Raila Odinga's secret cards for mass action
Opposition leader Raila Odinga has kept close to his chest plans for tomorrow’s mass action, confounding his supporters who have remained in the dark regarding the duration and expected outcome of the protests.
The Azimio la Umoja Coalition Party leader has not announced a specific venue for Monday’s mass action as he routinely does in previous public rally announcements, leaving supporters guessing where he is likely to make his keynote address.
Mr Odinga has also not released any schedule of events or a roadmap revealing the movement of his entourage.
In an interview on Citizen TV last night, the veteran politician indicated that members of the Azimio coalition would march to State House to present his petition, giving the clearest hint yet of his plans for a day that he has christened “the mother of all protests”.
Multiple Sunday Nation interviews with Mr Odinga’s confidants revealed behind-the-scenes efforts to galvanise a massive march across the Nairobi Central Business District that could force a shutdown of offices and businesses fearing possible lawlessness and looting, based on past experience.
Nairobi Senator Edwin Sifuna, also the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Secretary General, said Azimio elected leaders and grassroots officials drawn from the capital city would hold a meeting today to make final preparations on how to execute the protests.
“We have a meeting on Sunday as Nairobi leaders to finalise on plans for Monday,” said Mr Sifuna, adding that some of the coalition supporters from upcountry would be camping in Nairobi beyond tomorrow.
“Come out and make your voice heard. Extend support and warm Nairobi hospitality to those coming in from the upcountry. If you can spare an extra slice of bread or a bottle of water, offer it to your fellow liberator. They may be here for a long time,” Senator Sifuna said.
In his TV interview, Mr Odinga signalled that the protests would be long, which could indicate a drawn out disruption for an already fragile economy.
“This will not end on Monday. It will go on after Monday in other ways until we get to the bottom of this and our grievances are addressed,” he said.
Azimio also disclosed plans to hold parallel protests in major towns.
“We will have a peaceful protest. We will take our memorandum to a government establishment, county, and regional commissioner in all the other counties. Here in Nairobi, we will take the petition to the President to his office at Harambee House. If he is in State House, we will send a few people to go to State House, to present our petition. It will not be the entire crowd,” he said.
Fears that security forces would crack down on protesters and opposition politicians caused tension in the capital, where parents were not sure whether to send their children back to school after the mid-term break.
Yesterday, Azimio La Umoja One Kenya luminaries remained guarded on finer details of their plans amid claims that security forces were gathering intelligence to frustrate them by arresting grassroots mobilisers as well as some leaders ahead of the protests.
Sources indicated that some of the coalition supporters from upcountry were to start arriving in Nairobi this morning as they seek to outsmart the police, who are reportedly planning to erect roadblocks on major roads.
Some leaders are also considering spending the night on the eve of the protests outside their homes to avoid possible police arrests ahead of Monday.
Azimio is also factoring in a scenario where the police could block supporters from Kibra, Mathare and other slums from accessing the City Centre.
Initially, the Sunday Nation learnt that Mr Odinga had planned to have his supporters converge on Jeevanjee Gardens for prayers before leading them in a procession through Moi Avenue to Haile Selassie before joining Uhuru Highway.
They would then proceed to State House to present a petition to the President.
“If Kenyans on Monday want to march to State House to present their petition to William Ruto, they are free to do so. They have every right because that’s their house and Ruto must listen to them,” former Defence Cabinet Secretary and Democratic Action Party-Kenya (DAP-K) leader Eugene Wamalwa told the Sunday Nation.
Mr Wamalwa also claimed plans by criminal elements who want to infiltrate the procession with the aim of causing chaos.
“We are aware of this and are telling them that we will be on the lookout. No Azimio person will start violence. We want our protests to be peaceful. We don’t want to go down that route again.”
A senior official in the opposition coalition said Mr Odinga is under immense pressure to drop the plan and give dialogue a chance.
He talked of the pressure weighing on Mr Odinga to ensure he does not disappoint his supporters, while at the same time ensuring the procession is not violated.
Mr Odinga is said to be concerned about how his supporters would be controlled should he stick to his plans of marching around the CBD.
“Much of the details of what will happen on that day are only known by the party leader. He has avoided consulting many people so as not to make a mistake that could lead to violence,” the official said.
He added that Mr Odinga rejected calls by the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) to drop the planned protests and give room for dialogue.
NCCK is said to have reached out to him on the same day it issued a statement asking Dr Ruto to “reach out to the opposition”.