Today, I argue that Raila Odinga lacks the moral authority to lead demonstrations against any regime. This is because his political fight for the people has been inconsistent and ends with personal gains.
On March 20, 2023, the opposition leader called for countrywide demonstrations, which stilled Nairobi. His call divided the country right down the middle because Raila has 6.9 million supporters against Ruto's 7.1 million going by the last election results.
His concerns are the high cost of living, the need for consultative electoral reforms and the alleged electoral fraud. He has scheduled weekly demonstrations—which he has said will happen every Monday and Thursday until the government agrees to the opposition's demands.
Indeed, since 2013, the country’s economy assumed a downward trajectory as the country’s back was hurt by the tax burden, high prices of essential commodities and the plummeting value of the shilling.
Things continued to worsen in 2017. Everything has remained the same months after President Ruto was sworn into office. Then at our lowest point, Raila calls Kenyans onto the streets to protest, among other things, the high prices of commodities.
Most Kenyans wonder if this time around, he will not abandon them in case he is offered a slot in the Ruto government. Let me outline the reasons for this hypothesis.
First, a few months ago, when Raila was a de facto deputy president courtesy of his handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, he defended the dire economic situation saying it was beyond the control of the government.
Didn't he also set a precedent for the current government to dodge the matter? How, then, can he now have the moral authority to lead protests against the high prices of commodities that he defended when he was on the side of the government?
Second, the four decades of Raila-led mass action are dotted with visible anarchical tendencies, and Kenya's confidence and trust in almost every constitutional institution have fizzled out.
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Whenever the opposition calls for mass action, lives are lost unnecessarily. The Monday demos left a third-year Maseno University student dead, yet we are unsure whether it achieved its objective.
In October 2017, the Uhuru government banned demonstrations in Mombasa, Kisumu, and Nairobi. But, of course, it was unlawful to ban constitutionally enshrined protests.
Thirdly, Raila's post-election mass action ends with personal gains and losses on the citizens' side. For instance, in 2017 when the elections were nullified, he formed the National Resistance Movement that swore him in as the people's president. He later sanctioned a boycott of products and scheduled successive protests, demanding to talk with the Jubilee regime.
In March 2018, he had a handshake with Uhuru, placing him squarely in government. But unfortunately, he forgot about the soaring prices of essential commodities and electoral reforms. He became part of what he previously described as an 'oppressive regime'. This trend is not new, it happened in 2001 with President Moi and 2008 with President Kibaki, and history is likely to repeat itself if Ruto cows.
Violent mass action is not the way to go. Peaceful mass action is provided for in the Constitution for all citizens. Article 37 of the Constitution says, “Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities". The same constitution that gives one citizen a right to protest, assemble, and picket has also protected the property, life and rights of those not protesting.
So, finally, the decade's experience with Raila politics proves that to him, democracy has meaning when he is slotted in the ruling regime. If he is outside, even legitimately, he banishes institutions - he doesn’t recognise a form of democracy where he is on the losing side. Unfortunately, his followers believe his every word.
-Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer in the School of Music and Media at Kabarak University