Kenya political rivals launch fresh talks after protestsWed, 09 Aug 2023 14:14:43 GMT

Kenya’s government and the opposition launched fresh talks Wednesday aimed at resolving a bitter political feud following a spate of violent protests over the high cost of living and calls for electoral reforms.But even as the formal dialogue kicked off in Nairobi, both sides insisted there would no form of power-sharing to resolve the crisis in the East African powerhouse.Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga has organised 10 days of demonstrations against the government of President William Ruto since March — blighted by sometimes deadly confrontations with the police.At least 20 people have been killed in the clashes, according to official figures, although rights campaigners put the toll much higher. The unrest in one of the region’s most stable democracies has provoked alarm at home and abroad and spurred calls for mediation to end the standoff.”Dialogue, peace, stability and prosperity in whose name we gather here are not party issues. These are Kenyan issues,” said Kalonzo Musyoka, the head of Odinga’s delegation. “We shall not negotiate for any form of power sharing with (Ruto’s) Kenya Kwanza alliance or put any personal interest ahead of the interest of the people.”- Talks contentious -The talks are taking place at the Bomas of Kenya, a tourist site which was also the venue for the announcement of the results of the tightly fought poll held a year ago today.No timeframe has been set for the duration of the negotiations and even the exact agenda is the subject of contention.After about two hours in a closed door session, the 10-member negotiating committee said it would reconvene on Monday after “matters that would need consultation”, including the agenda.Odinga’s Azimio La Umoja coalition said it wants to discuss the rising cost of living as well as electoral reforms after the opposition stalwart lost his fifth bid for the presidency to Ruto, claiming he was cheated of victory.However an initial draft agenda did not include the economic crisis nor a raft of tax hikes introduced in July, angering Kenyans suffering from spiralling prices for basic goods such as fuel and food.Critics accuse Ruto of breaking promises made during the election campaign, when he declared himself the champion of impoverished Kenyans and pledged to improve their economic fortunes.Odinga called off demonstrations in April and May after Ruto agreed to dialogue through a similar process, but those talks broke down and protesters returned to the streets.- ‘Good faith’ -Cecily Mbarire, head of the Kenya Kwanza delegation, said it would put the interest of Kenyans first and expressed optimism that “issues before us can be discussed and solutions found”.”We are here as Kenya Kwanza because we know our country is important than all of us,” she said.”We come in good faith and determined to find long-lasting solutions for Kenyans,” she added, without elaborating on the agenda.Opposition demonstrations that erupted after Odinga’s election loss in 2017 continued until he brokered a surprise truce the following year with former president Uhuru Kenyatta that became known as “the handshake”.Ruto declared Wednesday that he would not entertain talk on a power-sharing agreement. “Elections were done and no discussion will be held for another leader to find work,” he told a rally, referring to speculation about the establishment of an office for Odinga.His rival has vowed to return to the streets if opposition demands are not met.  “If there is no agreement after 30 days, Kenyans will take a different course of action,” Odinga said at the weekend.Inflation in Kenya has remained stubbornly high, at an annual rate of 7.3 percent last month, while the Kenyan shilling has plummeted to record lows of around 143 to the dollar.Ruto has insisted the controversial tax hikes are needed to create jobs and fill government coffers as the country teeters under a debt mountain of more than $70 billion.