KENYA

Kenyan children tear-gassed while trying to reclaim playground

Police in the Kenyan capital Nairobi fired tear gas at a crowd of primary school students on Monday as they tried to take back their playground, which was claimed by a private developer last month. Several children had to be taken to a nearby clinic for treatment.

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Police firing tear gas at a group of protesters, including schoolchildren (in green uniforms). Photo by our Observer. 

Police in the Kenyan capital Nairobi fired tear gas at a crowd of primary school students on Monday morning as they tried to take back their playground, which was claimed by a private developer last month. Several children had to be taken to a nearby clinic for treatment.

School officials and local politicians claim the land was seized illegally in mid-December when a wall was built overnight between Langa’ta Road Primary School and the field that used to serve as its playground. Last week, a Nairobi senator filed a petition in court asking for the land to be returned to the public school. The land sits on prime real estate, adjacent to a high-end hotel and opposite an airport.

According to Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero, public schools are easy targets for land-grabbers because many of them have difficulty producing the deeds to their lands.

Schoolchilren pushing over the remnants of a wall that separated their school from what used to be their schoolyard. Photo by our Observer. 

“It’s just crazy that the police would tear-gas little kids like that”

Jeremy Mutiso is a photographer who works for Inuka ‘Ni Sisi!’, a nonprofit grassroots organisation promoting social change in Kenya. He photographed the playground protest.

I arrived at the school around 10 am, when the children left their classrooms and headed to the main gate in the wall blocking off their former schoolyard. The police had already been on the scene since early in the morning; the kids’ action was planned ahead of time with parents, teachers, and local politicians. [Editor’s Note: The protest came following the expiry of a notice given by local member of parliament Kenneth Okoth, who threatened to mobilise his constituency if the land was not returned to the school ]. The police were in full riot gear, and had brought dogs. There were also lots of parents and relatives present, as well as the local member of parliament. The kids started banging on the gate, trying to push it over. That’s when the police started firing their tear gas.

The children ran away, terrified; I saw a few of them faint. Some of the adults rushed to get the injured kids to the hospital. [Editor’s Note: According to local reports, five children were injured]. One man was so angry that he took a rock and hit a policeman on the head; he was bleeding a lot and had to be taken away too.

 

“I heard some policemen disobeying their superiors’ orders”

After the tear gas dispersed, most of the children came back; they were more energised than ever. They chanted, ‘Our playground, our rights’, and yelled about how it didn’t make any sense that the government would promise them laptops but then allow their playground to be taken away. They pushed at the wall until it fell over, and ran into the field to occupy it. [Editors’ Note: Adult protesters pushed over parts of the wall, too.] Some of the teachers, who seemed worried, tried to hold them back, but it was no use. The children were ecstatic.

The police had backed away by this point. I heard some of the policemen disobeying their superiors’ orders; they didn’t want to move in and scare the kids any more than they already had. They did, however, arrest several adult protesters who were present. [Editor’s note: Local reports name them as two prominent activists, Houghton Irungu and Boaz Waruku].

To me, it’s just crazy that the police would tear-gas little kids like that. It’s like they just weren’t thinking!

According to local reports, the officer in charge of the operation at the school has been suspended.

On Monday afternoon, two prominent officials – the Lands Cabinet Secretary and the National Land Commission chairman – separately promised that the land would be returned to the school.

Post written by France 24 journalist Gaelle Faure (@gjfaure).