Azimio to hold rallies as curtain raiser for new round of street protests

Opposition leader Raila Odinga addressing the demonstrator in Eastleigh Nairobi on March 20, 2023. 

Opposition leader Raila Odinga addressing his supporters in Eastleigh Nairobi on March 20, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Opposition leader Raila Odinga today begins a new wave of rallies expected to culminate in another round of protest marches as bipartisan talks with President William Ruto face a possible breakdown.

Mr Odinga will lead his brigade in a public engagement at  Kamukunji Grounds, Nairobi, just days after announcing plans to resume demonstrations after the Muslim holy month of Ramadhan.

His allies told the Sunday Nation yesterday that they have lined up a series of rallies as a build-up to the resumption of protests on a day Dr Ruto’s supporters threatened to pull out of the talks.

Mr Odinga has included human rights activists, faith-based organisations, student bodies, trade unions, farmers’ associations, small businesses and civil society in his plans.

The opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance hopes to capitalise on the high cost of living and the financial crisis facing the country that has seen the government fail to remit county allocations and delayed salaries to civil servants.

Belgut MP, Nelson Koech, said President Ruto should withdraw from the talks “and focus on protecting Kenyans’ property” if  Mr Odinga insists on the demonstrations.

“There is no need for bipartisan talks if Mr Odinga is not going to keep his end of the bargain and stop harassing small business people in the name of protests,” Mr Koech said.

“We are not holding talks with bandits causing mayhem in the North Rift so why should we have negotiations with individuals harassing Kenyans and looting in Nairobi? The government must safeguard the lives of Kenyans and protect property against hooligans. Raila Odinga should recognise and respect the government of the day or face the full force of the law.”

Mr Odinga’s allies say they are going back to the people to get their views while accusing the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition of dishonesty.

Leaving nothing to chance

The President’s camp insists that its team of negotiators will strictly engage the Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo-led opposition team on the issue of reconstituting the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and will not be drawn into other matters raised by Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition.

“The talks have not officially started. Despite our good faith, the other side continues talking ill of us and the issues the opposition has raised. We are going to the people to inform them what we have put on the table and if we should continue with the talks,” ODM Deputy Party Leader Wycliffe Oparanya told the Sunday Nation.

The former Kakamega governor added that public engagements have been lined up across the country ahead of the resumption of the demonstrations that were suspended to give room to talks. 

Azimio's Wycliffe Oparanya

Azimio Executive Council chair and former Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya (left) Sirisia MP Peter Salasya during Azimio La Umoja demonstrations on March 27, 2023. The Raila-led coalition has said it will hold its first public engagement on Thursday at a town hall meeting followed by a baraza on Sunday at Kamukunji Grounds.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

National Assembly Minority Leader, Opiyo Wandayi, said the ruling alliance does not appear interested in the talks. 

The Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition cites the delay by Kenya Kwanza in naming the chairperson of its seven-member negotiating team as part of the delay tactics.

“We shall particularly seek their views on the proposed bipartisan dialogue and the evident intransigence of the Kenya Kwanza regime. We have to remain sensitive to the public mood,” the Ugunja MP said.

Protests to continue

Jubilee Party Secretary-General Jeremiah Kioni said the protests would continue until the cost of living goes down. 
He accused Kenya Kwanza of reneging on an agreement to have the talks outside Parliament.

“The only language these people understand is mass action. We will hold demonstrations until our people have food,” Mr Kioni said.

He added that apart from the reconstitution of the IEBC, the talks must address party hopping with a view of compelling those who have crossed to the government side to seek a fresh mandate from voters.

The Azimio bipartisan dialogue team has named Mr Paul Mwangi as joint secretary and Prof Makau Mutua and Mr Kioni as assisting counsels ahead of the talks with Kenya Kwanza.

Nandi Senator, Samson Cherargei, said the opposition is “creating unnecessary crises” even before the talks begin.
“Adding strangers to the process is grandstanding. The opposition has realised it is not getting what it wanted and is now resorting to going back to the streets,” the lawmaker said. 

“The three people Azimio la Umoja One Kenya has added to the team are strangers to Parliament. The National Assembly and Senate do not require outsiders.”

Azimio leaders

Azimio Coalition leaders (from left) Jermiah Kioni, Wyclife Oparanya, Martha Karua, Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga and Eugene Wamalwa address the press at Stoni Athi Resort in Machakos County on April 6, 2023.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

Contacted, Prof Mutua said their inclusion is not unusual. 

He said the Kenya Kwanza seven-member team is also in the process of bringing in advisers.

“The committee is within its right to name its advisers. The objective is to get the best product out of the talks,” the law professor told the Sunday Nation.

Kibwezi West MP, Mwengi Mutuse, who is in the seven-member Kenya Kwanza alliance team, said Mr Odinga had agreed to call off the demonstrations for the talks to take place and that it is dishonesty on the part of the opposition leader to backtrack on his pledge even before the process begins.

“The bipartisan talks are premised on communication by President Ruto calling on Mr Odinga and the opposition coalition to call off the protests in favour of talks,” Mr Mutuse said. 

“Mr Odinga agreed to the call hours later. The opposition should stop being dishonest.”

The government side said it is ready to meet the opposition camp to commence discussions on reconstituting the electoral agency.

East African Legislative Assembly MP, Maina Karobia, said the return of rallies and protests would undermine the bipartisan talks “which President Ruto and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua are committed to see succeeding”.

“The President and his deputy have been objective in calling for the talks but it seems Mr Odinga is determined to get what he wants by any means and does not care about the destruction of property and loss of lives,” Mr Karobia said. 

“He will soon find himself in the streets alone because Kenyans have moved on and are building the nation.”

However, Tharaka MP George Murugara said he does not think the rallies would affect the talks in any way.
“There is nothing wrong in holding rallies as long as they are peaceful. It will not affect the talks, unless the opposition team comes and says it is no longer  interested,” the lawmaker told the Sunday Nation

“I know they will not do that because they are keen on the bipartisan talks.”

According to University of Nairobi lecturer Samuel Mbutu, the  announcement of the return of the rallies and protests is a strategy by the opposition coalition to force the Kenya Kwanza side “to get serious” with the talks.

“Azimio la Umoja One Kenya alliance is leaving nothing to chance. The opposition wants to ensure that its eyes constantly remain on the ball and not even the unwillingness of their Kenya Kwanza counterparts to negotiate or the theatrics from the ruling coalition will stop them from focussing on their demands,” Dr Mbutu said.

He, however, added that at the end of it all, the ruling and opposition alliances would cede ground and agree to meet in the middle.

“It is cards at play here because people are never into these kinds of negotiations. They are forced into them by the existing circumstances,” Dr Mbutu said.