Kenya’s main opposition party rejected a government ban on political protests and said it will intensify rallies calling for changes to the East African nation’s electoral body. Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery on Tuesday outlawed demonstrations in the country after a least five people died in weekly rallies by supporters of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy that began in April. He threatened to crack down on protesters until differences between the opposition and the government over the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission are resolved through negotiations. The ban “doesn’t change anything,” Dennis Onyango, a spokesman for CORD, said by phone from the capital, Nairobi, on Wednesday. “The courts have cleared us to hold demonstrations.” The protests will be held on Mondays and Thursdays, he said.
With presidential elections scheduled for August 2017, the clashes between protesters and police have evoked memories of the political and ethnic conflict that erupted in Kenya after a disputed vote in 2007 and claimed at least 1,100 lives. The country is the world’s biggest black-tea exporter and ranks as sub-Saharan Africa’s fifth-largest economy.
The 71-year-old former prime minister, Raila Odinga, who heads CORD, poses the biggest political challenge to President Uhuru Kenyatta, 54, in next year’s ballot. Odinga disputed his loss in the last presidential vote in 2013. CORD wants top electoral officials to resign over alleged corruption and bias toward Kenyatta.
The ban on protests contravenes Kenya’s constitution, which was rewritten in 2010 to allow greater freedoms, Gitobu Imanyara, a lawyer, said by phone from Nairobi, calling the decision “nonsensical.” “What the government is doing is pushing the country to the brink,” Imanyara said.