Many Kenyans have welcomed the decision by Azimio to put off further demonstrations to give a chance to a bipartisan dialogue. However even as this goes on and as a starting point, I think it is imperative to deconstruct some of the economic misconceptions and the philosophical contradictions that were used to justify the demonstrations.
In their most considered opinion, the primary economic crime committed by the Kenya Kwanza government is failing to bring down the cost of living. While it is true Kenya Kwanza overpromised the speed at which they can bring down prices, it is naïve to assume economic solutions can be turned on and off like instant showers. This is even more so considering that the government cannot influence some of the exogenous factors affecting our economies such as the war in Ukraine and interest rates in the US.
Besides, as the opposition, the role of Azimio should be to offer an alternative economic solution so that the public can benefit from a multiplicity of choices. Heckling without offering alternatives does not help the nation.
No doubt and from their pronouncements, Azimio assumes it can quickly bring down prices by restoring food and fuel subsidies that were removed by the Kenya Kwanza. However, a lesson from the previous government is that subsidies are fiscally unsustainable and do not address market and supply-side fundamentals. An equally insurmountable roadblock that Azimio has not factored in is that to get crucial fiscal support, the government must have agreed to do away with food subsidies which are anathema to the IMF free market ideals. Under the circumstances, chances the opposition can bring down prices immediately by reinstating subsidies is wishful thinking.
A warranted criticism, with which I am in agreement, is that President Ruto’s government has not offered a coherent economic recovery strategy after six months in office. While the criticism is merited, Azimio is only seeing the speck in the eye of the government and not the log in its own eyes. The closest Azimio comes to articulating an economic policy is a manifesto which for all intent and purposes is a to-do list. A well-thought-out policy would, for instance, have eschewed ratcheting social spending given our current fiscal constraints.
Secondary to their economic demands, Azimio justifies calling for demonstrations by claiming President Ruto rigged himself into office with assistance from three IEBC commissioners. To prove their case, Azimio has called for access to IEBC servers for auditing by an independent body and has vowed to continue demonstrating until the government accedes to their demand.
According to our constitution, Kenyans choose their leaders through the ballot and aggrieved parties are accorded the right to be heard by the Supreme Court. The opposition was given their day in court to prove that the 2022 elections were interfered with. All allegations were investigated and the same arguments they keep harping on during the demonstrations were dismissed as nothing but a lot of hot air. For a group which keeps invoking their fidelity to the Constitution, it is ironic they want to resort to extrajudicial measures to achieve what they could not in the Supreme Court.
To justify this contradiction, the opposition has in my view reverted to two fallacious arguments. The first is that since the Supreme Court refused to see things their way, they have the right to appeal directly to the people who hold the sovereign power. It defeats the purpose of having a constitution if the leaders do not abide by the terms of our social contract.
The second argument relates to the limits of government authority vis-a-vis citizens’ right to free speech. Again, quoting the Constitution, the opposition argues that the right to demonstrate is a fundamental right that is protected under free speech. While liberalism gives individuals the freedom to actualise themselves through free speech, it does not stipulate how citizens may express themselves.
For this reason, it is universally accepted that the right to waive your fist at anyone during a demonstration stops at their nose and the right to picket stops a stone’s throw from the shop window. Given that our demonstrations are often violent, the Constitution gives the government the right to limit the rights of demonstrators so that they do not infringe on the rights of peace-loving Kenyans.
The author is a political and economic Analyst. [email protected]