A planned distribution of food amidst Coronavirus pandemic turned into a bloody melee on Friday as thousands of Kenyans surged for food aid in country’s capital area of Nairobi, leading police to fire tear gas and injure several people.
Residents of Nairobi’s Kibera slum, spotting a food distribution, tried to force their way through a gate outside a district office for their chance at supplies to keep their families fed for another day.
As of Friday afternoon, Kenya had 189 confirmed coronavirus and seven deaths, the health ministry reported, though epidemiologists fear the outbreak is much larger.
Schools have closed, all international flights have been cancelled and unnecessary travel in and out of Nairobi has been banned.
The scene in Kenya’s largest slum reflected the fears of millions across Africa as nearly 20 countries have imposed full lockdowns and others have shut down cities or imposed curfews. A vast population of informal workers, with little or no savings, worries about the next meal as no one knows when the measures will end. Already, Rwanda and South Africa have extended their lockdowns by two weeks.
In the Nairobi chaos, men with sticks beat people back as they fought over packages of food, some with face masks dangling off their chins. Some people fell and were trampled. Dust rose. Women shrieked. Injured people were carried to safety and placed on the ground to recover, gasping for breath.
“The people who have been injured here are very many, even we cannot count,” said one resident, Evelyn Kemunto. “Both women and children have been injured. There was a woman with twins, she has been injured, and even now she is looking for her twins. … It is food we were coming for since we are dying of hunger.”
The crowd had heard that popular opposition leader Raila Odinga had donated the food, said witness Richard Agutu Kongo, a 43-year-old who operates a motorcycle taxi. But in fact the distribution was from another well-wisher who had given selected families cards to turn in and receive aid, he said.
“They didn’t care about government restrictions that we were to stay 1 meter apart,” he added.