Kenya #FreetoProtest: 5 Key Safety Tips for Protesters

Kenya #FreetoProtest: 5 Key Safety Tips for Protesters - Civic Space


This blog post has been developed in full consideration of the origin, nature and discourse on police use of force and general violence during protests particularly in Kenya. As such, it is aimed at informing protesters on how to enhance their basic safety while exercising their right to protest, before actual violence breaks out in the course of protests.

1 – Check Online For Updates

It is definitely advisable to check for protest updates using Facebook or Twitter.

If the protest is organised by a group, there is likely to be updates on the respective Facebook group.

If organised using a hashtag, there is likely to be live updates on Twitter.

Following these channels will let you know what sort of police presence is at the protest, whether teargas / pepper spray is being used and if there are any transport disruptions. This’ll allow you to plan accordingly, pre-empt issues and stay safe!

2 – Travel Light And Carry Water

When protesting, it is best to carry as few items as possible. Big bags and stuffed pockets will bump into your fellow protestors, and are likely to cause obstructions that can be cumbersome.

Not only is it impractical to carry large items, but if a protest is disrupted by the authorities, big bags can make exiting an area quickly far more difficult – and they should be left at home. You should only carry the essentials. Mobile phone, wallet, keys and of course water.

Why is water so important? Protesting may include marching and standing up for long periods of time. This can be extremely tiring and you will need plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Not only does water keep you hydrated, but should you come into contact with tear gas or pepper spray – water is the ideal tool to neutralize its effects.

You should keep a separate bottle in the event you are struck with tear gas or pepper spray, and run water over any affected areas for as long as possible. Cleaning your eyes should be the priority when running water over tear gas and pepper spray. Don’t rub, and don’t panic!

  1. Digital security is important too

 There have been reports of phone tapping ahead of protests, and activists have reported needing to leave their phones at home in order to avoid being arrested. To avoid infiltration or spying, be mindful of who you share your whereabouts with, and encrypted apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram or Line are generally safer to use than SMS. Encrypted apps protect your messages and keep your information private – making it impossible for hackers to gain access to your private conversations. Retaining your privacy is critical for your safety. In line with this last point, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa will be convening a Right To Protest Digital Campaigning and Security Training for Nairobi based activists in August 2019 along the following objectives:

  1. To sensitize Nairobi community activists convened by the Social Justice Centers Working Group on using social media to promote promote human rights especially right to protest.
  2. To call for justice for human rights abuses through digital campaigning.
  3. To train community activists on digital security while doing the above 2.
  4. To sensitize the activists on how they can participate in the #FreeToProtest
    campaign using the developed social media toolkit.

4 – Carry A Towel Or Old T Shirt

Alongside water, it is also a good idea to carry a small towel or an old t-shirt.

Why? In case you are struck with tear gas, breathing through a towel or an old t-shirt can help minimize the effects  on your respiratory system. This is especially important if you suffer from respiratory conditions like asthma.

However, be aware that walking around with a t-shirt over your mouth can send the wrong message, so it’s best to minimize the amount of time you are covering your nose and mouth.
As soon as you come into contact with tear gas, it is best to place the towel over your mouth and leave the area immediately. As soon as you’re in the clear – remove the towel and rinse your face, clothes and body with cold water as soon as you can.

5 – Do Not Tie Your Hair Back

For protestors with long hair, it is very important to avoid tying your hair into a ponytail.

Whilst it might seem like a good idea to tie your hair and keep it out of your eyes, a long ponytail presents would-be attackers with an easy target to pull you back, and has been known to happen on a number of occasions. To avoid injury, it is advisable to instead tuck your hair into your shirts, wear a hat, or tie hair into a small bun. This will minimize the chances of an attacker grabbing your hair and pulling you back.

Human rights in Kenya are at risk, though you can make a difference. Take 30 seconds to sign our petition calling on the Inspector General to respect our rights. Sign up here

For any further tips, updates and commentaries on the right to protest in Kenya, be sure to follow @article19eafric on Twitter, or Article 19 Eastern Africa on Facebook. Engage online in the conversation through the #FreeToProtest hashtag.

This blog is part of the #FreeToProtest campaign that was launched in August 2019 to promote the right to protest in Kenya and specifically challenge the negative stereotypes around protests and protesters in the country.

The #FreeToProtest coalition is currently made up of community activists, university students associations, trade unions, and civil society organisations. It will be running a series of digital and offline actions throughout its three – month period.