Raila & co, have your day in the sun but protect all

Saturday March 18 2023
Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga

Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga who termed who has called for protests to ‘resist’ what he calls a high cost of living which he blames on government lethargy. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


For every person who will heed to Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s call for a boycott, or public holiday as he calls it on March 20, there will probably be five others, in the closet, seething in anger at the disruption his action is going to cause.

Despite the creeping fatigue at his demonstrations in protest of what the former prime minister of Kenya believes to have been his stolen victory, it is always a safe bet that a man who commanded nearly 49 percent of the ballot can muster enough people to demonstrate anger. Even without that, the fear of reprisals is enough to keep away others who do not support him.

At the end of the day, however, Raila is likely to pull off a “show of power,” at least in the major urban centres. The people he has called up to protest will be far from homogenous. The call to arms will likely coalesce a mélange of discontent, ranging from those angry at the soaring cost of living, lack of equity in the distribution of public resources to political and electoral justice.

Despite the decision of the Supreme court that is supposed to have settled the question of the presidential election, claims of supposed mishaps, such as the alleged loss of voting kits by the electoral commission just days before polling day reinforce the message of a flawed process. That has created a potentially incendiary mix, and without proper organisation and management, Raila’s protests could explode beyond control.

Defusing the tensions is probably going to be one of the biggest tests to President William Ruto’s statesmanship since he assumed office some six months ago.

On the one hand, he has a duty to protect Raila’s right to express discontent. On the other, he is responsible for ensuring that many more, beyond those who are opposed to his regime, also enjoy their rights and freedoms.


But the uncertainty being created is not good for the region. Memories of 2007 post-election violence are still alive in the minds of the millions of people in the East African hinterland, who depend on Kenya for transit of critical economic inputs. In Uganda and Rwanda, importers whose merchandise was lost during the bloody protests still await compensation.

With the region still reeling from the aftershocks of the Covid-19 pandemic, an Ebola wave and the economic disruption occasioned by the conflict in Ukraine, the last thing anybody needs is anything that threatens the fledgling recovery.

Raila, Ruto and their supporters must therefore move with caution. Kenya’s political problems must be addressed with political solutions and accommodate dissent without its more negative connotations.

In an increasingly integrating region — and Nairobi still its heartbeat — protests in Kenya are not just about Kenya. It will therefore be grossly irresponsible of Azimio la Umoja One Kenya brigade if these protests impact innocent people.

Just as the rights of disgruntled Kenyans must be protected, so must the interests of millions more in the region be preserved.