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Demonstrations will not lower the high cost of living

 Police and residents join hands to remove stones that had been used to barricade the Rongo-Homa Bay road during Azimio la Umoja anti-government protests on July 21, 2023. [James Omoro, Standard]

Kinjikitile Ngwale was a historical figure famed for leading the Maji Maji rebellion against German Colonial rule in East Africa. He took advantage of popular discontent, especially over policies designed to force the indigenous population to grow cotton for export, to foment an insurrection.

He convinced his gullible followers that smearing themselves with some "magical" portion was enough to turn German bullets into water. Kenya has been rocked by violent demonstrations. Whilst the right to demonstrate is enshrined in the Constitution, bearing arms and violence is expressly sanctioned. Proponents of these demonstrations have issued a raft of demands that keep changing.

First, it was for election servers to be opened for audit of last year's elections. Then a say in the membership of the selection panel that picks commissioners of Kenya's electoral body. Next came demands for the reinstatement of maize meal and fuel subsidies. But it is the strenuous objection to the Finance Bill 2023 and the unconscionable call to immediately bring down the cost of living that threatens to upend law and order.

Whilst life has become difficult for the vast preponderance of Kenyans, this situation is not limited to the country. Nor can it be remedied by waving a magic wand. The government has already instituted measures to ameliorate these intractable issues and should be given the latitude to implement programmes designed to that end. Yet the country's political opposition continues to galvanise youth around these two demands.

Inflamed by promises of an instant reversal of fortunes, these youths have now taken to destruction of property, looting and the impediment of movement through the lighting of bonfires on public roads. Worse, they are stoning innocent bystanders and engaging in violent running battles with the police.

Even after urging youths to converge at venues that have been hotbeds of confrontation, their leaders abandoned them. Like the Ugandan self-proclaimed prophetess Alice Lakwena, the invincibility she promised was not forthcoming. Hitherto, opposition figures have not condemned the destruction of infrastructure with damage running into hundreds of millions of shillings. They have not personally borne the brunt of these confrontations. Instead, it is the youths who are now abandoned in hospitals nursing debilitating injuries.

Now, as in the case of Kinjikitile, there is no magic elixir that protects miscreants from the batons of law enforcers. There are many voices of reason calling for a change of tack. Weekly protests have become counterintuitive. Instead of bringing down the cost of living, the polar opposite is happening.

Mr. Rajan Shah of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers says, "the ongoing disruptions have the potential of increasing the cost of living by altering the supply logistics of both finished goods and raw materials." There are innovative ways of bringing down the cost of living. The Kinjikitile deception of putting youths in the way of harm isn't one of them.

Mr Khafafa is a Public Policy Analyst

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