Anti-government protests: Rift Valley elders, religious leaders rally behind President Ruto

Youths demonstrate in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County against the Finance Bill on June 25, 2024.

Photo credit: File| Nation Media Group

Rift Valley elders and religious leaders have thrown their weight behind President William Ruto and called for dialogue to save the country from sliding into anarchy following the latest developments in the anti-government protests.

The Rift Valley Council of Elders, backed by clerics from the region, have expressed regret that the anti-tax protests and calls for President Ruto's resignation have been hijacked by goons, resulting in the destruction of property, injuries and loss of life across the country.

Led by Mzee Benjamin Kitur, the elders condemned the destruction of property and urged protesters to embrace peaceful interventions instead of resorting to chaotic demonstrations.

“Since the Finance Bill, 2024 was dropped by the President...and the government is ready for dialogue, the youth should call off the protests and let dialogue prevail in resolving the contentious issues,” Kitur said in Kapsabet.

The chairman of the Talai Council of Elders, Rev Canon Basi, warned against using the constitutional right to peaceful demonstration to engage in acts of violence such as destroying property and causing loss of life.

“As elders, we want peace to prevail and petition the youth to abstain from acts that plunge our country into anarchy,” he said.

The protesters in Eldoret, President Ruto's backyard, have changed tactics after the demonstration was hijacked by criminal gangs and parallel groups.

Unlike previous demonstrations, protesters on Tuesday kept off the streets of Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, and instead took to social media after goons armed with wooden clubs and other crude weapons patrolled the town to 'protect' it from violence.

The armed youths were spotted along the main Eldoret-Uganda highway and were backed by anti-riot police stationed in strategic positions to block demonstrators from accessing the town's Central Business District to avert a possible clash between pro- and anti-tax supporters.

“It will be counterproductive to take to the streets when the armed goons are ready for confrontations. There are other means we can convey our messages even as we rally behind our colleagues who are demonstrating in other towns across the country,” said one protester.

Eldoret town descended into violence last week as thousands of anti-tax demonstrators engaged police in running battles and businesses were looted.

The demonstrators also set fire to the Kenya National Library and the Municipal Court.

But what has puzzled many is how Eldoret town, President Ruto's home turf, turned against him at a crucial time, with large numbers of protesters taking to the streets.

In the 2022 General Election, President Ruto garnered 272,862 votes in Uasin Gishu, representing 77.53 per cent of the electorate in the county, while North Rift counties gave him about 4.5 million votes, representing 63 per cent of the total votes he received in the election.

But the anti-tax protests have threatened to ignite a rebellion against Dr Ruto in his political backyard of Uasin Gishu and the entire North Rift region, especially among the younger generation who see his administration as a major disappointment.

The protesters, who cut across the political divide, vowed to recall their MPs who supported the Finance Bill, describing them as traitors.