Kenya: Raila announces anti-Ruto protests, with major demo in Nairobi

By Victor Abuso

Posted on Tuesday, 14 March 2023 11:17
File photo of opposition leader Raila Odinga, who is planning a massive anti-President Ruto rally in Nairobi on March 20. (Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga has announced the start of peaceful mass action protests against President William Ruto’s government, kicking off with a major demonstration planned for 20 March, in Nairobi, the capital.

Last Thursday the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition leader said he will lead the protests himself and explained that the action will involve company boycotts, strikes and sit-ins in government offices.

The five-time presidential candidate says he wants to reclaim their stolen supreme power after the August 2022 Presidential poll. He says he was the rightful winner, even though the Supreme Court ruled that Ruto won.

“Take note that on 20 March, we have a date with destiny in Nairobi. We shall stage a massive procession in Nairobi for a legitimate and inclusive government,” Raila announced to supporters.

This comes after the lapse of the 14-day ultimatum, which the veteran politician had issued to President Ruto to address the cost of living, open the 2022 presidential election servers and stop the process of appointing new members of the electoral agency, IEBC.

After Raila made the announcement in Nairobi, hundreds of his supporters flooded the streets of Kisumu and Vihiga in Western Kenya on 10 March, clashing with police while chanting anti-Ruto songs.  They carried placards that read “High cost of living”, ” Ruto Must go” and “victimisation of the Cherera Four commissioners,” referring to the four electoral commissioners who either resigned or fought to remain.

John Okoth, 31, who lost his job in the hospitality industry during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, tells The Africa Report that he will travel to Nairobi from Kisumu to participate in the mega protest against Ruto.

“I’m jobless, life is unbearable. I am ready to fight for Baba (Raila) to save the young people,” he says.

Ahead of the Nairobi protest, Raila, who maintains that Ruto’s government is illegitimate, has embarked on a series of political rallies in various parts of the country, with calls to his supporters to join the movement.

Ruto responds

President Ruto is accusing Raila of promoting impunity, with a clear agenda to destabilise his administration.

“You will not threaten this government with demonstrations,” Ruto said, rubbishing his opponents’ demands, insisting that nothing will make him lose focus.

Ruto has always said Raila is on a mission to force a political handshake. Raila denies any attempts of pushing Ruto into a political dialogue.

Though Ruto sounds unmoved by Raila’s protests, his security minister Kithure Kindiki is warning that the police will use full force on lawless opposition protesters.

“We shall deal with anyone that breaks the law,” he warned.

After Raila’s announcement, security officers increased the number of roadblocks leading to State House in Nairobi and Kisumu amid fears that protesters might storm in.

During the past opposition protests, after the disputed Presidential polls of 2007 and 2017, the police were accused of using excessive force against demonstrators, and there are fears this will be repeated.

According to Article 37 of Kenya’s Constitution, every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.

Embrace dialogue, duo advised

To end the current political stalemate, political analyst Brian Wanyama tells The Africa Report that the greatest responsibility lies with President Ruto, as the constitutionally recognised leader of the country, to reach out to Raila for political talks.

“Ruto should show statesmanship, swallow pride and talk to his opponent. Raila should also tone down,” he says.

However, although Raila has valid political reasons to champion better democracy and transparency in Kenyan elections, the decision to call protests now is ill-timed and may widen political divisions in the country, says Wanyama.

“The government should pay attention to Raila’s demands before it is too late,” he adds.

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options