Raila asks State to lower cost of living or else…

Written by on 23 February 2023

President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga yesterday went head-to-head over the opposition’s threat to rally countywide mass action in two weeks to protest over high cost of living among other grievances.

Raila gave a two-week ultimatum to President Ruto to fulfil a raft of political demands, including stopping the process of hiring new electoral commissioners. If these are not met, he said, he would spearhead demonstrations across the country, a move that threatens to rock the Kenya Kwanza administration, which is still taking shape six months after elections.

Addressing what was described as a prayer rally in Nairobi’s Jeevanjee Grounds, Raila also demanded the restoration of food subsidies, a reduction in taxes and the setting up of a special taskforce to recruit members of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

IEBC currently has one commissioner, Irene Masit, who is the subject of a tribunal investigating her conduct during the August 2022 election. Three others opted to resign rather than face the commission while chairman Wafula Chebukati and commissioner Boya Molu retired last month. Those who resigned were vice-chairman Juliana Cherera and commissioners Justus Nyangaya and Francis Wanderi.

The process of selecting the panel that will interview new commissioners is ongoing but Raila wants it stopped. The Azimio leader, who has rejected the results of the last presidential election, also called the electoral commission to open its servers in order to clear the air on who actually won of the presidential race. IEBC declared Ruto winner with 50.5 percent of the votes cast. Raila was runner up with 48.85 percent. However, he has claimed that according to an IEBC whistle-blower, he got over eight million votes.

Parliament has embarked the process of recruiting a new IEBC leadership team, but the opposition has protested that as it is, the process is skewed to give President William Ruto control of the new commission. An independent commission is essential to credible elections in Kenya.

Besides elections, Azimio leaders want the government to address the high cost of living. “We’ve talked about the rising cost of basic commodities like unga, electricity, fuel, sugar and milk for far too long,” said Raila, who led a team that included Narc Kenya leader Martha Karua, Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and ODM deputy party leader Wycliffe Oparanya.

Rising taxes

“We have complained about rising taxes and talked about children dropping out of school for lack of fees,” he said. “Withdrawal of subsidies for food and education in the middle of drought and famine was reckless and heartless. Consequently, the subsidies must be restored, and the cost of basic commodities and taxes must come down in the next 14 days.”

Raila also demanded that the government subsidise school fees to ensure 100 percent transition for learners.

On opening of the election servers, Raila said a reputable firm should be hired to audit the presidential election results. “Servers must be opened and audited under the auspices of a reputable firm or an organisation, failure to which we shall lead the people to restore their authority and voice,” he said.

However, in a swift rejoinder, the President warned the opposition against intimidation tactics, emphasising that his government would not condone lawlessness.

“Let them not threaten us with mass action,” the President said in Korogocho where he was presiding over the start of a campaign to clean up Nairobi River. “They will get tired. As President, I will ensure that the country is governed based on the rule of law. No citizen is above the law.

“You had five years and the prices of unga rose up to Sh250 per bag. We will reduce the price of unga to Sh120. They had their opportunity when they were in power and failed,” he said.

Ruto blamed the 2018 handshake between the then President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila for the prevailing high cost of living and ballooning public debt.  “We don’t want to talk about the 2027 elections. We first want to address issues facing the people. I want to tell our brothers to go slow. They should not sell us fear. We want to ensure Kenya moves forward,” he said.

At Jeevanjee, Raila had said that he was keen to have an all-inclusive government. He also said would not be stopped by the Ruto administration.  “If these demands are not heeded within 14 days, we shall lead Kenyans to massive mass action across the country to take their power back and restore sanity,” he said.

He also alleged a political witch-hunt against politicians allied to retired President Uhuru, pointing out former Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his lawyer Danstan Omari.

Omari was on Tuesday summoned by detectives to answer questions over why he had claimed that police had raided Matiang’is residence in Karen Nairobi. Various State agencies denied claims that they were involved and police earlier in the month broke into the former Cabinet minister’s home to seize CCTV equipment as part of investigations into the raid claims.

Reckless remarks

“We want to tell them to leave Matiang’i and Omari alone,” Raila told the gathering, the first to be held in the capital’s Central Business District.

Karua, who was Raila’s running mate, took a swipe at the Kenya Kwanza administration, accusing it of failure to respond to calls by Kenyans for it to lower the cost of living. “They have failed to address the concerns raised by Kenyans. We will now go for them and our approach will totally be peaceful,” she said.

Kalonzo criticised Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua over the remarks he made in Kericho, terming them as reckless. Gachagua had said that a government was like a company run by shareholders. He asked those expressing to join government now to wait their turn behind the majority shareholders, a view that Kalonzo roundly condemned. “This country belongs to all of us,” Kalonzo said yesterday. “We all pay taxes so the issue of shareholders should not arise at all. No one should feel entitled more than the other. Every Kenyan deserves to get an opportunity no matter who they voted for”.

From Nairobi, Azimio will take its public barazas to Western Kenya over the weekend, starting with Kakamega the day after tomorrow. Initially, Azimio was to have a rally in Mombasa this weekend but this was rescheduled.

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