Threats and intimidation: Why there are no protests in Ruto's North Rift backyard

A street in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County on May 25, 2023

A street in Eldoret town, Uasin Gishu County on May 25, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Azimio supporters in President William Ruto's North Rift backyard have developed cold feet about the ongoing nationwide protests, citing alleged threats and intimidation by Kenya Kwanza supporters and police.

The Raila Odinga supporters say they are afraid to take part in the anti-government demonstrations, with some citing fears of tribal backlash.

Azimio leaders in the region, led by Pokot South MP David Pkosing, have also stayed away from the demonstrations, citing government intimidation.

"I have been told not to go to West Pokot," Mr Pkosing claimed, while other Azimio leaders in the region claim they are being closely monitored by the police.

But Azimio supporters say the absence of demonstrations in the region does not mean they do not support the nationwide protests, only that they fear for their lives.

"We are not happy with this government. Life has become so difficult. If the situation allowed, we would be on the streets of Eldoret expressing our anger against William Ruto's government," said Ms Dorcas Chebet Kemboi, the Azimio leader in Uasin Gishu, the President's home county.

She said Azimio supporters in the region were suffering in silence.

Ms Kemboi claimed that President Ruto's supporters had instilled fear in Azimio supporters by threatening to attack anyone who tried to demonstrate in Eldoret town and elsewhere in the region.

Speaking in Eldoret, she claimed that goons had been strategically placed in Eldoret town to counter any attempt to demonstrate against the government.

She also said that the police had been given firm instructions not to allow any gathering in the town in order to create a false impression that locals do not support the ongoing demonstrations.


Demonstrators burning tyres at Mathare, Nairobi County on Wednesday, July 12, 2023 during the demonstrations called by Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo I Nation Media Group

"We have information that the police have been instructed not to allow any gathering in this town to give the impression that all is well. Uasin Gishu residents are suffering just like other Kenyans, but we have been denied the opportunity to express ourselves," said Ms Kemboi.

Ms Kemboi contested the Uasin Gishu woman representative seat in the 2022 General Election and lost to Ms Gladys Boss Shollei.

She wants the President to repeal the Finance Act of 2023.

Her sentiments were echoed by Ms Pamela Lugali, an ODM activist who accused the government of using the police to silence Kenyans facing tough economic times.

"Our absence on the streets of Eldoret does not mean that all is well. We are suffering in silence. Let President Ruto know that," she said.

Ms Lugali said the majority of Kenyans want the government to reduce the high cost of living and that President Ruto must withdraw the Finance Bill 2023.

"If the government withdraws the Finance Bill even now, our Azimio leader Raila Odinga will call off these demonstrations," Ms Lugali said.

"Using goons and police to stop us from demonstrating in Eldoret does not mean that we are happy with this government," she said, noting that life is extremely hard and Kenyans want to reduce the cost of living by all means.

She appealed to the government to revive the economy and reverse the falling value of the Kenyan shilling.

"At the moment, the value of our shilling has depreciated extremely. You can't shop for your family on Sh1,000. Something has to be done to change the situation," she said.

In West Pokot, Ms Rodah Katalai of the ODM Women's League said Azimio supporters were being closely monitored by the local security team.

Ms Katalai claimed that she had been summoned by the Kapenguria County Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) officers for allegedly planning demos in the county.

Demos Mlolongo

A police vehicle that was burnt by protesters along Mombasa Road at Mulolongo on July 12, 2023 during anti-government protests.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi I Nation Media Group

"We wanted to hold demos, but the government is threatening us. The demos are not about politics but about the high cost of living," she said.

"We are not thieves and they should not threaten us. Life is hard and even cattle prices have fallen. I have nothing. Women can't even feed their families. The Constitution allows demonstrations. Why are we taking Kenya back to the old days?" she asked.

"The government should stop intimidation and dictatorship. I wonder why I am being summoned by the DCI. Kenyans are suffering and they should stop threatening Baba's supporters. Let them look for Raila Odinga, not the little people like us," she said.

Another Azimio supporter, Mama Mboga Slima Kendu Bay, said they had been planning peaceful demonstrations but had been threatened and intimidated by Kenya Kwanza supporters.

"I am afraid to go to the demos because I am being watched by the police left and right. Police and detectives have been following me since last week because I want to participate in demos," she said.

"We do not want to destroy people's property, we want peaceful demonstrations. The people who are being targeted are the people who elected you, and you will need them in 2027. It is only through demos that the President will hear our cries because we can't reach him," she said.

In Kitale, Trans Nzoia County, home to two Azimio leaders — DAP-K's Eugene Wamalwa and ODM's Caleb Amisi, the vocal Saboti MP — some residents said they could not protest because they fear for their lives.

Residents who spoke to Nation.Africa said most protests are violent and they fear police brutality against demonstrators.

An opposition supporter, Mr Benard Simiyu, claimed that Governor George Natembeya had warned residents against taking part in violent protests.

"Our governor told us that he is working with President Ruto to bring development to us, so we cannot afford to protest against the government," he said.

Despite being a perceived opposition stronghold, Trans Nzoia County has remained relatively peaceful during the Azimio demonstrations.

However, a popular bouncer in Kitale town was stabbed to death on Wednesday night after two groups of youths clashed in the Matisi slum on the Kitale-Endebess road.

Joseph Marango, 32, alias Terminator, is a longtime security guard for several politicians in Trans Nzoia County and a bouncer at the legendary Makuti club in Kitale town.

He was trying to clear a road that had been barricaded earlier in the day by youths protesting in the ongoing Azimio demonstrations.

A Jua Kali trader in Kitale town, Mr Kennedy Soita, said he could not risk taking to the streets because he would not be able to feed his family.

"If I leave my business to go and protest, what will I bring home in the evening? Raila and President Ruto should sit down and find solutions to our problems," he said.

In Turkana County, residents cited intimidation and lack of interest from the majority of elected leaders as reasons for not participating in the ongoing Azimio protests, although they stressed that they have been hit hard by the high cost of living.

Mr Patrick Epusie, a resident of Lodwar town, said that last Wednesday, police tried to arrest youths who had gathered at Moi Gardens to start a peaceful protest, sending a signal to many that the government was not interested in listening to them.

"We would have protested for a reduction in the cost of living had the plan not been scuppered by the police. It means if I go out on the streets, they will arrest me," said Mr Epusie.

Another resident, Ms Joyce Akutan, said last week's warning to residents by Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai, Woman Representative Cecilia Ngitit and Turkana Central MP Namuar Emathe against holding protests in the town had demoralised many.

But Turkana Civil Society Organisations’ chairman Eliud Emeri said all Kenyans were constitutionally free to demonstrate as a way of expressing their views on the high cost of living without fear or intimidation.

"Demonstrations should be seen as the cry of citizens and the Kenya Kwanza government should listen by reducing the cost of living. There is also the issue of taxes on basic commodities, a situation that has drawn criticism from various quarters led by political opponents," said Mr Emeri. 

By Titus Ominde, Sammy Lutta, Oscar Kaikai, Evans Jaola,