Religious, business leaders urge Ruto, Raila to hold talks

President William Ruto with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium

President William Ruto with ODM leader Raila Odinga at Nyayo National Stadium during a past Jamhuri Day celebration.

Photo credit: DPPS

President William Ruto has maintained a hard-line position on opposition protests he likened to economic sabotage, even as calls for him to hold talks with Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition leader Raila Odinga intensified.

Religious leaders, including Catholic bishops and Muslim clerics, as well as some political and business leaders from different sectors yesterday urged the two leaders to dialogue and resolve the standoff.

The call for a truce came on a day Azimio leaders notified police of twice-a-week protests in the Nairobi Business District “from dawn to dusk on March 27 and March 30, respectively, and in the subsequent Mondays and Thursdays thereafter”. 

The President warned the government will take “robust measures” against protesters to protect businesses, terming the demonstrations “impunity, lawlessness and disorder”.

“There is no reason whatsoever, for anyone to stand in the way of free enterprise, disrupt business, sabotage economic activities, or work as an economic terrorist for selfish interests. Such impunity must be dealt with firmly and full accountability enforced to vindicate Kenya’s commitment as a free market economy,” Presidnet Ruto said at the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE).

On Tuesday, Mr Odinga announced that beginning next week, the demonstrations will be held on Mondays and Thursdays, in what could turn out to have major economic implications for Kenya. President Ruto yesterday, however, warned that the government will take robust measures to protect businesses and “demonstrate that no one is above the law”.

“I am looking forward to days in the very near future when we will be reporting every Monday and every Thursday to be days that were traded highest in the NSE,” President Ruto said, referencing the protest days announced by Mr Odinga. 

“Through the rule of law, the government will take robust measures to honour and respect the rights of all and demonstrate that no one is above the law by decisively combating impunity, lawlessness and disorder,” the President declared yesterday.

Amid the grandstanding, 27 Catholic bishops challenged President Ruto to sit with Mr Odinga and other leaders to address national concerns, including high cost of living.

“We also invite Hon Raila to accept dialogue for the good of the country. We believe that a sitting and a dialogue can resolve this dangerous standoff. The two need to establish a common ground to address the ills facing the country and restore sanity in our country,” said Archbishop Martin Kivuva, chairperson of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In Mombasa, Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (Supkem) leaders also called for dialogue to end the conflict, especially with the onset of the holy month of Ramadhan. Supkem National Chairman Hassan Ole Naado warned the political grandstanding by the Azimio and Kenya Kwanza camps was not good for the country.

Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja, whose county was the epicentre of the Monday protests, also said the escalation of street protests is destructive. 

“I still stand for what I said previously, that leaders from both Azimio and Kenya Kwanza should meet and have a dialogue for the benefit of the people of Kenya. Our citizens want services and that should be our focus,” Mr Sakaja said.

The Catholic bishops said the fact that demonstrations are legal shouldn’t be exploited to paralyse the country or degenerate to a forceful takeover of a legitimate government.

“The only way to avoid chaos and anarchy is always to follow the constitution and the laws of the land. We therefore appeal to all leaders to pursue the path of peace and dialogue and create an enabling environment where all Kenyans can work and increase productivity,” said Bishop Maurice Muhatia.

Representatives of different sectors of the economy also regretted the economic disruption demonstrations caused on Monday and cautioned a continuation of the same would have dire ramifications.

Manufacturers estimated that just a day of the demonstrations could cost the sector up to Sh2.7 billion.

“We call for calmness. Where we are economically, if we are faced with one crisis, we could collapse the economy. We want a stable operating environment,” said Kenya Association of Manufacturers Chief Executive Officer Anthony Mwangi.

Retail traders in the country, who felt the impact of demonstrations on Monday as dozens of shops remained closed, noted that the protests led to loss of incomes, manpower and destruction of properties and urged the two leaders to declare a truce for the benefit of the economy.

“Shops have been closed due to the unrest resulting in lost incomes, which has a larger impact on the general economy. It has also led to loss of manpower in terms of people who can’t reach their offices out of fear or out of transport challenges,” said Retail Traders Association of Kenya CEO Wambui Mbarire.

“It’s unfortunate because hawkers rely on daily earnings and so today (Monday) very many will not put food on the table. The demonstrations are not really helping small traders, they are actually messing them because they cannot do their business. There is need for dialogue, this country’s economy is not doing well,” said Kenya National Hawkers Association National Chairman John Kihiu.

Called by Mr Odinga to advocate lowering of the cost of living and electoral reforms, the Monday demonstrations saw thousands of Kenyans engage police in running battles, occasioning the death of a Maseno University student and scores of other people injured.

The Catholic bishops condemned use of force by police during the protests.

“The injuries and loss of even one life is way too expensive. Kenyan lives matter. We urge restraint of the police in such occasions and urge them against use of live bullets and excessive force that might cause injury to the people,” said Archbishop Anthony Muheria.