Kenya inaugurates another crisis

NEWS ANALYSIS

All the trappings of official ceremony were observed.

On a stage in Uhuru Park in Nairobi, a man in a colonial-era wig administered the oath of office to Raila Odinga, who placed his hand on a Bible as he solemnly swore to truly and diligently serve the people and uphold the Constitution of the Republic.

“Today is a historic day for the people of Kenya,” said Odinga, as a crowd of more than 15 000 people cheered him on.

But there’s a catch: Odinga did not win the last election. The bewigged official was not the chief justice but a partisan MP. And no matter how loud his protestations, Odinga has no legal claim to the presidency.

That office is already occupied by Uhuru Kenyatta, who staged his own re-inauguration in November. He won the October election — the rerun, held after the Supreme Court annulled the August poll — but his victory was hollow.


Odinga had urged his supporters to boycott what he described a flawed process, and they listened. Kenyatta may have been sworn in by the real chief justice but that doesn’t mean his mandate to govern is necessarily stronger than his rival’s.

Nor was his inauguration without controversy. While Kenyatta’s supporters roared in approval, and heads of state from all over flew in to Kasarani Stadium to lend credibility to the proceedings, police were firing tear gas and bullets at protesters on the other side of Nairobi. At least one person was killed.

“Today is yet another historic day for our great motherland,” said Kenyatta in his inauguration speech.

The twin inaugurations, both flawed, are the latest chapters in a rivalry between Kenyatta and Odinga that dates back decades to when their fathers sat in State House together: Jomo Kenyatta as Kenya’s first post-independence president, and Jarimogi Oginga Odinga as his deputy. Then they were on opposite sides of the brutal post-election violence in 2007-2008, in which an estimated 1 400 people were killed.

Now, an ageing Odinga knows that this is his last chance to seize power, and Kenyatta knows he needs to cement his legacy — and pay back his allies, such as Deputy President William Ruto, who have been key to his success.

“Kenya is on the brink of plummeting into the abyss of political catastrophe. The government and the opposition are locked in an existential contest for Kenya’s leadership,” writes the Reverend Francis Omondi, for the non-partisan political magazine The Elephant. “Could it be that Kenya is headed for apocalyptic politics?”

The language being used on both sides of the divide tends to support this grim assessment.

In October, after Kenyatta’s win was formalised, Odinga announced the formation of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), a name that echoes militarised rebellions in other African countries, and some of his key lieutenants now style themselves as “General”.

Kenyatta’s administration, meanwhile, has branded the NRM a “criminal” organisation and declared Odinga’s self-inauguration “treason”. The MP who administered the oath has been arrested.

Kenyatta has also come down hard on media organisations who broadcast the event, accusing them of inciting violence — a violation of the press freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and a sign that the government is willing to flout basic rights to stay in power.

These dynamics make compromise unlikely, even if that’s the only immediate solution to this mess.

“Everybody knows what is required to solve this,” said Patrick Gathara, a cartoonist and political analyst.

“Kenyatta and Raila need to sit down. Not them only. And we need to have a serious discussion about how elections are run, how the system is run. Until that happens, anything else is going to be window dressing.”

For now, then, window dressing will have to do. And some comfort can be drawn from the fact that although dozens have already died in post-election violence, this has been sporadic rather than widespread: we are still far from the depths plumbed in 2007-2008.

“It’s not often that you light a match and put it so close to some lethal gas and it doesn’t go ‘kaboom’,” observed Nation columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo.

That match, however, is still lit. And neither of Kenya’s “presidents” seems willing to snuff it out.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Africa Editor for @MailandGuardian. Also @ISSAfrica.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

The South African connection: How mercenaries aided Trump ally in...

The UN found that Trump ally Erik Prince violated the Libyan arms embargo. Here are the South Africans the report says helped him to do so

Q&A Sessions: African court ‘will be a tough job’ — Dumisa...

Lawyer, author and political activist Dumisa Ntsebeza talks to Nicolene de Wee about his appointment as judge of the African Court on Human and...

More top stories

In a bizarre twist VBS liquidators sue KPMG for R863mn

In filed court documents, the VBS liquidators are blaming auditing firm KPMG’s negligence for the alleged looting of the bank

Snip, snip: Mboweni eyes wage bill, other future spending cuts

Last year, the finance minister noted that increased government spending has failed to promote growth over the past decade

Budget: Mboweni pegs recovery hopes on vaccine efficacy, lower public...

The treasury forecasts 3.3% growth, but warns this will fall to 1.6% if the fledgeling vaccination programme fails to stem successive Covid waves

READ IT IN FULL: Mboweni’s 2021 budget speech

Read the finance minister's address on the budget for 2021
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…