We need inclusive dialogue and not another 'selfish' handshake

William Ruto and Raila Odinga shake hands at a past event. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

No one expected that the Kenya Kwanza regime would inherit a bed of roses, least of all President William Ruto.

Having shared executive power for a decade, he was party to and conversant with the economic crisis facing the country. It was befitting then that he should be given the task to turn things around and steer the country in a more stable direction.

There were no quick fix solutions and the country desperately required austerity and confidence building measures. The announcement that government would reduce recurrent expenditure by Sh300 billion appeared to suggest a move to tighten belts and show solidarity with wananchi who were feeling the pinch.

Kenyans were also informed there would be less borrowing as banks and partners were knocking on the door demanding repayments.

But despite the promises and rhetoric, nothing has changed. There are no immediate signs of savings or a reduction in wastage or cost of living.

Instead, a group of "first ladies" were granted offices, staff and budgets. Just last week the President nominated 50 CASs, whose track record indicates they will add nothing of substance or quality to an already bloated executive. This week, a sneak preview of budget estimates for 2023/24 revealed that nearly Sh1 billion will be set aside for buying vehicles for offices of Ruto, his deputy and Musalia Mudavadi.

The pretense that this is a government sympathetic to those at the bottom has been exposed as a myth in just six months. It is not so much the extravagance as the message conveyed that this is a regime insensitive and indifferent to suffering citizens who cannot afford unga, cooking oil or gas.

When citizens protest as on Monday last, then police are permitted to use excessive force that according to the trustworthy Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) resulted in deaths of four adults with 50 more injured.

The government declaration on Sunday that the nationwide Monday processions were "illegal" lent a freehand to police to use any means to stop the protesters. All too reminiscent of the final days of the Kanu regime. Azimio is capitalising on public discontent and heavy-handed security reaction. However, they are not accepting any responsibility nor voicing condemnation for looting of supermarkets or the arson attack at UDA offices in Kisumu.

Any group that defends the right to protest must also ensure proper supervision and marshalling of their followers. So, the threat of further protests does not augur well for a peaceful outcome.

As expected, there are many calls for calm and dialogue, especially from religious fraternity. That is understandable. The country is more important than the ambitions and posturing of both Mr Ruto and Mr Odinga.

However, any private deal similar to the handshake of 2018 will not bring benefit to Kenyans, enhance constitutionalism and the rule of law or reduce the spiraling cost of living.

Mr Ruto must not just speak to his opponent but address the 50 million citizens who are angry, impatient and hungry. Mr Odinga, on the other hand, must forget those daft notions of taking occupancy of State House and prove to his doubters that he is more concerned about Kenyans than his family fortunes.

Put another way, any initiative to address the imminent threats to the country's stability must not be limited to members of the political class.

The discussions must include the private sector, media, religious leaders, civil society and other key stakeholders who represent the best interests of the country. Political leaders must not be allowed to decide when it is time to fight and time to make peace. Those who have invested most in the country must raise their voices and call out the political class who are arguably the biggest obstacle towards development and progress.

Civil society must wake up and defend the rule of law, even at the risk of their own personal safety. Elections may have taken place peacefully but the winner did not acquire the right to rule as he pleased nor the loser hold the country hostage for his own gain.