A New Year brings increased political anxiety in Kenya
The drama surrounding the Kenyan presidential elections seems far from over as Kenyans enter the new year with new levels of anxiety. Tensions were raised on Christmas Day when opposition leader, Raila Odinga, reiterated that he was going ahead with plans to be sworn in as ‘The People’s President’ in early 2018.
The storyline has all of the hallmarks of a thriller since Kenyans went to the polls in August. The incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, was declared the winner in a process that drew the attention of many international observers, including former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former South African President Thabo Mbeki. Both declared a winner only for the highest court in the land to overturn the verdict.
Speaking in his home town of Bondo in Western Kenya, Odinga said that the Kenyatta government was corrupt to the core and that Kenyans needed an alternative leader.
"My supporters should not panic," said Odinga. "I am soon going to take the oath. I feel your concern. That is why everywhere I go you always give me a Bible to take oath. Let us be patient and wait for the right time." he said.
Odinga ran as the candidate for the National Super Alliance (NASA) and maintains that 2018 will be the year when Kenyans will be freed from "bondage" imposed on them by the Jubilee administration led by President Kenyatta.
On the other hand, Attorney General Prof. Githu Muigai has warned Odinga that he risks being charged with high treason if he proceeds with the swearing in. According to the AG, such an inauguration would be outside of the Constitution because Kenya already has a sitting president who was inaugurated on November 28.
"I reiterate the 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," Prof Muigai said.
This assertion by Odinga that he will take the oath of office marks another twist in the presidential election drama. Immediately after the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission announced Kenyatta as the winner, John Kerry - who was heading a team from the Carter Center and other international observers - hailed the poll agency and challenged those aggrieved to go to court.
But in an interview with CNN immediately after Kerry’s statement, Odinga expressed his disappointment with the former Secretary of State.
“I think that the observers have not helped Kenyans resolve this dispute, they have confounded it by giving basically an approval to a fairly flawed process…and therefore I am very disappointed with John Kerry and the other observers,” said Odinga.
The New York Times dismissed Odinga’s claims of electoral fraud in a hard-hitting op-ed piece. The NYT asked Raila to reign in his supporters, otherwise he would subject the country to 'another spasm of violence.'
They argued that the August election was the 'most closely and nervously monitored' exercise to warrant Raila's claims.
The NYT was forced to eat the humble pie after Odinga went to the Supreme Court to challenge the results. In a 4-2 majority ruling, the Supreme Court - headed by Seventh Day Adventist elder, Chief Justice David Maraga - decreed that the Presidential Election held on August 8 was not conducted in accordance with the Constitution and that the applicable law rendering the declared result invalid, null and void. The declaration called for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to organize and conduct a new Presidential Election within 60 days.
In its September 3 editorial piece, the NYT said it regretted being among those who were “too quick to dismiss charges of irregularities.”
It also chided international observers and diplomats who backed the poll “largely out of relief that the voting had been mainly peaceful.”
However, Kerry and the Carter Center absolved themselves from blame saying they based their assessment of the polls on the voting and counting process.
"The Center affirms the observations and conclusions in its August 10 and August 17 statements and notes that the Supreme Court’s ruling is focused on problems that occurred during the transmission of results that impacted its integrity, not the voting or counting process."
If Odinga and his NASA team keep their word and fail to go back to the Supreme Court, there is a clear indication that Kenyatta would be sworn as president. The president-elect himself was aware of the fact that his win could still be challenged in the courts.
Meanwhile, Kenyans are anxiously awaiting to see where the drama will finally end. It is important to note that, after a disputed presidential election in 2007, violence erupted in various parts of Kenya leading to the deaths of some 1,300 people and leaving thousands of others uprooted and property worth millions of shillings destroyed.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) later entered into the fiasco and blamed former deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (from the then-ruling Party of National Unity) and William Ruto (former deputy leader of the then-opposition party ODM) for the mayhem. Both faced crimes against humanity charges at the court.
The two leaders were later acquitted and immediately cast aside their party differences. Riding on a strong nationalistic wave, Kenyatta and Ruto ran for president and deputy president respectively. They accused the court of being a 'puppet' of Western countries.
They won the vote.