Kenya: Leaders Must Avert Looming Disaster

Holding up a green bible, Raila Odinga administered the oath himself - but without Kalonzo Musyoka, his running mate in the 2017 general election.
30 January 2018

The country is staring at a potentially explosive clash between the opposition and the police over today's planned swearing-in of Nasa leaders Raila Odinga and Kalonzo Musyoka as the "people's president" and deputy, respectively. This is a scary development that Kenyans cannot countenance and must be avoided at all costs.

It is an escalation of the political contest between National Super Alliance and Jubilee Party. At the centre is the contention by Nasa that their candidates - Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka - were robbed of victory in last year's August 8 elections and that Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr William Ruto were not validly elected as the President and Deputy President, respectively.

The net sum is that the country is fixated on political warfare, yet the citizens are hurting.

The battle lines have been drawn. The government has resolutely stated that it will not allow the Opposition leaders and followers to conduct the swearing in planned for Nairobi's Uhuru Park, but the latter are adamant. Experiences from the past are grave. Anytime such a stalemate ensues, violence is the ultimate outcome.

Last year, Nairobi and various other towns went through calamitous encounters during persistent opposition protests that were violently broken up by the police. Scores of lives were lost, many innocent people injured and property worth millions of shillings destroyed. We are faced with such a scenario again just because of the deep rivalry between Nasa and Jubilee leaders.

President Kenyatta and opposition leader Odinga have both got it wrong.

The country is crying out for healing. President Kenyatta has ensconced himself in power and seems to live in a make-believe world where everything is perfect. For his part, Mr Odinga is entrapped by a sense of entitlement and thinks that confrontation is the only currency in politics.


Yet there are fundamental issues that require concerted engagements. The electoral process is odiously skewed and undermines democracy. Although the country ratified the current Constitution some eight years ago, with the promise that it would cure some of the legal, political, administrative and social maladies, it is proving to be inadequate. In itself, the Constitution is under threat of cannibalisation by a political class that scantily believes in the sanctity of good governance, autonomy of institutions, accountability, empowerment of citizens and enhancement of civil liberties.

Corruption, plunder of public resources, nepotism and ethnicity and other evils that we thought would be cured through the creation of independent institutions by the Constitution have re-emerged. Cumulatively, these have created disenchantment and provide the basis for candid public discourse. There is an absolute need for dialogue to confront some of the ugly truths that gnaw at the heart of the nation and threaten its stability.

But these cannot be resolved through brinkmanship. This is why we abhor Mr Odinga's route of confrontation. The swearing-in will only precipitate chaos and cause deaths and anguish. We equally detest the government's use of brutal force on innocent citizens and perennial blockade of public assemblies, however innocuous.

Foreign missions in Nairobi and the international community have several times warned against the escalation of political hostilities and offered to broker a truce. Neither of the political formations is listening. But we cannot continue with this aggression. We call for statesmanship from both sides. This is a political problem, and it must be solved politically.

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