Striking Kenyan doctors hold demonstrations in Nairobi amid stalemate

Nairobi, Kenya — Kenyan doctors held new demonstrations Tuesday in their push for better pay and working conditions.

The doctors are demanding a commitment from the government to fulfill collective bargaining agreements signed in 2017, but President William Ruto says the country has no money to pay the doctors and asked them to return to work.

Thousands of striking doctors and medical trainees chanted, “The doctors united, shall never be defeated,” as they protested outside the Kenyan Parliament.

Led by officials of Kenya’s main health care professionals union, the doctors want the government to honor the agreement.

“The government has not implemented critical components of this collective bargaining agreement and instead, they have begun to violate it outrightly.” said Davji Atellah, secretary-general of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union.

“Despite the inflation, despite the challenges [and] changes on all the other civil servants and public servants, doctors and other health workers have remained without it being considered,’ Atellah said. “Instead, we realized that the new doctor interns that are being posted, their salaries were reduced by 91%.”

President William Ruto has asked the doctors to call off the strike and go back to work, saying the government is struggling with a huge wage bill and cannot afford to review their salaries.

“I am telling our friends, the doctors, that we mind about them. We value the service they give to our nation. But we have to live within our means,” Ruto said.

Opposition lawmakers who joined the striking doctors Tuesday accuse the president of using the wage bill as an excuse to deny doctors their due pay at a time when there is exorbitant spending in government.

“The doctors must not be paid yesterday, they must not be paid tomorrow, but they must be paid today,” said Paul Ongili, also known as “Babu Owino,” an opposition member of parliament. “Ruto took loans, and Ruto is collecting taxes. And those taxes must be used to pay these doctors. Ruto is vicariously liable for all the deaths occurring in the hospitals, for all the deaths occurring in this country, because he has refused to pay the doctors.”

Another opposition member, Otiende Amollo, said there was support for the strike.

“We want to reassure you that we stand with you, and we stand with your right under the constitution to peacefully demonstrate. Nobody has the authority to outlaw a peaceful demonstration by doctors,” Amollo said.

Irene Kenyatta, a final year medical student at the University of Nairobi, was among those who joined the doctors in the demonstrations.

“I’m fighting for my future. I went to school to have a bright future. It can’t be the moment that I’m going to finish school you are telling me that I can’t have the bright future after all,” she said. “I have invested a lot. If I want a bright future, I have to get the bright future, even if it means coming to the streets to fight for my rights.”

The 2017 Kenyan doctors’ strike that lasted 100 days is the longest in the country’s history. 

Implementation of the collective bargaining agreement that ended that strike is the cause of the current strike, now in its fourth week.

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