Expect another political circus over high cost of living stalemate

Azimio la Umoja Co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga and Martha Karua address the media on the one year in office of the president of Kenya and the skyrocketing cost of living on September 15, 2023. [David Gichuru, Standard]

As the country lurches into the New Year, chocked by spiraling taxes, cost of basic commodities and services, skeptics are warning Kenyans to brace themselves for another round of ceaseless political battles between President Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza and Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja.

The grim prediction is hinged on what  has turned out to be a wasted year of national dialogue which has failed to resolve the outstanding issues which climaxed into street battles and a paralysis of the economy.

Even though the next move now rests on President Ruto, Raila and Parliament, the Azimio leader has hinted of a possible mass action. He urged his supporters on Tuesday to wait for the signal.

“Ruto is not our creator. He should stop telling Kenyans whether they like or not they will pay the Housing Levy. We want to tell him that such talks ended with the Nyayo regime, and if he continues forcing the levy on Kenyans, we will lead Kenyans in saying no,” said Odinga.

Similar hints have come from other Opposition leaders. In November, Narc Kenya Party leader, Martha Karua said her party supporters are ready to go to the streets if the dialogue committee fails to address high cost of living.

What are the options?

“NARC Kenya and the people of Kenya are saying that should the talks fail us because they look like they are failing, we shall not forgo our rights, and we shall go back to the streets, if necessary,” she said.

National Assembly Minority Leader Opiyo Wandayi, however, argues that Raila’s remarks were misinterpreted and that the coalition has not yet declared its next line of action.

“Why are people putting words into his mouth? When we choose to make a statement, we do so unequivocally. For the avoidance of doubt, we wish 2024 be a year of constructive dialogue,” said Wandayi.

Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot said the cost of living is a mirage the Opposition uses to advance selfish political goals terming it as an upgrade from the calls to open servers following disputes of the outcome of presidential results.

The Kericho Senator who was a member of the dialogue team said that they expect Azimio La Umoja to be faithful and follow through the commitments secured as Kenya Kwanza Alliance intends to keep its part of the bargain.

“We can never control what the Opposition wants to do so long as it is lawful,” said Cheruiyot.

However, Senate Minority Whip Ledama ole Kina said that he fully supported Raila’s move arguing that the country is going through both economic and social turmoil.

“We need to have serious conversations since Kenyans are suffering under the Kenya Kwanza regime which does not seem to care while overtaking Kenyans who are facing harsh economic times,” said Ledama.

This week, Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, said the opposition does not expect the economy to improve and will explore options for a push-back against Kenya Kwanza’s policies.

“The extent to which the economy has shrunk, it requires more time to bring it up. So I do not think there will be any miracle happening in 2024,” he said. 

A senior ODM official said they are still crafting a formula on how to counter the government. “It is one of our main agenda for the New Year. We are not ruling out the prospects of returning to the streets if all the coalition principals agree,” said the source.

According to the leader, they will also explore proposals by the Jubilee to initiate an impeachment motion against President Ruto.

By March 2023, the Opposition had rallied Kenyans to the streets to call out the government over the rising cost of living, increased unemployment and a rejection of a raft of policies by the Ruto regime.

While President Ruto attempted to market Kenya as a viable investment hub, the rising cost of living gave the Opposition leverage in rallying its supporters to challenge the government through demonstrations that left at least 70 dead from police excesses.

To try and quell the political tension, the government bowed to international pressure and agreed to a truce that would birth the Bipartisan Talks brokered.

Wasted opportunity

But even as they dialogued, nearly two months elapsed since the commencement of the talks, with no significant outcomes or tangible results. Meetings by the 14-member committee chaired by lawmakers Otiende Amollo (Rarieda) and Gitonga Murugara (Tharaka) ended in stalemates, amid accusations and counter-accusations of a lack of commitment.

At the same time, the government introduced fresh policies that increased taxes through the Finance Bill which worsened the progress of negotiation, increased public dissent and pushed investors to despair.

Months later, another committee would be given the mandate to attempt negotiations. Both sides presented issues to be discussed and settled on five areas; the cost of living, the audit of the 2022 general elections, the fidelity of Political parties and the creation of new government offices including that of the Leader of the Opposition and Prime Cabinet Secretary.

By November, the Federation of Kenya Employers reported that approximately 70,000 jobs had been lost, which accounts for nearly three per cent of the formal private sector workforce, between October 2022 and November 2023.

Despite 90 days of deliberations and the submission of a report in late November, the Opposition and government side failed to secure a deal that would give Kenyans relief from the rising cost of living.

The committee failed to agree on a proposal by the Azimio side to scrap the Housing Levy or make it voluntary among salaried Kenyans and the reduction of VAT from the current 16 per cent to eight per cent.

However, there was consensus on suggestions to reduce the anti-adulteration and road maintenance levies.

And now the report is in Parliament awaiting the return of the lawmakers in February so that they can pass some laws that will breathe life into some of the committee’s recommendations.

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