US-led effort fails to stop Azimio protests

Azimio leaders Raila Odinga and Martha Karua in Nairobi

Azimio leaders Raila Odinga and Martha Karua in Nairobi on March 29, 2023, during a meeting with the leadership of the Nubian community, PCEA church leadership and traders from Kibera.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

United States President Joe Biden’s government has launched a push for talks between President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga to quell unrest occasioned by weekly protests.

Yesterday, US Senator for Delaware Chris Coons, who has been linked to past efforts to broker a truce in Kenya, including in 2018, separately met Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and Mr Odinga, even as the two stuck to hard-line positions in public statements ahead of today’s anti-government protests, the second this week.

Mr Gachagua acknowledged talks with the delegation from the US led by Mr Coons. 

“This morning, I hosted a delegation from the USA, led by Senator for Delaware, Christopher Andrew Coons for consultations towards strengthening ties between the two nations, especially in trade, security and democracy, among other key issues of mutual interest,” Mr Gachagua said. He did not mention any discussions regarding any dealings with the opposition.

But speaking in Nyeri thereafter, the DP ruled out any dialogue with Mr Odinga, whom he accused of attempting to blackmail President Ruto into talks to join the government.

“I want to say here in Nyeri, the land of freedom fighters, that it is not possible for him to come to the government through the back door. There are no constitutional provisions whatsoever to bring Raila Odinga into government,” Mr Gachagua said.

And Mr Odinga yesterday insisted that their planned demonstrations will continue today to push President Ruto’s administration to lower the high cost of living, open last year’s presidential election servers for audit and stop unilateral reconstitution of the electoral agency.

“Today we are adding a fourth demand to Ruto to let parties be. Ruto must stop auctioning MPs like sheep and goats. If you want many MPs let them resign and seek a fresh mandate. If they win well and good,” Mr Odinga charged.

Last night, Azimio Executive Council Chairperson Wycliffe Oparanya said the planned protests today are on, despite the meeting with Mr Coons.

“We are definitely not calling off the planned protests tomorrow (today). We are on and we urge our supporters to come out,” said the former Kakamega governor.

Minutes after 7 pm, Mr Odinga, on his verified social media handles, posted a video declaring the protests are on.

“Mambo ya kesho tutaendelea. #MaandamanoThursdays (We are on with tomorrow’s plan for Thursday protests,” the post said. 

Coons meetings

Mr Coons held a meeting with Mr Gachagua in the absence of President Ruto who is in Germany on a state visit and later went into talks with Azimio principals led by Mr Odinga.

Chris Coons

US Senator Chris Coons (left) meets Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua in Nairobi on March 29, 2023.

Photo credit: DPPS

This was the second time Mr Coons was visiting Kenya in less than a year. In August 2022, he led a congressional delegation that met with national leaders, including Mr Kenyatta, President Ruto and Mr Odinga.

The talks between Mr Coons, who is a close ally of President Biden, reportedly centred on the best approach to lasting peace and cohesion in the country.

Moments before Mr Odinga’s scheduled meeting with Mr Coons, the Azimio chief had fired a warning shot to the world powers including the US and UK, faulting them for what he termed as ignoring grievances over electoral injustice in the country that cannot be tolerated in their own countries.

“All those foreign democracies at the moment are on the other side. In their countries, the things happening here cannot happen there yet they are saying we are okay. We have told them to let Kenyans solve their own issues,” Mr Odinga said when he met leaders, Christian and Muslim clergy, as well as traders from Kibra to reach a truce following the violence witnessed in the area on Monday.

“Let us not be lectured on matters of democracy by the UK, US, India, Japan and Australia. We Kenyans are the ones able to solve our own issues. So there is no reason for Ruto to go to Germany and discuss Raila Odinga. Let him open the server for audit,” Mr Odinga said.

“Ruto has refused to talk to us. We now have a right to peaceful demonstrations and we are on,” Mr Odinga added. He said the high cost of living, audit of the 2022 presidential election servers, halting the unilateral reconstitution of the electoral agency as well as stopping the poaching of opposition legislators in Parliament must first be addressed.

“We are saying that if you want to defect to the government side first resign and seek a fresh mandate. That’s what I did when I had issues with my party (Ford Kenya) and went back to the elections and won,” Mr Odinga said. 

Yesterday Mr Odinga also held talks with Catholic bishops over the current political crisis and pledged to maintain engagement with them and other faith communities “as we work towards ensuring that Kenya is back on the right track”.