We should forget protests and keep peace at all costs as a nation

Parts of vandalized JKIA-Westlands Express Way at the Mlolongo section during the Azimio la Umoja protests against the high cost of living.[Samson Wire, Standard]

Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the US said, “there never was a good war or a bad peace.”

These words, spoken during a ceasefire in the Revolutionary War between the British and Americans, still hold true today.

In the Kenyan context, the respite from Maandamano, the public demonstrations ostensibly protesting the high cost of living, has seen a season of peace welcomed by all. That a section of the political elite now mulls a return of the same presages a return to confrontations between “demonstrators” and law enforcement officers.

The détente between Opposition party Azimio demonstrators and the Kenya Kwanza administration was pursuant to an agreement. This agreement facilitated a National Dialogue Committee to hold deliberations on a raft of national issues. However, the dialogue committee has declared a stalemate over the cost of living. This stalemate threatens to return the country back to violent demonstrations witnessed earlier in the year.

It is true that the cost of living has caused insuperable hardship to Kenyans. No one can gloss over the reality of these extraordinary times that call for unprecedented measures to keep the country afloat.

It is therefore disingenuous to blame the government for exogenous factors that have contributed to these hardships.

It is also unconscionable to try and absolve the Jubilee administration from their role in creating the mess in the first place. And it is the height of chicanery to use the resultant disaffection of citizens as a vehicle to certain political ends.

There are facts that cannot be ignored. Take public debt for instance. In 2013, at the onset of the Uhuru Kenyatta administration, public debt as a ratio of GDP was at 50.7 percent. At the start of Kenyatta’s second term, it was at 57.15 percent, well within the threshold of 60 percent recommended for developing countries.

By the end of his second term in 2022, in the period pejoratively described as the “Handshake,” it was at 67.3 percent.

Inference is drawn from these figures that perhaps there was an element of reckless and unfettered accumulation of public debt during this “Handshake” period.

It is also a matter of public record that 70 per cent of tax revenues collected this year have gone towards settling public debt incurred by the Kenyatta administration.

By law, 30 per cent ought to go towards development. That development expenditure has been crowded out, shows the precarious state of the country’s finances. It is for that reason that the Finance Act 2023 was mooted.

Some austerity measures contained in this Act are as a result of conditionalities prescribed by Bretton Woods institutions. These lenders of last resort have stepped in to stop the country from the inexorable slide to debt default.

From the foregoing, calling for a repeal of the Finance Act 2023 smacks of insincerity. Maandamano cries are essentially the leveraging of public disaffection for advancement of individual political agendas.

Certainly, those calling for demonstrations appear to have little or no political stock. But they must not jumpstart their careers on the altar of innocent Kenyan lives.

The writer is a public policy analyst

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