President in name only

Uhuru Kenyatta insists that he is the legitimate president of Kenya. He is right. The inauguration stunt pulled this week by opposition leader Raila Odinga has no legal foundation.

But being president is about governing for all the population and not just the people who voted for you.

It is about respecting and reinforcing the rule of law. And it is about upholding the Constitution. Kenyatta, just months after his own inauguration, is failing on all these fronts.

The president has failed to extend any form of olive branch to the opposition, who feel — not entirely unreasonably — that they have been cheated out of power. With negotiation and compromise, this latest episode of a months-long political crisis could have been avoided.

Worse, in his bid to cement his presidency, Kenyatta is trampling on the basic rights that he is constitutionally obligated to protect. This week, his administration harassed journalists, forced four independent television stations off the air and declared the opposition’s National Resistance Movement a “criminal organisation”.

He is using the machinery of state to silence his political enemies and suppress the free flow of information. His action is reminiscent of the dark days of media censorship under Daniel Arap Moi.

But it gets worse. On Thursday, a court ordered the government to put the channels back on the air, with immediate effect. At the time of going to press, Kenyatta’s administration had not complied with that order.

Such disregard for basic rights and government functions may not be especially remarkable in some other African countries. But this is Kenya — a continental powerhouse long lauded for its vibrant civil society and independent media. If it can happen here, it can happen anywhere.

Kenyatta has shown he is determined to remain president, no matter what the cost. Maybe it’s time he started acting like one.

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