Following protests that led to violence in several cities across Kenya, the government of Uhuru Kenyatta has banned all “unlawful demonstrations”. Ahead of the elections scheduled for 2017, tensions are already rising in fear of a repeat of the violence that marred the 2007 election.
For the past several weeks, opposition parties have turned Mondays into a day of protest in Kenya. The electoral commission, which is deemed deeply corrupt by the opposition led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, have been the focus of the protests. Odinga has maintained that the electoral commission is bias towards the ruling Kenyatta government, calling for the resignation of current officials and the imposition of a new, neutral commission. The former Prime Minister does have grounds for concern; the electoral commission failed to facilitate the transfer of power when Odinga seemingly won a majority in 2007, triggering widespread violence between the supporters of Odinga’s predominantly ethnically Luo party, and the opposing mainly Kikuyu party of Kenyatta.
Recent protests had been mostly peaceful, including those on Monday in downtown Nairobi. However, in Mathare in the north of the city, Odinga supporters erected barricades in the streets and threw stones at vehicles. In Kisumu on the shores of Lake Victoria, police battled with protesters; 50 people were injured and at least two had been killed. According to witnesses, police had opened fire on the crowd, shooting a five-year old boy in the back and leaving him in a critical condition.
The moves to ban “unlawful protests” are unlikely to help matters. Odinga’s party has condemned the action of the government and said it will intensify calls for a change to the electoral commission. The ban also contravenes the Kenyan constitution which was reconstructed in 2010 to allow for greater civil liberties. But, from the perspective of the Kenyatta government, the protests are threatening to derail the Kenyan economy at a time of relative prosperity. It is one of only a handful of sub-Saharan African economies growing, with a stable exchange rate and benefiting from the low price of oil. According to one investment adviser in Nairobi, Aly-Khan Satchu, the country loses the equivalent of $5 million each day the protesters take to the streets; mainly due to the closure of businesses and the damage to property.
As the 2017 elections approach, things are unlikely to improve without intervention on both sides of the political divide. Following the violence in 2007-08, Kenyatta and Odinga have a responsibility to keep their own supports in check and to keep Kenya and Kenyans safe from violence.