President Ruto’s strategy to counter Raila Odinga's mass protest
President William Ruto’s close allies have revealed a raft of strategies that the Kenya Kwanza government has lined up to counter opposition leader Raila Odinga’s campaign of defiance, putting on a brave face as Azimio mass protests entered the second day.
Security agencies have been put on high alert, forming cordons around sensitive government installations to hold back protestors. The ruling alliance has also instructed its politicians to tone down verbal attacks on former President Uhuru Kenyatta's family, to avoid cementing his bond with Mr Odinga.
People familiar with the Kenya Kwanza strategies told the Saturday Nation there are also plans to go slow on former senior state officials targeted for prosecution by the new administration, following fears that their arraignment could poison the political environment and fuel anti-government sentiments.
Some young legislators, particularly from Central, have been asked to go slow on their incessant attacks on the Kenyatta family owing to fears that a strong Kenyatta-Odinga bond could be dangerous to the Kenya Kwanza administration.
“The heat is increasing in the camp because of Baba’s actions at a time when we are facing an economic meltdown. We are not at peace because we do not know what Baba’s mass action would lead to and that is why some of us have been asking our bosses not to go after Uhuru and his allies,” said one of the leaders from Mount Kenya.
“Uhuru is now an elder and we must accord him the respect he deserves. Some of us suffered in his hands but have let it go.”
President Ruto is also considering appointing some Chief Administrative Secretaries from opposition bastions in an attempt to pacify the regions and respond to criticism that his administration was favouring just two communities that predominantly voted for him to the exclusion of other ethnic groups.
“The President is busy working on the economy. Raila and Uhuru are longing for and looking for his attention, but he is focused on the people and a working economy for the people. The Handshake duo left us in an economic hole of a huge national debt and a dysfunctional economy with corruption-laden subsidies that they are now asking the President to reinstate,” said National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa in an interview.
The Kikuyu MP, who is a close ally of Dr Ruto, added that the President “has no time for people recycling their old habits of digging into anarchy to blackmail people for their selfish ends”.
For Mr Ichung’wa and many in the ruling alliance camp, solving the pressing economic issues, including the freefall of the shilling against the US dollar and the skyrocketing cost of goods, is a key response to Mr Odinga’s protests.
Belgut MP Nelson Koech, another ally of the President, said Mr Odinga was free to hold street protests as long as they do not result in loss of lives and property.
“Raila is entitled to do whatever enables him to come to terms with his loss as long as it does not prejudice the lives and property of Kenyans. There is no right-thinking Kenyan who is not aware or doubts that President Ruto is in charge and in office because he won the election in August 2022. Every leader has to focus on what they promised Kenyans. President Ruto is busy delivering what he promised Kenyans to spare even a thought for Raila's theatrics,” said Mr Koech.
“Raila Odinga has been threatening mass action and postponing every week because unlike in previous elections, Kenyans are wiser now, and are least interested in his shenanigans and know he lost free and fair.”
Kilifi North MP Owen Baya, who is also the Deputy National Assembly Majority Leader, said Mr Odinga should hold his planned mass demonstrations within the confines of the law. “This government will not tolerate breach of peace whatsoever, as it will be infringing the civil liberties of other citizens,” said Mr Baya.
Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei said beefing up security around government installations is a normal procedure, “especially when some elements threaten to breach the peace”.
“The mass action by Tinga (Mr Odinga) is hot air. He thought the President would reach out to him. He should be told to forget any chance of having a handshake with the President. Our focus is to build the economy, not to massage the ego of some people,” said Mr Cherargei.
The Azimio la Umoja One Kenya protests entered the second day yesterday, in the lead-up to the planned major procession in Nairobi on March 20. Opposition insiders told the Saturday Nation that the coalition’s politicians have been advised to ride on the high cost of living to build anti-government protests in their areas as they seek to inspire a wave of revolt ahead of the Nairobi mass action.
According to the plans, the opposition anticipates an increase in the cost of maize flour in the coming weeks due to shortage of the grain and the government’s standoff with millers over a Sh3 billion subsidy refund. A possible rise in fuel prices next week due to dollar shortage and the depreciating shilling is also at the heart of the scheme to set up the public against the government. These projections are said to have informed Mr Odinga’s decision to settle on the new date that is about nine days away. Yesterday, there were pockets of street protests in Kisumu and Vihiga, with the coalition indicating plans to fire up all their political bases ahead of the major processions.
“Kenyans have run out of patience as demonstrated in today's protests. They are not ready for excuses and requests for more time. They just want timely and long-term solutions to the problems facing them. The current regime should know Raila controls more than half of Kenya's population and the numbers have even gone up because the ‘hustlers’ and people who supported them have joined Azimio,” said Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi, in his county.
On Thursday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki was forced to explain how his predecessor Fred Matiang’i was handled at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations headquarters. Dr Matiang’i’s appearance was characterised by street protests in Kisii and a threat by Mr Odinga and his supporters to storm the security installation.
“The entire investigation process in this matter has been carried out professionally, dispassionately and in a manner that reflects the policy guidelines of handling criminal investigations and how suspects of crime should be treated by the police,” Prof Kindiki said, in an attempt to address growing perception of persecution of Mr Kenyatta’s allies. The press briefing was informed by the desire to change tack in handling Mr Odinga in the face of the protests.
Going for the individuals, some government functionaries say, may set the state up against their ethnic communities and fan Mr Odinga’s push for revolt.
Prof Kindiki, in his Thursday address, however, warned that the government would ruthlessly deal with lawbreakers and anyone threatening forcible entry into government installations.
The police cordoned roads leading to the State House, Nairobi, as well as roads leading to the State Lodge in Kisumu on Wednesday.
Mr Odinga on Thursday listed high cost of living among 15 reasons he wants Kenyans to take to the streets to “reclaim their stolen supreme power” of electing their government. “Take note that on March 20, 2023, we have a date with destiny in Nairobi. On that day, our supporters throughout the country shall stage a massive procession in Nairobi for a legitimate and inclusive government. Save the date,” he declared.