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Kenyans hold breath as Azimio, Kenya Kwanza clash over demos

 Police officer fires teargas at youth during Azimio la Umoja's anti-government protests in Mathare, Nairobi. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The country is tittering on the brink of anarchy as the government and opposition talk of plots and counter-plots of organising and dispersing today’s demonstrations using special squads and militia.

There was talk of withdrawal of security detail of opposition leaders, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka as well as governors and MPs even as 13 foreign envoys warned of danger of escalated tension and mounting violence.

All eyes are on President William Ruto who had on Saturday chaired a Kenya Kwanza Alliance Parliamentary Group meeting where he instructed lawmakers to go back to their constituencies and embark on a grassroots drive to “protect their constituents lives and property.”

Yesterday, Azimio la Umoja One Kenya engaged final gear for today’s nationwide demonstrations, even as the opposition leaders said they were open to engaging foreign nations over its anti-tax protests.

On a day the Azimio leadership said they had collected more than six million signatures in a bid to delegitimise President Ruto’s regime, they announced three venues in Nairobi where protesters will converge, a move that will likely stretch security officers in their attempt to thwart the demos. Narc-Kenya leader Martha Karua identified Joseph Kang’ethe grounds in Kibra, Kamukunji in Shauri Moyo and Jacaranda in Embakasi East, all nestled in perceived opposition strongholds.

The new strand to the protests include a “sufuria movement” that Karua said would kick off today. “At midday tomorrow (today), we ask Kenyans to come out of their homes and bang sufurias, pots and pans… At that hour of midday, we call on motorists to stop wherever they are on highways and roads, hoot and flash lights in support of this movement,” Karua read the coalition’s joint statement at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation in Nairobi.

Azimio also blasted the government for withdrawing security detail of their leaders, tying it to alleged assassination plot targeting its top brass.

“Everyone associated with this party and ongoing protests, including Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Martha Karua, leaders of minority and a host of Azimio governors and MPs have had their security withdrawn. This withdrawal of security completes a process that began weeks ago, with scaling down and, in some cases, removal of security cover of several party leaders in Parliament,” DAP-K leader Eugene Wamalwa said.

“We are making this disclosure not because we are desperate for State protection. We are aware millions of Kenyans are exposed to danger every day and our lives are not in any way more precious than those of other Kenyans,” he added, terming the withdrawal a violation of the Constitution, accusing Ruto of exhibiting dictatorial tendencies.

 One of Azimio supporters arrested during the anti-government protests on July 12, 2023. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

“As former Prime Minister and former Vice President respectively, Raila and Kalonzo are entitled to round the clock protection by the State,” Wamalwa read the hard-hitting statement.

This week’s demos come in the wake of assertions by Ruto and government functionaries that the protests would not take place, with Kenya Kwanza lawmakers planning to counter the demos.

They also come amid calls for dialogue between the government and the opposition by some foreign envoys, who yesterday raised concern over the “high levels of violence, including the use of live rounds and the destruction of property, during the recent demonstrations.”

“We recognise the daily hardship faced by many Kenyans and urge all parties to table their concerns through a meaningful dialogue and resolve their differences peacefully to build the nation together, ensuring no further loss of life,” read a joint statement.

The statement was issued by the high commissions and embassies of Australia, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Ukraine, the United States, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

“We stand ready to support the parties in their efforts to find constructive and peaceful solutions,” the envoys said.

But the Embassy of Russia in Kenya dismissed the letter by the 13 envoys. “If it is not interference in internal affairs, what is it?” the Russian embassy said. Azimio has tasked Kalonzo to lead talks with the envoys. He said the coalition would “brief them accordingly.”

“The same envoys are bound by the resolutions of the UN human rights centre in Geneva. All representatives from their respective countries collectively issued that statement highlighting the fact that it is the police that got out and killed our people,” said the Wiper leader.

But Azimio leaders said they would engage the envoys “at our convenience.”

 Police Officers patrol Kisii -Migori Highway on July 12, 2023, during anti-government protests. [Sammy Omingo,Standard]

“They have been silent when people were being killed. Why would it take someone from Geneva to issue the statement that was issued and they are here and they have not spoken?” posed Wamalwa.

“We accurate and detailed information about the OSU. We know its members wear civilian clothes. They travel in groups of five people from one ethnic community. They are heavily armed with lethal weapons. They are better facilitated in terms of logistics and transportation, remunerations, communications and weapons than the country’s official security agencies,” Kalonzo said claiming OSU plan to kill more people in today’s and upcoming protests.

“They fired at people from unmarked green, black, grey, silver, red and white, mostly Subaru vehicles. They also fired from one grey Toyota Succeed KBD 3612G. Each of the five occupants of each of the vehicles was from one ethnic community,” he added.

The Standard could not independently verify the claims, which also include allegations that the police is supporting militia along the Sondu-Kericho border, and surveilling the homes of the opposition leaders. 

“The government has entered into a public private partnership with militia to cripple freedom of assembly and protests. The party further notes that the security withdrawal comes days after Mr William Ruto promised “Kusafirisha” Hon Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta. Indeed, we remain eternally grateful to Mr Ruto for uttering those words. Out of the abundance of Ruto’s heart, his mouth spoke,” Karua claimed.

The opposition claimed a scheme by Kenya Kwanza leaders to infiltrate demonstrations to attack and kill protesters and the leadership.

Speaking after a parliamentary group meeting at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Fondation in Nairobi on Monday, Azimio leaders accused the government of sanctioning militia to counter their peaceful protesters.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi claimed there was a plan to have armed militia battle opposition supporters claiming it was agreed during the Kenya Kwanza parliamentary group meeting on Saturday.

“For the first time in the history of Kenya, State House has sanctioned militia, we are concerned that the leadership currently in place can take such a direction to attack peaceful demonstrators,” he said.

Wandayi also dismissed claims by Kenya Kwanza leaders that he is seeking handshake with President Ruto arguing that the government is losing touch with the people.

“They know they have failed and that’s why their heads are stuck up on nusu mkate and handshake. Let them know that all we want is food. Our people want food,” he said.

 Azimio supporters pelt police with stones along Juja Road in Nairobi during anti-government protests over high cost of living on July 12, 2023. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Senate Minority Leader Stewart Madzayo said: “People don’t care. All that they want is food and decent standards of living... The people realise they don’t eat the government. People eat food and they want food.” 

At the same time, Political Parties Liaison Committee called for dialogue between President Ruto and Raila on key issues among them electoral reforms.

The committee chairman Evans Misati said all parties need to sit down and table their views. “We cannot fight and maim each other out of the current crisis. There will be no Kenya left, however we can dialogue and engage with other out of it,” Misati said. Elsewhere, women leaders and business people called on President Ruto and ODM leader Raila to help avert bloodshed and save the economy. 

United Asian Network, in a statement to newsrooms, said the economy was hurting from the weekly demonstrations. “We urge all stakeholders to have a second, third or even fourth thought on what this disruption is causing our livelihoods and future,” read the statement. 

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