Protesters Torch Kenya’s Parliament but Rescue Two MPs

Protesters Torch Kenya's Parliament but Rescue Two MPs
Rose Museo

Members of Kenya’s parliament were visibly shaken on Tuesday when anti-tax demonstrators overpowered police and stormed the building. Two lawmakers, despite the mayhem, thanked the invaders who had helped them out.

Crutch-dependent MP Rose Museo recounted the terrifying ordeal to the BBC. “I was terrified and I prayed to God as about 22 young protesters surrounded me,” according to her. During the two-hour attack, Museo and her wheelchair-using colleague Jackson Kosgei were trapped while their colleagues managed to escape through an underground tunnel.

Damage to the parliament was extensive as the youthful protestors smashed glass and barged into the chambers. Some even managed to set fire to portions of the structure. Museo, an opposition lawmaker, just defeated the contentious budget bill that precipitated the demonstrations.

Starting last week, the protests were primarily nonviolent. Protests against a budget plan that would have increased taxes and levies were met with thousands of young demonstrators, principally in Nairobi and around the nation. Nevertheless, on Tuesday afternoon, when the bill was enacted, tensions rose despite the large number of demonstrators there.

EPA
Protesters invaded parliament minutes after the MPs had passed the controversial bill to increase taxes

The police fired upon the masses encircling parliament. Outraged demonstrators stormed the assembly grounds shortly after the members cast their votes. After suffering injuries in a car accident in 2017, Museo was unable to utilize the elevators because of a power failure. “Everybody was gone, and I couldn’t use the lifts because the power was cut off,” said the woman.

Even Kosgei, a member of the governing party who had backed the measure to pay off Kenya’s roughly $80 billion debt, was caught. “We were inside the chamber, and all of a sudden our young men stormed in, and everyone was looking for an escape route,” he told television station KTN.

The intruders seized a copy of the ceremonial mace—a symbol of legislative authority—in addition to destroying furnishings and setting part of the building on fire. Museo and Kosgei agreed to tackle the demonstrators together; Kosgei became crippled after having polio as a child. “It was getting worse, but my colleague Rose Museo and I made a choice to face the young men, as we could not escape due to our disability,” said he.

The demonstrators were furious, yet they refrained from physically harming the lawmakers. Instead, they escorted them to a more secure location, from which they were subsequently evacuated. “They knew who I am and even knew how I had voted,” Kosgei stated. “But they told me that I was a good man and asked me to allow them to escort me out of the building because what would happen might not be good for me.”

The protesters went so far as to offer to drive Kosgei to his destination. “They asked me whether I needed an Uber, but I showed them where I wanted to stay as I knew that outside parliament was not safe,” said the politician. The demonstrators’ generosity also took Museo by surprise. According to their assurance, “Our problem was the finance bill – not us.”

Museo recognized the demonstrators’ humanity despite the horrific event. I felt nothing except kindness from them; they were completely harmless. “They told me, ‘You are our mother, and we cannot hurt you,'” she recalled. Kosgei thanked the demonstrators, saying, “I saved my life and that of Ms. Museo when everyone ran away.”

Getty Images
The number of protesters swelled on Tuesday – with medics saying 23 people died when things turned violent

Millie Odhiambo was one of several lawmakers who suspected that the demonstrators had positioned the handicapped lawmakers as human shields to evade potential police intervention. Museo, on the other hand, denied this, saying that the demonstrators were helping her without the presence of police. Everyone was understandably terrified by the invasion, so she didn’t hold her coworkers responsible for running away either.

In the end, lawmakers, escorted by Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, were escorted out of the building via a tunnel that ran between the chambers of the national assembly and the senate and into a new wing housing the offices of the members of parliament. In April, the Bunge Towers, which are located in the building’s office area, were just opened.

The episode serves as a reminder of the strong public opinion on Kenya’s financial policies and the unexpected humanity that can surface during times of hardship.

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