Oh, our partisan politics of protest!

Wednesday October 18 2017

An anti-IEBC protester is arrested  in Nairobi

An anti-IEBC protester is arrested  in Nairobi during a demonstration. PHOTO| EVANS HABIL 

More by this Author

A protest outside Chatham House in London whenever a foreign dignitary is speaking is not  unusual. St James’ Square in the exclusive Westminster neighbourhood where it is located sees many demonstrations whenever a controversial figure stops by to speak at the famed Royal Institute of International Affairs.

What was new were the chants by Uhuru Kenyatta supporters wearing Jubilee colours the day Raila Odinga was there.

“Go home!” they screamed. “Hakuna kujificha huko! (You shouldn’t hide in there)” they proclaimed.

Remarkably, these are Kenyans who live in the United Kingdom. If they understood the language of their host country better, they would be familiar with a word they call irony. But the Queen’s language, like irony, appears to be lost on them.

As they were expressing their displeasure with the Nasa leader’s presence in the British capital, the government they support remotely banned protests in the central business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.

Had they been living in Kenya, they would not have been allowed to do the very thing their presence in a foreign land allowed them to do without worrying about getting teargassed, harassed, arrested, or worse still, being shot dead.

Nasa principal Moses Wetangula sent a text message to acting interior Cabinet secretary after he announced the ban.

“Mr (Fred) Matiang’i, why don’t you engage a lawyer to advise you on the constitutionality of your action, utterances and threat to innocent Kenyans,” he told him. “You have no power and capacity to ban lawful protest and/or demonstrations.”

The usually brash minister had a one-word response to the senator: “Nonsense.” Vintage Matiang’i. His cocky, take-no-prisoners-style of leadership is a throwback to a bygone era, a colonial period when brawn over brain was the modus operandi.

In 2017, he personifies the return of a long-forgotten Kanu-style crackdown on freedoms and tightening of the democratic space.

One of the most misinterpreted bits of the Kenyan Constitution has to be article 37 on Assembly, demonstration, picketing and petition.

“Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.”

It is a self-explanatory sentence that captures the weighty aspirations of a people for whom demonstrations had been made  a bad word with a heavy price.

Nasa cites this statute as justification for their mass action but their Jubilee opponents charge that their protests are hardly ever peaceful and often lead to looting, destruction of property or harm to innocent third parties.

Nasa is known to respond that their gatherings are usually calm, until the police begin using disproportionate force to break up the lawful processions.


The outlawing of protests in the hearts of the three cities is taken straight from the Jubilee talking points playbook. On countless broadcast appearances, political rallies and on social media, they have cast Nasa demonstrators as violent, destructive forces that need to be stopped.

They emphasise the “peaceably and unarmed” restriction in the law and almost completely ignore all the other liberties it allows.

There are many who are concerned that a political appointee is using state machinery to suppress legal means of agitation for reform.

It cannot be denied that some of those marches have quickly degenerated into running battles with police, with cars damaged, shops looted and people wounded.

Still, that is  no justification for using live bullets on protesters or the government’s tacit approval of counter-demonstrators such as the “Nairobi Business Community”, ostensibly to safeguard their investments.

The Opposition coalition claims that “elements who have brought violence are not Nasa supporters”,  saying the police should pick out the criminals from among them and let them rally around their cause in peace. “The law is very clear,” Kenyans love to say right before they disagree on the application of a particular clause or its implication. If “we, the people” gave ourselves this Constitution with “a government based on the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice and the rule of law” in mind, then there can be no two ways to read it.

It should be clear whether it is a President Uhuru Kenyatta, a President Raila Odinga or a President Ekuru Aukot in office.

Nasa has to do more to ensure that their mass action doesn’t become a code for violence, but the government has no business unilaterally limiting their rights just because it disagrees with their objectives.

If you celebrate police killings of your fellow citizens, what is there to protect you when another leader’s administration does the same to you? It’s a slippery slope, friends, and we must stand up for our fellow man even when we’re offended by what we do.

The right to protest shouldn’t be reduced to partisan politics and it certainly isn’t nonsense, Dr Matiang’i.

Is he right? Send your comments to Larry Madowo at [email protected]


A tale of two African footballers

Former Liberian international George Weah is one step closer to becoming the president of his country. The footballer could succeed Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, if he wins the run-off against incumbent Vice-President Joseph Boakai.

While Weah was campaigning, Kenyans were mocking another retired footballer. The one-time legendary striker, Dennis Oliech, has been the butt of many jokes online, from trolls celebrating what they consider his fall from grace and return to poverty. That schadenfreude finds such easy expression on the Kenyan Internet is not new, but why people are always so happy to toast to someone else’s downfall still baffles me. It shows the attitude Kenyans have toward people who should be national heroes, compared to Liberians. They consider Weah of such importance that they are willing to entrust him with the presidency. Kenyans are out here being savage to Oliech, who brought us great glory in his heyday. I don’t know what kind of sad person rejoices when misfortune befalls a stranger, but I do know that they must be dead inside. Even worse, if it turns out that the celebrity didn’t really fall into hard times but probably just had a lifestyle change.



Austria gets a millennial for president

A 31-year-old is likely to be Austria’s next president as leaders in Europe keep trending younger and younger. Sebastian Kurz is a conservative and leader of The People’s Party (OVP), which he has led since May. The party gained the largest share of Parliament’s powerful National Council, although CNN reported that he would likely need to form a coalition to rule.

“We have been given a great responsibility by the voters today,” he told supporters. “We should be aware of that and that people are putting a lot of hope in our movement. There is a lot to do. It’s about establishing a new political style in our country.”

 Meanwhile, the millennials we elected to our National Assembly have done a fine job of fighting physically over some non-issue. Maybe we should place our hopes in young John-Paul Mwirigi to show us the way and maybe one day he might become president, right?


FEEDBACK: On Kenyans’ selective outrage at bad behaviour

Larry, I am also concerned about how hot and cold Kenyans blow on issues. I have done so myself but  I am trying to change. I am concerned about some of the “analysts” you give a platform to speak, most notably Mr Miguna Miguna. Some of his statements can be categorised as bad behaviour, to put it mildly. I don’t know if you are aware that his remarks to Ms Esther   Passaris were aired by Al Jazeera. To the best of my knowledge, he has not apologised to Ms Passaris. My question is, where do we draw the line?



Larry, I agree with you; our selective criticism of the vitriolic statements by our  leaders will surely cripple our nation. A change of heart and mind is necessary.

Muttai K. Joel


Larry, I disagree with you.  It seems as if you people (prominent personalities) are afraid to call out bad behaviour and hide behind “political  correctness” by balancing out. Babu Owino went off on his shameful tirade long before Sonko said anything. Why didn’t people say anything then? I don’t see why you have to bring in Sonko before shaming Babu.

Likewise, the IEBC has been proved by the Supreme Court to have conducted a shoddy poll. NASA is justified in its attack aganist it, whereas the intimidation of the Judiciary by the Executive is utterly despicable. There’s no need to equate the two in a bid to seem impartial. I respect a NASA or Jubilee fanatic who criticises a wrong, even if he is misguided, more than than a prig who can’t rebuke a wrong until he finds its bedfellow.



Larry, Moses Kuria only started hitting back after Johstone Muthama’s  repeated outrageous remarks about President Uhuru Kenyatta. Unlike Raila Odinga, Uhuru is humble, loves peace and is working on getting a second term as more people keep defecting from NASA. Time will tell which one of them truly has the country’s interests at heart.

We can’t control what our leaders say, but we can decide not to demonstrate.  Jubilee supporters are clever and calm and have placed the election burden on DP William Ruto’s and Uhuru’s shoulders.  I have chosen no demos and no war; I  have chosen my vote, which is my say.