There is no letting up in the standoff pitting President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga. As Kenyans start another week, they are bracing for fresh round of confrontations.
The two have once again ignored calls for dialogue from several stakeholders as their allies egg them on.
Clerics have urged that the two put the nation ahead of themselves and reach out in dialogue. They have urged that dialogue, be exhausted before the opposition resorts to street protests and that the president remembers he is a symbol of unity, upon whom the buck stops, calls that have fallen on deaf ears.
Tomorrow, the opposition Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition party holds its second demonstration against Ruto’s administration, which Raila has promised will be grander.
The president, on the other hand, is daring the opposition to face him head-on, even as signs that he is feeling the heat grow stronger in his denunciation of Azimio’s protests.
And the Head of State insists he will deal with the “demonstrators,” alluding to Raila and his allies, coming in the wake of the hostility meted on demonstrators by the police, which many observers have criticised as unwarranted.
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This is a call to our president, his government and Hon Raila Odinga and the entire opposition. The loser and real victim of such a standoff is the poor Kenyan oppressed by the hunger situation and the cost of living
Nyeri Archbishop Anthony Muheria.
Among the most immediate results of Ruto and Raila’s tiff is the loss of life occasioned by police brutality, the destruction of property by riotous demonstrators and the disruption of learning. Observers are warning that the economy, too, could take a hit.
Feeling the pressure of last Monday’s demonstrations, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua futilely pleaded with the opposition to call them off. The DP claimed Monday that the country had lost approximately Sh2 billion in revenue as businesses closed for fear that the protests would turn chaotic.
Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja said that the county collected half its daily revenues, Sh30.3 million, last Monday, warning that the capital could not take weekly protests, much less bi-weekly ones.
Many have warned that the demonstrations portend far-reaching ramifications on the country’s economy. But it is not the only strand of Azimio’s mass action that promises financial implications.
On Tuesday, Raila announced boycotts of three corporates - Safaricom, Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB) and Radio Africa’s publication, The Star Newspaper, terming the blacklisted companies “enablers and facilitators of this brutal regime.”
Following widespread condemnation from players in the media, who warned that the opposition’s stand against Radio Africa threatened the security of journalists working for the Star Newspaper, the opposition lifted the boycott order, stating that it would petition the Media Council of Kenya for alleged biased coverage.
When he announced the boycotts, Raila had said that they had “details” to justify their move to the public, which have not been made public to date.
“These corporates have been used as the conduits through which frustrations against Kenyans are meted. The former prime minister said that they have evidence that donations are coming from some of the companies,” Nyando MP Jared Okello said, warning that more companies would be added to the blacklist. “We are compiling a list and very soon we will have it out.”
Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi concurred with Mr Okello. “Companies which appear to be in bed with this rogue government - we will go for them and we will ask Kenyans to resist those companies,” Mr Osotsi said without revealing the companies or their alleged transgressions.
Safaricom and KCB are yet to issue a statement on the opposition’s boycott, but business stakeholders have warned that it could hurt the economy.
A similar action against Safaricom by the defunct National Super Alliance’s National Resistance Movement wing in 2017 saw the telco shed Sh20 billion off its market valuation in the first week of boycotts. But analysts had argued that the boycott would not have an effect on Safaricom’s profits in the long run.
Back then, the opposition would accuse certain companies, including Safaricom, had supported former President Uhuru Kenyatta’’s Jubilee administration.
“For the telco, it might simply contribute to lower sales. However, much more caution has to be taken with respect to the bank because mass withdrawals can place a great strain on any bank, as we have recently seen in the United States,” Ken Gichinga, the chief economist at Mentoria Economics, told the Sunday Standard. “Businesses are still in recovery mode and they need to be shielded from the political currents sweeping across the country.”
Allies of Ruto have warned that Azimio’s mass action would hurt the economy. Kanduyi MP John Makali termed Azimio’s boycott call “economic sabotage,” saying it was hypocritical that the opposition had planned rallies to push for a lower cost of living and yet they were hurting Kenyan companies.
“These companies employ many Kenyans and generate a lot of revenue. Harming them can only be described as economic sabotage,” Mr Makali said.
Indeed, Safaricom has consistently been Kenya’s top corporate taxpayer, a position it retained last year, remitting Sh125 billion worth of taxes. KCB Kenya, on the other hand, is Kenya’s largest bank strictly regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya, alongside Equity Kenya, although other parameters would place Equity Group as the largest.
You cannot be saying that you want companies to continue with their ills against Kenyans just because of the fact it will hurt the economy. In fact, Kenyans are hurt by the mere existence of the said companies, which also hurt the economy.
For a while now, the opposition has argued for the necessity of their mass action as the surest way to secure meaningful impact. A significant minority in the National Assembly has reduced Azimio MPs to helpless bystanders, whose resistance has been fruitless in opposing the president’s wishes.
Further, they have consistently said that the risk would be greater if “electoral justice” is not secured through meaningful reforms. In interviews over the past few weeks, Raila has said that the nation risks widespread apathy in future since people will lack confidence in the electoral systems and potentially worse electoral disputes.
National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi believes this is a cause worth defending through all constitutional means.
“What we are doing now will save the country a great deal, in the medium and long term. Whatever costs the country might incur because of the disruptions far outweigh what the country could face in future,” the Ugunja lawmaker said of the potential implications of electoral injustice.
But Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei believes no good can come out of the opposition’s mass action, which he termed “malicious.”
“The protests are in bad faith. They should have given the government more time, even one year (to deliver on its promises). Elections were done the other day. It is also evident that they are not interested in the people and that is why they are discussing personal issues such as opening servers,” Cherargei said.
The Kenya Kwanza Alliance administration and Azimio have had differences made sufficiently evident by their respective leaders, who waste no chance to trade barbs.
Nerima Wako-Ojiwa, the Executive Director of Siasa Place, believes while the opposition raises serious concerns, the standoff between Ruto and Raila points to a binary kind of politics that fails to address the complexities of the issues Kenyans are facing.
“It is unfortunate that things are being bundled up together. Many young people care about the cost of living, which is affecting them, but may not care as much about the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission,” she said, arguing that there are elements of “personal interests” in the opposition’s mass action, even as she agrees that they raise pertinent issues.
“The issues are relevant because they determine how we will engage in future elections. It is true that you cannot form an electoral commission that is one-sided... It is important that the administration is pressured on important matters, but it needs to be done in a space of respect. Other avenues should be explored, leaving mass demonstrations as the last resort,” Wako-Ojiwa said.
University lecturer Prof Gitile Naituli said that the country’s recurrent political disputes are toxic and threaten to derail the nation.
“We need to accept stick to our five-year political cycle and accept the outcome of democratic processes,” said Prof Naituli, who called out Ruto and Raila for their early campaigns.