The immense symbolic power of the swearing-in cannot be over-estimated. It could dramatically change the political balance in the currently-eroding electoral justice struggles in Kenya and Africa, which is why Jubilee had labelled it as treasonous. And while Raila Odinga has emerged much stronger than he was, the other five leaders in the two camps have been diminished.
Yesterday’s swearing in could not have gone better for Raila, NASA or Kenya. A vast, virtually limitless crowd celebrated Africa’s first ever duality of presidencies, with the conviction that this would bring closer the prospect of peaceful change against regimes which rule with a murderous fist.
But despite this revolutionary resonance, the mammoth event was utterly peaceful. Not a single act of violence was reported, even though that was widely predicted in the scaremongering we saw. The Nation’s headline yesterday proved thankfully wrong: “Violence Looms as Nasa Digs in on Oath.” But Raila still had no hesitation about going it alone after he was left significantly more exposed by co-principals Kalonzo, Musalia and Wetangula staying away at the last minute for the swearing-in.
A major outcome from yesterday’s event was that it put the lie to repeated accusations against Raila that his supporters cause mayhem whenever they attend rallies. Did so many of them need to have been killed by police in the last few months?
Praise is due to the wiser heads which persuaded Uhuru, Ruto and the police chiefs to set aside their threats to unleash force against those participating in the swearing-in, even though it was in their own self-interest.
But against this seeming Jubilee wisdom, we witnessed two highly self-destructive decisions which gave a powerful boost to Raila’s democratic, electoral-justice message. As the NY Times highlights today, the television blackout and designating NRM an organized criminal group “seemed to add legitimacy to Mr. Odinga’s oath, which some observers had earlier dismissed as political theater.”
Those two draconian measures also made what might have been a small story for the foreign press into a much more loaded one, as it revealed dictatorial tendencies that the Uhuru, Ruto regime has repeatedly exhibited. Thanks to those two government directives, the world now knows better than it might have that Kenya has a People’s President, Raila Odinga – and that the other president is not such a nice guy.
Preceded as it was by threats President Uhuru Kenyatta personally delivered to senior media figures when they were summoned to State House, the closing down of all three main TV channels, the first time in our history, hurt him badly with Kenyans, journalists in particular. Some spoke out very strongly. “There’s no doubt anymore that the government is out to cripple the media,” veteran journalist David Aduda said to the NY Times. “It shows that we have a very intolerant government that does not respect media freedom.” I believe we have not yet heard any strong language from our envoys about this assault on the media by Uhuru.
Some have minimized the importance of Raila’s having been sworn in as President as it conferred no State power. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Jubilee knows that best, which is why it had said the event was treasonous and the organizers would be tried and hanged.
The swearing-in’s most potent consequence is the creation of authoritative alternative institutions which will hold currently-absent discussions on how to tackle Kenyans’ pressing concerns at both presidential and parliamentary levels. Prices of maizemeal for example have gone through the ceiling again, and crime on even previously safe Nairobi streets has exploded, but there are no known plans about tackling these and other crises from Uhuru or the National Assembly.
With competing institutions now, it will much easier for Kenyans to see which cares for them. But most important will be the efforts to try to fix the electoral mess, which of course will come from, and strengthen, only the NASA side of the divide.
Finally, a lot is being made of in certain quarters about the political impact of the three co-principals staying away from the event yesterday. I had written here three days ago that the three made no bones about being political moderates, although they had grown bolder in the opposition. Nevertheless, I had pointed out that one reason they were still with Raila after Uhuru forced himself back into office was the unequivocal public insistence of their bases that they stick with NASA and Raila and the swearing-in plans.
The three have indicated that they are still fully with Raila in his battle for change. If that is in fact true, then their absence yesterday will not mean all that much. But their no-shows definitely dented their future standing as opponents of the status quo willing to fight for change, a trait that Raila amply possesses and which is what catapulted him to the political front ranks nearly two decades ago. Unless there is a dramatic development shortly, the three leaders’ caution will open up the inevitable campaign as to who will inherit Raila’s mantle when he retires.
One thing we can conclude comfortably is that an already strong Raila Odinga, the country’s most popular leader since 2007 with three presidential election victories under his belt, has emerged much stronger than he was three days ago, while all the other five have been diminished.
Salim Lone, Adviser,
H.E. The People’s President Raila Odinga