May 14 (GIN) – Setting free a sow and a herd of piglets at the steps of Parliament, Kenyan demonstrators sent government an unmistakable symbol of how they viewed outsized salary increases proposed by sitting lawmakers.
The parliamentarians are already some of the best paid on the continent. Kenya’s Salaries and Remuneration Commission has recommended that salaries be pegged at around $6,300 per month. The MPs are demanding $10,000 monthly. The average salary in Kenya is about $1,700 annually.
“We will not allow members of parliament to increase their salaries at will,” declared Okiya Omtatah, one of the protest organizers.
Carrying signs that read “Occupy Parliament!” and “Day of Action on MP’s Salaries and Car Allowances,” demonstrators battled teargas, batons and water cannons during the protest this week which began at Nairobi’s Freedom Corner. “Don’t like the pay? Quit!” another placard read as demonstrators shouted “thieves.”
Activist Boniface Mwangi, one of the protest organizers, told an AP reporter 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.”
MPs say their current salaries are “demeaning,” and they need more money to help pay constituents’ school and medical expenses.
The brawl over pay forced newly-elected President Uhuru Kenyatta, on a four-day official visit to Cape Town, South Africa, to rush home to settle his first major confrontation. He had been attending the World Economic Forum on Africa whose theme was “Delivering on Africa’s Promise.”
The President urged the public officers to drop their demands. The Salaries Commission also stood firm against the demands, calling them unsustainable, and said they would not back down despite MP threats to dissolve the Commission.