Tough week ahead for Kenyans as State, Azimio take hardline stance

Anti-riot police officers engage Azimio la Umoja demonstrators in Nakuru city on July 12, 2023. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Kenyans could have the shortest week as a political showdown looms between the government and the opposition over planned protests.

Neither President William Ruto nor Azimio leader Raila Odinga is ready to back down, with each promising tough action.

Raila has called three days of protests beginning Wednesday, leaving Kenyans with only today and tomorrow to go about their day-to-day events.

The president on the other hand warned that his administration will not condone lawlessness.

“Should I be hard on him (Raila) so that he stops destroying people’s property and using the youth to destroy property?” asked the president while addressing the public from his heavily guarded vehicle.  “I want to assure you; we cannot accept anarchy in the Republic of Kenya.”

However, this is not the first time the president has issued such warning. Prior to Wednesdays’ demonstrations, the Head of State had issued similar warnings only for the opposition to ignore them and proceed with their planned demos.

All eyes are now on the president and Raila especially on, how different Ruto is going to handle the coming demos and whether Raila will heed the Head of State’s calls to tone down.

Last week’s demonstration signalled just how big of a problem the president is going to confront- a problem of widespread dissent attributed to the rising cost of living, a harsh business climate and the government’s push to raise taxes in what it says is the only way to realise the promises it made to the people.

Following Wednesday’s demos that caused havoc and left nine people dead, Ruto has taken every opportunity while addressing the public to castigate Raila, stating that going forward, he will not allow any demonstrations.

The president promised to “deal” with the opposition leader.

However, the president lends himself the difficult task of interfering with a process that is provided for in Article 37 of the Constitution where Kenyans are permitted to hold peaceful demonstrations.

Speaking in Chogoria Ruto declared that his government will not tolerate any further demonstrations orchestrated by the opposition.

With a stern warning, Ruto expressed his readiness to confront opposition leader Raila Odinga directly, cautioning that any future protests would be restricted to Odinga’s own residence.

In a display of anger, the President accused former Head of State Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila of financially incentivizing youth to instigate chaos nationwide, vowing that these actions would soon become a thing of the past.

“Should I be hard on him (Raila) so that he stops destroying people’s property and using the youth to destroy property?” asked the president while addressing the public from his heavily guarded vehicle.  “I want to assure you; we cannot accept anarchy in the republic of Kenya.”

Azimio leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

Nevertheless, the Ruto administration seems to be convinced that their biggest problem is the Azimio Chief with the recent State House meeting pulling in 241 Kenya Kwanza allied governors, senators and MPs resolving to counter the demonstration from the grassroots through rallying support among the people and castigating the demos.

Less than a week after 6 people dies following Saba Saba demonstrations, the country witnessed the most vicious of demos in recent times leading to the death of nine people, destruction of private property worth millions of shillings together with looting and vandalism of public infrastructures along the Nairobi Expressway.

After speaking on Wednesday evening where he called of the final Kamukunji grounds maandamano rally claiming that the government had ‘planned to use live bullets on some of its leaders’, the Azimio leader has maintained some studious silence, amid talks that the Western world had extended hand for him to call off the protests.

President Ruto’s remarks are in tandem with his security lieutenant, interior CS Kithure Kindiki who has blamed Raila and the opposition for the violence and death witnessed in the demonstration despite the victims of the violence dying from bullets allegedly fired by police officers.

During a firm address over the weekend in Sondu, CS Kindiki issued a stern warning to the opposition leaders arguing that the opposition is free to criticise the government but that right does not extend to violence.

“Those who want to test our resolve, try monkey business on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, you will live to regret it for a long time. What happened on Wednesday will not happen again,” said Kindiki.

With widespread ridicule over the police’s use of force when responding to demonstrators and vandals, the police’s high command has shown no hint of toning down the force even as the number of deaths continues to rise with every demonstration.

As the government stands firm on the impossibility of having a truce with the opposition, some leaders including Trade CS Moses Kuria and Nandi senator Samson Cherargei have continued fanning the already threatening flame of conflict.

Through their Twitter handles, the two leaders have been sending coded messages.