Today's demos should not lead to loss of lives

Azimio supporters being water sprayed by anti-riot police officers as they forcefully tried to acces Nairobi's CBD area during the Saba Saba protests on July 7, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Today marks another day of opposition demonstrations across the country. Azimio la Umoja has called for countrywide demonstrations to pressure President William Ruto to suspend the Finance Act 2023, among other issues. Litigants, among them Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah, have challenged the Act in court, leading to its temporary suspension.

The Bill of Rights in the Kenya Constitution 2010 recognises the right of citizens to picket, but gives parameters within which such action should be taken in order not to trample on the rights of other citizens. Unfortunately, this provision is at the risk of being negated for political expediency as the government and opposition jostle for advantage. 

According to Interior CS Kithure Kindiki, six people were killed during Azimio demonstrations held on July 7, no doubt at the hands of trigger-happy police officers. Indeed, Kindiki also acknowledged that there are rogue police officers. He however asked police officers to allow demonstrations to go on as long as they are held peacefully. A day later, he had a change of mind and warned Azimio against holding today’s rally. 

Why the double-speak from the man to whom the security docket has been entrusted? It is such pronouncements, the blowing hot and cold on the same issue, that give police officers the courage to break the law, while ostensibly protecting the law. 

Kindiki’s concerns are however genuine. The right to protest does not bestow on demonstrators the right to destroy property or hold other Kenyans to ransom. Unfortunately, past demos have caused despondency and deaths. Granted, organisers of demos might have good intentions, but lack of effective control over their followers results in lawlessness. 

There have been instances in which rogue police officers push otherwise peaceful demonstrators into acts of lawlessness. Cases abound in which police officers attack demonstrators and journalists without any form of provocation. 

Such incidents must be avoided. If demonstrators and police officers operate by the rule book, there is a low probability of demos turning violent. A case in point is Raila’s unannounced visit to the CBD on Tuesday. The crowds were disciplined, and no incident was recorded. We want to see the same today.