Kenyans, talk it out; please don’t burn the country
Saturday March 25 2023
The cautionary saying “don’t throw the baby away with the bath water” dates back to that period in the evolution of communities in the temperate north, when a warm bath was such a rare and coveted resource. Looked at figuratively, the saying is an allegory of power relations and how the actions, or the decisions of power figures in a community, can leave the less privileged bruised.
In the scuffle for the warm bath that was offered in a single vessel and came only once during the year, at the onset of summer, the man of the house bathed first. Being the weakest in the merit order, children bathed last, hence the danger that they could be forgotten and get thrown away with the already muddied water.
Following success with his call for peaceful demonstrations, which saw thousands of disgruntled Kenyans throng the streets of major urban centres this past week, Azimio leader Raila Odinga has raised the stakes, announcing more protests bi-weekly. As it should, the apparent escalation has drawn the voices of moderation out of the closet, calling for a negotiated settlement to the political dispute.
The protagonists should heed the calls. Continuing with protests can only make matters worse. With debt surging, the economy is already sagging and any further disruption to business could see it snap. Panicky capital will flee Kenya to safer havens, job creation will stall and the youth will get more agitated.
The poor will get poorer and the cost of living will only soar. Ultimately, if there’s no let-up, the region could also see the displacement of Kenya as the regional economic hub in favour of a more stable and predictable Tanzania.
It is not too late to change course. As the sitting head of state, William Ruto has a duty to be magnanimous and bend over backwards for the sake of stability. He should show leadership by taking the initiative to wave the olive branch.
Equally, Raila should tread carefully. With two lives already lost, there’s no guarantee that the subsequent protests will not get uglier. He should also be more open about his agenda and set clearer terms for dialogue. Calling on the government to tackle the spiralling cost of living is legitimate and resonates with many Kenyans.
But some might not agree with the method Raila has chosen. It is a little disingenuous for him take matters of policy to the streets before exhausting other avenues. Azimio is represented in both Houses of parliament, but it has not tabled an alternative policy plan to tackle the economic crisis. That is where debate should start and protests should only be a last resort.
Unless turmoil is the ultimate goal, it is unrealistic to hope that orchestrated protests will result in a change of government. In the short term, Kenya will most likely fall back into repression as the government pushes back. The only safe course is for the hardliners to dismount their high horses, hearken to the voice of reason and call the dogs home.