- - Monday, January 29, 2018

NAIROBI, Kenya — An August vote and an October revote were not enough to cool political and ethnic tensions as defeated opposition leader Raila Odinga is moving ahead with plans to stage his presidential “inauguration” ceremony on Tuesday, two months after his bitter rival President Uhuru Kenyatta took the oath of office.

The disputed votes — and Mr. Odinga’s adamant refusal to concede — have Kenyans on edge and tension is rising across East Africa. But despite international pressure and a sizable security detachment at the ceremony site at a Nairobi park, Mr. Odinga’s followers aren’t backing down.

“It will be a historic day that will end bad governance in this country,” said Norman Magaya, chief executive of the National Super Alliance, a coalition of opposition parties led by Mr. Odinga. “We are going to swear him in as the people’s president and hand him the instruments of power. We are also expecting a number of dignitaries who have already confirmed their attendance.”

Kenyan Attorney General Githu Muigai has warned that Mr. Odinga risks being put to death for treason if he proceeds with the swearing-in ceremony. Only the chief justice of the country’s top court can designate the head of state, Mr. Muigai said recently.

“Any attempt to swear in any person as president other than one elected in line with the constitution and in a manner provided for in the law is unlawful, illegal, null and void,” Mr. Muigai said. “The punishment of committing treason is death.”

Mr. Odinga and his supporters boycotted Mr. Kenyatta’s November inauguration. Their refusal to acknowledge his victory are raising fears of a rerun of election-related violence that rocked the country a decade ago and left over 1,000 dead.

“The only way to stop people from stealing elections in the future is to have two governments in place: the one that was elected by the people and the other that was appointed by institutions allied to the government,” said George Nyongesa, 37, an Odinga supporter.

Mr. Nyongesa helps organize the People’s Parliaments, which are unofficial political meetings on the streets that officials have sought to ban, saying they are posing illegally as parallel political institutions.

Mr. Magaya said Monday that the Odinga inauguration would proceed despite a heavy government police and security presence.

“If in this country we ever relied on the benevolence of the police, we would not have achieved anything democratically,” he said.

Mr. Kenyatta was declared president after an October election that was itself a do-over after the country’s Supreme Court nullified the results of an August vote amid questions over the reliability of electronic vote-tallying systems. Mr. Kenyatta won 98 percent of the October vote, but turnout was only 33 percent. That was less than half of what it was two months earlier, according to the election commission, because Mr. Odinga’s supporters refused to go to the polls. The opposition leader said election officials failed to reform the process despite clear evidence of Mr. Kenyatta’s tampering.

Violent votes

Violence marked the election season, with an estimated 92 people dying during protests, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. Most were protesters killed by police and government-allied militia.

On Friday, the National Super Alliance released what party leaders said were the authentic results of the nullified presidential vote from election commission computer servers. The figures suggested that 50.24 percent of voters chose Mr. Odinga versus 48.92 percent for Mr. Kenyatta.

As preparations for Mr. Odinga’s swearing-in ceremony in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park were in top gear, the release excited his supporters countrywide. The National Super Alliance estimated that as many as 1 million people would attend the event.

“I will be going next week to Nairobi to see Baba [Odinga] take an oath,” said Erick Odhiambo, a fisherman at Lake Victoria in Kisumu, 250 miles from the capital. “If we want Kenya to move forward, then Raila must be president. He is not corrupt and tribalist like other leaders.”

Mr. Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, and Mr. Odinga, a Luo, are associated with two of the largest of Kenya’s many ethnic tribes. But Mr. Odinga has often said he would rule without distinction between the country’s tribal loyalties.

With the government expected to intervene before the ceremony, analysts said Kenya was heading for a constitutional crisis.

“It will be an act of treason, no doubt,” said Nazlin Umar Rajput, a political analyst based in Nairobi. “The penal code is clear. The constitution only gives oath of office to an elected president. What Raila is trying to do is to extort and blackmail the government, holding the nation hostage for a power-sharing formula.”

But Peter Wafula Wekesa, a political analyst at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, said Mr. Kenyatta’s government cannot simply ignore Mr. Odinga’s influence in Kenya’s politics.

“Unless there is a compromise among the key political players, this country could be headed to the dogs,” said Mr. Wekesa. “Chest-thumping among the key players will certainly ruin all the gains that we have made as a country.”

The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, faulted Mr. Kenyatta for failing to reach out to his political opponents. Mr. Kenyatta appointed a Cabinet last week consisting entirely of government supporters that makes any power-sharing deal harder to negotiate.

Mr. Kenyatta “has rejected all efforts by religious leaders, civil society, the business community and diplomats to persuade him to engage his rival,” the think tank wrote in a statement Monday. It called on both the president and Mr. Odinga to pull back from the brink.

The political circus has affected the country’s economy. The World Bank estimated that Kenya’s economy expanded by only 4.9 percent last year, the slowest growth rate in five years, partly because of political turmoil.

But Mr. Odinga’s supporters say they prefer tough economic times to having a leader they don’t recognize as their president.

“We want justice,” said Mr. Nyongesa. “We want Odinga to be president. He will solve our economic problems. If he is not sworn in, then we are ready to go to the streets.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide