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Kenya: Raila calls for weekly anti-Ruto protests after Monday’s demos

By Victor Abuso

Posted on March 21, 2023 12:03

Nationwide protest over cost of living and President William Ruto’s government in Nairobi © Residents watch from their balconies as Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga   and his supporters participate in a nationwide protest   in Mathare settlement of Nairobi, Kenya 20 March, 2023. (REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)
Residents watch from their balconies as Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga and his supporters participate in a nationwide protest in Mathare settlement of Nairobi, Kenya 20 March, 2023. (REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya)

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga has called for weekly protests against President William Ruto’s government after his supporters on Monday fought riot police in running battles in Nairobi, the capital, and Kisumu, in Western region. A student from Maseno University who was out protesting in Kisumu, Raila’s home turf, was shot dead by police during the demonstrations.

The former prime minister, who has unsuccessfully run for the presidency five times, led protesters to demand that the government addresses the high cost of living. He also said he reclaimed his stolen presidential victory from last year’s polls.

Security officers barricaded roads leading to State House and blocked protesters, saying the government was notified late about the planned demonstration.
Raila had told supporters to gather in the city centre and march to State House.

Riot police lobbed teargas canisters and used water cannons to scatter demonstrators and Raila’s convoy as he tried to address supporters on the roadsides of Nairobi’s Eastleigh and Mathare estates. He had earlier tried to access the Central Business District but the police blocked his way.

“Every Monday we shall demonstrate and strike,” Raila said to his fired-up supporters.

He also accused the police of provoking those who came out to demonstrate and banning what he termed as peaceful protest, which he had termed a ‘Date with Destiny’.

“The war has just started. It will not end until we get our rights,” Raila said.

Police say six of their officers were injured when demonstrators stormed their station, prompting the officers to use live bullets to disperse the crowd.

In Nairobi’s Kibera slum, another Raila political stronghold, protesters threw stones at police the whole day. One protester was reportedly shot and seriously injured.

Meanwhile, six opposition politicians led by Senate minority leader Stewart Madzayo and his National Assembly counterpart Opiyo Wandayi were arrested and released late on Monday evening, vowing to return to the streets next week.

“Regardless of how many times you arrest and intimidate us, we shall not relent,” Wandayi said after being released.

Government condemns protests

Responding to the opposition protests, President William Ruto accused his political opponent of promoting impunity, telling him that if he feels aggrieved he should find constitutional ways to present his concerns.

“I will ensure the country is governed by the rule of law and nothing extra-legal will be part of what we do as a nation,” said Ruto.

His Deputy Rigathi Gachagua wants Raila to consider calling off the protests, which he says affect the country’s economy.

In Nairobi alone, Gachagua says the Monday protests have led to more than Ksh2bn ($15.3m) in lost revenue.

“The events that are being organised by the opposition are not good for business,” he said.

Who will blink first?

From their utterances, both Raila and Ruto seem not ready and keen for meaningful talks to end the political impasse, says Nairobi-based political analyst Edwin Kegoli.

“Raila is showing he is unbowed and Ruto is playing hardball,” Kegoli tells The Africa Report, warning that if this stand continues, the country risks becoming more politically unstable.

Kegoli wants Ruto to show statesmanship and reach out to Raila, who he says should unconditionally accept talks.

“Ruto as President is a symbol of national unity – he should listen,” he adds.

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