Kenya: Police Crackdown on Protesting Doctors, Injure Union Leader

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The Kenyan Medical Doctors, Pharmacists, and Dentists Union (KMPDU), along with other medical and health workers’ unions in the country, organised a peaceful demonstration at Nairobi, the country’s capital on 29 February. They demanded that the government expedite the posting of 1,215 medical interns who are critically needed in the health system. The interns also need the deployment to continue their academic pursuit to become full-fledged doctors. Most of these interns have been waiting to be deployed for up to six months, and some for as long as a year.

But the government’s response was violent, with the brutal force of anti-riot police, who fired Teargas and rubber to dispel the protesting workers, wounding several workers that were part of the demonstration. Dr Davji Attellah, the KMPDU Secretary General, was directly targeted and fired upon with a tear gas canister which caused him severe injuries in the head. This was after a police officer had told him he would not get away this time with his fight against the government over workers’ rights. He had to be rushed into surgery and was in intensive care for several days after the operation.

But this despicable act of the Kenyan government could not dampen the fighting spirit of the workers. Instead, it has deepened mass anger and fired the spirit of resistance, which they represent. KMPDU immediately called for mass protest and strike action by its members.  

There was a massive turnout for the demonstration to protest this dastardly repressive act on 4 March. Workers from all the health sector unions joined as well as workers from other sectors, activists from civil society organisations and a few members of parliament. They condemned the attack on Dr Davji and the government’s repression of the right to protest.

The Kenyan Medical Association (KMA) added its voice to the condemnation of this act of police brutality. Speaking at a press conference in Nairobi in the first week of March, Brenda Obond, CEO of the KMA said: “Peaceful protest is a fundamental right and the use of excessive force by law enforcement agencies is unacceptable and the attack undermines the principles of a just and democratic society”.  

The international trade union movement added its voice to calling for justice. Several global union federations have intervened. These include the Public Services International (PSI) which KMPDU is affiliated with as well as IndustriALL and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). They have called for an investigation into and prosecution of those responsible for the attack.

KMPDU has been at the forefront of the struggle against the commodification of health in Kenya, fighting for adequate funding of public healthcare and universal access to quality healthcare. This has brought the union and its leader, Dr Davji, into confrontation with the government on several occasions over the last few years. The union has organised strikes and won concessions.

The government is trying to dampen this fighting spirit. But the determination and consistency of KMPDU remains unwavering. We stand in solidarity with the KMPDU and urge the union to keep its flag flying in its gallant fight for the full realisation of the right to health.

by Baba AYE 

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