Kenya, the most prosperous economy in East Africa, appears poised on the brink of a major political catastrophe after last week’s “swearing in” of opposition leader, Raila Odinga as “People’s President” at the Uhuru Park, Nairobi, a potentially treasonable offence punishable with the death penalty under Kenyan law.
President Uhuru Kenyatta had ordered a massive crackdown on media coverage of the event, swiftly followed immediately by a government gazette declaring the National Resistance Movement, NRM, the “C” wing of Odinga’s party, the National Super Alliance, NASA, as “an organised criminal group”.
This face-off is the latest juncture of an acrimonious electoral struggle between President Kenyatta and Odinga which started after the August 8, 2017 general election in which Kenyatta was declared winner for a second term. Odinga challenged the election at the Supreme Court. The election was annulled and a rerun which was fixed for October 26, 2017 was boycotted by Odinga. Kenyatta went ahead to win with a landslide, and Odinga immediately launched his Resistance movement.
Odinga was also a central figure in the 2007 general election won by former President Mwai Kibaki. Alleging widespread manipulations, Odinga had stirred ethnic violence with about 140 people killed, some of them by security forces trying to quell demonstrations. The nation was only brought back from the brink when former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, succeeded in negotiating a kind of coalition government in which Kibaki was President while the laws were amended to accommodate Odinga as Prime Minister.
We are afraid that history is about to repeat itself. Kenyatta and Odinga are children of the fathers of Kenyan independence struggle, Jomo Kenyatta the liberation war veteran and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, a wealthy supporter of the struggle. When Kenyatta emerged President he invited Oginga Odinga to be his Vice President but the two friends fell out over intense political rivalry. President Jomo Kenyatta got the upper hand and Odinga was confined to the fringes as an opposition leader till he died in 1994.
Therefore, what is at stake is not just a personal and old family feud, it is also drawing the ethnic supporters of the two giants of Kenyan politics into a confrontation that could plunge Kenya into war. This must be prevented at all costs.
Given the peculiar fractious nature of Kenyan politics perhaps, at least for the time being, the winner-takes-all syndrome should be suspended. Power sharing, which helped bring back peace in 2008 should be explored again.
Our fear is that unless the two sides rise above personal egos and accept to share the Kenyan political space and cohabit peacefully, a prolonged crisis could attract the presence of Islamic terrorist groups which already have a strong footing in neighbouring Somalia.
Let peace reign in Kenya.