Opposition takes 'strategic' retreat amid pressure, State ruthlessness

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga lights a candle in honour of victims who died during anti-government demonstrations. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition has gone back to the drawing board.

External pressure for a dialogue, the government’s ruthless crackdown on protests, loss of lives as well as fatigue from support base has pushed the coalition to rethink its strategy.

This is happening as Azimio leader Raila Odinga’s hardliners and some advisers maintain that the street protests against the high cost of living remain their vital weapon.

According to insiders, the coalition is holding onto the protests card should the dialogue various stakeholders are pushing fail. They described the decision to suspend yesterday’s protests in favour of vigils and candle-lighting in honour of those killed by police as a strategic retreat.

“There are concerns over the intensity of the violence that took place in several places, especially in Nyanza, and we cannot allow this to continue. We are working on ways to counter the developments and we are collecting evidence we will use in court against the government,” said a legislator.

ODM Chairman John Mbadi said the coalition will announce new dates for the protests.

“Vigil is vigil but maandamano will come back,” he said. “I think it is right for us to take stock because the government has turned into a state terror machine and killing our people and it is very bad.”

The coalition envisions the vigil set-ups to replicate people’s assembly where their supporters will mourn the dead and also vent their anger in form of debates.

This, they say, is vital in keeping the flames of the protests burning, even as others claimed all Kenyans have embraced the protests because of the tough economic times.

“We are working on several strategies to continue with our goal of rescuing Kenyans from the shackles of bad policies Kenya Kwanza is attempting to force people to embrace,” said an MP and a close ally of Raila.

“The reason we decided to hold vigils is to ensure that we take time to mourn the people we lost. It is heartbreaking and we have to show them that we care and will put the government to task for answers.”

The move will allow time to record all the lives that were lost as well as the affected families to help Azimio lawyers prepare if the coalition sues the government.

Yesterday, Minority Leader in the National Assembly Opiyo Wandayi claimed that their change of strategy is necessary and timely.

“Our strategies remain intact, but tactics will continue to change as situations evolve,” he said, adding that they are taking time to empathise with the victims of police brutality.

Other insiders claimed that the absence of some leaders without a valid explanation had also pushed the coalition to craft a way to strengthen its opposition lines.

“The protests is not about Raila, and he cannot be there all the time and that is why our leaders must show up and stand with the people,” said an MP.

The MP claimed that although most of them were on the government’s radar, they were expected to stand with the protestors and issue statements, which some of them did not.

“We are keen to ensure that we are all reading from the same page and standing with our people against the oppressive Kenya Kwanza regime,” said the legislator.

According to Salim Odeny, a political commentator, the coalition may have messed its strategy. 

“Azimio exposed its soft underbelly. While the demos were fashioned as against high cost of living, they were laced with strong political undertones. The matter of Finance Bill is already in court where Azimio is fully participating. Why hold the demos when the courts are already seized of the matter?”

He believes that pressure for dialogue has also pushed the coalition to go slow on protests. “Almost everyone, including those condemning police brutality, is calling on Azimio to abandon the demos. The religious leaders are even more vocal on the need for the two parties to negotiate.”

[Reports by Harold Odhiambo, Olivia Odhiambo and Anne atieno]