Raila Odinga, William Ruto allies stick to hardline stance

Azimio la Umoja team led by Raila Odinga addressing their supporters in Kibra on March 27, 2023 as they staged antigovernment protests. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

President William Ruto’s loyalists and Azimio leader Raila Odinga have chosen to ignore calls for de-escalation of their stalemate, which has led to loss of lives and destruction of property.

“Jumatatu tunarudi tena. Hata wafanye nini au nini tutakomboa taifa letu, tutashinda! (We will be back on Monday. Whatever they do we will liberate our country, we will win!,” a caption to a clip posted by Azimio TV, an online channel associated with the Opposition and which Raila retweeted, yesterday read. 

After Thursday’s bloody demonstrations, which led to death of several protesters and one police officer, the Azimio leader had announced that tomorrow’s protests would be “the mother of all demonstrations”.

“At this instant, they are shooting and killing Kenyans. It has to stop on Monday. Their time is up. Let them count down the hours till Monday,” Raila posted on his social media handles. 

He also claimed an attempt on his life, alleging the officers had fired seven live bullets at his vehicle.

The Azimio convoy had marched peacefully with protesters for more than two hours from Imara Daima until they encountered teargas-hurling police officers on Outering Road at Kware, near Donholm.

The confrontation would see police and protesters exchange teargas canisters and stones, leading to deaths and injuries. Later, rioters attacked and robbed citizens along the Outering Road.

Demonstrations in other regions also ended in the same way - deaths, injuries and looting of property. Among those injured by police and protesters included journalists, some of whom were targeted by the police who fired teargas canisters directly at them.

He also called out the police’s actions at the funeral service of former Kisumu Town MP Grace Onyango, a pioneer of women’s leadership, in Gem, Siaya County, on Friday. 

Raila’s announcement of an escalation of the protests comes amid increased pressure by international players and the clergy for a truce between the president and the opposition.

But he took issue with their stand on the outcome of last year’s presidential election. “I want to address the international community, and I want to tell them that democracy is democracy and must be measured by the same standards.”

He singled out US ambassador Meg Whitman for allegedly endorsing last year’s presidential results.

“I don’t know which country she was talking about.” 

 On Friday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua also admitted that the government was under intense pressure to sit down with Raila, but dismissed such calls, stating that the only discussion the government would have with him would be about his retirement from politics.

On Wednesday, Gachagua and Raila had separately met US Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware, who has helped broker truces between Raila and former Presidents Uhuru Kenyatta and the late Mwai Kibaki.

At the same time, eight western envoys called for restraint, urging “a swift resolution”.

The Azimio leadership had earlier met Catholic bishops, who have frequently called for talks between Raila and Ruto. 

“It is clear that the talks have begun and we will involve everyone,” Mombasa Archbishop Martin Kivuva said.

Raila appreciated the church’s role in seeking a solution to the stalemate that has disrupted life and livelihoods.

“We have had a fruitful and productive conversation. They have raised issues which are of concern, to Kenyans, the church and politicians,” he said.