The current situation in Kenya offers the chance for a rebirth of a strong opposition that the masses can get behind in keeping the government in check
By Silas Apollo
The opposition Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Alliance has, for a while, been leading protests and demonstrations against the President William Ruto-led Kenya Kwanza administration.
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The demonstrations began in March this year and were announced by ODM leader Raila Odinga to pressure the government to act on several demands tabled by the opposition, including a reduction in the high cost of living and the reversal of punitive taxes imposed on Kenyans.
The protests have also intensified in the last few days from one day to about three days a week, with the opposition arguing that the decision to increase the number of days was due to public demand.
Azimio has also argued that by increasing the number of days, they plan to add more pressure on the government to cave in on their demands, including calls for electoral reforms.
But aside from the losses, which the Central Bank placed at about Sh3 billion in a day, the destruction of property, deaths and even injury of protestors, there have also been questions and speculations on the political end-game of the protest.
University lecturer and political commentator Prof Gitile Naituli argues that one of the possible outcomes of the protest may be the rebirth of the opposition.
“I do not foresee any handshake between President William Ruto and Raila Odinga. I foresee the rebirth of strong opposition and the church leadership engaging with public affairs,” Prof Naituli said.
President Ruto and Mr Odinga have insisted that none of their coalitions was ready or even interested in a handshake.
The Head of State has argued that embracing a truce with the opposition leader through a handshake will defeat the essence of last year’s presidential election, where he won against Mr Odinga.
The President says that he wants the opposition to keep his government in check, adding that any dialogue with the Azimio coalition can only be structured and within the confines of the Constitution.
Dr Ruto has also insisted that he is not ready to make mistakes made by his predecessor, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, who, through a handshake with Mr Odinga, pushed him and his allies out of the government and into the cold.
On the other hand, the opposition has dismissed calls for a truce in the name of a handshake, arguing that such a move would only help legitimise a government.
Mr Odinga says that the protests were not about a handshake with the government as has been argued by some critics, including the supporters of Dr Ruto. He insists that the demonstrations push for justice and reforms in the country.
As the two camps continue to deny a possibility of a truce, calls for dialogue have been intensifying in the last couple of days.
In early July, diplomats from European nations and the United States, leaders from across the region and even religious leaders asked the two camps to sit down for a talk to end the country’s ongoing chaos and political impasse.
Mr Odinga also in July hinted at failed attempts by Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu and her South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa to initiate talks between him and President Ruto failed, claims the government has denied.
But Prof Naituli insists that contrary to popular belief among some pundits that the ongoing political stalemate may end up in a handshake, the two parties seem unwilling to go down that route for various reasons.
“The fact that the President recently talked of how he stopped the BBI and intended to use the same method to stop the demonstrations shows that he does not intend to have a handshake. And so, I believe we will have a proper opposition until the next election in 2027,” Prof Naituli said.
The university don further argues that a handshake between the President and Mr Odinga is impossible because the two camps do not seem to respect and trust each other.
“Ruto won the elections last year against so many odds and, as a result, has very little regard and respect for those in the opposition. A handshake is an elite settlement that needs some sense of respect. At the moment, such respect does not exist, especially from the President,” Prof Naituli said.
“A handshake must also happen with a reason, and we currently do not have any reason. Uhuru and Raila went for the handshake because of our political instability. The country was on the edge and almost collapsing. The only crisis we currently have is economic,” he added.
Kenya, just like other democracies around the world, is a presidential republic, where the President is both the Head of State and head of government.
The Constitution also creates other arms of government, such as the legislature and the judicial arm, to counter-check the executive.
This arrangement, however, has been criticised by some, especially after recent arguments that institutions such as Parliament have failed to keep the government in check.
The courts have also been accused of failing to rein in some of the excesses in government, including a violation of rights such as those of protestors by the police during demonstrations and other actions by the government.
It is also on this basis that many critics of the current arrangement of the system of government have been insisting on creating an alternative voice – most likely a political one, to challenge the government.
Mr Odinga, for instance, has argued that the protests resulted from what he termed as the co-opting of Parliament by the executive to pass laws that are punitive to Kenyans.
Other independent institutions, such as the Law Society of Kenya and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, have also challenged courts to clamp down on police excesses.
The two have argued that recent actions by the government have violated various provisions of the Constitution, such as the freedom to demonstrate and picket, the freedom to make political choices and the freedom of expression.
But should the opposition insist on continuing the demonstrations, can they remain united and fight to the end?
“I think the opposition will stay united because they have a common purpose. There are also speculations that Raila Odinga may not contest for the presidency again in 2027. That gives reasons that he may settle on someone else like Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka,” Prof Naituli said.