Kenyan President William Ruto has firmly stated that he will not negotiate Kenya’s security with the opposition leader, Raila Odinga. This statement comes after both sides agreed to engage in dialogue to put an end to the violent protests against Ruto’s government. The street demonstrations, led by the opposition, have resulted in at least 20 deaths, raising concerns both within the country and internationally.
The protests, which have been ongoing for nine days, were sparked by Odinga’s claims of an illegitimate government responsible for exacerbating the economic crisis, particularly affecting the underprivileged population. As one of East Africa’s historically stable democracies, the unrest has prompted calls for mediation to resolve the standoff.
While President Ruto expressed openness to dialogue, he cautioned Odinga against resorting to further violent demonstrations, emphasizing the paramount importance of preserving the safety of the nation’s citizens and their properties.
Both parties have agreed to form a 10-member committee with equal representation to address their differences amicably. However, the opposition alliance, Azimio, accused the government of misrepresenting their concerns in a “one-sided statement” even before the talks commenced. They asserted their right to protest if their issues are ignored, emphasizing that each party should have the freedom to bring their concerns to the table.
Odinga, who has continuously claimed that the 2022 presidential election was “stolen,” had initially refused to participate in talks without a third-party mediator. Nevertheless, a meeting brokered by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo brought the rivals together to form the committee.
The opposition’s priorities for discussion include the rising cost of living and the repeal of a finance bill that led to tax hikes. They also demanded electoral reforms and an audit of the 2022 election, along with accountability for alleged police “brutality” during the protests.
On the other hand, President Ruto was resolute that his government would not discuss economic policies while focusing on implementing their manifesto aimed at reducing the cost of living. He stressed the need to work together to transform Kenya, despite differing perspectives.
A previous statement suggesting discussions on creating a permanent office for Odinga and setting aside the finance bill issue was rejected by the opposition, who disavowed any involvement in it.
Analysts have cautioned against speculating that Ruto and Odinga are working on a power-sharing arrangement, as the outcomes and timing of the talks remain uncertain. In the past, Odinga called off demonstrations after engaging in dialogue through a similar committee with President Ruto, but those talks ultimately failed.
Notably, following Odinga’s loss in the 2017 election, opposition protests persisted until he reached an unexpected pact with former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018, dubbed “the handshake.”