The situation in Kenya is calm after two weeks of anti-government protests called by the opposition. While both parties have decided to give dialogue a chance, President William Ruto has yet to say how his administration will fight the high cost of living, one issue that sparked the demonstrations.
Four days after President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga agreed to a temporary truce, some Kenyans have expressed a huge sigh of relief.
The protests were paralyzing streets in Nairobi and other major cities and starting to hurt the country’s already fragile economy.
However, opposition leader Odinga has suggested the protests could resume if the government fails to show "meaningful engagement" in discussing key issues, such as reforms to address alleged election irregularities.
The central issue for many Kenyans is the high cost of living.
Silas Omenda, founder of Divergent, a research and data analysis firm for small businesses, says President Ruto needs to give attention to inflation.
“The president had to sort out the political angle of the protests, which was to stop the protests from happening, which had already started to cannibalize the economy. The next conversation is that now it becomes a conversation around the economy in terms of what needs to be done to alleviate the current economic crisis,” he said.
Omenda says the cost of food and other basic commodities has skyrocketed.
“If you look at 2021, maize, a pocket of 2kg was going for around 117 Kenyan Shillings (Kshs). If you llook at 2022, it went up by around 126 Kshs, so that’s an upward of around 8% increase. And maize is staple food in this country,” he said.
The Kenyan Bureau of Statistics says the annual inflation rate as measured by the Consumer Price Index was 9.2% in February, a slight increase from January.
On the streets of Nairobi, people interviewed by VOA say they want calm while the parties attempt to boost the economy.
Frederick Juma said the president deserves support — for now.
“Let the people of Kenya give him [Ruto] time. Six months, you cannot do something with six months," he said. "We want the people of Kenya to give him one year. If one year is not going to do anything, now we can start to judge him.”
Mohamed Hassan Galgallo voiced support for Odinga but wants to see talks between the government and opposition.
“I want to urge our opposition leader, prime minister Raila Amolo Odinga to have the interest of Kenyans at heart, to do dialogue and to come up with solutions that would fit all Kenyans,” he said.
Vincent Kimosop, a policy and governance expert in Nairobi, told VOA it’s true the cost of living is high but it’s important to recognize there are several issues.
“Number one top line issue politically is the re-constitution of the electoral management body," he said. "And I can tell you at this point, for observers like us, it would be very critical to ensure the issues that affect the public continue to be part of the conversation — the high costs of living, the issues of youth employment, number 3: the issues of consolidating national unity and cohesion. These issues were identified way back even during the mediation process that Kofi Annan chaired in 2007.”
Former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan led a group of mediators following a bitterly disputed presidential election between Odinga and former president Mwai Kibaki that resulted in Odinga serving a term in the now-abolished post of prime minister.
Meanwhile, the opposition’s deadline for “meaningful engagement” is set to expire Sunday. Odinga has not said if the protests would resume the following day.