Police in Kenya fired tear gas on students of a school in Nairobi who had been protesting the sale of their playground to a private developer.
Students returning to the Langata Road Primary School after two weeks off for a teacher strike were surprised to find the playground had been fenced off. The playground was rumored to have been purchased by a powerful politician in order to build a parking lot for the politician’s hotel, located near the school.
The children were in the front line as people gathered to protest the move by pulling down the fence surrounding the playground.
“The governor, the senator and other government officials are all scared of the politician, they cannot do anything to stop the playground from the being taken,” Boniface Mwangi said.
According to television footage of the event, children were carried away from the playground, screaming and choking in pain, from the tear gas. Later, dogs were brought to the playground by local police.
Around 10 students were brought to the hospital for injuries related to the protest, including tear gas exposure in the eyes.
The incident has led to the creation of a movement on Twitter using the hashtag “#OccupyPlayGround.”
Acting police chief Samuel Arachi has since suspended the police officer in charge of responding to the protest. He went on to say that peaceful protests do not warrant the use of tear gas. Five people have been arrested in the incident; three for vandalism and two for incitement.
“We will never allow officers to use force not only on any citizen more so on children whether in a demonstration or otherwise,” he said.
Elijah Mwangi, who had been in charge of the police officers at the school, said he had simply been following orders.
“This is brutality beyond words and greed beyond description. It is difficult to believe that police can actually deploy against primary school children and lob tear gas at them to defend a land grabber. This image of a nation determined to steal forcefully from its own children cannot be what we aspire to. It cannot be the legacy we want to bequeath the children,” said opposition leader Raila Odinga.
The school, run by the Nairobi City Council, holds around 1,000 students between the ages of 3 and 14. The school has owned the land the playground is on since 1972, writes David Malingha Doya for Bloomberg.
In 2003, Kenya took away school fees for primary education, leading to an 86% increase in the number of enrolled students across the country. The move put the country back in the running to meet the Millennium Development Goal of basic education for all children this year.