
Last week, the Kenya Medical Supplies Agency Board suspended three top officials, including chief executive officer Jonah Manjari, as a result of an investigation. The country’s anti-corruption agency is probing a $7.7 million procurement of COVID-19 medical supplies, and preliminary results show officials flouted the process.
Political commentator Michael Agwada says corruption in an environment of economic uncertainty due to the pandemic can bring political instability.
“The worst that can happen, you can see more infections taking place as a result of these protests we are seeing here. But again, the worst that also can happen is we could see more protests that will make the government unstable. It’s a time when the government has to sit down and be very open to the public and say this is what is happening. People have asked very relevant questions as to donations from Jack Ma, where are they? And now we are hearing some of them were taken to Tanzania, and some of them were brought to Kenya. That in itself is enough to infuriate the public that you are arresting for having no mask,” Agwada said.
KEMSA is part of the ministry of Health and provides procurement, warehousing, and distribution services for medical materials for agencies like USAID and the Global Fund. Those organizations have raised questions about how the money meant for the public was used, and asked for an audit of KEMSA.
In May, Kenya received $50 million from the World Bank to help respond to the global pandemic threat.