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Kenya: Ruto is ready for talks over protests; Raila remains sceptical

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Kenya’s President William Ruto says he is willing to hold face-to-face talks with Azimio la Umoja leader Raila Odinga over the ongoing anti-government protests that were triggered by hiked taxes and soaring cost of living.

Through his social media, Ruto said he was ready to meet the candidate he had beaten in last year’s election. “My friend Raila Odinga, I’m available to meet you anytime at your convenience,” the president posted.

Lack of trust

This is not the first time Ruto publically offers to meet Raila. While addressing the nation in April, Ruto said he was ready to engage with the opposition to discuss how to reconstitute the country’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Four months ago, the opposition coalition had called for weekly protests to oppose Ruto’s win, saying if it hadn’t been for vote-rigging by the electoral agency, Raila would have won.

Bi-partisan engagements that barely started through parliament have collapsed. Both parties accuse the other of lacking commitment to find a lasting political solution.

Despite Ruto’s indication to end the political impasse, it was disrespectful to invite the opposition leader through social media, says political analyst Edwin Kegoli.

“I don’t think Ruto’s offer is in good faith. Time will tell,” he says.

Mediation

Ruto’s social media post comes days after Raila said that Ruto had frustrated Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu’s mediation efforts despite inviting her to Kenya.

“Samia Suluhu came here two weeks ago at the invitation of President Ruto to mediate. She was kept waiting, not from our side. She spent two nights here and it was all in vain,” Raila told the international press in Nairobi on Tuesday, stating that the opposition remains ready for talks.

Ruto is not somebody you can trust, he keeps changing words

Neither the Kenyan nor Tanzanian governments have responded to Raila’s claims, but Ruto met Suluhu on Wednesday on the sidelines of a conference on human capital in Dar es Salaam. The details of the meeting have not been made public. 

Last week, Western envoys called for open talks between Kenya’s political leaders, offering mediation.

Reacting to the president’s offer, Raila has ruled out the possibility of engaging in any talks without a mediator. “Ruto is not somebody you can trust, he keeps changing words,” he said.

Raila has also told Al Jazeera that he does not see Ruto’s offer as serious. “If he wanted to meet with me he would not have invited me through social media,” Raila said, terming Ruto’s offer as a public relations stunt.

‘I believe they are friends’

The public hopes the talks will be held and bring about calm to the streets, which have witnessed deadly violence as the police disperse protests that started in March. 

Let them talk for the sake of ordinary Kenyans

Albert Agilo, a taxi driver in downtown Nairobi cautiously welcomes Ruto’s offer. “I don’t trust Ruto. He thinks the opposition wants a share in his government,” he says.

Agilo adds that he was greatly affected during protests, fearing being caught in the middle of clashes between the police and the protesters.

Caroline Maina, worked in a small restaurant in the heart of Nairobi’s CBD. During protests, she didn’t report to work and now it had closed, leaving her without an income.

Ruto and Raila have worked together in the past. I believe they are friends. Let them talk for the sake of ordinary Kenyans,” she says.

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