On 2 April 2023, opposition leader, Raila Odinga called off the mass demonstrations that he was leading in Kenya since late March 2023, where thousands came out on the streets. This came in response to an appeal by President William Ruto to engage in talks. While protests have been suspended, Odinga has been clear that they could restart within a few days.
The protests were led by Odinga when he blamed the Kenyan President for a failing economy and also claimed that Ruto’s victory in the 2022 election was fixed, despite a ruling from the Supreme Court upholding the validity of the results. During the protest, Odinga demanded that the government allow access to the 2022 election results from the electoral commission’s main computers. Police have been violent at the protests using force to disperse protesters, resulting in four deaths since the protests started.
Many Human rights groups, including the Kenya Human Rights Commission, have expressed concern over the abuse by the police during the protests and urged restraint. The Media Council of Kenya reported that journalists have been attacked during the demonstrations.
The current protests are the aftermath of controversy in the 2022 elections though they have a long history. The then Deputy President William Ruto was declared the winner of the 9 August 2022 poll, beating Odinga by a very narrow margin. The voting process was relatively peaceful. However, almost immediately, the announcement resulted in protests where supporters of Odinga took to the streets in protest, setting fire to tires and clashing with police.
The political landscape is heating up!
Kenya is witnessing a huge anti-government protest organized by opposition leader Raila Odinga. pic.twitter.com/Qp0NZvNoR2
— The International Magazine (@TheIntlMagz) March 29, 2023
Despite previous pledges by both candidates to handle any disputes in court rather than on the streets, protests erupted in many of Odinga’s strongholds. This was partially expected, as every presidential election outcome has been contested in Kenya since 2002. Kenya had been grappling with severe drought leading to high prices, and widespread corruption.
Kenya has undergone significant political changes in the past few decades, marked by several key events, beginning with the 2002 general election. In the 2002 general election, 62% of voters rejected Kenya Africa National Union’s (KANU) presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, voting in the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) into power. The Incumbent Daniel arap Moi could not run for a third term due to the two-term limit in the Constitution of Kenya. This was the first time in Kenya since independence in 1964 when KANU was not in power. Kenya had a de facto one-party rule in 1969. The general election saw the end of the dominance of the KANU, which had governed the country since independence, including 23 years as the only legal party. KANU had been a pro-market conservative party and ruled Kenya without contestation until the 1992 election when other parties were allowed to contest.
Mwai Kibaki became the President of Kenya, and Daniel Arap Moi, the longest-serving president in Kenya’s history, stepped down from power. In 2003, Crispin Mbai, the head of a key and contentious committee in Kenya’s constitutional reforms that led to the elections, was murdered. Many perceived this as a political murder, sparking outrage and protests, leading to the current cycle of protests following the elections.
In 2005 a constitutional referendum was held. This was perceived by the people as a move against President Mwai Kibaki. 57% of voters rejected the draft constitution.
In 2007, the general elections were held, and the campaign and election period were heavily polarised along ethnic lines. The results were contested by the Orange Democratic Movement, led by Odinga, and the Party of National Unity led by Mwai Kibaki. Mwai Kibaki was declared victorious. The post-election crisis of 2007–2008 began shortly after the election, with at least 1,133 people killed and more than 600,000 displaced. Ruto was one of the people indicted to stand trial at the International Criminal Court for their involvement in Kenya’s 2007/2008 political violence, but these charges were later dismissed.
In 2010, Kenya held a constitutional referendum, with two-thirds of voters approving a new constitution. In 2013, Uhuru Kenyatta was voted in as the fourth President of Kenya, with Ruto as his deputy president, following the 2013 Kenyan General Elections. In 2016, the International Criminal Court dropped its case against the deputy president of Kenya, Ruto.
In 2017, the Kenyan General Elections were held, with Chris Msando, the head of IT at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission found murdered. The election was highly contested with allegations of rigging, leading to protests in Nairobi, Western Kenya, and the Coastal region. The police response was lethal, leading to the deaths of at least 12 people and over a hundred injured. The Supreme Court annulled the election results, and fresh elections were called for within 60 days. In the second Presidential election held on 26th October 2017, Odinga refused to participate, citing uncorrected issues within the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, leading to Kenyatta being declared the winner with 98% of the vote.
In 2018, amidst a media blackout, Raila Odinga was sworn in as the “People’s President” in an effort to persuade Uhuru Kenyatta to come to the negotiation table. Kenyan lawyer Miguna Miguna officiated the ceremony but was deported in February following treason-related charges. The same year, an investigative report revealed that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics firm, played a critical role in the elections.
Faith in Kenyan elections are at a low owing to the long history of corruption by the political elite in Kenya. Mass Protests after the election had become common since the country moved away from the draconian rule of KANU. Since then, every election, the results have been challenged by the great mass of disenchanted Kenyan voters. As elections are always suspect, protests are one place where the people find their voice.