NAIROBI — Hundreds of demonstrators angered at the conduct of outgoing Kenyan legislators doused 221 coffins with gasoline and set them on fire Wednesday, causing an inferno outside Parliament’s main entrance.
Organizers of the protest said the coffins represented the end of an era of Parliament’s 221 legislators and burning the coffins symbolized the start of a new era away from the dishonorable acts that Parliament was known for in the last five years. The legislators’ term ended earlier this week. Police looked on as the caskets made of thin wood burned to ashes as protesters shouted and screamed in exhilaration.
“Bye bye parasites,” shouted Sheldon Ochieng, 23, a college student studying community development. “MP’s do not know their work; they are just stashing money in their pockets. It is time to have new leaders who serve the people.”
Kenyans say their legislators are seen as lazy, greedy, and self-centered for often improving their welfare lavishly at the cost of taxpayers. A Kenyan legislator earns about $175,000 a year in a country where the average annual income is $1,700. Last week, Kenyan legislators attempted to award themselves a $110,000 bonus, but the president vetoed the legislation.
The package would also provide an armed guard, a diplomatic passport, and access to the VIP lounge at Kenyan airports and state funerals.
It was the second time President Mwai Kibaki had refused to sign the bill adding the legislators’ bonuses into law. In October Parliament members awarded themselves bonuses.
However, civil society activists say Kibaki, who is the 222d legislator, is no different because while he vetoed the hefty raises, he has approved large increments to a send-off package for when he retires following the country’s March 4 elections.
The organizers of the protests Wednesday said they did not make a coffin for the president because of the veto, and the decision to give himself more money came after the coffins had been ordered.
“It was unsurprising that President Kibaki, while rejecting the MPs’ pay deal, retained his own hefty retirement package,” said Boniface Mwangi, an official of a lobby group called Kenya Ni Kwetu, or Kenya is Our Home.