Kenyans return to work as opposition strike call flops

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyans largely ignored an opposition call to strike on Monday, opening shops and returning to work as they shrugged off demands for demonstrations against President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election and against the killing of protesters.

A motorcycle driver manouvres through obstacles placed on a street by supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga during the latest protests in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya, August 14, 2017. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola

Vehicular traffic returned to the streets of the capital, Nairobi, and the western town of Kisumu after days of quiet amid fears of violence after last Tuesday’s vote.

Kenyatta beat rival Raila Odinga by securing more than 54 percent of the vote, official results show.

A Kenyan human rights group said on Saturday that 24 people had been shot dead by police since election day. The government put the number of dead at 10, and said they died “in the course of quelling riots and unlawful assembly”. All deaths would be investigated, it added.

Allegations by Odinga of widespread electoral fraud have raised tensions in the East African country, where some 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced in widespread ethnic violence after he lost a deeply flawed election in 2007.

Relief at the relatively muted protests this time around, along with the re-election of a leader seen as pro-business and pro-growth, helped the local stock market rise 2.5 percent on Monday. Shares have now climbed nearly 7 percent since the eve of the Aug. 8 election.

In Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum and an opposition stronghold, many residents appeared to be observing the strike but minibuses wove their way through the rubble-strewn streets, and some food stalls and phone and money outlets had opened.

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Ken Nabwere, a Nairobi resident, said he had little choice but to return to work even though he supported the opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition which called the strike.

“I was supposed to vote and (leave) the rest to the politicians because if I was to boycott work today those guys don’t pay my bills,” he told Reuters. “I would advise others that unless you have permission from your boss, then you better go to work.”


Kenya, a country of 45 million people, is East Africa’s economic heart. International observers said the vote was largely fair and a parallel tally by domestic monitors supported results that showed Kenyatta had won by a margin of 1.4 million votes.

But protests have erupted in areas of Nairobi and Kisumu, where Odinga has strong support. The Kenya Red Cross said on Monday it had treated 177 people since the election, 108 of whom had serious injuries.

Kenyatta reiterated an appeal for the opposition to shun violence and take any complaints to court.

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“I truly believe there is no single Kenyan anywhere who wants to see violence, looting and demonstrations that end up destroying property,” he said.

Kenyatta also urged police to exercise restraint.

China on Monday congratulated Kenyatta on winning the election.

The White House on Monday also issued a statement of congratulations on Kenyatta’s re-election, but said it was “troubled by reports that some demonstrations have turned violent,” and called on all Kenyans to reject violence.

Diplomats have piled pressure on Odinga to either concede or take his challenge to court. The opposition has ruled out the latter option and says it will announce its strategy on Tuesday.

“Whatever our leader will say tomorrow is what we will do,” said Stephen Omondi, an opposition supporter in Nairobi’s Mathare slum, holding a picture of a friend shot dead by police. “If he says go out, we will be on the streets. But if he says stay home then we will.”

In the capital’s Kibera quarter, many were backing the opposition’s strike call.

“It’s only a small portion of people who are working. People need food and money,” said 32-year-old community health volunteer Thomas Ogoni.

A small group of young men lit a fire of tyres and planks at a busy junction and danced round the flames. Nearby, a dozen women dressed in black and holding candles were sitting in the middle of road in a small peace vigil.

In Kisumu, business activity had largely resumed, with some supermarkets open and motorcycle taxi operators out and about. Civil servants also returned to work.

Some opposition supporters said they remained determined to overturn the result but, for many, the priority was earning some money after days of inactivity.

“No work, no food,” said Eric Wanjero, a motorcycle driver looking for passengers. “Business is disrupted still but I had to go out (today) and try to make my living.”

Additional reporting by George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Maggie Fick in Kisumu, Ben Blanchard in Beijing; writing by David Lewis and George Obulutsa; editing by Mark Trevelyan and G Crosse