Mass action begins right away, says Raila despite State warning

Friday, March 10th, 2023 09:10 | By
Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga (centre) with other party luminaries after the press conference at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation in Nairobi, yesterday. PD/John Ochieng

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga yesterday launched a resistance movement to pile pressure on President William Ruto’s administration as he seeks to drive a political and economic reforms agenda whose end game is to force the government to ease the cost of living, reduce taxes and become more inclusive.

To be known as the Movement for the Defence of Democracy, the political outfit will among other things lead in peaceful protests, sit-ins and boycotts aimed at forcing the government to make life more bearable for Kenyans.

This comes against the background of inflation rising to 9.2 per cent last month, up from 9.1 per cent in January amid a general increase in the cost of food because of the ongoing drought and high cost of fuel and electricity.

Raila and other Azimio leaders, including Narc Kenya’s Martha Karua, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka and their Democratic Action Party-Kenya colleague, Eugene Wamalwa, vowed to stage mass action rallies and boycotts with immediate effect.

However, they also promised to lead a major political activity on March 20, only ten days away, though Raila did not specify the nature and extent of the undertaking.

Even as they made the threat, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki had a stern warning that any unlawful activity would be met with the full force of the law (see separate story).

His warning, directed at the Azimio leadership, raises the ante in the battle of wits between the government and the opposition, amid questions over whether Kindiki can make good his threats. The brinkmanship is likely to further slow down economic activity, which could further affect vulnerable and poor families reeling from high cost of living and a drought that has gone on for over three years now.

Peaceful demonstrations

The two leaders spoke after the lapsing of a 14-day ultimatum that Raila had given to President Ruto to reduce the cost of living and halt the selection of new Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) commissioners. He and other Azimio leaders declared that they will resist and defy the Kenya Kwanza administration until their voices are heard. Even in doing so, Raila said, they will use peaceful and constitutional means.

“We commit to fight, resist and defy this illegitimate regime side by side with you until our voices are heard and respected. We recognize that only through hardship and sacrifice can our cries be heard and acted on. Let’s make our voices heard and respected,” he said. “We launch a campaign of defiance; of peaceful picketing, peaceful protests, boycotts, strikes, disobedience, peaceful petitions, peaceful sit-ins and peaceful demonstrations and it begins today and now. We hereby declare the official start of a countrywide mass action.”

Karua described the Kenya Kwanza administration as illegitimate and dangerous to Kenya’s democracy.

“The election of 2022 handed our country an illegitimate regime that is heartless, reckless and dictatorial. The Kenya Kwanza regime is dangerous for our democracy and, therefore, to restore the dignity of the Kenyan people and put back our country on the path to prosperity, this illegitimate regime must go,” said Karua.

According to her, Kenya Kwanza after assuming power, embarked on measures whose effect has been to make the cost of basic commodities and services unaffordable to a large segment of the population. “The regime heartlessly removed subsidies to maize floor, electricity, petrol, diesel, paraffin, bus fare and school fees. This has made life unbearable to almost every Kenyan.”

Public authorities

While gathering at Jevanjee Gardens last month, the Azimio leaders gave President Ruto a 14-day ultimatum to remove all those policies, failure to which they would lead Kenyans to take transformative actions.“We said that if the demands are not met, we would lead Kenyans to launch a People’s Power Movement towards a Political Green Revolution in a campaign of mass action and civil disobedience whose aim is to restore people’s power, choices and sovereignty in who governs them and how.”

Article 37 of our Constitution provides that “every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.”

Kalonzo, while taking a cue from Karua, reiterated that citizens can exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives, and that the Constitution provides that the people have a right to peaceably and unarmed, assemble, demonstrate and picket.

“We are today invoking the provisions of our Constitution to launch a massive peaceful movement of defiance against an illegitimate, reckless, heartless and incompetent Kenya Kwanza regime,” said Kalonzo.

Withdrawal of subsidies

Raila, while calling on Kenyans to stage mass protests and boycotts, listed the high cost of living, over-taxation, importation of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and recruitment of IEBC commissioners as some of the ills afflicting Kenya and which should be resisted.

The former Prime Minister argued that high cost of living was as a result of withdrawal of subsidies for food, fuel and education in the middle of a drought and recession.

According to him, over-taxation was hurting businesses, impoverishing families and reducing opportunities for investments. In his view, the importation of GMOs is a scheme to destroy the country’s food basket and to make Kenyans slaves to the American multinationals while enriching their cronies. “The accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judicial by Ruto is the perfect definition of tyranny and dictatorship,” Raila said. “For this reason, Ruto must go”.

The Azimio leader further alleged that Kenya Kwanza was a one-sided administration that was planting seeds of ethnic divisions.

“Only two communities are getting appointed to public service,” he claimed. “The creation of unnecessary and unconstitutional offices in the public service including those of their spouses, daughters and sons at the expense of an already overburdened public and an empty Exchequer is a cruel ploy by Ruto to reward his cronies.”

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