A student carries his classmate out of the Silver Spring Secondary School in Nairobi, Kenya, after she collapsed inside her classroom.

A student carries his classmate out of the Silver Spring Secondary School in Nairobi, Kenya, after she collapsed inside her classroom.

Credit:

Katie G. Nelson

It was Monday afternoon, and Kenyan high-schoolers were getting ready to finish up class for the day, when it happened.

About 200 students were in their classrooms when police fired a tear-gas canister over a cluster of tin-roofed houses and directly into Nairobi’s Silver Spring Secondary School compound.

The anti-riot police were attempting to control a group of protesters who set tires on fire in a road in Kibera, a sprawling informal settlement in the Kenyan capital. It is unclear why the officer fired the canister into the school’s vicinity, a mostly residential area more than 1,000 feet away from the blocked thoroughfare.

Police attempted to extinguish burning tires that blocked a main road in the Kibera slum.

Credit:

Katie G. Nelson

Screaming students poured out of the single-story school, overwhelmed by the pungent smell and sting of tear gas. One student carried a female classmate who had fainted (seen above), while others rushed to find water to wash the toxins from their face and eyes.

A student runs from Silver Spring Secondary School after a tear-gas canister landed inside the compound.

Credit:

Katie G. Nelson

“They are throwing the tear gas everywhere,” said Isaiah Nyongesa, director of Silver Spring Secondary School. “Our teachers were just inside the classrooms teaching. I don’t understand why they are targeting the school.”

“You can’t interfere with the learning process. They are innocent they are students after their education,” he added.  

Police also used tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters in the coastal town of Mombasa on Monday. Several people died during protests in the town of Kisumu near the Ugandan border, according to local media.

Kenyan anti-riot police prepare to approach opposition demonstrators in the Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya.

Credit:

Katie G. Nelson

The demonstrations are part of a growing political movement calling to reform Kenya’s electoral commission, which faces allegations of corruption and backdoor dealings.

Spearheading the movement is Kenya’s opposition party, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), which claims the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is politically biased and unfit to preside over upcoming elections in 2017.

Established in 2011, the commission is responsible for registering voters, regulating political party activities and monitoring the country’s voting process.

Electoral commission members have been accused of widespread corruption after evidence emerged that executives of UK printing company Smith and Ouzman Ltd. paid kickbacks to people in Kenya and various other countries. That company had a lucrative contract to provide ballot materials for Kenya’s 2013 elections.

CORD leader and former presidential candidate Raila Odinga has threatened his party would boycott elections unless the electoral commission is disbanded.

Anti-riot police approach demonstrators in the Kibera neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya.

Credit:

Katie G. Nelson

The Kenyan government has responded swiftly, and often violently, to the demonstrations — using tear gas, water cannons and batons to control protesters. Those crackdowns are heightening fears that Kenya could plunge into violence mirroring past presidential votes.

Kenya’s 2007-2008 elections were marred by violence after incumbent President Mwai Kibaki — a member of the ethnic majority — claimed victory over opposition leader Raila Odinga. Kibaki’s contested victory set off a wave of ethnically and politically based fighting that left hundreds of Kenyans dead and as many as 600,000 displaced.

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