A face-off is looming with President William Ruto warning Azimio coalition leaders against going on with the intended demonstrations as Opposition leader Raila Odinga vows to continue with the planned demonstration today.
Dr Ruto told Kenyans at Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi during this year’s Labour Day celebrations that while he respected the democratic rights of the opposition, he also had the obligation as Kenya’s leader to safeguard lives and property.
The President said they had agreed to discuss this in parliament and that the opposition should give dialogue a chance.
He also said the government will protect every Kenyan’s right to go about their regular lives uninterrupted and that he will not let anybody interfere with that.
“Our opposition friends approached us for talks, and we gave them a chance; they need to channel whatever grievances they have to be addressed by the bipartisan parliamentary team if they are genuine; otherwise, the planned demonstrations will only serve to destroy the economy,” Dr Ruto said.
Willing to cooperate
The President stated that he was willing to cooperate with the leadership of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions (Cotu), led by Secretary General Francis Atwoli and that their previous disagreements were “water under the bridge.”
Dr Ruto said all Kenyans who participated in the previous general election, regardless of which party they supported, exercised their constitutionally protected rights and should be commended, and that the 35% of eligible voters who did not vote failed Kenyans.
The President said throughout the campaigns leading up to the 2022 election, the majority of the concerns he dealt with when meeting residents at the grassroots were about the challenges faced by the Kenyan workforce.
“Nobody should be fearful over whom they supported in the last general election. I have no problem with the leadership of the workers’ movement who campaigned against me, you should bear in mind that the workers who chose you as their leaders also voted for me as their President,” said Dr Ruto.
Raila, speaking in Nairobi on Monday, accused Ruto of attempting to undermine the constitution by trying to prevent planned peaceful protests and that his actions are a threat to Kenyans’ civil rights.
He said the coalition plans to march from the central park in Nairobi to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) headquarters, the office of the President, and the Treasury Building referencing recent protests in France, Britain, Israel and Japan.
“Yet again, Ruto is trying to undermine and overthrow the constitution,” Raila said.
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He went on: “We assure him there’s going to be no destruction of people’s properties. That is just an excuse…Our people have been told to be peaceful.”
Raila said the coalition had carefully planned the protests and had taken steps to ensure there would be no violence.
“They’re not even going to go to where people’s properties are. We’re not going to market. There are no businesses along the streets. So therefore, nobody should come up with the excuse that they’re going to protect people’s property tomorrow.”
The planned protests are in response to what the coalition sees as the government’s failure to address a number of issues, including the high cost of living, corruption and the abuse of religion for political gain.
Raila criticised Ruto for his attempts to prevent the protests, saying they are a vital part of the democratic process.
“We fought hard to bring this new constitution. We will ensure the provisions of this constitution are protected, and the civil rights of the people of Kenya must be respected unless they want to impose a kind of civilian dictatorship.”
Raila called Ruto’s suggested response to the recent Shakahola tragedy, in which at least 100 people reportedly died of starvation, unconstitutional. He said the notion of a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by a president was no longer sustainable under Kenyan law, and that only the court had the authority to carry out judicial procedures.
“Ruto appears to be unaware that the concept of a judicial commission of inquiry appointed by a president is unconstitutional in Kenya since the 2010 constitution,” he said.
According to Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, the President took over the leadership of the country amid tough circumstances and is trying his best to recover the economy, but he needs the cooperation of all Kenyans to get the country back on track.
Talks with opposition
Gachagua said Ruto has done all necessary to facilitate the conversation with the opposition, and that when former Prime Minister Raila Odinga came out to him, he was kind enough to give him an opportunity despite the views of other leaders close to him.
He said opposition leaders’ presence in the streets has resulted in widespread devastation and theft of property belonging to innocent Kenyans, and that they should understand that the President has a constitutional commitment to safeguard lives and property.
“We are asking Azimio leaders to stop disturbing the city’s downtrodden and instead look for the President and other leaders in government because they know where they can be found. They should give bipartisan talks a chance, and they should appreciate the President’s goodwill,” Gachagua said.
The Deputy President said the Azimio leaders are not sincere in their call for protests at the moment, and that the best time for them to have demonstrated was when the cost of living increased, causing a packet of maize flour to cost Sh230 during former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s tenure.
Gachagua asked Atwoli to find his friends in Azimio and invite them to his home, as he used to do before the general election, and as they made merry before.
The DP said election season is over and that all parties should respect the will of Kenyans to have Ruto as President.
Gachagua continued his criticism of the previous administration, accusing Uhuru of being deaf to the demands of Kenyan workers.
Hurting the economy
Musalia Mudavadi, Prime Cabinet Secretary, described the planned protests as actions that jeopardised the economy.
“Let me say that Atwoli is a wise leader who has accepted that things did not go his way and is very ready to work with the government of the day, which should be emulated by other leaders who were with him in supporting Azimio La Umoja, who fairly lost the presidential election,” Mudavadi said.
The Cotu Secretary General said removing Ruto from power would be a difficult task since he had all the tools of power. He also advised employees not to join in Azimio’s planned rallies today because failing to show up for work would cause them problems with their employers.
Atwoli said the workers’ movement recognised Ruto as their president because it has no choice but to work with the current administration, and that despite being at the forefront of campaigning against Ruto’s candidature, he demonstrated statesmanship by agreeing to work with some of those who campaigned against him.
Cotu Secretary General said former Nominated MP Maina Kamanda had cautioned Azimio that they were on the wrong track as the election approached, and that while he was concerned about his selections, he was confident that Mudavadi was on the opposite side of the political split.
“While I acknowledge Raila has done much for this country, I am asking all leaders who can reach him to persuade him to engage President Ruto so that tensions in the country can be reduced.
“Demonstrations are not healthy for the country at the moment as efforts to revive the economy are being made,” Atwoli said.
He had the audience in stitches when he reminded them that during the campaigns, he advocated for the removal of all trees in President Ruto’s rural home because he was going to lose the election, but that this did not happen, and that he was among the first people from Azimio to accept the election results.