South Africa, Namibia, Tunisia, and Kenya all saw protesters participate in significant demonstrations during the week of March 20th. The protest in Kenya, which was called for by the main opposition’s leader Raila Odinga, began on Monday, March 20th. Odinga came second best in last year’s presidential election, which was won by President William Ruto. However, the final results of the election were contested, with accusations of impropriety aimed at Ruto and his allies. Odinga called for the protest as a demonstration against the high cost of living and against Ruto’s presidency, which he claims was stolen.
Odinga’s call for a national protest was heeded by thousands of Kenyans despite the police banning protest action. In Nairobi, the protesters demonstrated in the Kibera area and also gathered in the city’s Central Business District (CBD). The protesters in the CBD aimed to march to President Ruto’s residence. Protesters in the city of Kisumu, which is known for supporting Odinga, also made it onto the streets.
The protesters blocked roads by lighting tires on fire and throwing rocks at the police. Police officers responded to the protests by firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. It is reported that the police soon turned to using live ammunition which led to several injuries and the death of a university student who was reportedly shot in the neck. Reports claim a total of four people died during the protests while over 50 people were injured.
Several politicians were arrested with reports indicating some members of the opposition and members of parliament were arrested. According to the Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome, 238 protesters were arrested in total. “The unwarranted day-long standoff that was witnessed in Nairobi and [the western lakeside city of] Kisumu amounts to nothing short of violence against police and economic sabotage,” Koome said.
President William Ruto assumed power with the promise of stabilizing the economy, reducing inflation, and creating a conducive environment for the success of the average Kenyan citizen. The protesters claim he has failed to fulfill that promise with the cost of living increasing and inflation rising to 9.2% in February. “We elected him to bring down the cost of living, but he is making life and business difficult for everyone. He lied to us that once he’s sworn in, life would be bearable,” said Rodgers Kimutai, a small-scale trader in Nairobi. “He claimed to be a hustler like us, but he has pushed us further down than before.”
Raila Odinga lost his fifth presidential election in the 2022 polls. He has accused President Ruto of manipulating the election and claimed not to recognize him as the actual president. During the protest, Odinga’s motorcade was reportedly fired at by water cannons and firearms. His party spokesperson shared a photo online of a shattered windshield. Odinga has called for the continuation of the protest action. “Fellow Kenyans, in the second phase of our protest and in response to public demand, we shall now hold protests every Monday and every Thursday beginning next week,” he said on Tuesday, March 21st. “We reiterate to our supporters and all patriotic Kenyans that this struggle is just starting. We are not looking back; we will not be intimidated. No retreat, no surrender.”
Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua condemned the protest, pointing out how it had resulted in business losses of up to $15 million.