Raila plans to ‘steal’ limelight from Uhuru’s inauguration
As President Uhuru Kenyatta takes the oath of office on Tuesday, he will be acutely aware that the beginning of his second and final terms is overshadowed by a continuing divide over the contentious manner of his re-election.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga boycotted the October 26 repeat presidential election called after successfully petitioning the Supreme Court to annul Mr Kenyatta’s victory at the General Election of August 8.
In the absence of the only worthwhile challenger at the repeat poll, President Kenyatta secured a massive landslide with over 98 per cent of the vote, but it was victory made hollow by an opposition boycott which reduced the national turnout to less than 40 per cent and called the fresh mandate into question.
Mr Kenyatta still had to await conclusion of another Supreme Court petition before his victory was validated and the way cleared for formal assumption of office.
However, the swearing-in ceremony comes against the backdrop of an opposition refusal to recognise President Kenyatta, and a raft of measures designed to keep him on the back foot, and possibly force through yet another repeat presidential election on the grounds that the boycotted October 26 poll was not legitimate.
Mr Odinga’s Nasa is determined to steal the limelight from President Kenyatta’s inauguration next Tuesday by holding its own parallel activity in Nairobi.
It is not yet clear what is planned, but one obvious aim will be to gather a crowd that will at least match, if not dwarf, the number of guests at the official function at Kasarani Stadium.
Initially there was talk that Nasa intended to conduct a parallel swearing-in of Mr Odinga as the ‘People’s President’, a likelihood that evoked virulent reaction from President Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party.
The opposition eventually settled on a less confrontational strategy, announcing a memorial gathering for some 26 supporters it said were killed by police or Jubilee gangs during the post-election disturbances.
It published a poster with pictures and names of the 26, suggesting that Mr Kenyatta was being callous in having a celebratory inauguration while the country was still in mourning.
The “memorial” event was a clever ploy that caught the government off-guard.
Security agencies were operating all along on the assumption that Nasa would try to have Mr Odinga sworn in, and were preparing the legal rationale for blocking such a move.
The gathering now planned for the Jacaranda grounds in Nairobi’s teeming Eastlands suburbs still provides a major security headache.
Of immediate concern is the threat of violence in the streets of Nairobi, especially with about 20 Heads of State from across the world expected for President Kenyatta’s inauguration.
The eyes of the world will be on Kenya and President Kenyatta’s crowning moment at Kasarani stadium.
It is an event that the Jubilee government has invested a lot in, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under direct instructions to ensure maximum international attendance, particularly targeting leaders from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
For the Kenyatta team, a huge turnout at the swearing-in indicates international recognition and endorsement of his re-election. It is the same thinking dictating the unusual enthusiasm displayed by the State House communications team in publicising otherwise routine congratulatory messages from foreign leaders.
The big concern now at State House is that the lenses of international TV crews might be diverted from Kasarani to the opposition gathering, particularly if there is violence.
Images of riot police battling protesters amidst clouds of tear gas can be particularly dramatic and make much better TV news than staid and sombre speeches and choirs.
The government is clearly unsure how to manage the situation.
President Kenyatta made the gesture of officially inviting Mr Odinga and all the other presidential candidates to his inauguration, which could be interpreted as an attempt to defuse the situation by extending a hand of friendship and reconciliation.
Mr Odinga, who badly needs to make a series of dramatic moves to remain relevant, is unlikely to take the bait.
Whatever he does is likely to provoke the security forces to precipitate action that could only fuel violence as witnessed when police banned opposition gatherings and greeted Mr Odinga’s welcome home reception on November 16 after an American visit with volleys of tear gas, water cannons and truncheons.
Confusion over how to handle the opposition was seen by the confounding message on Thursday from government spokesman Eric Kiraithe.
On the presumption that Nasa was planning to swear in Mr Odinga, the spokesman dismissed such a move as inconsequential and of no concern to the government saying such an action would not even make him an MCA, leave alone a president.
“The question of a person congregating his friends to swear him in is not an issue and has no legal concern,” Mr said.
But at the same time, he warned the opposition that it would be met with force if it convened an unlawful mission.
“Every meeting called in furtherance of an unlawful purpose is by law an unlawful assembly. Any person attending such unlawful assembly should expect the full force of the law to be applied against them,” he said.
The problem here is that the government plays into opposition hands every time it moves with force against opposition gatherings.
The ensuing street battles quickly spiral out of control, especially when violent elements from both Nasa and Jubilee run amok.
About a dozen people lost their lives in Nairobi from the violence that accompanied Mr Odinga’s return and to the Supreme Courts’s upholding of Mr Kenyatta’s election victory.
Some lost their lives at the hands of violent Nasa mobs, but press reports indicate that a bigger number fell victim to police bullets and truncheons, and also attacks by pro-Jubilee gangs profiling presumed opposition supporters.
Add that to between 40 and 50 presumed to have died since announcement of the first August 8 poll results, and it becomes clear that the disputed election is taking a heavy toll, and the situation could get worse with Nasa’s determination to keep up the pressure on President Kenyatta.
It is generally agreed across various stakeholders – religious groups, the business lobby, media, civil society, trade unions, professional associations, academia and many others – that the Supreme Court’s affirmation of President Kenyatta’s re-election and his swearing-in only settled a legal issue, but left unresolved the issues that point to a worsening political crisis.
There is agreement across the board that outstanding issues responsible for that violence with every electoral cyclic can only be resolved by an all-inclusive dialogue.
In the run-up to the repeat poll various stakeholder groups tried to put pressure on both President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to at least meet and agree on the conditions for a level electoral playing field acceptable to both sides, besides signalling easing of tension that was clearly reaching boiling point.
The effort failed as Mr Kenyatta insisted he would only be open for dialogue after the elections, while Mr Odinga put his foot on the “No reforms, no elections” rallying call.
Dissatisfied with the response of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to his demands for a through reform of electoral procedures to seal the loopholes identified by the Supreme Court in annulling the first election for a series of illegalities and irregularities, Mr Odinga pulled out.
He probably had little option just days to the poll because he clearly was not prepared for the election, having spent most of the intervening period campaigning for electoral reform rather than whipping up his support base.
The Nasa team was also hamstrung by disorganisation and chronic lack of campaign funds.
It also appears that Mr Odinga made a fatal miscalculation in pulling out of the race on the erroneous assumption that his withdrawal would leave Mr Kenyatta as the sole candidate, forcing a postponement.
He had not taken into account a pending legal challenge from one of the fringe candidates at the first election, Dr Ekuro Aukot, who had sued IEBC for being left out of the two-horse repeat poll.
As Mr Odinga was announcing his withdrawal, the High Court was allowing Dr Aukot back into the field, along with all the other five candidates from the annulled election.
The election went ahead with the names of all the candidates on the ballot, including Mr Odinga whom the IEBC said had not submitted the formal form on withdrawal from the race.
That, however, remained a moot point, as the election boycott bit hard, especially in Nasa strongholds where turnout was less than 10 per cent. In Mr Odinga’s bastions in Nyanza, voting could not take place in four counties where violent mobs blockaded polling stations.
Despite the unanimous Supreme Court ruling upholding President Kenyatta’s victory, the opposition still insists that the election was invalid and refuses to recognise the outcome.
Inauguration day on Tuesday will, therefore, not just mark President Kenyatta’s formal assumption of office for a second and final term, but the moment when Mr Odinga unveils his own road map for continuing resistance.
Already we have seen the consumer boycott targeting Brookside Dairies, Bidco Industries and Safaricom.
The opposition is also rolling out a plan for establishment of alternative “People’s Assemblies” that are receiving endorsement at Nasa-controlled county governments across the nation.
It remains unfazed by a High Court order freezing establishment of the People’s Assemblies after a case filed by a pro-Jubilee NGO.
Also still on the table are plans for a symbolic swearing-in of Mr Odinga, a move that will probably await establishment and resolutions of the People’s Assemblies.
In the meantime, Mr Odinga will have to do something dramatic to steal the thunder from Mr Kenyatta’s inauguration.
If the police react in their programmed reaction to his moves, he might not even have to do very much: Just call a gathering that will be declared illegal and wait for the police water cannons and tear gas launchers to move in, with international camera crews in town.