Cracks widen over Azimio protests

Azimio leader Raila Odinga and other leaders pass though Pipeline slums during Anti-government protest on March 30, 2023. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The Opposition is preparing for another round of protests tomorrow as it piles pressure on the government with an eye on 2027.

Azimio la Umoja leaders maintain the protests won't stop. On the other hand, the government has dismissed the demands as desperate measures to force a handshake, which Kenya Kwanza leaders have ruled out.

And tomorrow, things come to a head as Azimio plots a 'mother of all demos' while the government warns that it has put in place elaborate plans to chaos while safeguarding life and property.

According to Opposition chief Raila Odinga, "Our quest won't stop, and we'll hold the mother of all demonstrations next Monday, regardless of what our detractors say. We won't give up."

On the other hand, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua has declared that the Monday protests will be the last to be conducted by Raila, who he is blaming for triggering loses as a result of the looting and destruction to property. Gachagua believes that stopping Raila from holding anti-government protests will help the government assert its authority.

"I want to assure the people of Kenya today from Kakamega County that tomorrow nobody, and I repeat nobody, will be allowed to destroy property anywhere in the Republic of Kenya," Gachagua said. He added: "The laws of this country are clear. What Raila is leading is no longer a demonstration but post-election violence."

And herein lies the powder keg. What is the end game of this posturing and brinkmanship by the opposition and the government that has defied calls for peace by the international community and the clergy?

The posturing has set the stage for a major face-off between President William Ruto's backers and Opposition leader Raila's followers on Monday as anti-government protests enter their third week.

This comes amid cracks in Ruto's Cabinet over how the government handled previous demonstrations, as well as pressure from the international community to address the protests which have left more than three people dead, scores injured and property worth millions of shillings destroyed.

During his tour of Europe at the height of last weeks demonstrations which saw pro-government gangs invade former President Uhuru's estate in Ruiru, Ruto said the Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome has the independence to secure all Kenyans and their property.

Ugunja MP and Minority Whip Opiyo Wandayi said the anti-government protest "will acquire a life of its own" if the government fails to address the opposition's demands.

"We are with the people, and if our conditions are not met, the movement will acquire a life of its own," Opiyo said adding: "No amount of intimidation will stop us, and expect the mother of all demonstrations on Monday."

Gachagua, who together with UDA politicians has been blaming Uhuru Kenyatta for allegedly funding the protests without adducing evidence, added that they will ensure the former leaders follow the law like all other Kenyans.

But even as Gachagua faults Uhuru and Raila and has ruled out any possibility of a hand shake between Ruto and Raila, Gachagua says the government is under pressure to hold talks with the opposition.

"There is pressure from the international community and churches for us to engage Raila in talks, but this must be on condition that he (Raila) exits politics," Gachagua said, adding: "This year, he is trying to use violence to get into government. But we are saying no."

Raila, who has claimed that his life is in danger and that he is being targeted, has vowed to press on with his demands declaring he will not be intimidated.

The former premier said there was no justification for the excessive force used against peaceful unarmed citizens exercising their democratic rights today. "The unprovoked attack left my car hit with seven live bullets, each aimed at me. Despite this, we won't be deterred," Raila said.

Official channels

At the same time, Azimio says it has profiled seven police officers being used by the State to intimidate them."We know them; we also know that they have disciplinary issues, and we will also follow the constitutional channels to ensure they face the full force of the law," one of the mobilisers said.

He added that the demonstrations have been successful, though the government has been trying to infiltrate their structures.

Wandayi said police being used to intimidate the opposition and break the law during demonstrations will face the full consequences. "We know them, and we will ensure no one goes unpunished," Wandayi said.

The political uncertainty has driven the country back into election mode six months after the polls has comes despite pressure from the business community, religious organizations and development partners to bring Ruto and Raila to the negotiating table.

ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna said the opposition will no longer issue notices for demonstrations since police have been disrupting them instead of providing security to demonstrators.

"We are no longer going to issue notices. Let us exercise our rights under Article 37. Protests will happen spontaneously anywhere, anytime, without notification of the police because we have realized the notifications are invitations for them to use violence on us," Sifuna told Citizen TV.

He added: "Every single police station in Nairobi has been served with a notification of protests... whose purpose is to invite them to provide security and protect the protesters. But we have realised that it does not matter how much we comply with the law, they are still going to unconstitutionally declare our protests as illegal."

Politicians and pundits warned that the opposition will continue to expand its demands as long as it can stage demonstrations. Political analyst Java Bigambo added that there were indications that the protests will get out of the leaders' control and will now be their followers.

"It means that the opposition leaders will not be in control of their followers, and their followers will stage civil disobedience against the State," Bigambo said. Bigambo said that the demonstrations are meant to pile up pressure on the government to allow dialogue on the issues raised. Raila insists that Ruto did not win the August 9 2022 election. He also asserts that the State should lower the cost of living, and the president should stop reconstituting the Independent and Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Commissioners single-handely. However, Majory Leader Kimani Ichungwa said: "I am urging police to arrest Raila for perennially putting Kenya on the edge with protests."

Bigambo explained that as long as Raila's strategy involves piling political pressure on the government and creating tensions, he will continue with protests.

"And creating a crisis is what I consider to be possibly a bankable concern at this point for the international community and particularly the private sector," said Bigambo.

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