UDA shaken by Raila's plans to revive street demos in new year

Azimio la Umoja supporters during countrywide anti-government protests on March 31, 2023. [Stafford Ondego, Standard] 

The threats by Azimio coalition to revive mass protests over the high cost of living appear to have rattled President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza camp as the calls gather momentum ahead of the New Year.

The calls by Azimio leader Raila Odinga are gaining traction in Raila’s camp, while other independent groups, including some members of the clergy, have backed the move.

The Standard has established some of President Ruto’s allies are uncomfortable with the calls and want the opposition to restrict themselves to dialogue.

There are fears another round of mass protests is a double-edged sword that may worsen the economic woes the opposition is attempting to address with the mass protests.

This is happening as leaders and other stakeholders backed the street protests as the only way to push back against the Kenya Kwanza administration’s excesses.

Although the opposition is still keeping secret their planned modus operandi to address the high cost of living through protests, the calls have attracted criticisms from Ruto’s allies.

Yesterday, several Kenya Kwanza leaders dismissed the calls and urged the opposition to give the president time to deliver on his campaign manifesto.

They claimed the calls for mass protests could spiral out of control and damage an already fragile economy, and believe the push for a return of protests is driven by selfish interests.

Kilifi North MP Owen Baya said the opposition leaders were keen to plunge the country into some political and economic crises for their selfish benefits.

Baya said some opposition leaders still have election hangovers and were yet to accept that President Ruto defeated them in the August 2022 elections.

“It is like Raila wants other avenues to stay relevant. He should move on for the sake of the country. 2024 is the year to turn around the economy and not destroy it,” said Baya.

ODM strategy

Mosop MP Abraham Kirwa believes the ODM leader is attempting to remain relevant in the country’s political scene through the protests.

He claimed that most of the complaints the opposition had were addressed during the bipartisan talks.

“We just concluded bipartisan talks recently, where Raila’s team agreed on most issues discussed. The government has also adhered to most of his demands, but he (Raila) keeps making fresh demands,” he said.

Kirwa said the cost of food had dropped, and fuel prices started dropping from last month’s review by the Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA), adding that President Ruto’s administration had put in place measures to stabilise the economy.

“Azimio’s leader is playing politics to get public relevance. They will never be satisfied even after holding talks with the government. The government has adhered to every demand they make, but they seem not to be satisfied. They are crazy,” said the MP.

Kirwa added that Kenyans went through the Christmas festivities peacefully and expressed optimism that 2024 will be a more positive year owing to measures Dr Ruto’s administration has put in place.

Kericho Governor Erick Mutai and Kipkelion East MP Joseph Cherorot criticised the intentions of the opposition and claimed it would not yield anything meaningful.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga accompanied by Kalonzo Musyoka addresses their supporters in Emali town in Makueni County during the peaceful protest on August 15, 2023. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Dr Mutai emphasised the efforts of the Kenya Kwanza government in implementing mechanisms to improve the economy.

“There is no doubt that the Kenya Kwanza government has put in place mechanisms to improve the economy. Who is not aware that the prices of cooking flour have come down?” posed Mutai.

MP Cherorot urged Raila to step back and give the government time to implement the Kenya Kwanza manifesto.

“Resuming demonstrations could hinder the progress made in local economic recovery,” he said.

Raila’s allies on the other hand, believe the train of mass protests has already left the station after the government failed to address the problem of the high cost of living.

Insiders say a return to street protests will jumpstart the opposition’s major pushback in 2024 and is the alternative to challenging Kenya Kwanza’s policies away from the National Assembly where the government enjoys significant numbers.

Taita Taveta Senator James Mwaruma said he supports the planned protest “because it is the only way to stop the President from chest-thumping and threatening Kenyans with a sword.”

Last year, Mwaruma was among the leaders who spearheaded protests against the high cost of living.

In Raila’s ODM, almost all lawmakers are backing mass action and are confident the protests will have a greater impact when the opposition finally makes a declaration.

Lead charge

According to Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo, the opposition is ready to lead a charge against the problem of the high cost of living.

She claimed the next round of protests will have a bigger impact.

However, it appears Raila’s fold will have to do more to convince all members of Azimio’s parties after some expressed their reservations about the plans to reintroduce street protests.

Lamu East MP Ruweida Mohamed said she does not support the demonstration, adding that it would worsen the economic situation in the country. She is a member of the Jubilee party.

Anti-riot police patrol along the streets of Kisumu City during Azimio la Umoja anti-government protests on July 19, 2023. [Michael Mute, Standard]

The MP said she supports the government because of its plans to connect Lamu East with the rest of the country through roads and connecting it to the national grid.

Kakamega Catholic Bishop Joseph Obanyi Sagwe, on the other hand, said demos as planned by Raila were counterproductive even as they were allowed in the constitution.

He said that the only option the opposition was left with was to go to court and stop any excesses they complained about the Kenya Kwanza regime.

“The street ways are becoming unsafe for people and businesses. You don’t want to see deaths in the coming year because of politics. Let former Prime Minister Raila try to stop Ruto in court as the Judiciary exhibits some sense of independence,” he said.

Rally Coast

Sheikh Juma Ngao, Kenya National Muslim Advisory Council Chairman, said he would rally the Coast people behind Raila if he decided to call for mass action over the rising cost of living in the country.

“The opposition leaders and Kenyans at large have used all language to plead with the government to lower the cost of living, but it has failed to heed. The best language is mass action,” said Ngao, who described himself as a senior Azimio religious leader.

He said picketing was allowed in the Kenyan Constitution, and Azimio leaders were within the law to call for one.

“Sadly, this regime’s only economic policy is tax increment,” he said.

The cleric said Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki, and Uhuru Kenyatta administration subsidised food, but President Ruto is doing the opposite.

“I challenge the government to state when the maize planted using subsidised fertilizer would be harvested so that the cost of maize flour can come down,” he said.

The chairman of pastors and Bishops of Kakamega Julius Abungana called on Raila and his Azimio brigade to go slow on his calls for mass action starting next year.

“Demos are not going to make the Kenya Kwanza regime listen. That trick failed and we ended up losing people and businesses in the demos that were called against the KK regime a few months ago,” said Abungana.

“The appropriate thing to do is to have the opposition sit with the government side under the mediation of priests and iron out the challenges that are facing Kenyans since politicians appear to lack a solution.”

He, at the same time, appealed to President Ruto to drop his hardline stance against the opposition and Kenyans.

“This is time for the government to admit things are not well and source for ideas even from the opposition on how to return our economy to stable grounds, not talk down the opposition or the common man,” said Abungana.

By AFP 1 min ago
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