Raila ‘prayer meeting’ at polls body’s office could escalate political tensions

Saturday February 18 2023
Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga arrives for a public rally on February 17,2023. His supporters are planning a protest march to the offices of the IEBC in Nairobi in the coming days. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NMG


Supporters of Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga are planning a protest march to the offices of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) in Nairobi in the coming days in what will likely escalate confrontations with authorities.

Mr Odinga, who continues to denounce the legitimacy of President William Ruto’s government in his public statements, called for the march, dubbed a “prayer meeting,” to protest an alleged scheme to manipulate the selection of new commissioners with a view to pre-rigging the next presidential election.

The electoral commission is currently in a leadership limbo after six of the seven commissioners left between December and January through retirement or forced resignations in the wake of the dramatic divisions that saw four of them disown the results of the last presidential election.

Serving suspension

One commissioner is serving suspension awaiting the decision of a judicial tribunal appointed by President Ruto to investigate her conduct.

Earlier this week, President Ruto declared six vacancies on the commission, setting the stage for the setting up of a selection panel to recruit the new commissioners.


A number of organisations represented on the selection panel, including the Law Society of Kenya and the inter-faiths lobby, have already named their nominees.

But the opposition says the recruitment should await a more comprehensive reform, beginning with an independent audit of the IEBC’s electronic results transmission and storage system, to reduce suspicions of electoral theft that have plagued the commission since 2007.

Consultation meetings

Mr Odinga has been working up his supporters at a series of weekly citizen-assembly-type public baraza (consultation meetings) across the country with a contested account of a whistle blower dossier alleging access into IEBC’s system by some unauthorised persons and manipulation of results in favour of Ruto.

The Supreme Court dismissed similar allegations made by the opposition leader in his petition last September challenging Ruto’s victory.

While the recent public rallies called by the veteran opposition leader to agitate for electoral justice and protest rising cost of living beginning January have gone down peacefully, the planned Wednesday protest march to the IEBC offices has caused jitters over possible disruptions of economic activity and confrontations with police in the streets of Nairobi.

Coalition MPs

Ruling coalition MPs have accused Odinga of seeking to incite the public against the government while a group calling itself ‘Kenyans against Violence’ called a press conference on Friday to denounce the opposition Azimio coalition for allegedly breaching the code of conduct for political parties requiring them to promote national cohesion.

Anniversary Towers, the building hosting the electoral commission’s headquarters, is in the Kenyan capital’s central business district.

On September 26 last year, police had little difficulty dispersing opposition MPs and a small crowd of supporters that had walked to the IEBC offices to protest the suspension of the agency’s deputy CEO, Ruth Kulundu, over suspicions she was sympathetic to the opposition.

But a protest march led by Odinga invariably poses a different challenge altogether for law enforcement because of his mobilisation capacity.

Up in smoke

Despite having seen his best hope to win the presidency — with the endorsement of former President Uhuru Kenyatta — go up in smoke in the 2022 election, the veteran opposition leader and his ODM party retain a significant support base in the city.

His renewed agitation also comes against the backdrop of public grievances over the rising cost of living and unemployment, especially in the informal settlements where 60 percent of the city’s residents live.