Yesterday, there were demonstrations across Kenya that left at least six people dead. We have had maandamano before in Kenya, led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The previous ones were focused on Nairobi predominantly as Hon. Odinga and his followers attempted to walk to Uhuru Park and were blocked from going anywhere near Nairobi’s Central Business District. It seems to me that they decided that if they can’t come to the centre, then they will go everywhere. As protests go, it worked. From Wote, to Kerugoya to Eldoret to Mombasa there were protests seemingly coordinated such that businesses everywhere closed down.
Given the Inspector General of Police Japheth Koome’s statement on Tuesday that all protests on Wednesday were illegal, police everywhere swung into action to quell protests in most cases with vicious aplomb. It transpired that there were running battles everywhere, with police being overwhelmed. I have heard stories of policemen being separated from their contingent and being thoroughly beaten by wananchi. One story has it that in Kitengela, a cop had to take refuge in a shop until the chaos died down.
What are we doing?
As we look at the dead yesterday, the injured, including small children and the millions of shillings in losses, we must ask ourselves, what are we doing? The thing that was clear yesterday is that the opposition did not really have control of the protesters by the evening. It had taken a life of its own. The plan worked but it may have worked too well – so much that the country was well on the path of being ungovernable.
Unfortunately, the person that history will remember in this situation is His Excellency William S. Ruto, the President of Kenya. Think about it: In the original Saba Saba protests in the 90s preceding the repeal of section 2A of the constitution, only the avid historians remember that there was looting and aggression by the protestors, led by the great leaders, the late President Mwai Kibaki, Martin Shikuku, Charles Rubia, Governor James Orengo and more. What people remember is that President Daniel arap Moi’s government beat and oppressed the protestors.
Everyone cannot be wrong
The time has come for Kenyan leaders to pause and think through this. The more the government responds antagonistically, the more people feel unheard. It cannot be that all those people out in the streets were there simply because Raila Odinga paid them. He doesn’t have that kind of money. They hurt.
The fact is, the economic situation can not be debated – it is hard for everyone. What is worse, the Finance Act 2023 is ill-timed and pushes people to the corner.
Today, I was reminded that the posho mill, where many go to mill their flour has become more expensive as fuel costs have gone up. Paraffin also has gone up. When people cannot survive, people will go out in the streets.
In all of this, the government is losing the sentiment war as teargas reaches children in schools and the police shoot people’s relatives. It can not be forgotten that innocents have been killed. Eunice Mutheu, a student at Kisii Polytechnic was not a protestor. The more innocents are killed and hurt, the more the government loses its grip on the situation.
The time for wisdom has arrived and leadership calls for the deescalation of the animosities.
The president was elected to lead. Here’s his moment.