Kenyan Opposition Leader Sworn In As People’s President

The opposition in Kenya swore in coalition leader Raila Odinga as president of the people in a mass demonstration in Nairobi on January 30. More than 2,000 supporters of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition, a group of five center-left opposition parties, attended the ceremony. Attorney General Githu Muigai labeled the event as a crime against Kenya.

“The criminal law of the Republic of Kenya stipulates that sort of process is high treason. It is high treason of the persons involved, and any other person facilitating that process,” Muigai said in December of an inauguration of a false president. Kenyan law stipulates that treason is punishable by death.

Odinga and other political leaders created NASA in order to challenge incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta in the August 2017 presidential elections.

The elections were held on August 8 with Kenyatta and Odinga as the main frontrunners. Kenyatta received 54 percent of the vote to Odinga’s 44 percent and thus won the election. However, Odinga contested the results to the Supreme Court. Four of the six justices later ruled that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) violated sections of the Elections Act and nullified the results of the election, earmarking October 26 for the new election.

Odinga boycotted the election, arguing that the commission failed to effectively implement changes regarding his complaints. Only 38 percent of the registered population voted in the October election, and Kenyatta won with more than 98 percent of the vote.

The ceremony served as a symbolic protest to Kenyatta’s victory in the election, and rather than deploy soldiers or explicitly disperse the demonstration, authorities allowed a crowd to accumulate. However, a media blackout of the event ensued, and some media executives were warned that they would be forcibly shut down if they covered the event.

The High Court of Kenya ordered the termination of the media blackout, but the government has not yet complied, and three major television stations remain off the air. Journalists share widespread fears regarding the suppression of  free press.

“We were informed by very reliable sources that policemen were downstairs and what they wanted to do was to arrest us when we [left] the building, so we have since that time not left the building,” said Linus Kaikai, the head of Kenyan television station NTV.

The current situation bears many resemblances to the 2007 presidential election in which 1,400 people died and 600,000 were displaced from their homes, during a period of severe unrest after a suspicious decision against Odinga made by the Electoral Commission. If no improvements are made, the country’s volatile and oppressive current regime may devolve into a similar crisis.