NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan police Monday tear-gassed schoolchildren demonstrating against the removal of their school's playground, which has been allegedly grabbed by a powerful politician, said a Kenyan human rights activist.
The students from Langata Road Primary School were in the front line of people pulling down a wall erected around the playground which has been acquired by a private developer said to be a powerful politician, said Boniface Mwangi. Primary school children in Kenya are usually between six and 14 years of age.
"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," Mwangi said. Television footage showed children, some being carried away, writhing in pain, screaming and choking because of the tear-gas. Police officers later brought dogs to the playground.
Acting police chief Samuel Arachi said he had suspended the police officer who was in charge at the scene of the protest.
In such an incident tear gas is not used because the protests were not violent, Arachi said. He said five people have been arrested; 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 was in charge of the police officers at the school, said he was following orders.
Opposition politician Eliud Owalo said last week that the playground had been grabbed to construct a parking lot for the politician's hotel adjacent to the school.
"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.
Allegations of land seizures by Kenyan officials has become a controversial issue in the country.