“People’s President” Raila Odinga takes oath of office

Our East Africa correspondent explains the latest development in Kenya's continuing constitutional crisis.

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Peoples President; People's President; Raila Odinga Inauguration

Clutching a Gideon Bible and clothed symbolically in white, the Rt Hon Raila Odinga took an oath of office before a jubilant crowd in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park last week. Raila’s oath was for the office of “People’s President,” however, and not sanctioned by the Kenyan authorities or the country’s election commission. Although initially greeted with celebration, many of the participants were arrested within days. The deepening constitutional crises gripping the East African nation continues.

Attempted park lockout and media blackout

On January 30th, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his political coalition, the National Super Alliance (NASA), decided to proclaim Raila “People’s President” following a the disputed 2017 presidential election. The Kenyan Supreme Court had declared the original poll invalid following too many irregularities from Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). A second poll was ordered, but the NASA could not come to agreement with the IBEC and declared a boycott. Incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected largely unopposed, resulting in a victory seen by many as illegitimate.

Raila’s attempt to undermine Kenyatta’s presidency with an unofficial presidency of his own is being fiercely resisted by authorities. In the days leading up to the swearing in, Uhuru Park was declared closed, and police were ordered to arrest anyone attempting to enter.

But police later mysteriously withdrew on the morning to let Ralia’s thousands of supporters move in. Steps were taken to keep word of the event limited: several radio and television stations were shut down. Kenyans who did not make it to the event themselves were forced to turn to online services like Facebook live to know what was happening.

Raila was sworn in at around 3 pm in a process that took around two minutes. The oath was administered by TJ Kagwang, MP for the Ruaraka constituency. Other key opposition figures present were Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, Kakamega County Senator Cleo Malala, Siaya Senator James Orengo and the self-proclaimed general of the National Resistance Movement (NRM), Miguna Miguna.  

There were notable absences, however. Raila’s running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, was expected to be sworn in as Deputy People’s President but did not show. Although some have accused Musyoka of a lack of nerve, reports that security forces were deployed around the homes of NASA leaders to prevent them attending is another possible explanation

People’s President or traitor

TJ Kajwang, the MP who had administered the oath, was arrested almost immediately for helping Raila commit treason. He was later released after a night in jail after posting Ksh. 50,000 in bail.

The NRM was declared a criminal organization by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi. Miguna, the self-declared NRM general who stood next to Raila during the ceremony, was scooped up and brought before magistrates. He refused to accept a plea deal, and since then has mysteriously disappeared.

Raila himself remains at large, and in an BBC interview denied wanting to lead a coup. Instead he is calling for fresh elections in August. “We are going to deliberate on a number of issues such as electoral justice, reform of the Judiciary, restructuring of the executive power among others,” he said.

Considering the chaos resulting from recent presidential elections in Kenya, the country faces a possible third within a year with trepidation.

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