From protests, impeachments and abductions: A look back at 2023

Migori bridge blocked by Azimio supporters protesting the high cost of living on May 2, 2023. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

Kenya experienced a tumultuous 2023 marked by political unrest, economic challenges, and legal battles.

The clash between the government and the opposition spanned a range of issues, from elections to fuel prices and the high cost of living. 


The year began with a series of protests led by Azimio leader Raila Odinga, challenging the legitimacy of President William Ruto’s victory in the August 2022 General Election.

Odinga accused Ruto of rigging the vote and called for a fresh poll. He would also mobilize his supporters against the high cost of living exacerbated by inflation, the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, as many leaders in the Kenya Kwanza administration have suggested. 

Protests turned violent, particularly in parts of the capital city- Nairobi, Kisumu, and Mombasa, where police intervention, including tear gas and arrests, targeted opposition MPs and supporters.

The government accused Odinga of inciting violence, while the Opposition argued that the police violated their rights to peaceful assembly and expression.

Finance Act, 2023

Tensions peaked in June when President Ruto signed the Finance Bill, 2023, into law, despite fierce opposition. The bill, containing 87 proposed amendments, notably included a controversial 16 per cent value-added tax on fuel, doubling the previous rate.

The Opposition, emphasizing the burden on the already struggling population, challenged the constitutionality of the Bill in court.

Despite protests and legal challenges, a Court of Appeal ruling in July lifted the suspension of the bill granted by the High Court.

Ruto defended the move, citing the need to raise government revenue for development projects.

National Dialogue talks

National Dialogue Committee co-chairs Kimani Ichungwa and Kalonzo Musyoka during the signing of the Bipartisan talks agreement on November 25, 2023. [Dennis Kavisu]

Seeking resolution, President Ruto initiated a national dialogue, inviting Odinga to discuss issues raised during the protests. Disagreements arose on the venue, with the President favoring Parliament, and Odinga advocating for talks outside the House, alleging ‘compromised MPs.’

The National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) was formed, co-chaired by Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah.

After deliberations, NADCO presented its report, which both Ruto and Odinga recommended for adoption.

However, dissent emerged within Azimio, with leaders like Martha Karua opposing some proposals, arguing that the committee failed to address the critical issue of the cost of living.


2023 was also not devoid of impeachments targeting a governor and a deputy governor from different counties. 

In a significant political development, Meru County Governor Kawira Mwangaza faced impeachment, following protracted conflicts with the County Assembly.

Meru County Governor Kawira Mwangaza is consoled by her husband Murega Baichu  after she survived her second impeachment by the Senate on November 8, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The first attempt in 2022, cited nepotism and abuse of office, but the Senate intervened. 

A second motion in 2023 led to an 80 per cent majority vote in favor, in which Senate again blocked her impeachment for the second time.

The impeachment motion was tabled by Majority Leader Evans Mawira and was supported by 59 out of 69 MCAs, while 10 members were absent during the voting on Wednesday, October 25. Mwangaza is one of the seven female governors elected in August 2022, flooring the incumbent Kiraitu Murungi and the current Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi.

ODM defections

The year witnessed a mass exodus of ODM legislators pledging loyalty to President Ruto. The defection, including prominent figures like Lang’ata MP Phelix Odiwuor aka Jalang’o, sparked controversy and exclusion from ODM meetings.

The defectors challenged the party's stance, leading to a ruling in their favor by the political parties' tribunal.

Cabinet reshuffle

President Ruto's inaugural Cabinet reshuffle in October affected critical ministries, with notable changes such as Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi assuming extra duties in the Foreign Affairs docket, and Moses Kuria being moved from Trade to Public Service Ministry. 

The changes stirred controversy, with claims of lobbying by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. The reshuffle affected eight members of President Ruto’s cabinet.

Scandals and corruption cases

The year also witnessed various scandals, notably an energy sector scandal and an edible oils scandal at the Kenya National Trading Corporation (KNTC).

The latter involved procurement irregularities and tax evasion, mirroring the issues faced by KEMSA during the COVID-19 procurement scam. 

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) now estimates that the amount of taxpayers' money embezzled in the edible oil scam could run into the tune of Sh30 billion, and not just the Sh16.5 billion that was being investigated.

Documents filed before the Senate indicated that KNTC single-sourced the companies contracted to import some 125,000 metric tonnes of the edible oil and set higher prices as opposed to what had been initially agreed on.

In August 2023, billionaire businessman Jaswant Singh Rai's kidnapping added to the turmoil.

Rai's link to cartels accused of obstructing sugar industry reforms was highlighted by President Ruto during a Bungoma County tour.

Rai was released days after being kidnapped by armed men in broad daylight at the intersection of Wood Avenue and Lenana Road in Nairobi.

CaptionFormer Finance Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich (center) outside Milimani Court after being acquitted in the Arror and Kimwarer corruption case. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

On December 14, 2023, former Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich and co-accused persons were acquitted in the Sh63 billion Arror and Kimwarer dams’ scandal.

Trial Magistrate Eunice Nyutu said there was no evidence to warrant Rotich and eight others being placed on their defense.

The Magistrate also said no evidence was tabled to show that there was no procurement done concerning the two dams.

Equally, the court observed there was no evidence to show that the former CS Henry Rotich and his co-accused failed to follow procurement laws in the Arror and Kimwarer Dams.

Rotich, on his part, said he was happy the case that had been going on for years was finally over.

The year concluded with the arrest of former Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and several others over corruption allegations related to the construction of Utalii College, Kilifi Campus.

Former Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and his co-accused Leah Gwiyo before a Malindi court. [Nehemiah Okwembah, Standard]

According to EACC, the project which had been approved in 2007 was supposed to cost Sh1.95 billion but it was inflated by Ministry Officials to Sh10.4 billion.

The commission further said that a meeting held at the college and attended by Balala and Gwiyo saw the board dismiss designs and plans that had been prepared by the Ministry of Public Works and resolved to engage a private contractor Baseline Consortium at Sh4 billion.

As chaotic and dramatic as the year was, we, The Standard Digital team, wish you a happy and prosperous 2024!