OMOSA: Upholding freedom amidst strife: Kenyan protests and quest for liberty

In Summary
  • Beyond policy reforms, promoting inclusive governance could go a long way in fostering a sense of ownership and belonging among citizens.
  • Diverse voices representing various backgrounds and perspectives must be encouraged to participate actively in decision-making.

Kenya witnessed a significant upsurge in nationwide demonstrations, with opposition leader Raila Odinga leading the charge. Since April 2023, the several demonstrations expressed citizens’ deep-seated frustrations over the rising cost of living and tax hikes. Sadly, the police arrested at least 300 people and shot many others during this period. The use of excessive force by the police on protesters raises concerns about freedom and liberty.

The cornerstone of any vibrant democracy is the protection of citizens' rights, including the right to peaceful assembly. The Kenyan government must uphold this fundamental principle and refrain from using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.

Training the police service to handle protests with restraint and ensuring the safety of citizens is paramount. By fostering a culture of respect for democratic rights, the government can build trust with its people and promote a more inclusive society.

The key to addressing the recurrent protests in Kenya lies in sincere dialogue between the government and the protesting faction. People's grievances must be heard, understood and addressed through constructive conversations. Engaging with representatives from the dissenting side through forums such as the National Dialogue Committee is a valuable approach to gaining insights into the root causes of their discontent. 

One cannot ignore the crux of the demonstrations—the pressing economic hardship Kenyans face. Rising living costs and excessive taxes have exacerbated the challenges of everyday life for ordinary people. The government must prioritise implementing measures that promote sustainable economic growth and improve social safety nets.

The nation can foster long-term growth by investing in human capital, particularly infrastructure, education and affordable business loans. These investments will create job opportunities, raise household incomes and ease the citizens' burden.

Transparency and accountability are paramount for the government to regain the public’s trust. The government must communicate its economic reform strategies in an accessible and understandable manner. Open and inclusive dialogue through town halls would enable the presentation of plans and collection of feedback from citizens, opposition leaders and experts.

Utilising diverse communication channels such as press releases, official websites, social media and traditional media will ensure wide information dissemination. Using data visualisation tools and infographics can make complex economic data more digestible for the public. 

Regular quarterly publication of comprehensive reports on the progress and outcomes of reform efforts will effectively demonstrate the government's unwavering commitment to accountability.

These reports should thoroughly assess the milestones achieved, challenges encountered, and strategies employed to address these challenges. The reports must offer a clear and transparent account of the successes and setbacks, providing citizens with a detailed understanding of the reform journey's intricacies.

Furthermore, establishing independent oversight committees is paramount to bolster transparency and ensure rigorous oversight of reform implementation. These committees should comprise individuals with a proven track record of integrity, expertise and dedication to public welfare.

Their membership should span a diverse spectrum, including experts from relevant fields, civil society representatives, legal professionals and even academia. By drawing on such diverse perspectives, the oversight committees can offer well-rounded evaluations of reform progress, contributing to a comprehensive and balanced assessment.

Beyond policy reforms, promoting inclusive governance could go a long way in fostering a sense of ownership and belonging among citizens. Diverse voices representing various backgrounds and perspectives must be encouraged to participate actively in decision-making.

This inclusive approach gathers valuable insights and fosters collaboration between the government and its citizens. By valuing and incorporating public feedback, the government can bridge the gap between policymaking and people's aspirations, further solidifying the nation's progress.

Beyond policy reforms, inclusive governance fosters a stronger sense of ownership among citizens, making it an instrumental guiding principle for building Kenya's united and prosperous future.

The demonstrations in Kenya underscore the collective desire for freedom, justice and a better quality of life. It is incumbent upon the government to protect the constitutional right to peaceful assembly, engage in sincere dialogue with protest leaders and prioritise policy measures that address the economic hardships its citizens face.

Kenya can navigate these challenges by fostering transparency, accountability and inclusive governance and pave the way toward a brighter and more prosperous future. Upholding freedom amidst strife is not just a government responsibility but a collective commitment to building a society that cherishes liberty and respects the dignity of everyone.

Writing fellow at African Liberty

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