Chaos rocked Mombasa on Monday morning as police thwarted a protest by demonstrators, who have been pushing the government to allow transporters carry and nominate cargo at the Mombasa port.
The protest happened despite the government announcing that it had suspended an order directing all cargo be transported via the standard gauge railway (SGR).
But transporters said they had been denied access to the port of Mombasa.
When contacted, Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) General Manager Operations Captain William Ruto said the trucks have been allowed into the port to pick cargo, dismissing the claims by the transporters’ association.
“We deal with consignees and importers and they have been coming into the port since Friday to pick up their cargo. We don’t understand what facts these associations are using to base their claims that we’ve denied them entry,” Mr Ruto said. “You can come and verify for yourselves about us allowing trucks in.”
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the directive to transport all imports using SGR was suspended only two days after it was issued, and that “nothing had changed” at the port.
“On average, 35 per cent of goods from the port are being transported by SGR and 65 per cent by trucks,” Mr Macharia told Nation on Monday.
He blamed the protests on politics, saying the SGR has capacity to transport a maximum of 10 million tonnes against 32 million tonnes handled by the port annually.
“There’s business for everybody at the port, and it’s wrong for anyone to claim that SGR is ferrying 100 per cent of cargo. This is not possible,” he said.
During the demo, at least 13 protesters were arrested as police used tear gas to disperse them at Nyali Bridge.
Transport was temporarily disrupted as the more than 20 police officers engaged the protesters along the Mombasa-Malindi Highway.
The protesters were taken to Nyali police station, where they are being detained.
Nyali Police Commander Simon Thirikwa said the demo “illegal”. “Once you infringe on the right of others, then you are conducting an illegal demo. We will not allow that,” he said.
The demos have previously been taking place in Kibarani, along Mombasa-Nairobi Highway, and in the central business district.
Those arrested include truck drivers and activists — Haki Africa’s executive director Hussein Khalid, his rapid response officer Mathias Shippeta, Muslim for Human Rights rapid response officer Francis Auma and another only identified as Michael.
One of the protest leaders, Mr Philip Jagero, accused the police of harassing them despite notifying them about the demo.
“Based on what they have done to us, it is a clear indication that we, the Coastal people, are denied the privileges offered by Constitution. We demand our colleagues to be freed,” said Mr Jagero, who was camping outside Nyali Police Station with other protesters and Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir.