If demos are over cost of living, Raila-Ruto talks can't end them

Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga and President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

In 1849, a renowned French writer Jean-Baptiste Karr said, "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" (The more things change, the more they stay the same).

The more we run from the political reality of Kenya's opposition-led protests, the more we come to terms with the fact that it is chasing after the wind.

I will keep this argument until sense comes to our heads. If talks between Raila Odinga and William Ruto can end the protests, then the protests had nothing to do with the cost of living in the first place.

Why do I say so? On the eve of yesterday’s nationwide protests, several organisations persuaded the president and Raila to sit down and “put the country first” by finding a lasting solution to the demonstrations that culminate in destruction of lives and property.

This is not a new development in our political approach. In 2017, President Uhuru was persuaded to do so. The solution was to bring Raila and a few politicians on board and the puzzle was solved. The cost of living did not go down—it continued to worsen, and the opposition protected the government with all its teeth.

Fast-forward to 2023. We are back to the 2017 crisis. The religious leaders, our Chama Cha Wanawake and many political pundits are pushing for the same move, at least for the countrymen and women to have peace to toil for their daily bread. They desperately suggest this approach because they all know the current protests are not about the cost of living.

They know the lasting solution lies in a political pact between Raila and Ruto. And since Raila has a following, if he tells his followers to calm down, they will, and the cost of living will be forgotten.

The maandamano apologists rightly argue that these protests are not about Raila. To this, if the protests are not about Raila, we should not expect them to end until the president comes out and gives the country a way forward.

Any protests over the cost of living should end up with a dialogue between the citizens and their president, not between the president and the opposition leader. It is simple logic!

However, out of desperation and knowing that there is little the government can do for Raila, persuaders can only ask the government to compromise and have the country struggle economically in peace instead of making life more terrible amid an economic crisis.

But aren't demonstration and picketing rights of citizens in the Constitution? We have had democracies worldwide that died in the arms of constitutions. We have on record the Weimar Republic in Germany which was founded in 1919 after the collapse of the German Empire.

The republic's constitution was designed to protect individual rights and freedoms that enabled dictator Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party to rise to powe - it is always an example that what is legal is not necessarily moral.

Moreover, in the United States, democracy has been declining in the last few years. The decline has been so visible that critics say that the rise of Donald Trump to power was necessitated by the weaknesses of a democratic system to gate-keep against extremists.

Another argument is that we could not have had the democracy we have if it were not for the 1990s protests that birthed multiparty democracy. While that is true, the 1990s struggle was real as we could see leaders with genuine concerns and ready to take the bullet unlike today when they attend the demos in guarded cars and protective jackets.

After calling demos in press conferences, most leaders do not show up; they hide in their houses and watch poor citizens fight with police. This way, our politicians preach water and drink wine.

Finally, we see today the destruction of property, looting and politicians calling demos for their interests. Kenyans have genuine concerns; the cost of living is undoubtedly unbearable - but all their efforts are in vain as long as two leaders can negotiate the deal.

Dr Ndonye is a senior lecturer, School of Music and Media at Kabarak University 

By Sammy Mose 7 days ago
Maiyo wins inaugural KAM golf tournament
Nigeria's Super Eagles soar to AFCON final
AFCON hosts Ivory Coast aim to overcome DR Congo in semifinals
Nigeria sets sights on AFCON finals, confident against South Africa