Raila, Ruto should take charge of situation and retreat to self-reflection

Kenyans living in maandamano areas have witnessed death, destruction, and unnecessary violence, all of which could have been avoided if the government and the opposition acted more responsibly and accountably and within the law.

Although they should have acted sooner, faith-based organisations and religious leaders have roundly condemned the use of excessive force by police including the shooting of protesters with live bullets leading to several deaths.

They have also called for repeal of the Finance Act, 2023, and appealed to the President and leader of Azimio-One Kenya to give dialogue a chance and soften their stance.

Now the ball is squarely in the court of our political leaders. They can retreat to self-reflection and dialogue to save Kenya or they can continue listening to their hardliner advisors who have sustained intransigent positions since the demonstrations began.

Their bravado and chest-thumping have only led to death, destruction, escalation of hostilities, and increased high costs of living. The turning point is now beyond which we may not safely return to normalcy. There are no winners today.

There must be equal and fair justice. The government must resist the temptation of one-sided politically motivated prosecution. Thorough investigations and prosecution of security officers responsible for killing citizens in cold blood and of looters, criminals, and thugs masquerading as demonstrators must be done dispassionately. There are sufficient records for prosecution if there is willingness. Only a few officers have gone rogue and given the police and security officers a bad name. Majority of police and security officers deployed to maintain law and order during demonstrations remained calm even under severe provocation and prevented a lot of harm and damage and we must commend them.

However, the rogue and ruinous officers, who don’t deserve the title of an officer, involved in shooting tear gas canisters and live bullets at demonstrators in day-long running battles should be prosecuted, punished, and dishonourably dismissed. They must be held accountable and responsible for their actions.

Furthermore, we must agree to respect the rule of law during demonstrations, both the security officers and demonstrators.

Police and security officers should be deployed to provide security during demonstrations and MUST not be allowed to carry guns with live bullets but rubber bullets only.

All of them MUST be in uniform. Plain-clothes police and security officers MUST NEVER be deployed to keep law and order during demonstrations. Unfortunately, we saw security officers pretending to be journalists only to pounce on unarmed demonstrators and others in plain clothes shooting indiscriminately at random people and their dwellings and business places.

This has never happened before in Kenya even during the days we thought were the darkest in our history, the 1980s and 1990s.

We are not in a state of emergency or war where the Constitution and the law are suspended. We are still governed by the law and the Constitution. There is no justification for excessive force against demonstrators even though they have been infiltrated by criminals, looters, gangsters, and robbers and we have seen many of them in action.

The latter should be arrested and prosecuted not shot to death. All political leaders must exercise restraint and control their troops, power without control is lethal. They must also end political campaigning and come down from atop campaign vehicles and provide real leadership. The government must not unleash rogue armed security on its citizens and allow them to use live bullets nor should the opposition allow its demonstrators to damage or destroy property.

Article 37 of the Constitution allows only peaceful and unarmed demonstrations, and the organisers can mobilise and deploy their own people to ensure those with criminal intent are weeded out. Peaceful demonstrations are possible where police escort demonstrators to petition and demonstrate and thereafter to disperse peacefully after prayers.

Electoral politics has become an existential risk, with a great potential to destroy Kenya. Sadly, this continues to be sustained by hubris and ruinous chest-thumping political bravado.