Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has called off anti-government protests scheduled for Monday, saying he was ready for negotiations following an appeal from President William Ruto.
Thousands have joined three marches over the past two weeks against high living costs and alleged fraud in last year’s vote. All have been marred by violence, with at least three people killed, 400 wounded and some businesses looted.
Odinga announced on Sunday evening that he was calling off the fourth rally in response to Ruto suggesting that they create a bipartisan parliamentary committee to work through concerns over the electoral process.
The opposition leader, who has disputed Ruto’s victory in 2022, said he saw the president’s statement as an olive branch and a “positive development”.
“We stand down our demonstrations for Monday, that is tomorrow, April 3, 2023. But in doing so, we want to emphasise that the right to assemble, to demonstrate, petition, and speak are iron-clad as provided for in our constitution,” Odinga said at an evening press conference.
However, his party “reserve[s] the right to call for demonstrations should this process not bear fruit”, he said.
The opposition has been pushing for reforms to the electoral commission, including stronger assurances that the president cannot pack the body with supporters.
“We agree that a balanced parliamentary process co-chaired by both sides and backed by experts from outside should proceed,” Odinga said.
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If there was “no meaningful engagement or response” from Ruto, the protests would begin again in one week, he said.
Odinga also said that the opposition would engage the government on the high cost of living, which had galvanised many protesters.
“At times like this, we should go back to subsidies … so that the cost of living can come down,” he said.
Ruto’s government has scrapped subsidies on fuel, maize, and electricity.
Religious groups had urged the government and opposition to give dialogue a chance to prevent the country from descending into post-election violence that left more than 1,200 people dead in 2007.
In a nationwide address earlier in the evening, Ruto had appealed for Odinga to work through parliament, not the street.
“I urge my brother Raila Odinga and the opposition to call off the demonstrations, and to give this bipartisan approach a chance for us to take the country forward,” he said, urging Kenyans to remain peaceful and law-abiding.
But he ruled out striking an alliance of any kind with his foe.
“Once you compromise accountability and oversight, you are in for a lot of trouble,” Ruto said.
“Our position is that we want to engage our brothers and sisters on the other side on issues that are important to the people of Kenya … That way the system of checks and balances remains intact.”
The instability in Kenya has prompted international concern, with the United States and the United Kingdom, among other foreign missions, calling for restraint.
The African Union has also appealed for a peaceful end to the chaos that saw riot police firing tear gas and water cannon at protesters, as well as places of worship, properties, businesses and cars set aflame.
Meanwhile, there have been more than 20 attacks and violations against journalists since the start of the protests, according to the Kenya Media Sector Working Group.
State actors were behind a “significant proportion” of the attacks, the group said.
Ruto said he did not believe journalists were targeted but that some had been caught in the fray.