The stage has been set for confrontation between National Super Alliance (Nasa) and the police on Friday in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu after the government banned street protests in the business centres of the three cities and vowed to punish the organisers.
Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i outlawed the demonstrations by the opposition meant to push for reforms at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on grounds that they were hurting business in the three cities and towns of Homa Bay, Migori and Siaya. The ban, he also said, was meant to protect Kenyans and their property.
A tough talking Dr Matiang'i also targeted Nasa secretariat head Norman Magaya, saying he will face legal action and be made to pay for the losses that business people have incurred during the demonstrations meant to kick out IEBC chief executive officer Ezra Chiloba and other top managers.
But the ban was immediately condemned as illegal by Nasa leaders and the International Commission of Jurists-Kenya (ICJ). ICJ asked the public to disregard the ban, saying it was illegal.
Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Michelle Kagari, too cautioned: "This kind of outright ban is only justifiable in the most extreme circumstances where the police would otherwise be unable to ensure public order and safety".
In a statement, ICJ-Kenya Executive Director Samwel Mohochi instead asked those planning peaceful demonstrations to go ahead and the police to provide security because it is an "inalienable right."
"ICJ-Kenya urges and demands that all law abiding citizens of Kenya disregard such unlawful and illegal directions and enjoy their fundamental rights to the fullest, including turning out in large numbers to take part in the Nasa demonstrations in a peaceful and lawful manner," he said.
On their part, Nasa leaders vowed to defy the ban and continue with their protests today. They also dared Dr Matiang'i to arrest Mr Magaya.
The CS, who spoke on the steps of Harambee House, said whereas Kenyans had a right to hold peaceful demonstrations, the demos called by Nasa leaders and their supporters have been characterised by destruction, looting of property and attacks on policemen. He said the government would not condone such.
"We will not allow any demonstrations in the CBDs in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu and we will advise the police on the same," he said.
The CS also said it was the responsibility of the organisers of the demonstrations to make sure protesters do not destroy other people's property.
Dr Matiang'i said Section 56 of the Public Order Act does not curtail the right of Nasa supporters to demonstrate and picket. The decision to ban the demos was arrived at during a National Security Advisory Committee meeting, he revealed. He added that the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, a lobby for investors and the business community, had also complained to him about the demos and the negative effects they have on Kenyans and business.
On Mr Magaya, the CS said police would prefer charges of failure to comply with the law, which requires the person who notifies the police of intentions to hold peaceful demos to ensure that the participants do not destroy property or infringe on other people's rights.
"We shall prefer charges against the said Mr Magaya and we are waiting for a report on damages caused so as to quantify the value of the claims," Dr Matiang'i said, while calling on traders whose property was destroyed and looted to report to the police.
But speaking after a Nasa Parliamentary Group meeting, Senate Minority Leader Moses Wetang'ula asked the police to provide security for the demonstrators and dared Dr Matiang'i to arrest Mr Magaya. "Mr Magaya cannot be penalised for following the law. He notified police about the protest and that is all," he said in the statement at Okoa Kenya secretariat
Mr Wetangula also raised concern over failure by the police to act on officers who knocked down a motorcyclist who was demonstrating, saying police have now become agents of terror. "Up to now we have not heard any comment on this great violation from either Matiangi or indeed the Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet," said Mr Wetangula, who is also Senator for Bungoma.
He also read to journalists a message capturing his bitter exchanges with Dr Matiang'i on the ban.
"Just as a matter of interest this afternoon, after I heard what Matiang'i said, I sent him this message. "Mr Matiang'i, why don't you engage a lawyer to advise you on the constitutionality of your action, utterances and threat to innocent Kenyans. You have no power and capacity to ban lawful protest and or demonstrations."
He went on : "You know what he replied? A single word 'Nonsense', and I simply sent back an SMS to tell him: 'That is exactly what you are, arrogant, distasteful and unfit to hold public office' and that is exactly what he is."
Mr Wetangula asked the CS to resign over failure to arrest Mungiki members now masquerading as 'Nairobi Business Community'.
Nairobi's Jubilee MPs supported the ban and said they would sue the organisers of the demos to compensate traders whose whose premises were attacked and property destroyed.
Kamukunji MP Yusuf Hassan said that while the right to demonstrate was entrenched in the Constitution, Nasa should condemn those who looted and destroyed property.
"We are here to stand up for our traders because Nairobi is a trading city. We would like the police to take stern action against any violator of this ban," said Mr Hassan, who heads the Nairobi Jubilee MPs caucus.
Others were Waihenya Ndirangu (Roysambu), Benjamin Mwangi (Embakasi Central), Nixon Korir (Lang'ata), John Kiarie (Dagoretti South), George Theuri (Embakasi West) and James Gakuya (Embakasi North).
Starehe MP Charles 'Jaguar' Njagua said he has written to the IEBC, asking it to consider moving its headquarters out of the CBD to minimise disturbance to business, like was happening now.
Reports by Faith Nyamai, Ouma Wanzala, John Ngirachu and Aggrey Mutambo