Police Wednesday buckled under political pressure and lifted an earlier ban on political rallies this weekend.
By Wednesday night, security bosses were meeting in an emergency session to find ways of securing thousands of people expected to attend a rally called by Cord at Uhuru Park, an open area where controlling entry and searching crowds is far from easy.
Inspector General David Kimaiyo had come under intense criticism from the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), which accused him of being used by the Jubilee Government to re-introduce dictatorship.
It is also likely that President Uhuru Kenyatta may have encouraged him to review his earlier decision.
Cord is planning a big rally at the weekend to welcome home former Prime Minister Raila Odinga who has been in the US for over two months.
The meeting will also likely be used to launch countrywide activities against what the opposition calls the government’s failures.
The rally, at Uhuru Park in Nairobi, will be the culmination of a build-up of other meetings by the opposition coalition.
Mr Kimaiyo met separately with Cord and Jubilee leaders before announcing that he had lifted the ban, barely hours after it came into force.
After the ban was lifted, Jubilee called off its own rival rally due to “the prevailing insecurity in the country”.
Speaking to journalists after an hour-long meeting with Mr Kimaiyo, the politicians also criticised the police boss for attempting to ban rallies.
National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale and his Senate counterpart Prof Kithure Kindiki asked the opposition to conduct its meeting with decorum.
Mr Duale, however, did not say where the cancelled Jubilee rally would have been held.
State House did not directly confirm that the President and Deputy President William Ruto had pressed Mr Kimaiyo to change his mind, with presidential spokesman Manoah Esipisu saying: “The President does not involve himself in operational matters of the Police Service. But he has made clear government has no intention to stop anyone from exercising the right to assemble, including for this weekend’s meeting.” On Tuesday, Mr Kimaiyo said he had intelligence that it would not be safe for large gatherings in the city at this time.
But Cord leaders were not convinced, arguing that to restrict freedoms would mean that the terrorists had won. They saw the ban as an attempt by the government to bring back the old oppressive ways and criticised it in strong language.
It may well be that upon doing their political maths, the Jubilee leaders saw the ban as a touchstone issue around which the Cord leadership, which has been largely dormant in Mr Odinga’s absence, could unite and energise the opposition’s base.
Government figures claimed that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto were “furious” with the IG’s decision and that they had “expressed concerns” because the ban was giving the Opposition “unnecessary advantage”.
There were also threats of mass action, all which appear to have raised tension between the government and the opposition.
Jubilee’s Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said: “Jubilee is not concerned with Cord rallies. We only call on them to stop using hate speech because our job is to build the country.”
At Parliament Buildings , Cord leaders Moses Wetangula, James Orengo, Jakoyo Midiwo, Farah Maalim and Gladys Wanga said they had a “cordial” meeting with the IG and were allowed to go ahead with the rally.
Mr Odinga tweeted a picture of himself announcing “arrival in Dubai” at 1.40 pm. The pictures shows him alighting from a vehicle, with a minder behind him. Five hours earlier, @RailaOdinga had tweeted from Boston, US that he was about to embark on the journey back to Kenya.
—Additional reporting by John Ngirachu (The Nation)