We can't afford relapse to demos but engage on issues affecting us

Anti-riot police officers try to block Azimio la Umoja supporters during their antigovernment protests on March 30, 2023. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Following intense lobbying and interventions by religious and other leaders, President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga, agreed to address issues of contention through a parliamentary bipartisan process.

This ended two weeks of demonstrations, which paralysed businesses and seriously affected economic activities. These protests and demonstrations turned violent as we witnessed running battles between armed police and demonstrators resulting in injuries, deaths, looting and destruction of property.

We are optimistic that the bipartisan dialogue will result in lasting solutions. We also hope the conduct of police will be thoroughly investigated and those culpable brought to book. In addition, those who invaded Northlands private property must be held accountable and punished. This is the only way to end impunity and restore law and order.

Our Constitution provides sufficient avenues for peaceful resolution of electoral and other disputes. In addition, it creates constitutional institutions and mechanisms that can provide lasting solutions to issues bedeviling Kenya. The bipartisan process has great potential for success. However, it is important to ensure goodwill and good faith throughout the process to avoid relapse back to demonstrations.

The process should be genuine, and comprehensive enough, going beyond electoral justice issues to encompass the intractable issues that concern Kenyans like high cost of living, and runaway prices of food, commodities and utilities.

The national and county governments are overwhelmed by debts and cannot even pay salaries. Clearly, these problems cannot all be resolved immediately. Both the government and the opposition need to be pragmatic, agree on short-term, medium-term, and long-term solutions, and prepare a well-thought-out implementation framework.

Public scrutiny and accountability measures should also be put in place to ensure public ownership of the solutions. Although subsidies are not sustainable, they provide economic and social cushions for Kenyans for the time being as they recover from adverse effects of Covid-19, economic hardships, and a debt crisis. Social security and safety nets are a necessary.

Other immediate safety net measures such as cash transfers to the elderly, (pesa ya wazee), orphans, persons with disability, and Linda Mama, fair and equitable sharing of public opportunities (development, jobs, appointments), and resources in accordance with the Constitution reflecting the ethnic, regional, religious and gender diversity; respect for the rule of law, human rights, social justice and not just focusing only on issues of electoral justice must be genuinely addressed.

Free/affordable universal health coverage, clean, affordable energy, and affordable portable water, quality education, a clean environment must be addressed. Programmes to ensure gender equality and empowerment of women and girls must become a national priority with annual budgetary allocations.

The bipartisan process must also address fiscal discipline and government expenditure. It is unacceptable for Kenyans to struggle through biting poverty and want while the political elites enjoy such largesse as we see every day on our screens.

Politicians and government officers must also tighten their belts like majority of Kenyans. We hope this bipartisan process is not just another process towards another handshake or a coalition government. These kinds of governments tend to benefit only a few political elites and their close allies and not necessarily the whole country.

The government should listen to its people while the opposition should engage in constructive dialogue. There must be a way in which the opposition must effectively play its role, providing checks and balances and holding the government to account for its actions, and ensuring efficient delivery of services.

While cooperation and coordination of interventions between the government and the opposition are healthy approaches to addressing Kenyans' concerns in a sustainable bipartisan way, the opposition should not seek to join government.

Neither should the government seek to incorporate elected members of the opposition into government. This weakens both government and opposition because, when there is no opposition, the government goes unchecked and becomes unaccountable and the opposition is emasculated by the government and losses its credibility.