The Orange Democratic Movement on Monday announced a programme of countrywide protest rallies to force the resignation of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
ODM, the main opposition party, is cranking up pressure on the President, whom it accuses of failing to contain insecurity.
Yesterday, after a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting, the party also demanded the resignation of Chief of Kenya Defence Forces General Julius Karangi and the disbanding of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit. No dates were announced for the rallies.
President Kenyatta has been criticised for his handling of the slaughter of 28 bus passengers, mainly teachers travelling out of Mandera for Christmas holidays, by Al-Shabaab terrorists in Mandera 10 days ago.
The President did not cut short his trip to Abu Dhabi, and when he returned he told the public that security was everyone’s responsibility, not just the government’s.
At a time of mourning, the remarks were widely seen as insensitive.
Yesterday, PSCU criticised ODM’s move against the President, describing it as “an act of desperation”.
“It is clearly impossible for ODM to avoid politicising every national challenge and demanding irrelevant, cosmetic and vain remedies,” the PSCU said in a statement.
Making its case against the President on Monday, ODM claimed the government had lost control of half of the country to armed militia and terrorists. It asked Mr Kenyatta to take responsibility and step down.
“Kenyans are killed seemingly at will and even the security services are not spared. From Westgate and Eastleigh in Nairobi to Mpeketoni and Lamu to Kapedo and Mombasa. The story is the same in Tana River, Garissa, Isiolo, Baringo, Bungoma, Samburu, Turkana and Mandera,” said a statement read by Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o.
“The Presidency is bigger than any man or woman. It is an office that carries the respect, aspirations and spirit of the Kenyan people. If Mr Kenyatta has found the job too difficult or if he has lost taste for it, then Kenyatta must step down.
“We hereby resolve to join like-minded parties and groups and embark on countrywide meetings, rallies and other gatherings informed by a common altruistic purpose to save Kenya from the leadership failure,” the statement said.
Individual MPs and senators allied to the party have been calling for the President’s resignation, and yesterday’s NEC announcement was an escalation of those calls.
ODM said it was disappointed by the government’s handling of security matters, describing the approach as “disjointed, cavalier and haphazard, creating a climate of fear and despondency across the country”.
“National security cannot be reduced to photo opportunities, spin and sound bites. It is much more serious than that. In this regard, we particularly call for the shutting down of the State House-based Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU),” Prof Nyong’o said, adding that its attempts to speak for the presidency have divided Kenyans, who “want action and substance”.
However, PSCU hit back, terming the calls for its disbandment as an attempt by the opposition to politicise national tragedies to its advantage.
“The PSCU is committed to maintaining a faithful, patriotic, transparent and informative engagement with the people of Kenya. This is to ensure that the people know what the government is doing, and that government programmes respond to their needs. We shall not waver from this commitment,” the statement said.
PSCU said ODM “must recover the decency to avoid seeing political opportunity in tragedies, crises and challenges that Kenyans face from time to time. It must draw its inspiration, not from funerals, but from a desire to serve.”
The unsigned statement was attributed to senior PSCU directors and authenticated for the Nation by Mr Munyori Buku, the senior director in charge of communications at State House.
ODM has also demanded the resignation of Gen Karangi because, it said, KDF had failed to protect Kenyans from foreign attacks.
It also demanded that the government withdraw its troops from Somalia, saying that Operation Linda Nchi has only brought misery to Kenyans besides costing taxpayers billions of shillings.
“(The) Mandera attacks, like that of Westgate and many others, have been perpetrated by external forces. Yet Gen Karangi has seen no need to explain to Kenyans why he cannot step down and when our nation will be safe,” Prof Nyong’o said.
Calls for Kenyan troops to pull out of Somalia were supported by Cord co-leader and Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who said their continued stay in the war-ravaged nation was responsible for insecurity in Kenya.
“We should think of a strategic withdrawal from Somalia,” Mr Musyoka said at a fundraiser in aid of a church in Machakos County.
Kenya says that its troops, which are part of African Union forces, will remain in Somalia until Al-Shabaab is eliminated. The AU force, known as Amisom, has had considerable success in removing Al-Shabaab from Somali cities, notably Mogadishu and Kismayu. This has cut its sources of revenue and possibly weakened it.
But at the same time, it has strengthened the group’s resolve to carry out attacks against Kenya, to weaken public morale and undermine support for the military campaign.
The meeting brought together members of the re-constituted party leadership led by Budalang’i MP Ababu Namwamba and his Gwasi counterpart, Mr John Mbadi, who have been proposed for secretary-general and chairman, respectively.
Conspicuously absent were Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is mourning his mother, and Funyula MP Paul Otuoma. Both were proposed for second deputy party leader and vice chairman, respectively.
Although the two have criticised the new list of proposed officials, Mr Oparanya has since appeared to backtrack and embrace the line-up.