Raila Odinga's vehicle shrouded in teargas leaves Serena hotel on March 20,2023 during the Azimio demonstrations. [Collins Kweyu,Standard]

The ongoing mass protests against president William Ruto’s government have created an extra challenge to a myriad of other problems the administration was already facing among them hyperinflation.

The opposition-fueled unrest has created anxiety among Kenyans of all walks of life, as the recently elected government grapples with stabilising the economy to stamp its authority.

Leaders from many platforms across the country apart from politicians now concur that dialogue has to take place between President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga without delay to forestall further demonstrations.

Business leaders in Nairobi are also a worried lot after incurring heavy losses in the violent confrontation between police and stone-throwing rioters on Monday this week.

The Bar Hoteliers and Liquor Traders Association (BHALITA) reported this week that they lost Sh300 million and Sh150 million worth of sales and purchases respectively because of the protests.

“The government collects about Sh200 million per day and so continued mass action will have a big impact on how our businesses are going to be sustained,” says chairman Boniface Gachoka.

Loses in Nairobi were reported across the business spectrum including the Matatu sector, food retail markets, motorcycle taxis (bodaboda), shops in the central business district, looting of businesses, and failure of workers to report on duty.

The chairman Matatu Owners Association Simon Kimutai also painted a gloomy picture and called for an end to the demonstrations that affect the industry which collects over Sh1 billion.

“We have 20,000 matatus in Nairobi alone, where one minibus can consume 60 litres of fuel daily, and spare part dealers and shops also mostly stock for us because we operate 14 hours a day,” said Kimutai.

There was no learning in many schools on Monday after parents decided to protect their children by keeping them at home, while those who were travelling back to school after the half-term break also failed to report.

Services at many government offices in Nairobi were also largely affected because of the street battles between police and opposition and the tear gas fumes that engulfed the city.

To make matters worse, Raila listed some companies whose products, he wants Azimio la Umoja supporters to boycott thus creating a lot of anxiety in the business sector.

Bishop Philip Anyolo of the archdiocese of Nairobi led other members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops in calling for dialogue between President William Ruto and Azimio la Umoja team leader Raila Odinga.

Speaking in Kisii on Friday, President Ruto appeared to suggest he was ready for talks when he asked Raila and his allies to stop interfering with private enterprise and instead look for him because it is him and not the businesses that he contested against in the last elections.

Political analysts argue that there is no alternative to dialogue in the ongoing stand-off if the government wants to deliver its agenda or at least fulfil some of the lofty promises they made to Kenyans during the campaigns.

‘I think we will have a compromise. There is no choice because we all need a stable, peaceful country and also a working government,” says Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University.

He argues that leaders should not take hardline positions in such situations, because they are given those responsibilities to be problem solvers and not aggressive combatants with loose tongues.

To achieve that, they need to separate the problem from the persons raising it, look at the issues in a sober manner, and in so doing create room for dialogue so that reason can prevail without any biases.

“If someone says we need an IEBC which Kenyans have faith in or lowering the cost of living, forget about the person saying it, then look at short and long-term needs and analyse whether it is necessary or if it is something that the country deal with,” says Naituli.

Political analysts Martin Andati concurs that the protagonists in the current stalemate will ultimately have to compromise or be forced into one by external forces and other interested parties.

He however singles out known hardliners like Martha Karua on the Azimio side and Ruto himself in Kenya Kwanza but thinks Raila is normally easy to buckle under pressure in dialogue as witnessed in 2007.

Apart from pressure being mounted by the church and businesses people already up in arms, Andati also singles out the effects of the demos on the economy as the key avenue for dialogue.

“Most likely, there will be no nusu mkate (half a loaf sharing of government), because Raila may not even entertain it, but watch out for what he always calls irreducible minimums,” says Andati.

So issues to watch out for include expanding the panel reconstituting IEBC and entrenching the leader of opposition in the Constitution and debate over including some of the BBI proposals in the law.

It has also been suggested that the debate over the Cherera four could also be resolved through an agreement that could see them getting paid all their gratuity and other benefits to put the issue to rest.

Lawyer Stanislas Murunga also hopes that Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua will see the need for dialogue to end the stand-off because he told the country that businesses in Nairobi lost Sh2 billion because of the protests.

Gachagua has already declared that if there has to be any dialogue, there must be a clarification under what rules of engagement they will be done to allow for a truthful and transparent conversation.

The deputy president appeared to have toned down because barely two days earlier, he was breathing fire and warning that they will not have any discussion with Raila on governance issues.

“The only discussion we can have with him is to let us know when together with Uhuru, they will return the money they took to the Cayman Islands from Kenya and not a discussion on having a handshake,” said Gachagua at a burial in Maragua.

He was also told by spiritual leaders to stop calling for dialogue and instead pray for Raila so that God can touch his heart and make him move away from the spirit of destruction and impunity.

In what appeared to be a response to the DP, Raila told the media that, Gachagua allegedly convened a meeting at his Karen residence with some leaders and youth to plan how they will attack demonstrators on Monday with weapons.

But among the sober voices that have emerged during the crisis, is Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja, who has called for peace and cautioned that hardliners are only afraid of the peacemakers because of selfish interests.

Kenya Kwanza diehards such as Kakamega Senator Bonny Khalwale have also cautioned that without a politically stable environment; “it is a voodoo to expect any investment, local or international” and the riots must therefore be dealt with expeditiously and finally.

President Ruto has also assured investors that the government will protect their businesses following the announcement by the Azimio leaders that protests will now be held every Monday and Thursday.

But a former advisor to President Uhuru Kenyatta Mutahi Ngunyi tweeted to remind the president that the economy lost Sh1 billion every hour during teargas Mondays before and after the 2017 elections which led to the handshake with Raila.

It is however not all gloom as Prof Naituli points out because the current push and pull from both sides is normal in a democracy where the government will fight to defend its position as the opposition does the opposite.

That happens in advanced societies where both sides take hardline positions on sticky issues but finally agree to talk to enhance peace and in so doing the country moves forward.

“If this toxic atmosphere continues, then the government will find it very difficult to actualise its programmes but I doubt it will because I think they will talk,” says Naituli.

Over the years, Kenya has had a fair share of leaders who took hardline positions on crucial and contentious governance issues but finally had to talk when the country was on the brink of confrontation.

In 1992, Kanu hardliners like Joseph Kamotho, Prof George Saitoti, and Nicholas Biwott among other Kanu hawks objected to the amendment of section 2 A of the Constitution to introduce multi-party politics but were ignored by President Moi.

The same clique wanted a partisan Constitution review-driven process without the input of civil society and the opposition but were overruled when Moi and Raila, an ally at the time, agreed that commissioners from the Ufungamano Initiative be accommodated in the Prof Yasdh Pal Ghai-led Constitution of Kenya Review Commission.

That is why efforts being made by the church and other religious leaders especially Muslims observing Ramadahan should be supported as they could lead to some kind of truce.

“The mainstream church is making an effort but the charismatic wing of the church, or the Halleluya’s are making the church lose its respect as an independent arbiter because they appear to be part of the executive,” says Naituli.