Thousands of opposition supporters gathered in the Kenyan capital to protest increasing insecurity, as the killing of 22 more people at the coast this weekend threatened to heighten political and ethnic tensions.
Security officers patrolled Nairobi’s streets on foot, and riding quad bikes and horses, while some shops were shuttered in the central business district. Protesters thronged to Uhuru Park in the city center, some dancing and chanting or wearing orange, the color of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s party. The demonstration coincides with Saba Saba day, which commemorates pro-democracy protests in 1990 when security forces killed more than 100 people.
The attacks in Kenya have dented the tourism industry in East Africa’s biggest economy, leading the World Bank to lower its growth forecast to 4.7 percent for this year and 2015. The shilling traded at its weakest level in 2 1/2 years today.
“Investors are increasingly anxious about Kenya, especially this year following the U.K. and other governments raising their risk ratings in 2014,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at London-based Chatham House, said in an e-mailed response to questions on June 17.
Foreign governments including the U.S. and U.K. have issued travel advisories telling their citizens not to travel to parts of Kenya’s coast and other regions. On July 5, unidentified assailants attacked two villages near the coast, near where at least 60 others died in raids in mid-June.
The government has linked the violence at the coast to political and land grievances, while the Somalia militant group al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the massacres.
“It’s far-fetched to link the attacks to politics, but regardless of who carried out the raids, we still remain ill-prepared to respond to these attacks,” Emmanuel Kisiangani, a Nairobi-based researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said in a phone interview.
More than 200 people have been killed and another 469 have been injured in a series of attacks by suspected Islamist militants in Kenya since September, when a raid by the al-Qaeda linked al-Shabaab militia on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi left at least 67 people dead.
A further deterioration in Kenya’s security situation may undermine investor confidence, curb economic growth and increase funding costs, which would exert pressure on Kenya’s B1 credit rating, Moody’s Investors Service said June 17.
Odinga’s Coalition for Reforms and Democracy has held a series of rallies since June 13 to drum up support for a so-called national dialog with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ruling Jubilee Coalition about methods to tackle the increasing insecurity and the rising cost of living. Annual inflation accelerated to 7.4 percent in June, a seven-month high. Kenyatta has rejected the request.
Odinga has lost three bids to become president of Kenya. His claim that the results of elections in December 2007 were rigged sparked fighting between his ethnic Luo and Kalenjin supporters and rival Kikuyu backers of the winner, Mwai Kibaki. Kenyatta has been charged with crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court as a result of the violence that killed at least 1,100 people and forced another 350,000 to flee their homes. Kenyatta denies the charges.
Treasury Secretary Henry Rotich said June 12 that improving security is necessary for the country’s economic growth. Earnings from tourism dropped last year after visitor cancellations on concerns of security.
Odinga is using the legacy associated with the 1990 protests to gain political relevance after he failed to win last year’s presidential election, said Koigi wa Wamwere, a former lawmaker who has been jailed repeatedly for his political activities.
The original Saba Saba rallies forced former President Daniel Arap Moi to end more than two decades of one-party rule and accept multiparty democracy. Political and economic circumstances are completely different today, Wamwere said.
“Obviously when Raila chose Saba Saba, he was trying to tell Kenyans it is a very important meeting in terms of freedom,” he said. “He was trying to legitimize himself.”
Other demands from the opposition are that the government overhaul the current electoral body, tackle corruption and address what it says is ethnic discrimination in public-service employment.
European Ambassador to Kenya Lodewijk Briet called for a de-escalation of tensions. Parties must “step back from making incendiary statements, not only by the opposition but by all sides,” Briet said in the Nairobi-based Star newspaper July 4.
Tens of thousands of supporters are expected to attend today’s rally, including thousands of people from “hired crowds,” said Macharia Munene, a professor of international relations and politics at the United States International University in Nairobi.
“Investors continue to perceive Kenya as an investment destination in the same way even with the attacks because this happens in many places, but that perception will change if we see big and repeated big incidents of insecurity,” Clare Allenson, Africa analyst at Eurasia Group in New York, said in an interview. “If there are clashes at the Saba Saba rally and many people die, it will be a negative for Kenya. If there is a heavy government crackdown, it will be bad for Kenya too.”