Kenya’s Opposition Leads Protests as Schools, Stores Shut

Schools and a number of businesses closed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as the nation’s main opposition resumed protests over the rising cost of living.

(Bloomberg) — Schools and a number of businesses closed in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as the nation’s main opposition resumed protests over the rising cost of living.

Surging prices of ugali — a staple made from corn flour — and fuel have given opposition leader Raila Odinga fresh impetus. He urged his supporters to take to the streets for three days through Friday to also advance his longstanding political demands, aimed at challenging William Ruto’s presidency.

Security forces wearing protective vests and helmets, and anti-riot vehicles cordoned off some roads in Nairobi in a bid to manage the movement of protesters on Wednesday. Traffic on streets leading into the city’s central business district and around major suburbs was unusually light.

Demonstrators took to the streets in several counties across the country throughout the day, hauling stones and burning tires as police officers struggled to stop them. Several leaders in Odinga’s coalition were arrested, Martha Karua, who was Odinga’s running mate in the last election, said in a statement on Twitter, demanding they be released. 

Odinga asked his supporters to stop protesting at 5 p.m. and resume on Thursday, Nation Media Group reported, citing an interview with him.

A police spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Odinga, who narrowly lost last August’s presidential election to Ruto, called for protests soon after the Supreme Court rejected his bid to overturn the result. The veteran political leader — who’s lost five presidential elections — has demanded a new audit of the count and wants the opposition to have a greater say in the appointment of electoral-agency officials — a process he says is controlled by the government.

Read more: What Is Behind Kenya’s Deadly Opposition Protests: QuickTake

More than 20 people have been killed and dozens injured in the demonstrations this month alone, the United Nations human rights office said July 14. In light of calls for further protests, the UN urged the authorities to ensure the right to peaceful assembly and “any use of force must be guided by the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination. Firearms should never be used to disperse protests.”

The opposition should “show respect to the law by engaging in non-violent and non-destructive demonstrations,” Ruto said on Twitter on Wednesday. He made the comments after addressing crowds in the southwestern Kericho county, where he’d been commissioning water projects.

Kenya’s shilling extended its losing streak against the dollar for the 15th day on Wednesday. Yields on the nation’s eurobond due 2024 rose less than 1 cent to about 95 cents on the dollar by 6:07 p.m. in Nairobi, a day after the International Monetary Fund approved almost $1 billion in financing for the country.

The East African nation has suffered election-related conflict for decades, with the worst occurring after a 2007 vote, when at least 1,100 people died and about 350,000 others were forced to flee their homes. Last year’s election was largely peaceful, though tensions have persisted in what’s seen as an investor-friendly nation in an unstable region, and is a hub for the UN and brands including Coca-Cola Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. 

The government ordered schools closed until further notice in Nairobi, the port city of Mombasa and the southwestern city of Kisumu after violence erupted during last week’s protests, and businesses and infrastructure were vandalized.

Read more: Violent Opposition Protests in Kenya Derail Tourism Rebound

The authorities have vowed to crack down on any renewed unrest.

“National security agencies have deployed all the available resources to ensure that scenes witnessed on Wednesday do not happen again,” Interior Secretary Kithure Kindiki said in a statement on Tuesday. “Anyone planning to unleash violence on Kenyans is hereby warned to cease and desist.”

The latest round of protests come after Ruto’s administration raised taxes at a time when inflation has remained above the central bank’s target range for more than a year. The president is pursuing an aggressive budget plan anchored on increasing government revenue and slowing borrowing — measures he says are necessary to avoid bigger shocks like defaulting on its debt, as has happened in other frontier market economies such as Zambia.

Odinga’s coalition has focused its messaging on demands that the government eases Kenyans’ economic pain, and has asked supporters to come out and bang cooking pots “to signify lack of food,” Karua told reporters on Tuesday. “We encourage Kenyans to continue picketing, demonstrating and protesting in their own ways in their own local areas.” 

–With assistance from Eric Ombok and Mike Cohen.

(Updates with comments from politicians throughout)

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