Angered by the series of demolitions of homes of more than 7,000 families, hundreds of protesters in Kenya blocked one of Nairobi’s major highways with burning tires to protest against the government’s action.

Police used teargas and water cannons on the protesters, who then looted shops and parked cars.

Reacting, Police Chief Phillip Ndolo denied using excessive force on protesters, saying, “Police responded to a rowdy group that was destroying property on the road. If they have grievances they should express them through the right channels. We will not tolerate destruction of property.” 

The government had on Thursday closed Korogocho market which served an estimated 100,000 people who depend on it for their livelihoods and fresh vegetable produce, said Patrick Maina, the market’s chairman. He said the market serves several informal settlements.

Residents of Kariobangi, a poor informal settlement, woke up Monday to the sound of bulldozers crushing their rickety structures made of metal sheeting, said resident and human rights activist Habib Omar.

The demolitions continued through the week and displaced thousands of residents, who are sleeping out in the rain and cold because Nairobi has restrictions on movement due to the coronavirus.

The government claims that it owns the land where the demolitions took place and it ignored a court order that barred it from evicting the slum residents until their case arguing for their right to live on the land is determined. Some of the residents had official allotment letters dating to 2008 which give them permission to live there, said Omar.

“It is so inhuman for the government to evict us from our houses at a time like this. Where should we go. Where will I take my children because now I don’t have a house and there’s the curfew at night,” said Mary Njeri, a mother of three who also sells vegetables in the market.

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