Kenya Police Scatter Protesting Drivers Snarling Nairobi Traffic

Kenyan paramilitary police dispersed public-transport drivers who paralyzed traffic by blocking roads in the capital, Nairobi, in a protest against increased parking fees.

Operators of buses, commuter vans, known as matatus, and taxi-cab drivers stopped traffic on some of Nairobi’s busiest streets including Thika highway, Jogoo Road and the central business district since early morning as motorists headed to work.

Around noon, ground-level shops in the business district locked their doors as armed police carrying batons and shields chased protesters by foot and apprehended motorists and bus drivers as they tried to reclaim their parked vehicles.

“I’m advising any motorist to take precautions in central business district and not move until the roads are cleared,” Traffic Commandant Edward Mwamburi said in a phone interview.

The increased parking fees will help finance road improvements on a network built in the 1970s for a population less than a-third of Nairobi’s current 3.1 million people, Nairobi Governor Evans Kidero said on Feb. 12. The number of vehicles in the city has more than doubled since 2012 to 700,000 and that growth hasn’t been matched by “infrastructure and traffic management” expansion, Kidero said.

Public-transport drivers “are saying that increased fees in the city are unaffordable,” Dickson Mbugua, national chairman of the Matatu Welfare Association, said by phone.

Kenyan Police Inspector-General David Kimaiyo ordered the arrest of drivers taking part in the blockades and warned that vehicles obstructing the traffic would be stripped of their number plates and towed away, according to posts on his Twitter account.

Blockade Warning

“This heinous act will not be tolerated,” Kimaiyo said. “The motorist grievances can be heard without blocking or obstructing the road to other road users.”

The Nairobi government more than doubled a licensing fee for public-service vehicles to as much as 8,000 shillings ($92) a month for buses, said Mbugua. While the Nairobi Metropolitan Union and the government negotiated an agreement this week to lower the charges by as much as 65 percent, it hasn’t been implemented, angering public-vehicle owners, Mbugua said. The price increment is also being challenged in court, he said.

Kidero said he met public-transport officials today and told them the strike must stop for talks to resume, according to a statement on his Twitter account.

The demonstration was organized by an informal group of protesters and hasn’t been endorsed by the association, Mbugua said. Matatus and city buses in Nairobi are privately owned.

A strike by matatu operators in November 2012 over tougher penalties for traffic offenses led to hours-long traffic jams in the city. Nairobi accounts for about 60 percent of Kenya’s $41 billion annual gross domestic product.

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