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Talks should be about electoral justice, not the cost of living

Elias Mokua

Tell me, why should the high cost of living in Kenya today be a major agenda for the dialogue meant to end political turbulence that we have experienced in the past three months?

Clearly, the cost of basic commodities such as unga and fuel among many others have skyrocketed since the Kenya Kwanza regime came to power. The poor are finding it extremely difficult to navigate their lives with a minimum modicum of decency.

As the Finance Act takes effect on both employers and employees, several people will soon be laid off from jobs with no clear alternatives on their sources of livelihood. The same Kenya Kwanza government has on several occasions reminded Kenyans to tighten their belts for the hard economic times ahead.

On this basis, it is perfectly understandable why the cost of living is a national priority as the Azimio Coalition justifiably argues. But, how will a mediator in the anticipated dialogue help lower the cost of living? Let us assume Olesugun Obasanjo and his team of mediators are listening to the agenda, what kind of dialogue guidance are they supposed to offer?

Let us be honest with ourselves. If a government cannot manage the cost of living for its people, does it still retain the legitimacy to be in power. The Kenya Kwanza government has to demonstrate to Kenyans why the prices of basic commodities shot up immediately it came to power. It is the same government that campaigned very strongly that the Jubilee government was insensitive to the plight of the poor and that it would fix the cost of living in 100 days because it knew what was wrong.

For whatever reasons, the cost of living has become unbearable, the government should not find excuses in the Azimio protests. The dialogue issues should not be conflated. In fact, as I have argued here for the past two years, our top priority for dialogue is addressing the mysterious electoral process that never gives us credible results.

Pretending to always bury these issues will continue to hurt us in several ways. The dialogue team should tell us if the process was tampered with since 2013. The dramas that happen around presidential outcomes should not be wished away just like that. Focusing on the integrity of the past electoral process will help us support whoever is on the right side of history.

The other two priorities for the dialogue team are a thorough review of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and offering a new option for citizens now that demonstrations no longer make sense to the government. On IEBC, it is not simply a reconstitution of the body. A review of what goes wrong in there during elections since 2013 that we end up with polarising results is necessary before we jump into putting new people into office.

The energy with which demonstrations were scuttled, the creativity that went into brutalising both the law enforcers and the protesters, and the demonisation of the demonstrations to the extent that opinion shapers yelled out the demonstrations as an insurrection aimed at toppling a government in office essentially leaves citizens with no platform to exercise the people power.

The recall clauses in the Constitution for non-performing leaders are practically impossible to implement. The dialogue team should therefore offer Kenyans a people power alternative in the absence of an unwanted Opposition and now unwanted demonstrations.

The cost of living is sustained by many factors. The bottom line is the economic policy regime a government decides to implement. Of course prices go up but the environment for generating income and wealth must be favourable for people to afford a bare minimum decent life hence a sustainable source of livelihood.

However, a majority of Kenyans cannot afford a bare minimum decent life in the current policy environment. As we understood it during last year’s general election campaigns, the Kenya Kwanza government had done its calculus well to promise the hustlers a meaningful livelihood. The cost of living should be left to the people power to push for their basic rights.

Dr Mokua is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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