Acting Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i has outlawed demonstrations within the Central Business Districts (CBDs) of Kenya’s three cities; Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu.
This decision is, no doubt, informed by what transpired in Kisumu and Nairobi over the past few weeks when chaotic scenes erupted after Opposition followers took to the streets to demand the removal of some officials of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission for their alleged role in the irregularities that led to the nullification of the August 8 presidential poll results.
Picketing enjoys constitutional protection, but despite that, we all agree there are caveats. Such demos should not cause disruptions or wanton destruction of property. In that regard, the demonstrations by the Opposition in Kisumu have failed the test.
Tumaini Supermarket in Kisumu was raided by Opposition demonstrators who also proceeded to destroy water pipes within the town. In Nairobi, the demos have turned unruly and caused despondency. In both cases, there have been claims by the Opposition that its ranks had been infiltrated to cast it in bad light.
The role of the police where such demonstrations have been called after due process of notifying them is clear. It is incumbent upon the police to ensure that while picketing is underway, law and order prevail.
The purpose of notifying the police is to ensure they are at the right place at the right time, but, they, like the demonstrators, have failed that test.
Rather than keep demonstrators orderly, the police have precipitated running battles by their indiscriminate throwing of tear-gas canisters at demonstrators. The police in Kisumu are particularly notorious for this.
The emergence of the Nairobi Business Community to counter the NASA demonstrators has raised eyebrows, especially after the police did little to separate the groups. This played into claims the group was hired by some Jubilee leaders to cause trouble.Two weeks ago, Mombasa offered a difference. The police kept their stations along the streets, and at the end of the day, all was peaceful.
Dr Matiangi’s concerns are understandable, but he could easily be overreaching his boundaries in barring demonstrations that the constitution allows. Matiang'i cannot predetermine what direction an episode of picketing would take to warrant his ban on demos that violates the law and can be challenged in court.
Such draconian actions merely end up hardening stands on both sides of the divide, with the risk that things could get out of hand turn bloody soon, yet that is what we should be avoiding as a country.
Matiang'i is yet to tell the nation why a police vehicle ploughed into demonstrators; he is yet to explain to the country circumstances leading to the shooting of a demonstrator by a lone motorist and what action the police have taken in apprehending the perpetrator of the criminal act.
If in the course of picketing acts of lawlessness are observed, the law empowers the police to use reasonable force in apprehending the criminals. Matiangi and the police need to steer clear of what could be seen as partisan politics and do what the law prescribes.
It is easy to wonder what Matiang'i’s priorities are especially considering the Government he serves is locked in a struggle with the Opposition.
It sends the wrong signals when the Government seemingly uses the State machinery to gain undue advantage over the Opposition. Kenya is not a police state, and should never be deemed to have become one. The vibrancy of our democracy, must be allowed space to flourish.
While the tyranny of numbers in both houses of Parliament gives Jubilee the superiority over NASA, that advantage is not being used to improve the livelihoods of Kenyans, but to settle political scores. It would be dishonest to deny that the spirited push to amend electoral laws ahead of the October 26 repeat poll is purely for altruistic reasons.
Matiang'i’s order and the shenanigans that Jubilee is involved in are hurting the image that the Uhuru administration would like to project; the image of a government that observes the law and respects national institutions that guarantee fair play.