Ruto seeks Western sanctions against Raila over mass action

President William Ruto

President William Ruto at State House, Nairobi on February 9, 2023. Ruto’s administration wants the West to impose sanctions, including a travel ban, against opposition leader Raila Odinga over his calls for mass action and rejection of his election win.

Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto’s administration wants the West to impose sanctions, including a travel ban, against opposition leader Raila Odinga over his calls for mass action and rejection of his election win.

Lawmakers and politicians allied to the Kenya Kwanza administration have revealed to theSunday Nation a raft of actions that they want the United States, the United Kingdom and western countries to take against Mr Odinga, whom they accuse of destabilising the government. 

Similar travel and economic restrictions have in the past proved to be effective in softening political hardliners who fear losing access to their overseas investments and access to advanced healthcare.

The government wants Mr Odinga banned from travelling to friendly Western nations should he proceed with his plans for mass action intended to force President Ruto out of office.

Mr Odinga has previously staged mass protests that have paralysed economic activity and caused loss of lives, forcing sitting governments into power-sharing negotiations, ceding ground to policy and legal reforms, as well as creating room for negotiated political solutions. 

Mr Odinga on Wednesday announced that he will lead mass protests in 14 days if the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition’s demands for changes in the formula for choosing Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) members and lowering the cost of living are not honoured by the government.

Yesterday, at a political rally in Kakamega, he declared that the Ruto administration has 11 days left to accede to Azimio’s demands, which stem from the disputed August 9 General Election that was settled by the Supreme Court.

The latest escalation of hostility comes in a week when diplomatic sources indicated that Dr Ruto was behind the termination of the Azimio leader’s role at the African Union. It forms part of the larger scheme by the President to ‘politically contain’ the former premier.

“You cannot earn the respect of the international community when you are busy trying to cause civil strife in your country. (President Robert) Mugabe of Zimbabwe was a respected democrat but when he started undermining the same democratic tenets, the international community placed tough sanctions against him. Raila has earned a name for himself for being a democrat.

But if he starts behaving like a rebel, we will ask the international community to punish him,” said National Assembly Deputy Majority Leader Owen Baya.

Dr Ruto has placed in motion multiple strategies to deal with Mr Odinga, his main challenger in the highly charged 2022 succession race, among them, buying out his MPs, dolling government jobs to fiercest critics in his strongholds and instigating defections from Azimio.

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga in an entourage snaking its way to the historic Kamukunji Grounds for a rally on January 23, 2023. 

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

A lawmaker allied to Dr Ruto says the plan is to use both diplomatic and constitutional means to deal with Mr Odinga, likening his planned activities to those of a rebel out to cause civil strife. The MP has also suggested that Mr Odinga be denied the privileges he enjoys both locally and internationally by virtue of his former office, among them access to VIP lounges at airports. He sees Mr Odinga’s pronouncement of seeking to reclaim his “stolen victory” as dangerous and says it should not be ignored by the international community.

“Does he want to overthrow the legally elected government and proceed to instal himself? We are having a conversation about this even with Uhuru (Kenyatta); if he continues undermining the current regime, we will ask that he be withdrawn from his regional peace mission.”

Defence and Foreign Relations Committee chairman Nelson Koech said Mr Odinga’s international recognition stands to suffer greatly if he continues with his threats against Dr Ruto’s administration. He said the international community has a lot of interests in the country and would not hesitate to isolate him.

Western interests

“It is not unusual for governments across the world, in pursuit of their national interests and global order, to place sanctions on individuals and organisations with a high appetite for causing political and economic instability. The globalisation of markets and production means the international community has insurable interests in Kenya’s political and economic stability. Anybody who attempts to cause instability in the globalisation matrix will soon find himself isolated and swimming with sharks in dark cold waters,” said Mr Koech.

He said Mr Odinga’s refusal to recognise Dr Ruto’s administration was laughable as some Azimio leaders have recognised him as the duly elected president. He says the former premier risks being isolated by his allies for pursuing “selfish interests”.

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally at Jacaranda grounds in Nairobi County

Azimio leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally at Jacaranda grounds in Nairobi County on January 29, 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

“Kenyans, as well as our international partners and stakeholders, are shocked that Mr Odinga is treating Kenyan institutions and voters with contempt by attempting to undermine a democratically elected administration,” he added.

Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei says the planned mass action is meant to incite the public against a legitimate government. He holds that Mr Odinga should be denied the privileges he enjoys for undermining the authority of the current administration.

“Tinga (Mr Odinga) should lose all the privileges accorded to him locally and internationally by virtue of his former PM office. The international community normally bans individuals who sponsor civil strife against legitimate governments,” he said.

But Foreign and Diaspora Affairs CS Alfred Mutua said there are no plans as of yet to have Mr Odinga banned from travelling to Western countries. He said the government “has no time to engage Mr Odinga in his unending political theatrics”.

“We are not into witch-hunting. From where we stand, we are not interested in what he wants to do. If he wants to demonstrate, let him proceed,” said Dr Mutua.

Macharia Munene, a professor of history and international relations, said it is normal for governments to ask for sanctions against people they deem problematic. He, however, said such requests can either be rejected or accepted. “The government is always making these kinds of requests,” said Prof Munene.

But Azimio leaders said the planned mass protests are within the Constitution. They said it would be surprising for western countries to listen to such unfounded requests. “We’re not scared by those threats, as what we are doing is within the law. If Western countries can agree to those requests, then they will justify our fears that they rigged Kenya Kwanza into power,” said Vihiga Senator Godfrey Osotsi.

Raila Odinga

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga addressing a rally at Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi on January 23, 2023. 

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi said those thinking they can manage the opposition leader through such blackmail will be in for a rude shock. “Raila Odinga is an institution. Anybody imagining that he can be cut down to size is living in a world of fantasy. They should watch out; they will definitely be surprised,” said Mr Wandayi.

Electoral justice

Jubilee Secretary General Jeremiah Kioni said the threats by the government will not stop them from pursuing electoral justice. 

“They tried to blackmail Uhuru with the issue of retirement benefits and it did not work. They also came with the imaginary tax evasion issue that also did not work,” he said.

In Parliament, Azimio is gearing up to cause drama on Tuesday on the floor of the House to protest what it calls ‘state capture’ of Parliament by the Executive.

Minority Whip Junet Mohamed told the Sunday Nation the plan is to disrupt House business on Tuesday.

“It will not be business as usual on Tuesday, you wait for it,” Mr Mohammed said.

The move has been occasioned by what the Azimio coalition says is interference from the Kenya Kwanza side on the management of its parliamentary affairs after a plan by the minority side to make changes in various committees was thwarted.

In the plan, Azimio was set to move ODM rebels who visited State House to committees considered less lucrative. But a hot debate ensued in a Wednesday meeting of the selection committee chaired by Majority leader Kimani Ichung’wa.

Kenya Kwanza accused Mr Wandayi and Mr Mohammed, who attended the meeting, of ‘sneaking’ the agenda to punish the ‘rebels’ yet it was not among the business listed for discussion.

The strained relationship between the coalitions spilt on the floor of the House on Thursday after Mr Ichungwa and Mr Mohammed had bitter exchanges on the planned changes.

“If the minority whip and the minority cannot effect changes, like what is happening in the Senate, then why we are in office, why is parliament facilitating us, why can’t we close those offices and give the keys to the majority leader and the clerk to run parliament the way they want,” Mr Mohammed said.

“The way we run the minority side cannot be dictated by the majority side. Our proposal to rationalise committees was rejected,” he added.

'Rationalise' committees

Mr Mohammed, however, denied assertions that changes were aimed at punishing anyone, saying the minority just wanted to ‘rationalise’ their committee memberships.

“We were not punishing anyone but just re-organising committees so that they can become more effective because if you want to punish anyone, you de-whip them but this one we just wanted to ensure that members who have four committees an only serve in two in order to serve effectively but we were denied that chance,” Mr Mohammed said.

While Mr Ichungwa admitted that there was a list from the minority side, he denied any interference from the majority side in effecting the changes.

“I have no business running the minority side. It is no secret that the Azimio coalition was not for the willing but a coalition through coercion,” Mr Ichungwa said.

“I have always implored the minority that other than doing changes in a very sectarian manner and in an underhand manner through sneaking lists in the clerks’ office, let us engage and review the work of members in committees,” Mr Ichungwa added.

The Kikuyu lawmaker, however, maintained that he will protect the rights of any MP from any coalition that is being infringed by the leadership.

“I have told Wandayi and Junet that I believe in engaging, consensus building and arriving at fair results. I want to treat any member from the minority or from any party whether Jubilee or ODM as a member of parliament. When I feel a member’s right is being infringed on, I will stand up and be counted to protect him to be a member of any committee,” Mr Ichungwa said.

Laikipia North MP Sarah Korere told the Azimio leadership that they will not be pushed to join Kenya Kwanza

“Now they are telling us that if they want to see the President, we must ask for permission, we won’t ask for permission when we go to State House. In Kenya, we only have one President,” Mr Korere said.

Ms Korere and Eldas MP Adan Keynan still sit in the powerful House Business Committee (HBC), as representatives from the Azimio side despite publicly announcing that they will work with President Ruto, whom Mr Odinga has said the Azimio coalition doesn’t recognise.