Demos: Moment of truth beckons for Ruto, Raila as their allies dig in

It has written to the National Police Service on the planned mass action that the police plans to counter.

"We notify you that on Monday 20th March 2023, we will be holding a procession within the Nairobi Metropolitan Area. Kindly provide us with security for the same," Azimio Executive Council chairperson Wycliffe Oparanya wrote to the Central Police Station.

By yesterday, several groups maintained pressure on the pair to end their shadowboxing before it escalates into a brawl.

In the past week, religious leaders have appealed to Raila to call off the demonstrations and for Ruto to reach out to his rival for a truce. The Central Organisation of Trade Unions was the latest to echo calls for dialogue.

On Friday, rebel ODM lawmakers similarly argued that the demos would not help in solving the challenges the country faces.

But all their worries and concerns have seemingly fallen on deaf ears. Raila has declared that there would be no turning back and he does not seem to be changing his mind. Ruto, on the other hand, made up his mind long before he was elected, ruling out any arrangement with Raila no matter which way last August's election went.

"Wataandamana hadi wachoke" (They can picket as much as they want)," the president said. And if anyone had doubted that Ruto would not dialogue with them, his remarks that his rivals should plan tomorrow's demo with the police were sufficient to clear such doubt.

"How do you dialogue with someone who has refused to recognise the president?" United Democratic Alliance Secretary-General Cleophas Malala recently posed.

Whistleblower's account

Raila has also ruled out dialogue, given he believes that Ruto is illegitimately in office and he has persistently called for his resignation in the wake of what he termed a whistleblower's account of the alleged theft in last year's presidential election.

In a recent interview, National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said the "window for dialogue was fast closing."

"As things stand, I don't see anything that can stop the mass action from taking off," the Ugunja Member of Parliament said.

Azimio maintains that theirs would be a peaceful demonstration, doubling down on the same during their rallies in Kiambu on Friday, some of which were disrupted by the police and goons.

But the government doubts that a peaceful procession is possible, citing previous protests that have always turned violent, resulting in deaths, most of which were in the hands of the police, such as the brutal killing of six-month-old Baby Samantha Pendo in Kisumu in the wake of the 2017 polls.

And the police have already planned to counter the demonstrators by cordoning off the city centre tomorrow and blocking roads that lead to State House. That would likely lead to a confrontation given that Azimio has maintained that it is their constitutional right to demonstrate wherever they please.

"In western countries, people are free to picket outside the White House and Congress," Raila said recently.

At the expiry of Azimio's two-week ultimatum to the government to lower the cost of living, reinstate unga, fuel and electricity subsidies and halt the recruitment of commissioners of the electoral commission, police officers were deployed to man roads leading to Ruto's official residences in Kisumu and Nairobi. The deployment was a clear sign that the police would not let the protestors through the routes communicated in Azimio rallies, setting up a potential clash that could lead to deaths and injuries.

And the hostility demonstrators would meet was perhaps hinted at by the arrest of university students affiliated with Raila yesterday. Azimio figures have urged the police against harming protestors, warning of individual legal consequences.

IEBC split

Signs of tomorrow's demonstrations were always in the air. It all started with the Supreme Court's death blow to Raila's fifth stab at the presidency on September 5 last year. The verdict shocked Raila and his camp, which would later argue that the court ignored their evidence.

Azimio had banked on the dispute between commissioners of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, who were split down the middle over results former chairperson Wafula Chebukati had announced.

The fact that former vice-chairperson Juliana Cherera, Irene Masit, Francis Wanderi and Justus Nyang'aya disputed the credibility of the poll has fueled their claims that the presidential result was rigged.

Initially, Raila said that he had accepted the verdict, and promised to offer a way forward for his supporters in his struggle for "transparency, accountability and democracy."

"This judgement is by no means the end of our movement, in fact, it inspires us to redouble our efforts to transform this country into a prosperous democracy where each and every Kenyan can find their full belonging," Raila said then.

After a brief lull, the former prime minister held a baraza at the Jeevanjee Gardens in October last year. He followed it up with a rally in Kamukunji in November, promising similar sessions countrywide, with a subsequent one planned for Jamhuri Day at the Jacaranda grounds. The Azimio leader called the rally off citing the national examinations that were going on at the time.

The rallies would return in the wake of the alleged whistle-blower's account, with Raila calling for Ruto's resignation in Kamukunji. In recent weeks, he has kept the pressure on the government, holding multiple rallies every week, in which Azimio leaders have accused Ruto of alleged dictatorship. Their accusations have been fueled by the president's continued charm offensive on opposition members of Parliament, which has effectively deflated the opposition. Over recent months, Ruto's proposals in Parliament have sailed through without much friction, courtesy an almost absolute majority in the National Assembly.

And the opposition finds itself in the familiar spot it was in 2013, drowning in the Jubilee coalition majority that had its way in whatever it pleased. Unable to force changes in Parliament, the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), took the fight against former President Uhuru Kenyatta's regime to the courts and the streets.

The courts would help them nullify contentious laws, such as the controversial security laws of 2014. It is through the streets that Cord forced negotiations that would see former IEBC chairperson Issack Hassan agree to leave office.

The streets, too, secured Raila a handshake with Uhuru in 2018 and half of the grand-coalition government a decade earlier. More critically, many reforms have come through waves of demonstrations, the most notable of which being the clamour for multipartyism and the respect for human rights in the 1980s and early 1990s that would eventually result in the current constitution, acclaimed worldwide as among the most progressive. But Molo MP Kimani Kuria views tomorrow's demonstrations as "economic sabotage".

Fertiliser subsidy

"Raila has seen our plan for economic recovery. The government bond was oversubscribed, showing increased confidence in our economy. He has seen that the fertiliser subsidy and the six-month GOK-UAE deal on fuel will ease pressure on the dollar. That is why he is trying to sabotage these workable plans with the planned demonstrations," Kuria said, adding that the demos will likely turn violent "and he will blame the police."

Saboti MP Caleb Amisi reiterated his Azimio coalition's stand that Monday's demonstration would be peaceful if Ruto acts according to the law.

"Before the election, Ruto urged Uhuru to respect public institutions. He needs to follow his own demands. How he handles the demos will make or break this country. If he decides to disrupt it, then people could be rowdy," Amisi said.

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi says the confrontation only hurts mwananchi. "Neither should be pointing a finger at the other because of the responsibility they bear over the current situation."

"The government has a case to answer because they gave timelines within which they would lower the cost of living and have failed to do so... The appointment of the Chief Administrative Secretaries was insensitive coming on the brink of a crisis."

He also faulted the opposition for keeping silent as the country's economy was sinking.

"The other side should not go around talking as though they are clean. Some of the decisions and positions they took led us to where we are and yet they want all the mess fixed within six months."

He said any dialogue should be guided by lowering the cost of living and not the sharing of positions.