Kenya’s opposition to swear in Raila Odinga as ‘people’s president’

Ceremony likely to lead to fresh violence after Uhuru Kenyatta won controversial vote last year

Nairobi: Opposition leaders in Kenya say they will go ahead with a ceremony to swear in Raila Odinga as “president of the people” at a mass meeting “come hell or high water”.

The National Super Alliance (Nasa) is planning to hold the ceremony in Uhuru Park in Nairobi around noon on Tuesday.

The move is likely to lead to new confrontations in Kenya, three months after Uhuru Kenyatta won a new five-year term as president in a controversial re-run election. The opposition boycotted the poll, saying it was not free or fair.

Government lawyers have described the opposition ceremony as treason and it was unclear if police would allow supporters to gather until hours before the meeting was due to be held.

“We intend to hold a peaceful event, in total compliance with the constitution and the law. We therefore advise those attending this historic event to observe peace and avoid confrontation with police officers at all costs. We nonetheless wish to put the [government] on notice that we will accomplish our mission come hell or high water,” Nasa said in a statement on Monday night.

By mid-morning around several hundred opposition supporters had gathered, fewer than anticipated by organisers. Some complained police had obstructed their journey to the ceremony.

Authorities appear to have opted for a media blackout of the event, rather than deploy police to stop or disperse the meeting.

Television and newspaper executives said they had been warned they would be closed down if they reported on the opposition ceremony during a meeting with Kenyatta, his deputy and other senior officials on Monday.

“Kenyatta expressly threatened to shut down and revoke the licences of any media houses that would broadcast live the planned purported swearing in … The meeting … was held under an atmosphere of intimidation,” the Kenya Editors Guild said on Twitter.

At least one media network appeared to have been shut down on Tuesday morning.

Analysts at the International Crisis Group have warned that a “swearing-in” ceremony might prompt “a tough response from Kenyatta”.

The turmoil in east Africa’s richest and most developed economy was triggered when Kenya’s supreme court nullified a presidential election in August over irregularities. Turnout in the re-run was only 39%, though Kenyatta won with a crushing majority.

The supreme court was again asked to dismiss the result, but this time upheld Kenyatta’s victory.

Odinga has said the October election was “fake” and earlier said a “people’s assembly” would swear him in on 12 December. That did not happen, and a new event was planned for Tuesday.

“The swearing in that will happen today is legitimate … Odinga is the one we recognise as the president and that is why we are swearing him in,” said hairdresser Benta Akinyi, 32, who had travelled to Uhuru Park to see the ceremony.

Kenya is more polarised and divided that at any time since more than a thousand people died in ethnic violence in 2008, observers say.

“Odinga and Kenyatta are playing a high-stakes game of brinkmanship. Given deep social polarisation and a history of violent clashes between protesters and police, the two leaders’ actions could result in significant bloodshed,” the International Crisis Group said.

The former British colony has a history of disputed elections and political violence. It is a patchwork of dozens of ethnic groups.

Odinga’s supporters, many drawn from poorer parts of Kenya, believe they have been marginalised for decades. They accuse the ruling party of stealing the election, rampant corruption, directing abuse by the security forces and neglecting vast swaths of the country, including Odinga’s heartland in the west.

But many in Kenya are tired of the ongoing instability and analysts say the opposition is running low on funds


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