Kenyan protesters release pigs over parliament pay
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Nearly three dozen piglets were released and animal blood spilled Tuesday at an entrance to Kenya's parliament as civil society activists protested what they called parliament's greedy salary demands.
Police fired tear gas and water cannons and swung their batons to disperse the protesters, who gathered in what was dubbed the "Occupy Parliament" protest.
About 250 people carrying placards and banners marched through Nairobi's city center and staged a sit-in at the legislators' entrance to parliament.
"Don't like the pay? Quit!" one of the placards read. Demonstrators repeatedly shouted "thieves."
Civil activist Boniface Mwangi, one of the protest organizers, told an Associated Press reporter from a police cell that he had been arrested with 15 others.
"Even if they arrest us today we will come back. We want a better future for our kids," said Mwangi.
Members of Parliament are commonly called MPs in Kenya but Mwangi and others refer to them as "MPigs."
That saying was painted on all of the piglets and one huge pig released into the city, an act of civil obedience that saw Kenyan police scurrying after the piglets, while other small pigs munched on parliamentary flower beds.
Many Kenyans see legislators as lazy and greedy in a country where hundreds of thousands live in slums. Legislators often argue that they need high salaries to give hand-outs to poor constituents for school fees and hospital bills.
Kenyan legislators want to reverse a government commission ruling that shrank their salaries from the equivalent of about $126,000 to $78,500. The members of parliament have threated to disband the commission.
The minimum wage in Nairobi is about $1,500 a year and many here live on even less, one of the rich-vs-poor facts of Kenyan life fueling the protesters' rage.
The decision to reduce the pay for legislators came after a public outcry as the previous parliament attempted to raise their salaries to $175,000 annually and award themselves a $110,000 bonus at the end of their terms.
The public anger culminated in a protest in January, when hundreds of demonstrators set fire to 221 coffins outside parliament's main entrance.
Mutahi Kimaru, a legislator representing Laikipia in central Kenya, whose car was blocked from entering parliament by the protesters shouting "thief," said the parliamentarians want their salaries increased because the cost of living in the capital is higher than the rest of the country.
Sarah Serem, who heads the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, said Monday that even the reduced government wages are not sustainable or affordable for Kenya. She said 1.6 percent of the country's population consumes 50 percent of the government revenue.
"We therefore strongly believe that under the prevailing circumstance of low revenue collection, natural disasters, the level of poverty where so many are earning below less than $1 a day, this is not the time for upward review of remuneration and benefits," Serem said.
She said Kenya's leaders should forgo personal interests in order to serve.
John Wamagata, 48, a protester carrying a severed pig head labeled "greed," said: "We want to show them what they have become!"
Wamagata said that the only issue legislators have talked about since their March 4 election is their pay.
Wamagata said with the new positions created under the new constitution such as 47 gubernatorial seats and their staff and 67 senatorial seats, the costs of government salaries will become unbearable if everyone demands more pay.