Catholic church, workers push Ruto and Raila to find compromise

Youth in Kibra pelt stones at anti-riot police officers during the Azimio la Umoja protests against the high cost of living on March 20, 2023. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The harsh reality of the corner Azimio leader Raila Odinga has pushed the country into is dawning as calls for dialogue increase.

Following the Monday protests, religious leaders, workers unions and business leaders yesterday urged the two sides to reach a compromise, even as the main protagonists stuck to their guns.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) spoke of a “dialogue option”, calling on President Ruto to follow through with his promise to sit with and listen to Mr Odinga and other leaders with a view to coming to some “reasonable proposals” to curb tensions.

The bishops complained of the chest-thumping from the two sides, saying it will not solve the concerns and problems Kenyans are saddled with.

“The country is at a place where blame games by our leaders cannot address the country’s myriad problems. We are witnessing high levels of unemployment that have made our youth lose hope and become disillusioned,” said KCCB chairman, Archbishop Martin Kivuva.

But their colleague Archbishop Anthony Muheria was much more pointed: “We invite Odinga to accept dialogue for the good of the country. We believe that a sitting and dialogue can resolve this dangerous stand-off. The two need to establish a common ground to address the ills facing the country and restore the sanity we need in our country.”

“We make this appeal to the entire Opposition; The fact that it is legal to demonstrate should not make it a vehicle to paralyse the country, nor degenerate to a forceful takeover of a legitimate government.”

For the Kenya Union of Domestic, Hotels, Educational Institutions, Hospitals and Allied Workers (Kudheiha), however, the second option is for Kenyans to shun violence.

However, Kudheiha Secretary General Albert Njeru said only talks between Mr Odinga and Dr Ruto would solve the issues raised.

“We are calling upon his excellency kindly pick your phone and invite your senior brother Raila Odinga and have a solution, discuss openly and candidly,” said Mr Njeru.

As they spoke, media owners moved to secure the space of the industry players after the Azimio leadership asked their supporters to boycott some products. The Media Owners Association of Kenya described as unfortunate the call by Mr Odinga for boycott of sections of the media.

The Association chairman, Stephen Gitagama, asked Azimio to file specific complaints with the Media Council of Kenya’s Complaint’s Commission.

“The media in Kenya, like elsewhere in the world, occupies a very important place in society as a vanguard for democracy. Since the struggle for pluralism, the Kenyan media has been at the forefront for spearheading change, providing an important platform for public engagement and ensuring that those in office uphold their oaths of office and implement the wishes of the electorate,” said Mr Gitagama.

Besides the dialogue, boycott of demos and legal options, other options suggested include the initiation of broadbased healing and reconciliation process, and the re-ignition of constitutional amendment to address key issues such as winner-take-it-all identified in the Building Bridges Initiative.

At the extreme end is what Kenya Kwanza leadership was pitching on Tuesday; the apprehending of Mr Odinga and holding him to account in a court of law, ignoring the protests and hoping they will dissipate.

Live bullets

Yesterday, the Catholic bishops also urged the police to restrain from use of live bullets and excessive force, citing the deaths of the protestors on Monday.

According to the clergy, there is also the perception that the government is maliciously targeting individuals on issues relating to taxation and acquisition of property.

They further castigated appointment of 50 Cabinet Administrative Secretaries by President Ruto, saying it does not show sensitivity to the prevailing economic situation, the ravaging drought and the ongoing banditry menace in the North Rift region.

The bishops equally dismissed the assertion by Azimio that Dr Ruto’s government is illegitimate, noting that they must respect the rule of law following the Supreme Court’s decision that upheld Kenya Kwanza’s victory.

“We went to vote and the results were contested in court. Our Supreme Court made its determination. Therefore, we have a constitutionally legitimate government. Any contest can only be challenged in the courts,” said Kisumu Archbishop Maurice Muhatia.

National conversation

“We the Catholic bishops declare our intention and willingness to rejoin with the leaders and other Kenyans of goodwill to have national conversation over the issues that are ailing us.”

Kudheiha also expressed concerns that more protests would render more workers jobless at a time when they were struggling due to the harsh economic situation.

“Kenyan workers will lose more if the protests go on because most sectors including transport will be affected. It is time for serious consultations and we are calling upon the President to intervene,” he said.