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Kenya: Ruto-Raila urged to talk as deadly protests continue

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Heeding calls from opposition leader Raila Odinga for three days of protests against the government over tax hikes, demonstrators took to the streets, which led to violence.

On Wednesday, defiant protesters from opposition strongholds like Kibera and Mathare slums in Nairobi, as well as in Kisumu and Mombasa, battled the police the whole day throwing stones at the riot police.

The police responded by firing back tear gas canisters and live bullets, leaving at least five dead and hundreds injured, as reported in local newspapers.

A majority of shops in Nairobi are still closed. Despite the protests, the government announced the reopening of schools in major towns that had been closed over security concerns.

Jane Wanjiru, a mother of two children, living in Kangemi, west of Nairobi, tells The Africa Report her daughters will remain at home until the protests end.  “I will not take the risk. My daughters are safe at home, not in school,” she said.

During last week’s protests, police were accused of firing tear gas canisters at schools in Nairobi, claiming to look for protesters.

Security minister Kithure Kindiki has termed the ongoing protests a threat to national security.

Raila’s aides arrested

Opposition coalition Azimio la Umoja called Wednesday’s protests a success, saying they will continue until President William Ruto’s government listens to the citizens’ cry. “The demos were extremely successful. We salute the gallant Kenyan patriots who came out,” the coalition’s co-principal, Martha Karua, said.

Unlike past demonstrations, where the opposition leaders came out and joined protesters, they did not make any public appearances on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, it was reported that the government had withdrawn the security details of Raila Odinga and his close allies, including Kalonzo Musyoka, a former vice president. The coalition is also demanding the immediate release of nine of the party’s leaders and close associates who were arrested.

Those arrested include popular and youthful member of parliament Babu Owino, Raila’s spokesman Dennis Onyango, and private bodyguard, Maurice Ogeta.

Resolve the impasse

Diplomats from 13 western countries represented in Kenya, led by the US, have called for urgent political dialogue between Ruto and Raila to resolve the current impasse.

In a statement, the envoys also offered to mediate and help find a lasting solution. They condemned the violence witnessed in the anti-government protests and criticised the police officers’ use of excessive force.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops has also pleaded with the two leaders to negotiate. The clerics also want Ruto to repeal the finance law that has led to an increase in taxes. “We have tried to reach out to the leaders but we can’t find them,” said the chairperson of the conference, Archbishop Martin Kivuva.

Speaking in Kericho, his political backyard in the Rift Valley region, on 19 July, Ruto said he is ready for talks, provided the dialogue does not involve a power-sharing agreement with the opposition.

“We don’t have a problem with speaking to anyone on solving challenges facing Kenyans,” he told supporters.

Raila has in the past said he is not interested in entering into a coalition deal with Ruto, accusing him of rigging the general election.

Political analyst Kevin Ochol tells The Africa Report that the country is at a critical stage which requires sobriety among the political leaders. “Ruto needs to swallow his pride, and Raila should tone down to find a lasting solution,” he says.

As protests continue, the Kenya Private Sector Alliance estimates that the country is losing up to KSh3bn ($21m) each day.

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