- Opposition leader Raila Odinga is leading a bi-weekly nationwide protest in Kenya against the high cost of living in the country.
- President William Ruto remains adamant that the moves are politically motivated.
- The African Union has expressed concerns over the violence experienced during the elections.
- Critics fear the demonstrations marred by violence and looting can lead Africa on the wrong path.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya was one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, with an annual average growth of 5.9% between 2010 and 2018. With a GDP of $95 billion, the East African giant recently reached lower-middle income status and successfully established a diverse and dynamic economy.
According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Kenya remains East Africa’s largest and most important business, financial, and transportation hub, with 80 percent of East Africa’s trade flowing through Mombasa Port.
But sadly, as a result of the recent political unrest in the country since its general elections on 9 August 2022, unity and development in Kenya are under huge threat, and this may have an alarming effect on the continent at large.
What is the Current Situation in Kenya?
Since losing the presidential elections in August last year, Raila Amolo Odinga has become more vocal as an opposition figure in Kenya. Mr. Odinga is a Kenyan politician who served as the Prime Minister of Kenya from 2008 to 2013. He also served as the Member of Parliament for Langata Constituency from 1992 to 2013 and has been the leader of the Opposition in Kenya since then.
The 73-year-old is the leader of Azimio la Umoja–One Kenya Coalition Party and, despite being in the opposition against former president Uhuru Kenyatta, got the blessings of Kenyatta to succeed him in office.
Last week, Mr. Odinga called for a nationwide protest against President William Ruto’s government over the high cost of living in the country. The police released a statement banning the protests, which was billed for Sunday this week, but Odinga encouraged Kenyans to attend the protests anyway.
There has been a series of protests in different parts of the country before the call for a nationwide protest. According to reports, one person was killed in the protests last Monday in Nairobi, the capital, and dozens of police were injured in confrontations with the demonstrators.
In the heat of the demonstrations, Kenya Railways issued a statement saying “that due to unavoidable circumstances, commuter train services have been suspended.” This, coupled with other challenges, fuelled the demonstrations even more and increased the activities of the protesters – many of whom have resulted in the destruction of properties and looting across the country.
Demonstrations or Anarchy?
Since the campaign of nationwide protests kicked off on 20 March 2023, hundreds have been arrested, and two persons have lost their lives. Despite the harsh resistance from authorities, opposition leader Raila Odinga continues to lead thousands of demonstrators twice a week against the government over what he calls the country’s cost of living crisis.
The violent demonstrations have sparked worry among Kenyans, who are already grappling with skyrocketing inflation and a jobs crisis.
Hundreds of looters descended on former president Uhuru Kenyatta’s vast farm on the outskirts of Nairobi, stealing sheep and cutting trees before setting a section of the property on fire.
Also, gangs of protesters targeted Odinga’s gas company, Spectre International Ltd, in Nairobi last week. In their defense, the opposition claimed that during the election campaign, Ruto portrayed himself as a champion of the masses and vowed to improve a lot of ordinary Kenyans.
But he has since removed subsidies for fuel and maize flour — a dietary staple.
President William Ruto Condemns the Protests, Seeks International Assistance
Speaking in Berlin at the Federal Chancellery yesterday, Kenya’s president described the protests staged at home as “challenges of democracy.” His comments came one day after demonstrations were marred by violence and looting in Nairobi and the country’s west.
“What is going on in Kenya is the usual challenges of democracy where people want to challenge the rule of law.” The president held a press conference with the German chancellor Olaf Scholz and vowed to take action against looters.
“My position as president is that the property, the lives, the businesses, of everybody — Kenyans and foreigners — will be protected by the government of Kenya. All those involved in criminal activity, whoever they are, irrespective of what their status is, will be brought to book.”
He also requested for assistance from the African Union and international bodies in solving the issues which the president’s camp insists are politically motivated.
African Union Tries to Intervene
The African Union (AU) has tried to intervene in the matter as all internal controls have failed to control the protests, which seemed to be increasing by the day. The AU has called for calm and dialogue in Kenya in the wake of fresh protests marred by violence and looting.
Yesterday, the AU Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, expressed his “deep concern about the violence during the demonstrations in Kenya.”
One of the major concerns of the African Union is the nature of the demonstrations, which have turned violent and have the potential to cause anarchy in the country.
In response to the demonstrations, there have been multiple reports of police resulting to the use of tear gas to disperse opposition demonstrators in Nairobi and in the western town of Kisumu where one person was killed. In the capital, in addition, to tear gas, police also used a water cannon against opposition leader Raila Odinga’s convoy as it drove through a busy area of the city, leading to crowd movements.
How it all Began – the Genesis of the Violent Kenyan Crisis
On 9 August 2023, Kenyans voted to elect a successor to former president Uhuru Kenyatta, who was leaving office after serving the maximum of two terms.
Surprisingly, Mr. Kenyatta had thrown his weight behind erstwhile foe Raila Odinga, who goes into his fifth try at the presidency as an opposition leader enjoying the support of state machinery. For some reason, Mr. Kenyatta was not in support of the presidential ambitions of his Deputy, William Ruto.
The height of Kenyatta’s rift with Ruto was revealed by the move to support Mr. Odinga, who was a strong opposition to Kenyatta’s government and rejected previous election results and had in the past announced a national programme of civil disobedience, to get the electoral commission to hold new elections.
During Kenyatta’s reign, Odinga had also declared himself the “people’s president” and had himself sworn in as such at a large public ceremony in Nairobi, the capital, in 2018.
But five months before the August elections last year, Odinga and Kenyatta surprisingly appeared together on the steps of Harambee House, the president’s office in downtown Nairobi, for a public handshake that changed the course of Kenyan history, as the foes joined forces to fight against the presidential ambition of William Ruto. But Mr. Ruto would still emerge victorious at the pools, defeating Mr. Odinga – who once again finds himself occupying the position of opposition leader.
Is Kenya Pushing the Self-Destruct Button of Post-Colonial Anarchy?
Critics have continued to express deep concern over the ongoing political crisis in Kenya. They claim that the situation in the East African country is capable of promoting post-colonial anarchy in Africa.
According to socio-political analysts, the recent developments in Kenya can go a long way in inspiring post-electoral violence among opposition leaders across the continent. This, they argue, would have a negative effect on the continent and could potentially tear it apart from within, if not checked.
What are your thoughts, and how best do you believe political, electoral, and post-electoral violence can be best addressed in Africa?