Kenya's Opposition Street Protests Shelved, But Future Uncertain


NAIROBI- Kenya’s opposition coalition Azimio La Umoja One Kenya on Wednesday night shelved planned street protests in which they have been demanding a series of issues on the economy and on political reforms.

But the future of more demos could hinge on how a parliamentary committee undertakes the bipartisan talks involving the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition, and whether opposition leader Raila Odinga heeds calls from within and outside Kenya to choose legal ways.

On Wednesday night, Kenya Kwanza agreed to remove a controversial member of its team proposed to be on the bipartisan committee. Eldas MP Adan Keynan, a member of the Jubilee Party in the Azimio coalition, had decamped to Kenya Kwanza and was selected to speak for the ruling party, something the opposition was angered with. In turn, they had called for protests on Tuesday, accusing the government of taking them for a ride.

President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza had been poaching opposition MPs since he took power, defending the move as important to nature and the politics of development. But that was ironic because Ruto’s first speeches in office were also about him expecting the opposition to remain strong and check the executive.

Former Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka, a member of Azimio, had on Wednesday made the initial offer that they would stand down the demonstrations provided their political rivals yielded to their demands, among them, Keynan quitting the bipartisan team.

“We are prepared to go back to the bipartisan talks with our opposite side in Kenya Kwanza and are prepared to stand down the demonstration scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, May 4, provided that Kenya Kwanza recuses Adan Keynan from the bipartisan committee and immediately announces his replacement,” he said.

Kenya Kwanza responded by removing MP Keynan from the committee and replacing him with Saku lawmaker Dido Raso.

“We are willing to bend backward for the sake of the progress of the country, national unity, and stability of the nation,” said National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wa.

The Bipartisan Committee was formed in March, just before the Holy Month of Ramadhan, to address some of the issues raised by Odinga’s group. He argues the vote for the presidency last year was stolen and has demanded a check of the servers the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission used. Odinga’s protests, though, fronted the issue of Unga (maize meal) prices as the biggest and wanted the government to address it first. They also wish for the hiring of new electoral commissioners to be halted.

So far, the Bipartisan committee has disagreed on which can be addressed in parliament. For example, Kenya Kwanza says it cannot discuss the server of an independent body and that the Supreme Court already handled the issue when it refused to order the IEBC to open it during the electoral petition Odinga filed and lost to Ruto after the election (actually, the Court was convinced that the Servers were running on tech provided by a separate foreign entity which would amount to intellectual property violation).

The government also says the price of unga is lower today than under the final days of Uhuru Kenyatta’s government. It says pricing depends on economic rather than policy issues and may take up to the next harvest season or when the global crisis caused by the war in Ukraine is addressed.

So what will the Committee address? Some lawmakers say the acceptance to remove Keynan was a new step forward.

Azimio’s leadership says they accept that political processes are dynamic, but even he was uncertain about what would follow.

“All in good time, we will know more. Let us leave it at that, but the last thing people want is things that spook, disrupt, or undermine a process,” former Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi told the Daily Nation newspaper. 

One point of convergence, or divergence, may be creating new positions to help stem the hurt from losing an election. In Kenya, losers are forgotten people who can only play opposition roles from the trenches.

Some have argued this idea creates winners who take all, sowing seeds of animosity. Meanwhile, Odinga was getting pressure from international bodies and local lobbies to halt street protests which have more often than not turned violent.


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