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Inside Azimio's plan for fresh protests against Kenya Kwanza



 Azimio la Umoja Leaders addressing Media at SKM Center in Karen Nairobi. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition leaders and think tanks were on Thursday crafting strategies to ensure the fresh wave of mass protests that kick off today, are a success.

The coalition is keen to use the Saba Saba rallies to jumpstart spirited protests to push back against President William Ruto’s regime. The last round of protests in April culminated in bi-partisan talks.

Yesterday, insiders within the coalition said they have not ruled out talks but are committed to pushing back against the Finance Bill, 2023, and forcing a stop to planned recruitment of new Independent and Electoral and Boundaries (IEBC) commissioners.

This even as it emerged that cracks have emerged within Raila Odinga’s camp over duration the protests, amid claims that President William Ruto’s emissaries had reached out to the coalition to shelve plans for daily protests.

Senior coalition officials claimed there is an attempt by Kenya Kwanza to dissuade them from disrupting the economy with demonstrations and embrace dialogue.

Raila’s troops, however, are keen to proceed with the protests, with insiders claiming Ruto’s regime cannot be trusted. They claimed Kenya Kwanza betrayed their goodwill with bi-partisan talks.

It remains to be seen how successful the planned protests will be after sources within the camp told The Standard that disquiet has emerged over the length of the protests and whether it should be daily or weekly.

Early this week, Minority Leader in the National Assembly Opiyo Wandayi said the protests will take place daily, a sentiment shared with other senior officials in Raila’s close circles.

Yesterday, however, the dedication of some leaders who missed past protests was also a problem the coalition was seeking to address as they made final touches to their plan to lead Kenyans back to the streets.

The Standard has established that the coalition has also identified institutions and companies they want to rally Kenyans to boycott their products and services as part of civil disobedience.

Raila is expected to announce the firms today during the Saba Saba rally  in Nairobi as well as a raft of other plans to pile pressure on the government.

Insiders claim the coalition was also exploring whether to include new petitions to various offices as part of their efforts to push Kenya Kwanza into a corner.

During the last protests, the plans failed after a heavy contingent of police officers blocked Azimio protestors and leaders from accessing public offices in Kisumu and Nairobi.

Now, however, members of the coalition claim they are keen to deliver petitions and are optimistic that their plans will be implemented.

While some of Raila’s troops retreated to Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation and Kamukunji in Nairobi to finalise plans for the mass protests, the grassroots troops and civil rights organisations were also finalising their plans for the protests in Raila’s traditional strongholds.

In the plan, sources said the Saba Saba protests scheduled to start today, will act as a launching pad and litmus test to gauge the resolve of other Kenyans to heed calls of the coalition.

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“We want the mass protests to be as frequent as possible. We believe Kenyans of goodwill who are against the flaws taking place, including the introduction of punitive taxes as well as ongoing IEBC process, will come out and protest,” said an ally to the Azimio leader.

He said some members of the coalition were pushing for the protests to take place twice a week while others are pushing for daily protests.

“There is general consensus that we adopt mass protests as well as courts to fight for Kenyans. Kenya Kwanza already took our efforts for dialogue for granted,” said the leader.

 Youth hurl stones at anti-riot police during previous Azimio la Umoja anti-government protests. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Within the corridors of justice, Raila’s camp has started assembling a strong lineup of legal minds to challenge implementation of the Finance Bill, 2023 as well as ongoing exercise by the IEBC to recruit new commissioners.

Another leader part of the planning of the protests told The Standard that they were optimistic the protests will be a success.

“Our leaders have not told us to shelve plans for protests. The protests are not about them but about the people of Kenya struggling with the high cost of living. We are also aware of how Kenya Kwanza played us with bi-partisan talks they were never interested in,” said the leader.

In Raila’s ODM camp, leaders claimed they were optimistic Kenyans will turn up in their numbers to send a message to Kenya Kwanza on the expectations to remove punitive taxes.

ODM chairman John Mbadi described the Saba Saba rally as start of a major civil disobedience. He noted that direction will be given on how to carry on with the civil disobedience.

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“I expect Kenyans to come out in large numbers and send a powerful message to Ruto that they are not happy with the way he is governing the country,” he said. 

Mr Mbadi said if the government listens to the people’s cries, then it will go back to the drawing board.

He claimed they are already prepared for whatever response the government will throw at them.

“If the government acts in a predictable way it usually responds by being violent, it will just become worse,” he said.

The legislator noted that people are more unhappy, especially with the passing of this Finance Act.

Nyatike MP Tom Odege said the day is important to Kenyans as electorates.

 Youth demonstrate during Saba Saba in Nairobi, July 1990. [File, Standard]

“Power belongs to them and they only donate it by electing leaders,” Mr Odege said.

The legislator said it is now the right of electorates to take it back and exercise it.

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo said Kenyans should expect the opposition to pressurise the Kenya Kwanza government to enhance good governance.

Dr Gogo said they intend to push the government to respect the will of majority during the rally. This entails respect to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

“We are going to put pressure on the government to enhance good governance. This entails listening to voices of the majority and making decisions according to the will of the majority,” she said.

She said they are going to put pressure on the government to reduce cost of living which is a serious problem today. “The high cost of living is a serious issue because many families cannot put food on the table. This is one of the problems we are going to point out so that the government can make life affordable for Kenyans,” Gogo said.

But as the leaders continued drumming up support for the protests, a section of residents in Nyanza appealed for peaceful protests.

In Kisumu, a section of the business community who have suffered huge losses during mass protests claimed they were fearing for their businesses.

At the Central Business District, a supermarket emptied its electronic goods for fear of vandalism and looting ahead of today’s protests.

At Kondele, however, a group of activists pitched tent to appeal for peaceful protests.

Led by Boniface Akach, the activists urged police officers not to use force on peaceful protestors.

[Reports by Harold Odhiambo, Anne Atieno, James Omoro and Sharon Owino]

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