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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Thousands 'swear in' Kenya opposition leader 

Authorities shut down radio and television stations, policemen used teargas to disperse supporters

A supporter of the Kenyan opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) and its leader Raila Odinga holds up a piece of meat and fish during Odinga's 'swearing-in' ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 January 2018. Dai Kurokawa / EPA
A supporter of the Kenyan opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) and its leader Raila Odinga holds up a piece of meat and fish during Odinga's 'swearing-in' ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, 30 January 2018. Dai Kurokawa / EPA

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga was “sworn in” on Tuesday by his National Super Alliance party as the “people’s president”, two months after his bitter rival, president Uhuru Kenyatta, took the oath of office.

The move sets east Africa’s richest country on a dangerous path towards a constitutional crisis at best, and at worst a repeat of the election violence that left over a thousand dead in 2007.

Thousands gathered in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park to watch Mr Odinga take the ceremonial oath of office in the face of international pressure and security concerns. Although heavy police deployment was withdrawn on Tuesday, police used tear gas to disperse supporters.

Meanwhile Kenyan authorities shut down private radio and television stations this morning after warning that those who broadcast the ceremony would have their licences revoked.

“Both Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta are pushing their brinkmanship to a new level,” said Rebekka Rumpel of Chatham House’s Africa Programme.

Mr Kenyatta was re-elected president last October in a re-run with 98 per cent of the vote, after Mr Odinga and his supporters boycotted the poll. It followed an August election declared “null and void” by Kenya’s Supreme Court over voting irregularities.

The rivals belong to two of the country’s most prominent ethnic groups, triggering fears that today’s stunt could spark bloodshed. At least 92 people were killed last year as election turmoil gripped the country.

Kenyan Attorney General Githy Muigai previously warned that Mr Odinga would face treason charges if he proceeded with the ceremony. In Kenya, such charges carry the death penalty.

A political heavyweight, he has run for president four times. “This is Odinga’s last realistic chance to win the presidency, so it is hard to see him standing down,” said Dr Mike Jennings of SOAS, University of London.

Many hoped Mr Kenyatta would reach out to his rival. Yet last week’s appointment of a raft of government supporters to his cabinet suggests otherwise.

Meanwhile the Kenyan economy has suffered, growing to its slowest rate in half a decade last year, amid the political impasse.

“Kenyatta’s government lacks legitimacy due to the poor turnout in the election re-run, but he has shown limited intent to try to overcome the country’s division,” said Emma Gordon, Senior Africa Analyst at Verisk Maplecroft. “Instead his administration has increased the presence of the police and restricted opposition media.”

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