Nobody should lecture us about protests - ODM defends Raila from Gen Z criticism

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The statement came against the backdrop of Gen Z protesters calling out Raila for meeting Ruto yesterday and agreeing to proposals submitted by NADCO formed after the disputed 2022 General Election.

The Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has urged its supporters to refrain from participating in demonstrations and to give dialogue a chance, as requested by its party leader, Raila Odinga.

In a statement released on Wednesday, ODM argued that by supporting President William Ruto's call for dialogue, Raila had assessed the need for the country to move forward rather than continue protesting to hold the government accountable.

The statement came against the backdrop of Gen Z protesters calling out Raila for meeting Ruto yesterday and agreeing to proposals submitted by the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO) formed after the disputed 2022 General Election.

Ruto and Raila agreed to form a 150-member multi-sectoral committee to address the issues facing Kenya at the moment, including the high cost of living and corruption, which did not sit well with the youthful protesters who demanded action rather than dialogue. Most of the protesters condemned Raila online, claiming that he had jumped into bed with the government which ODM refuted.

"But the country and our detractors must make no mistake. As ODM, and as Baba's (Raila) people, we have been on the streets and in Maandamano before. We never shy away from fighting. But we know when to retreat and we know when to advance, for the sake of the country.

"Consequently, nobody should lecture us about maandamano (protests). We have been there and we can return there but only when Baba tells us. For now, let us support Baba's call for a national conversation. We have no reason to doubt that his latest proposals are good for the country," ODM chairman and nominated MP John Mbadi responded, countering Gen Z, who said that they would continue with protests as they are leaderless and do not affiliate themselves with any political party or community.

ODM added that it was at the forefront of anti-Finance Bill demonstrations since Ruto's inauguration in September 2022, opposing the Finance Bill 2023 even when it became law and the 2024 one which Ruto withdrew.

The party's statement noted that it lost 75 people during those demonstrations, many to gunfire, and faced accusations of being economic saboteurs.

"Party Leader, Raila Odinga was particularly targeted for assassination. Pictures and video clips exist of Raila being targeted inside his vehicle. But we persisted. Out of that persistence came the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2024, which President William Ruto signed into law yesterday.

"We agree that it was proper and worth it that our party leader should be at the event, in honour of those who were killed and maimed during the protests," ODM stated.

President William Ruto, opposition leader Raila Odinga and politicians from both sides address a press conference at the KICC in Nairobi on July 9, 2024. (Photo: PCS)

Why then did Raila back Ruto's call for dialogue? 

The aftermath of the 2022 General Election saw Raila oppose Ruto's victory at the Supreme Court, claiming that the IEBC was divided and could not declare a winner. A section of IEBC led by former chairperson, Wafula Chebukati, announced Ruto as the winner, while the other led by Chebukati's then-deputy, Juliana Cherera, opposed.

After losing the Supreme Court appeal, Raila resorted to nationwide demonstrations to oppose Ruto's legitimacy. The two leaders, however, sealed a truce and agreed to talks that led to the formation of a bipartisan committee known as the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO).

Raila fronted his Azimio co-principal and Wiper leader, Kalonzo Musyoka as a co-chairperson of the committee, while Ruto was represented by National Assembly Majority leader Kimani Ichung'wah, who also serves as Kikuyu Constituency Member of Parliament.

Among the contentious issues on the table were the reconstitution of the IEBC, which Raila blamed for mishandling the 2022 General Election, non-interference of political parties stemming from Ruto's Kenya Kwanza winning over opposition allied parties and politicians after the 2022 elections to have a majority in Parliament, the high cost of living and creation and entrenchment of the offices of the Prime Cabinet Secretary (PCS) and official opposition leader in the constitution.

Yesterday, Ruto signed into law the IEBC (Amendment) Bill, 2024, which paves the way for the reconstruction of IEBC, which Raila had advocated for. Ruto also urged Ichung'wah to ensure other proposals by NADCO are fast-tracked by Parliament and presented to him for assent.

ODM reiterated that at the signing ceremony yesterday, Raila called for a national conversation on the issues being raised by the youth of Kenya and other voices on how to create a more perfect nation that takes care of its citizens.

"What was signed yesterday is the first bill passed by Parliament based on the recommendations of the National Dialogue Committee (NADCO). More are on the way. NADCO was therefore not a futile exercise, as some alleged. Raila was right in supporting NADCO. We believe he is now (right) in calling for a national conversation.

"In making the call, the Party Leader did what he always does. Raila Odinga always helps the country pull back from the precipice whenever we find ourselves there. There can be no doubt that as a country, we are at a crossroads and approaching a precipice. One of us has to be magnanimous and patriotic enough to help call the country to order. Once again, Raila is being called names. As a party, we are an organised and disciplined organisation. We believe in order. We believe in command. The Party Leader has spoken," ODM chairman John Mbadi explained.

Mbadi added that the proposals by Raila will ensure accountability, including timelines within which the issues agreed on must be realised.

"We therefore call upon all party members and formations to align with and support the party's position. We must also align and demand the immediate addressing of the issues being raised by the youth and across sections of Kenyans. For now, let us support Baba's call for national conversation," Mbadi added.

Police officers clash with protesters in Nairobi during a demonstration against the Finance bill 2024-2025, on June 20, 2024. (Photo: REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi)

Pressure on Raila and ODM

Since the onset of the anti-Finance Bill, Gen Z stated that they are leaderless and tribeless. A section of them also urged Raila to stay out of the demos and allow them to heap pressure on the government to act.

The protest turned violent on June 25 after Parliament was breached and protesters accessed its premises. Police, in response, shot down some protesters and allegedly abducted others, forcing Raila to condemn the government and speak against arbitrary arrests and murders.

Raila's meeting with Ruto sparked an uproar as Gen Z accused him of aligning with a government which they had accused of murder and kidnapping of protesters.

However, Senator Edwin Sifuna, the ODM secretary general, after an interview with Spice FM today morning, stated that, "Raila has not said he will speak on behalf of Gen Z. Gen Z said they are leaderless but not everyone is leaderless. Raila has people he leads and as leaders, we can't sit back and keep quiet. We also have a stake in this country."

Nonetheless, with pressure mounting on the opposition to clarify its stance, ODM issued the aforementioned statement explaining why Raila supported Ruto's call for dialogue in the nation.

Ruto had earlier on, explained that the 150-member multi-sectoral committee formed for talks will bear its own cost and will not be funded by taxpayers' money. Ruto had promised to adopt new austerity measures to cut down the burden on taxpayers, as demanded by Gen Z, while urging them to embrace dialogue. Every sector, including the leaderless youth, was urged to front the names of their representatives.

Raila, on Wednesday, July 10, also responded to Gen Z by saying that he had heard their clarion call urging him against dialoguing with the government.

"Nimeambiwa na hawa viongozi kwamba mumesema hamtaki handshake. Ujumbe umefika. (I have been informed by these leaders that you do not want a handshake.)" Raila posted on his social media pages after a meeting with Senators Edwin Sifuna (Nairobi), Eddy Oketch (Migori), Crystal Asige (nominated), and others.

His co-principal, Kalonzo Musyoka, also posted on his pages, saying, "At the Wiper Party National Executive Committee (NEC) today, it was clear that Kenyans want action and not dialogue. I'll tell Raila Odinga the same when we meet as the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party. We cannot be seen to be sanitising this Ruto regime." 

Yesterday, Martha Karua, Narc-Kenya party leader and Azimio co-principal also warned that dialogue with the government was akin to a trap.

"Dialogue can only be meaningful if the players have good faith and are guided by the best interests of the people. Let’s be careful as the political class, lest we hijack the genuine clamour for accountability and reforms by Gen Z.  I agree with those who say Action Now on the clear and attainable demands of Gen Z to enhance accountability and make the state work for the masses rather than for a handful of elites. This is a trap period," Karua stated.

Online users joined the debate, with Mwambao Marami, an X user, questioning ODM's party's credibility, accusing it of colluding with the government it accuses of Raila's attempted assassination in the letter written by Mbadi today.

"How can we believe someone who has been dining with the very person who he claims wanted to assassinate him?" he asked.

Another user, Leonard Ondigo, accused the party of seeking to be the main focus of the demonstrations. "ODM wanting to be MAIN Character," he tweeted.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka addresses the media after witnessing President William Ruto sign the IEBC Amendment Bill 2024 into law at KICC, Nairobi on Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (Photo: PCS)ODM leader Raila Odinga addresses the media after witnessing President William Ruto sign the IEBC Amendment Bill 2024 into law at KICC, Nairobi on Tuesday, July 9, 2024. (Photo: PCS)

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