(Bloomberg) -- Protests in Kenya’s capital intensified as opposition leader Raila Odinga defied the government’s move to stop him.
Odinga, 78, drove in parts of Nairobi along with supporters on Monday while the police lobbed teargas canisters as they pushed to block access to the central business district and key government installations.
Odinga, who failed to overturn last year’s presidential result in the Supreme Court after he narrowly lost to William Ruto, vowed to rally masses against the government to meet demands, among them agreeing to an audit to try and prove that he won. He also wants the state to do more to bring down the cost of living and to ensure the establishment of a new panel to oversee future elections is conducted fairly. Odinga called for protests every Monday and Thursday.
“The prices of basic goods must come down,” Odinga told supporters. They also demanded for the elections IT system to be opened for an audit.
Kenya Railways Corp. on Monday suspended commuter services in Nairobi due to the protests, according to a spokeswoman at the agency, while some schools in the capital closed early.
Ruto and other politicians in the ruling coalition have criticized the protests, saying Odinga lost the election and is trying to rally masses in an attempt to get a deal with the government, as he did with former president Uhuru Kenyatta, claims the opposition leader denied.
The ruling group has asked Odinga to give Ruto, who came into office in September, time to improve economic conditions instead of leading rallies that risk lives and property.
The protests went on even after the government on Sunday evening warned against them, and plans to introduce legislation that will be used to demarcate zones for assembly, demonstration, picket and petition.
“It is not feasible for security organs to allow masses of people to roam streets and neighborhoods of their choice carrying stones and other offensive weapons while chanting political slogans and disrupting the daily activities of others,” Interior Secretary Kithure Kindiki said in a statement.
At the same time, Odinga said that “goons” were today sent to Kenyatta’s farm and to Odinga’s company Spectre, a gas-cylinder manufacturer, in “an act of thuggery,” he said. “The constitution allows us to hold demonstrations.”
Kenya’s inflation rate climbed to 9.2% in February and has been above the central bank’s target range of 2.5% to 7.5% since June. Economic growth in East Africa’s largest economy is expected to slow to 5.1% this year from 5.3% in 2022, according to International Monetary Fund estimates.
The planned protests “will give many investors cause for concern,” said Connor Vasey, Africa analyst at Eurasia Group. While the protests are “unlikely to help Odinga achieve his stated goals,” the opposition leader’s “leverage is in frustrating Ruto’s agenda of restoring business, investor and creditor confidence in Kenya.”
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