Weary Kenyans on Wednesday voiced cautious optimism for an end to political unrest after President William Ruto said he was ready to meet opposition leader Raila Odinga “anytime” following months of anti-government protests.
Since veteran politician Odinga urged Kenyans to take to the streets in March, his Azimio alliance has held nine days of protests against the government, with the demonstrations sometimes spiralling into looting and deadly clashes with police.
Late Tuesday, Ruto expressed his willingness to meet Odinga in a social media post addressing the opposition leader.
“As you have always known, am available to meet one on one with you anytime at your convenience,” Ruto posted on Twitter, which is being rebranded as ‘X’.
There was no immediate response to the offer from Odinga, who has urged Kenyans to “come out” for parades and vigils on Wednesday for anti-government protesters killed in the demonstrations.
Odinga called off demonstrations in April and May after Ruto agreed to dialogue, but the talks broke down, with several demonstrations held this month.
Several Kenyans told AFP they were fed up with the disruptions.
“I have not been coming to work every time there are protests because I fear being attacked on the road and being stolen from,” receptionist Cate Wafula, 29, told AFP, urging the two sides to make “peace”.
Motorcycle taxi driver Josphat Ng’atho, 36, echoed her views, saying: “Let them sit and talk.”
“If they don’t, the stalemate will never end and our suffering will continue forever.”
The violence has sparked outrage among rights groups, with campaigners condemning the police for firing tear gas and live rounds to disperse stone-throwing protesters.
Twenty people have been killed, according to official figures, although Azimio puts the toll at 50.
‘Vigil for victims’
Azimio on Monday said it would stage “solidarity parades and (a) vigil for victims of police brutality.”
The coalition asked, “Kenyans to come out and light candles and lay flowers, preferably white, in remembrance of and respect for the victims.”
Odinga, who says last year’s presidential election was “stolen” from him, has blamed the government for a cost-of-living crisis. On Tuesday, he accused authorities of “unprecedented police brutality.”
More than two dozen rights groups including Amnesty International last week said they had evidence of 27 “extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions” in July alone.
The interior ministry on Tuesday said allegations of “extrajudicial executions and/or excessive use of force… are malicious, false and intended to distort public opinion”.
Ruto has repeatedly called for a halt to the protests and vowed to clamp down on any sign of “anarchy”.
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.
Opposition protests following Odinga’s election loss in 2017 continued until he brokered a surprise pact with his erstwhile foe, former president Uhuru Kenyatta, that became known as “the handshake”.