Make dialogue inclusive to attain real progress, not just a new BBI

 Azimio leader Raila Odinga. [File, Standard]

The leaked news that President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga had held a private meeting with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Mombasa last week, was generally received with relief as much as jubilation.

The country was fed up with intransigence from the government side and chaotic demonstrations from opposition quarters. Yet, rather than getting carried away with the announcement, most would reason that we are witnessing a ceasefire rather than imminent resolution of contested issues.

There is no signal the two parties are moving towards an agreed agenda or middle ground where progress may be recorded. The initial proposed agenda from both sides suggests they are intent on promoting their own political interests, and not what might in any way be a response to needs and concerns of citizens at this difficult time in the nation’s history.

The Kenya Kwanza agenda of IEBC, CDF, Prime Minister’s office, Opposition office and Gender rule all touch on constitutional matters. As such, they view the discussions as an opportunity to tamper with the Constitution or to sidetrack it.

Put another way, Kenya Kwanza seem hell bent on revisiting the much maligned and rejected Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) of the previous regime. Azimio as expected are still obsessed with the 2022 election outcome even if the clamour to open the server has died down. They were latecomers to the cost-of-living debate and even now appear half-hearted about it without any clear strategy or policy on how it might be comprehensively addressed.

Civil society have detailed the killings of 39 citizens since the protests began and not unexpectedly Azimio will run with that agenda too.

However, judging by the initial reactions to the proposed talks there is little enthusiasm, goodwill or sincerity from either side. A lot of chest-thumping and unreasonable demands suggest that they want to appear to be open to dialogue but at heart have no intention to concede an inch of territory to find a middle ground.

Yet, the other real fear is if the talks succeed, and do not end before they have begun as in the previous round, then any agreement may be an outcome to satisfy their needs and even greed rather than address the hardship and brutality the public are experiencing. 

In other words, the public have little trust in either party to put Kenya before their interests. The troubles that bedevil the nation do not emanate from a flawed Constitution rather from the failure of successive regimes to fully respect and implement the 2010 Constitution.

No rushed amendments will reduce the political tension nor the cost of living. There may soon be a time to do a national review of the Constitution - after 15 years, perhaps - but that like the initial Yash Pal Ghai review process must be an inclusive and people driven one, not the result of a coup by the political class.

The government is fast tracking implementation of the Finance Act 2023 in complete disregard to requests of the religious bodies and the business community to repeal it.

There is also no guidance from the Central Bank on how the crumbling shilling can be revived. The shilling has lost 40 per cent in value against the international currencies in the past eight months and no explanation or remedy has been submitted.

As long as this remains unaddressed, Kenya will suffer since it is mainly an importing country and self-serving gestures like Russia’s donation of fertiliser will do little to ease the suffering. The country is in a desperate and depressing situation but it is not irreversible. Talks are essential but if they do not include the business, religious, civil society and the media fraternity, they are going nowhere.

These stakeholders are also shareholders in the country and are just as committed, if not more so, to the prosperity and stability of the country than the political elites.

They must be invited to the table and listened to if progress is to be made and confidence restored. If not invited to discussions, then these interest groups must demand a place and a voice.