NAIROBI: Kenya’s government and opposition have agreed to form a joint committee which aims to resolve their differences, senior politicians from both sides said, after a series of opposition protests over the cost of living and tax increases.
Opposition coalition Azimio la Umoja (Declaration of Unity) and the government coalition led by President William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) issued separate statements on Saturday confirming the talks.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga had called for a number of protests earlier this month, causing widespread disruption and in some cases violent confrontations with police in which more than two dozen people were killed and many others injured.
“Determined to resolve our differences amicably for the benefit of all our people, we have therefore agreed with Kenya Kwanza to establish a committee,” Azimio said, referring to the governing party alliance.
A joint statement by both parties said the committee would be comprised of four members of parliament, four members from outside parliament, and the majority and minority leaders from the national assembly.
Both sides agreed that opposition to a controversial financial bill signed into law in June “should be decided in court” where it is being challenged. On Friday, an appeals court lifted a suspension placed on a law that would double the value-added tax on fuel and introduce a new housing levy.
The law raises taxes and was seized upon by Odinga during the protests.
According to Kimani Ichung’wah, Kenya Kwanza’s parliamentary majority leader, the talks would also look at the makeup of Kenya’s election commission and the establishment of an office for Odinga, who has lost five elections and alleged cheating in many of them.
Odinga, who has claimed last year’s presidential election was “stolen” from him and said Ruto’s government is illegitimate, had previously ruled out talks without a third-party mediator.
But his Azimio coalition said “facilitation” by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo had resulted in an agreement to form a 10-member committee of equal representation to iron out their differences.
Condemnation of violence
Odinga called off demonstrations in April and May after Ruto agreed to dialogue through a similar joint committee, but those talks broke down and the opposition returned to the streets.
The demonstrations sometimes spiralled into looting and deadly clashes with police, with rights groups condemning the use of tear gas and live rounds to disperse stone-throwing protesters.
Azimio said 50 people died in the marches and laid flowers at vigils this week for the victims of “unprecedented police brutality”.
Ruto has repeatedly called for a halt to the protests and promised to clamp down on any sign of “anarchy”.
In their statement, the two sides offered “joint condemnation and regrets of violence that has visited our nation with loss of life, serious injuries and the destruction of properties”.
Critics have accused Ruto of rowing back on promises made during his election campaign last year, when he pledged to improve the fortunes of impoverished Kenyans.
The rags-to-riches businessman imposed hefty new taxes this year, further adding to the economic misery endured by many Kenyans.
As the demonstrations have dragged on, appetite for the protests has flagged, with Kenyans largely ignoring last week’s call for three consecutive days of rallies.