Raila Odinga, the leader of opposition in Kenya has sworn himself in as the ‘people’s president.’ This is despite the fact that Kenya has a sitting and legitimate president in office – Uhuru Kenyatta. Odinga swore himself into office on 30th January in an event attended by almost 10,000 supporters, while the legitimate Kenyan Government ordered a media Shutdown.
Before this, the Government of Kenya had warned Odinga that his intended ceremony and actions would amount to high treason, to which the sentence can be death. Odinga responded by saying he didn’t mind to die as it would be for the people of Kenya. Shortly after being sworn in, he edited his Twitter bio to include the line ‘President of the Republic of Kenya’ (since been removed) which is similar to that on Uhuru Kenyatta’s bio.
Post-Election Violence in Kenya
Elections in Kenya have proven to be a volatile affair for a while now. In the years 2007 – 2008, post-election violence in Kenya led to the death of more than 1,300 people and to the displacement of more than 600,000 people. Following mediation by Kofi Annan, former United Nations Secretary-General, Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki who were the main contenders in that election proceeded to form a coalition government. Kibaki would go on to become the president while Odinga became prime minister and they shared the power equally. Kalonzo Musyoka, also a contender, became vice president.
The humanitarian crisis witnessed caused the Hague-based International Criminal Court to press charges against six high-profile Kenyans accusing them of crimes against humanity. Among the six were Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto who, during the 2013 Kenya elections, ran for the presidency and won, beating Raila Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka. Kenyatta became the president with Ruto becoming his deputy. The charges against them at the ICC were later dropped due to lack of evidence.
Odinga Versus Kenyatta
In the August 2017 Kenya elections, Odinga ran for the presidency again but lost to Kenyatta after garnering only 45% of the total votes cast against Kenyatta’s 54%. He rejected the results and filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Kenya. The court ruled in his favor and nullified the results. The court further ordered a re-run within 60 days.
Feeling victorious, Odinga and his supporters vowed to fight for electoral reforms and justice to ensure free, fair, and credible elections. He went ahead and presented a list of demands calling them his irreducible minimums to the electoral commission of Kenya. In these demands, he called for reforms within the commission including the removal of its CEO, Ezra Chiloba, whom he believed had colluded with the government to award Kenyatta the victory.
As a way to reinforce his demands, he organized weekly demonstrations aggressively calling for the reforms. The demos were met with brutal force from police, leading to deaths and destruction of property. Over 50 people died during the demonstrations 33 of whom were killed by the police. Odinga further threatened to withdraw from the re-run elections if his demands were not met.
The electoral commission could not meet his demands, so he made good on his threat and withdrew from the elections. This gave Kenyatta an easy time as he effortlessly won and was sworn in as the president. Odinga’s camp declared that they didn’t recognize him as president and would instead have Odinga sworn in as the duly legitimate president with Kalonzo Musyoka as his deputy. Odinga further went ahead and formed the National Resistance Movement (NRM), a movement to champion boycott Kenyatta’s government and for his own take-over of the government.
Media Shutdown in Kenya
Odinga’s ceremony was slated for 30th January 2018 at the Uhuru Park grounds in Nairobi. Kenyans who wanted to follow the event live on television had, to their dismay, put up with blank TV screens. Previously, the government had threatened to switch off the signals of any media station that dared to cover the event live. Keeping their word, several major media houses were immediately switched off when they tried to cover the event. The others kept off. This was seen as an infringement of media freedom and largely condemned. But the government remained undaunted.
Despite this, Odinga proceeded to Uhuru Park and was quickly sworn in as the ‘people’s president’. The blatant absence of his deputy Kalonzo – who was also due to be sworn in – and other opposition principles during the ceremony has also sparked speculations on cracks within the opposition.
Following this event, the government of Kenya has now declared Odinga’s NRM a criminal group. It remains to be seen what happens next.
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