Kenya opposition leader Odinga dismisses President Ruto’s offer to meet

Raila Odinga dismisses President William Ruto’s offer to hold talks over anti-government protests.

Raila Odinga
Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga speaks next to one of his vehicles, which he says was struck by a tear gas canister fired by riot police, at his home in Nairobi, Kenya on Friday, March 31, 2023 [File: Brian Inganga/AP Photo]

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga has dismissed President William Ruto’s invitation to hold talks over anti-government protests, saying the president’s offer was “not serious at all”.

Ruto said on social media on Tuesday that he was willing to meet Odinga “anytime” following weeks of protests against the rising cost of living and the introduction of new taxes.

But the head of the opposition Azimio alliance told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the president’s offer to hold talks was a “public relations exercise”.

“If he wanted to meet with me he would not have invited me through social media,” Odinga said, speaking from Nairobi. “He knows my address, he knows my telephone number. He is basically just playing games.”

“We have a crisis in this country that requires a serious approach,” Odinga said. “We are ready anytime, when they are ready for those talks”.

Critics accuse Ruto of raising taxes as the country’s economy buckles under spiralling inflation and of rowing back on promises made during the August 2022 election campaign, when he declared himself the champion of impoverished Kenyans and pledged to improve their economic fortunes.

Since the opposition leader urged Kenyans to take to the streets in March, his alliance has held nine days of protests against the government, with the demonstrations sometimes spiralling into looting and deadly clashes with police.

According to human rights groups, at least 30 people have been killed. Odinga, who says last year’s presidential election was “stolen” from him, has accused authorities of “unprecedented police brutality.”

Human rights campaigners have condemned the police for firing tear gas and live rounds to disperse stone-throwing protesters.

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”.

Odinga called off demonstrations in April and May after Ruto agreed to dialogue, but the talks broke down, with several demonstrations held this month.

On Wednesday, Odinga also urged Kenyans to take part in vigils for anti-government protesters killed in the demonstrations.

His coalition asked “Kenyans to come out and light candles and lay flowers, preferably white, in remembrance of and respect for the victims.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies