Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas
For the things in anyone’s head
They are fighting to win material benefits
To live better and in peace
To see their lives go forward
To guarantee the future of their children…
~ Amilcar Cabral.
Mr Prime Minister,
One of the few things that both friends and foe agree about you is that when the history of Kenya is written, your story and those of a handful others won’t constitute footnotes but chapters. It must be a tired line, but maybe what most don’t add is that these chapters, at least your chapter, will be complicated because you (like many others) are and have been a complicated human being and politician, the fact that you’ve laid down your life for country notwithstanding.
Today Kenya is on edge because of you – just like it was yesterday and could possibly be tomorrow, since you’ve called for a three-day protest – even if there are those who believe, and possibly rightfully so, that the protests are no longer about you. After William Ruto was declared president-elect, a position later affirmed by the Supreme Court, you embarked on agitations for an audit of the presidential election, with eyes set on the 2027 election going by your simultaneous clamour for an inclusive selection of the new electoral commission. In those early-day protests across the country, your primary rallying call was the opening of the electoral commission’s servers, as part of the presidential election audit. You called William Ruto an illegitimate president, declaring his government improper.
That was the original DNA of today’s protests, before they mutated.
As both yourself and William Ruto campaigned to become president, there must’ve been no illusions in any of your minds that whoever became president would face a herculean task dealing with Kenya’s manic public debt while addressing the runaway cost of living concurrently. You both had ideas, and you each believed your ideas were better than the other’s. However, the truth of the matter was that regardless of who became president, things were going to get worse before they got better. And so aside from the question of whose plan was superior and would eventually help Kenya bounce back, the litmus test was who had what it takes – a capable team, the right demeanour, sincere/empathetic communication, fiscal discipline and sound midterm policies – to hold the country together as it lived through worse before it got better.
It is William Ruto’s (mis)handling of the things-getting-worse-before-getting-better phase that has thus brought us here, where the cost of living protests have been grafted into your original protests about the audit of the presidential election. Had William Ruto navigated this phase differently – we won’t get into what this could’ve entailed – then you and your supporters could’ve been isolated as a post-election nuisance, out to sabotage a government that was trying its best to get the country out of the woods, with the people’s support. But now, because of the government’s own own goals, your Azimio La Umoja One Kenya election-related protests have morphed into the people of Kenya’s protests, and this is where matters get complicated.
Kenyans are now staring at a mongrel of a protest movement, a collage comprising those who support your electoral audit quest; those who voted for William Ruto and are feeling short changed; those who may have been apolitical but are feeling the economic pinch; those who were OK-ish but are now worried about an upcoming punitive tax regime – all of them united against William Ruto and his government, all of them channelling their frustrations through the Raila Odinga-initiated protests. Does this, therefore, make you the leader of the protests (because they only occur when you give directives), or does this juncture in the journey call for a rethink from and by you and others, because as is now being widely opined, the agitations are bigger than Raila Odinga (an important distinction being that not everyone who supports the protests is necessarily out on the streets, and aside from those showing support virtually and in kind, there are others who are extremely passive supporters, for a multiplicity of reasons).
Knowing your history, and without casting aspersions – exiting your father’s FORD-Kenya after you couldn’t take it over and forming NDP; merging NDP with KANU with the hope you’d emerge as the presidential candidate; doing a handshake with Uhuru Kenyatta after claiming he stole your victory with the hope/promise that he’d endorse you during the next presidential election – there are jitters that you may turn this protest movement into a political bargaining chip, to the detriment of the people’s legitimate demands. The other cause for unease is that considering the protests are purely dependent on your edicts, what would happen to the people’s concerns were you to not give any further directives, for whatever reason.
These, and other questions, heighten national anxiety.
To get even more granular, there are those who believe this is all for Raila Odinga, much as others hold that you’re doing this for the love of country. We may even add a third membrane here, and say you could be doing this for both Raila Odinga and Kenya, for personal benefit and public good. The appeal to you, therefore – as someone with struggle credentials but also one with a history of political deal-making – is that if the plight of Kenyans is truly at the core of your call for protests (even if intertwined with the personal), then the least you could do is help concretise a pro-people program of action which goes beyond Raila Odinga, so that were you to reach a political truce with William Ruto, the people’s concerns will still be secure.
Such a program will also mean the government will have clarity as to what it is responding to and how; in clear, concise and measurable ways so that protests do not go on ad infinitum.
To say, Mr Prime Minister, the waters are getting murkier, the people desperate, hungry and angrier. Leaving things in limbo, or operating in a day-to-day laissez-faire manner as both the masses and the state await your next decree before they engage in street battles may prove counterproductive for you, for the people and for the government. De-risk the people’s struggle, which may even need to be taken off the streets. Our pen will be hard on you, and we will still ask a lot of you and others. This is why your chapters (yours and others’), not footnotes, will be complicated.