Ruto bullish stance makes political settlement hard

Saturday July 22 2023
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An opposition supporter throws a teargas canister fired by anti-riot police during clashes with Kenya Police Officers on the third day of anti-government protests in Nairobi, Kenya on July 21, 2023. PHOTO | LUIS TATO | AFP


Kenyan police this week unleashed deadly force on protesters to contain the latest wave of social unrest in the country over the high cost of living and unpopular taxes, drawing praise from President William Ruto and condemnation from human rights organisations.

The President, whose 10-month-old administration had looked shaken by the previous anti-government demonstrations, said on Thursday the police had ‘professionally’ handled the situation despite video footage of presumed security officers in plain clothes executing a protester or teargassing slum families inside their homes.

Amnesty International said it had recorded about 30 deaths from police bullets during the protests since March.

During this week’s protests, large contingents of riot officers deployed to the slums, where the majority of the urban poor live, managed to stop protesters – mostly unemployed youth – from marching to the central business district and other public spaces in the cities and towns where opposition leaders had planned to address rallies.

Read: Two killed, hundreds arrested in new round of Kenya protests

A security crackdown on the organisers on the eve of the protests on Tuesday, including the withdrawal of State security for senior opposition leaders and the arrest of a charismatic opposition MP in Nairobi, also appeared to have disrupted their mobilisation plans.


Opposition leader Raila Odinga, the rallying figure in past demonstrations, was conspicuously absent, sparking speculation about his whereabouts after two of his personal aides were also arrested. Odinga has since said he had been indisposed with flu and vowed to lead more protests against what he termed “the oppressive Ruto regime”.

Interior minister, Kithure Kindiki, appeared to suggest on Thursday that the government would use force to break up any future protests, citing the success of the security operation in containing unrest this week.

“Security agencies remain fully engaged with the situation in the country and will build on the experience of the last two days to ensure that law enforcement achieves even better results tomorrow,” Kindiki said in a statement ahead of the last day of protests on Friday.

His tough stance echoes that of the president, who separately warned of tough action against the opposition, whom he accuses of trying to sabotage the economy using violence.

Read: Ruto’s hardline stance in face of pressure to save Kenya

However, their bullishness in the wake of perceived defeat of the opposition in the streets this week makes it harder for a political settlement for the current crisis.

The genesis

The opposition Azimio One Kenya Alliance Coalition Party is currently collecting signatures with the aim of delegitimising the Ruto administration through a people power movement.

Religious leaders and Western diplomats, concerned about police brutality and emerging ethnic tensions, have appealed to the two leaders to agree to a peaceful resolution of the political crisis, including reviving the parliamentary bipartisan negotiations.

Read: Western envoys urge dialogue amid Kenya protests

But radical elements in the Ruto administration gravitating around the Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua have opposed a political truce, accusing the clergy and foreign envoys of trying to force a power-sharing deal.

Meanwhile, a siege mentality among Odinga’s supporters following police shootings and arrests will most likely harden their resolve to show up for future protests.