Kenya civil society political activists protest against rising food prices and Minister of Education Sam Ongeri for misuse of free education funds at the central police station in Nairobi on Thursday. Image Credit: AP

Nairobi: Kenyan police fired tear gas to disperse people protesting in the capital yesterday against high food and fuel prices and a shortage of maize which has enraged many in east Africa's biggest economy.

A crowd of about 100 people, chanting and waving placards, blocked traffic in downtown Nairobi and forced traders to shut shops. They were dispersed before they reached the president's office, where they had planned to vent their grievances.

While the demonstration was small, such forms of public protest by groups not affiliated to any mainstream political faction are rare in Kenya. Yet analysts said the protests would fizzle out.

Deputy police spokesman Charles Owino said the crowd was dispersed because they had not sought approval for the protest.

"They never notified the police as the law stipulates, so the demonstration was illegal," he told Reuters.

Economic crisis

Kenya's inflation rate hit 14.5 per cent in June as import costs shot higher because of rising consumer demand, drought and a sharp weakening of the local currency, which has tumbled more than 10 per cent against the dollar this year.

Policymakers are scrambling to ease the crisis before it spreads further discontent in the country of about 40 million people.

"We are still regrouping because the police have dispersed and arrested some of our colleagues," Cidi Otieno, one of the organisers of the little-known group Unga Revolution, which called the protest, told Reuters.

Unga means flour in Swahili but is generally used in Kenya to refer to maize flour, a staple food for many.

"We want to take our petition to the prime minister and the president over the high prices of commodities such as maize flour, sugar, rice and fuel. We want them to reduce the prices," Otieno said.

Unga Revolution describes itself as a non-violent movement of patriotic Kenyans using all legal means to ensure people's constitutional rights.