Kenya: Opposition mobilized very little for the second consecutive day of anti-government action

Kenya’s opposition calls for demonstrations against the high cost of living and the government for a second day in a row were met with little heed on Thursday, with a return to relatively normalcy on the country’s streets and a few sporadic incidents in the capital, Nairobi.

According to official sources, this eighth day of action organized by the Azimio coalition was one of the least tense days of the movement launched in March, which has occasionally led to looting and violence, leaving nearly twenty people dead.

AFP journalists said there were sporadic clashes on Thursday in the Kibera slum, a bastion of Nairobi’s opposition leader Raila Odinga, where police responded to stone pelting with tear gas and live ammunition.

No other major incident was reported.

The day was part of an unprecedented call for three days of mobilization from Wednesday to Friday.

The Interior Ministry said that peace had returned to the country on Thursday “except for some cases of looting and violence by small gangs of criminals”.

More than 300 people arrested in six provinces on Wednesday have been brought to justice, he said in a statement.

Fearing overflow, Kenya plunged into slumber on Wednesday. According to Amnesty International, clashes broke out between police and protesters in several cities, in which six people were killed.

But activity and traffic resumed on Thursday in many cities.

In Nairobi’s business center, “today it’s almost normal, not yet normal, but we’re getting closer to it”, summarized on Thursday morning 51-year-old Charles Muru, who reopened his kiosk selling books and newspapers that had closed the day before. He believes, “the demonstrations must stop” as they paralyze the country and “hurt”.

Schools in the three main cities (Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu) that were closed on Wednesday by government order have reopened.

– “At the edge of the pit” –

President William Ruto, elected in August 2022 on a promise to support the most disadvantaged, faces growing opposition.

He is particularly accused of increasing the hardships of Kenyans, who are already grappling with persistent inflation (over 8% a year in June), by introducing a law in early July to introduce new taxes.

“Protests and protests are not the solution,” he reiterated on Thursday, adding that he “thanked the police for the work they do to protect lives and property”.

In a statement, Amnesty condemned the “use of excessive, unnecessary and unlawful force, including lethal force” by law enforcement.

Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly, Opio Vandayi, was also angered at the “unprecedented level of police violence”.

Believing that their country is “on the edge of the abyss”, Kenyan dailies published a joint call for talks on Thursday.

Ruto and Odinga “will be wondering whether they want more blood on their hands,” he wrote, stressing that “a fire has been lit, and they both have a great responsibility to douse the fire before it gets out of control.”

– “fed up” –

These repeated actions take a heavy toll on the finances of Kenyans and the country’s economy.

Each represents a loss of 3 billion shillings (about 19 million euros), according to a consortium of private sector organizations (Kepsa).

“This has to stop because it is very bad for the economy,” said Godfrey Monony, a 45-year-old urban planner who returned to work in central Nairobi on Thursday.

At the scene of the clashes in Kibera, some residents armed with sticks stood guard to prevent looting. One of them, Jacob Anyango, said, “Five shops were looted yesterday (Wednesday). We are here today to prevent this from happening. We are fed up.”

According to Edgar Githua, a lecturer at Strathmore University in Nairobi, “calling for protests three days a week is too much for Kenyans who live face to face”.

He warned, “If these demonstrations continue like this (…) with a lot of violence and looting, they will lose any meaning and even the leaders will lose their credibility.”

After William Ruto agreed to negotiate, Raila Odinga canceled demonstrations planned for April and May. Talks broke down, leading to a resumption of the sale of shares from early July.

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