Pressure piles on Ruto as West spurns Odinga’s poll challenge

Sunday April 02 2023
Kenyan President William Ruto

Kenyan President William Ruto (left) arrives in Nairobi on March 30, 2023 after a four-day tour of Germany and Belgium. from Western governments are joining the AU in spurning a new electoral challenge mounted by Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, subtly endorsing Ruto's government. PHOTO | PCS


Western governments are joining the African Union in spurning a new electoral challenge mounted by Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, subtly endorsing the government of President William Ruto.

But they face a tricky balancing act on whether to ignore the grievances raised by opposition Azimio La Umoja One Kenya coalition, which for the last two weeks have been protesting in the streets, initially every Monday, but now includes Thursdays.

Last week, stakeholders raised the ante of pleas to have Mr Odinga and President Ruto hold dialogue to discuss the issues. But with both sides holding hard-line stances, some Western governments appeared to tell off Odinga’s quest for electoral justice.

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“We agree with the African Union Commission chairperson in recalling the successful conduct of the general elections in 2022, and the unanimous confirmation of their results by the Supreme Court,” some Western missions including the US, UK, Australia and Denmark said.

Calm and restraint


The Netherlands, Canada, Norway and Sweden also endorsed the call, calling for calm and restraint.

Since last week, supporters of the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition led by Mr Odinga have been demonstrating in Nairobi, Kisumu and some parts of western region, accusing the government of failing to address the cost of living, and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for hiding information about how it handled elections last year in which President Ruto defeated Mr Odinga.

Mr Odinga wants the IEBC to open servers and recruitment of new commissioners halted.

Read: Kenya protests: Envoys urge urgent solution

Diplomatic sources told The EastAfrican that the West, the source of some Kenya’s biggest economic players, was initially choosing to wait-and-see if the protagonists will compromise on their positions. But the countries have begun applying pressure after some politicians issued incendiary remarks.

Usual threshold

“Four weeks is the usual threshold for this type of thing. So, investors want to see how it plays out. Obviously, there is lots of pressure on Odinga to bring maandamano (protests) to an end or to change reason,” said a senior diplomat in Nairobi.

“The argument by Western governments is that electoral justice is already served as winner was upheld unanimously by Supreme Court. This message has been delivered to Mr Odinga already. But there is also pressure on government to find perpetrators of violence and punish them.

“Rule of law the issue at play. Government not upholding right to property and government people rhetoric appearing to support violence is a major concern. These are the things being watched,” the official added, speaking on the background.

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Dr Ruto’s victory was confirmed by the Supreme Court in September after describing Odinga’s evidence as hot air. But Odinga has argued new evidence proved he had been rigged out and demanded action by IEBC to open up their servers. This week, he told a group of Western diplomats he will not compromise on electoral justice.

AU call for calm, restraint

After destructive Monday protests, the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for calm and restraint in Kenya following deadly protests by the opposition groups, but also subtly told them to move on from the electoral quarrels.

“In this regard, the chairperson wishes to recall the successful conduct of General Elections in August 2022 in Kenya and the subsequent unanimous confirmation of the election outcome by the Supreme Court,” Faki said.

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The missions said they are “deeply concerned” with the violence seen on Monday, including an attack on properties owned by Mr Odinga and former President Uhuru Kenyatta, but added they recognise the right to peaceful protests.

Not yet threatening sanctions

The pressure from the West is for violence to cease, although they are not imposing a solution on the grievances, some of which are Mr Odinga’s long-running issues. The West was not yet threatening sanctions on individuals yet.

On Wednesday, the US government dispatched Senator for Delaware Chris Coons to Nairobi. He held separate talks with Kenya Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Mr Odinga, and was expected to meet President Ruto on his arrival from German and Belgium trip on Thursday. Both German and Belgium did not join the joint statement by Western countries.

But while there, Ruto used the occasion to accuse opposition of taking advantage of the cost of living.

“The protests are not much about the cost of living,” Ruto told German broadcaster DW in an interview.

“They are so much about some election results which is actually a settled matter. But because the cost of living is a pregnant, emotive issue, our competitors are trying to take advantage of it,” he said. Details about Mr Coon’s meeting resolutions were not publicised. But he had been here before to mediate when Mr Odinga bickered with Ruto’s predecessors; Uhuru Kenyatta and Mwai Kibaki.

Both Gachagua and Odinga acknowledged meeting Coons but said little more than generally listing relations, democracy and common issues.

‘Fruitful discussion’

“We had a fruitful discussion on the importance of upholding the constitution and the rule of law, and agreed to keep the channels of communication open,” said Mr Odinga.

Gachagua said there had been “consultations towards strengthening ties between the two nations, especially in trade, security, and democracy, among other key issues of mutual interest.”

Mr Odinga though, has accused the West of sitting on their hands.

“All those foreign democracies at the moment are on the other side. In their countries, the things happening here cannot happen there yet they are saying we are okay,” he said earlier in the week.

“We have told them to let Kenyans solve their own issues,” Mr Odinga charged.

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US officials

Azimio spokesperson Prof Makau Mutua said Odinga had warned the US against any efforts to back what he termed as emergence of a “fascist state” in the country.

Mr Odinga handed four ‘irreducible minimum demands’ to the US officials for execution to enhance truce.

“We presented our four irreducible demands that are in public arena, he (Mr Coons) took them and said the country should remain peaceful and we told him that our demonstrators will continue to be peaceful as we press for our demands,” Prof Mutua revealed.

“We expressed the view that we would like to see more robust engagement by Western embassies especially the United States to press the government to respect the rights of Kenyans and to respond to the emerging fascist state in Kenya in a way that defeats democracy like the United States which has a very long time engagement with Kenya.”

Hard-line stances have prevailed since the protests began.

No interest

Speaking in Nyeri, Gachagua had accused Mr Odinga of attempting to blackmail President Ruto into talks to join the government, claims Mr Odinga has denied, insisting he has no interest in “joining an ailing administration that cannot feed its people.”

“I want to say here in Nyeri, the land of freedom fighters, that it is not possible for him to come to the government through the back door.

‘‘There are no constitutional provisions whatsoever to bring Raila Odinga into government,” Mr Gachagua claimed.

Dialogue a mirage

And various leaders in the two camps — the ruling Kenya Kwanza alliance and the opposition Azimio coalition — have also maintained a tough stance making dialogue a mirage.

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah said that whereas they were willing to have the talks, it must only be on the state of the economy and nothing else, even as the opposition insisted all their issues must be addressed.

“Any dialogue should and must be on the state of the economy and not on extra-constitutional and ridiculous blackmail issues such as servers opening and reversal of matters already determined in line with our statutes and constitution like the IEBC panel constituted in line with our laws and election results,” Mr Ichung’wah said.

Attack on Kenyatta property

But he has had to fight fires on his reputation after an earlier incendiary on attacking the former President’s property came to pass. He denied sending the looting youth.

Former Defence Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa, who is now one of the opposition luminaries said they were ready to stop the demonstrations so long as President Ruto heeds to their calls.

“If today he stops this IEBC recruitment, reaches out to us on what our issues with IEBC are, he lowers cost of living and opens election servers then there is no need for these demonstrations.”

“But if he pushes his way and gets a William Ruto commission then Kenya will not be the same again. He will be the one responsible for pushing Kenya to the edge. It will not be Azimio,” the DAP-K leader said.

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna, also Senator of Nairobi, insisted that there will be no need for dialogue if their issues are addressed.

Bipartisan process

“I think we have made it more than clear what it would take to end the protests. First reduce the cost of unga (maize meal) to Sh70 ($0.53) as promised, open the servers for audit and lastly initiate a bipartisan process to reconstitute the IEBC.”

“If Ruto accepts to do these there will be no need for any dialogue anyway because all our issues would be resolved,” said Mr Sifuna, the Senate deputy minority whip.

National Assembly minority leader Opiyo Wandayi also fought back calls for dialogue, insisting that it is not a priority at the moment.

“We have now entered a new phase which entails mass action. This new phase is largely driven by the people themselves. It should be left to run its course. I, therefore, don't see dialogue as a priority at the moment,” the Ugunja MP said.

“We can only back a dialogue on how to entrench the rule of law and not to entrench the impunity of those who looted our country and are now blackmailing Kenyans with anarchy not to be held to account,” Mr Ichung’wa added, accusing the opposition of brewing anarchy, insisting the government will remain firm.

Additional Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo