There was huge relief across Kenya when opposition leader Raila Odinga’s announcement that he would declare himself president in a “parallel” swearing-in ceremony failed to materialise. But questions are now being raised about his credibility. Report by Arnold Wilson.
Jamhuri Day (Independence Day, 12 December) came and went without the alternative “swearing in” of Raila Odinga as Kenya’s president or the launch of the People’s Assembly, as had been promised by the opposition National Super Alliance (Nasa) party.
Kenya’s elections, first held on 8 August and which returned the incumbent, President Uhuru Kenyatta to power with a substantial majority over his old-time rival Raila Odinga, were annulled by the Supreme Court. The re-run, on 25 October, was boycotted by the opposition.
Kenyatta won the second election by a landslide, polling around 98% of the votes cast but the turnout was less than 39%. Amid security fears, voting did not take place in several Nasa strongholds and a straw poll suggested that many people stayed away out of a fear of the sort of violence that had engulfed the country following the 2008 elections, during which Odinga also lost, to Kwai Kibaki.
Kenyatta was sworn in as president on 28 November but Odinga announced that his party would hold a parallel swearing in ceremony on 12 December, a public holiday marking 54 years since the country gained independence from Britain.
Kenya’s Attorney General, Githu Muigai warned “any attempts to swear in any person as president other than the one elected in line with the constitution and in a manner provided for in the law is unlawful, illegal, null and void ab initio.” He added that such an act could attract treason charges, which carry the death penalty in Kenya.
Continuing state of tension
The continuing state of tension and uncertainty which started before the first poll in August – and which took a toll on the economy, investments, livelihoods and resulted in scores of deaths – stretched people’s patience to the limit.
“We are fed up with politics,” said Joseph Oduo (not his real name). “They [the politicians] are all the same and fighting to grab power and the money that comes with it. We, the small people who are struggling to survive, gain nothing whoever wins or loses – except for broken heads and even lost lives. They can all go to hell!”
This sentiment was echoed by many people, who were bracing themselves for more violence if Nasa went ahead with its parallel swearing in.
However, on Sunday 10 December, Nasa co-leader Musalia Mudavadi announced that following international and local intervention, the “swearing in”, which was due to take place in Mombasa, had been postponed.
Some sources within the coalition said the decision had been taken to avoid linking Nasa to violence. “It was meant to send a signal to the world that we are not unreasonable people, and to show that Nasa is not made up of anarchists. A lot of people have died,” a member of the organising committee told the Daily Nation newspaper.
While most people in the country heaved a huge sigh of relief in the hope that life and business could now get back to normal, many Nasa supporters were left disappointed and confused, despite Mudavadi’s pledge that “we remain fully on course in pursuit of electoral justice. Our resistance to dictatorship is resolute and irreversible.”
During his Jamhuri Day address, President Kenyatta softened his earlier stance and said he was willing to engage in dialogue with “all Kenyan leaders, including my competitors”. He said the time for politics is up and called for Kenyans to join together to move the country forward: “The pursuit of politics for politics’ sake must be a thing of the past. Pursuit of politics for economic liberation is our future.”
While most well-meaning people within and outside Kenya would agree to that, there is little doubt that a large segment of the population feels cheated and disenfranchised. Many are now wondering if Raila Odinga scored a spectacular own-goal by his impossible announcement and whether he still has a future as a credible leader of the opposition. NA