Raila has a right to hold his rallies, but peacefully

ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses the media at Jacarada Grounds on Decmber 5, 2022. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

There have been mixed reactions over Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s decision to call a public meeting at Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi on Wednesday. He also plans to hold a parallel Jamhuri Day meeting at Jacaranda Gardens.

Raila’s meetings are meant to protest the suspension of four electoral agency commissioners who rejected the declaration of William Ruto as the winner of the August 9 presidential contest.

The Azimio leader also has a raft of other grievances against President Ruto among them the alleged skewed appointment of people to prime government positions and the Huslters’ Fund loan, which he says should be interest-free.

Without doubt, Raila, or any other Kenyan, has a right to hold rallies. Indeed, without such meetings, Kenya’s democratic space would still be much constrained. Fortunately, unlike in the past, the bestows us freedoms of speech and assembly.

But while few would begrudge the opposition its right to hold such meetings, Kenyans would loathe to see some people taking advantage of such democtratic spaces to spread terror.

Their fears are not far-fetched as rogues have in the past used such protest meetings to wreak havoc by harassing innocent Kenyans, paralysing transport and even looting. Such people taint even the most well-intentioned meetings.

It is perhaps out fear that the meetings called by Raila could end up in mayhem that President Ruto has ordered that security officers be deployed on that day to protect businesses.

We ask the police to act professionally and desist from the temptation to break up the meetings, as has happened before, as long as they are held peacefully. The government must respect the right of the people to peaceably assemble even when it does not agree with their views.

Raila and other planners of these rallies must also warn their supporters beforehand to refrain from acts of thuggery. Democracy has no room for violence. But it has ample space for conflicting opinions.