• Whereas protests are legal, they are disruptive and may lead to unnecessary loss of life and property.
• The question is whether the government response was better option or there are better ways of responding to protests.
On March 20, Azimio leaders led protests against the Kenya Kwanza government.
Some of the reasons they mentioned for the protest were high cost of living and electoral injustice. The protest was met with violent repression by the police, who used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters. In some cases, live bullets were used, which led to the killing of a university student.
Whereas protests are legal, they are disruptive and may lead to unnecessary loss of life and property. The question is whether the government response was better option or there are better ways of responding to protests.
This is important because the opposition have promised to carry on with the protest on Monday and Thursday every week. How the government will respond to these protests will determine how we progress socially, politically or economically as a nation. Violent response from government will take us down the drain.
On one hand, the opposition terms the protests peaceful. But looking at what happened on Monday, the first day of protest, that is far from the truth. We saw protesters damaging public and private properties in Nairobi and Kisumu. The opposition has no capacity to control what their supporters do while protesting. Given the level of high rate of unemployment and poverty in the country, some of those who participate in protest might be motivated more to loot.
The government should, therefore, address the issues of unemployment and poverty. After the 2008 post-election violence, the then government of national unity came up with strategies to ensure the youth had something to do through the Kazi kwa Vijana. The current government needs to do a wide consultation and do something about this situation. There is nothing that will stop the idle youth from participating in protests and cause mayhem. After all they have nothing to lose.
The issue of electoral justice has been there with us for long time. It is likely to be with us in the near future. We need to have an honest discussion on it. After election the losing party claims that election had been rigged. The opposition is now calling for opening for the servers but while the government has been adamant. It is high time that we face these issues head on.
The government should be accommodative and look at the issues being raised. For instance, the server can be opened. Let the information that is there be public. Identify areas of improvement in the future. Election matters are very emotive and unless we are honest and address issues in bipartisan way, we will have electoral disputes from election to election which will be divisive and of security concern to the nation. There is a lot of mistrust when it comes to electoral matters and hence need to have open and transparent process to avoid doubts in the mind of anybody.
The way forward as a nation is that we should have mechanism of handling grievance without degenerating into violent protests. We should build a culture of democratic dialogue. The government should sit down with the opposition and isolate the issues and address them in a bipartisan way. The repressive instruments of the state should not be used to address issues which are socioeconomic and political which can be addressed through political processes.
Violent repression will not take away the issues. Neither will violent protest. Democratic dialogue will able promote a conducive environment for the government and opposition to collaboratively address issues of concern to the nation.
Leaders from both sides of the divide should put aside their individual interests and promote dialogue. That way, we will build a strong nation that can withstand challenges that it comes across.