The anti-corruption protest had barely begun when it was brought to an abrupt end, baton-wielding police firing volleys of tear gas and charging at a group of hundreds gathered in Nairobi’s centre.
Thursday’s police action was as predictable as it was effective, quickly scattering the protesters, many of them wearing red T-shirts with the slogan “Act On Corruption Now Or Resign”.
The message was aimed at President Uhuru Kenyatta who last month blamed others for runaway corruption saying he had done all he could to rein it in.
“What does he mean there’s nothing he can do? It irritates me when he talks like that,” said a 30-year-old protester who, instead of giving her name, gave her Twitter handle, Mpalelo. “He can fire people! He can hold people to account!”
Before the tear gas billowed across Nairobi’s Freedom Corner, the protest organisers had addressed around 300 people from the top of a memorial to Kenya’s Mau Mau fighters, who battled British colonial authorities in the run-up to independence.
They sang songs, blew whistles, held placards reading “Jail The Corrupt” and “Pay Back The Money”, and listened to speeches.
The latest in a series of scandals to hit the government involves alleged theft from the health ministry. For Bernard Baridi, a 27-year old student, that was the final straw.
“When you attack health you attack the heart of every citizen. Innocent lives are lost every day because of lack of medicine, facilities. It is something we cannot allow,” he said.
Among the protesters many said they were there to support the president, not defy him.
“We gave him the mandate, the power, to fight corruption,” said Martin Kavaya, a 39-year-old who runs a programme for unemployed youth in Nairobi. “We are not against him, we are here to give him the power to act, to let those people be prosecuted.”
“Whatever we are doing, we are trying to support him in a different from,” Kavaya said.
Soon after, as the police moved in and the crowd was driven away, it was clear their support was not wanted.