By Prince Kurupati
Over the past week, there have been some massive developments in the Kenyan political landscape. Since the election runoff, the political environment in Kenya had been calm but tense. Seeds of discontent were present but they were just smouldering, however, Raila Odinga’s infamous inauguration lit up the environment and the flames of discontent are now in the open for all to see.
On Tuesday 30 January, Odinga took a step unheard of in Kenya before. Though he was not President-elect nor was he even a candidate in the preceding election, Odinga conducted his own inauguration dubbed the. “People’s President.” Thousands of Kenyans attended the inauguration with reports from certain quarters stating that his numbers easily eclipse that of President Kenyatta’s inauguration.
The thousands who took time during a workday to attend Odinga’s inauguration certainly justify to some extent that he is indeed a man of the people. However, in a democracy, legitimation does not come from the numbers attending a political event but from the numbers that cast their ballot and in this sense, he failed. As such, the sitting President, Uhuru Kenyatta was dismayed by Odinga’s actions classifying the ‘fake’ inauguration as an act of treason, an attempt to overthrow a constitutionally elected government.
The decision taken by Odinga had its repercussions. These included the banning of four TV stations (KTN, Inooro TV, Citizen TV, and Nation TV), arrests for those who took part in organising the whole thing, and arrests for several journalists who covered the event. However, the biggest consequence of Odinga’s actions is that he escalated the already fragile relationship between him and Kenyatta and between Kenyatta’ supporters and his supporters.
With the rivalry between the two now much more pronounced, the biggest question that arises is what next for Kenya.
The path taken by Kenyatta after Odinga’s inauguration all point to one thing and that is he is slowly turning it into a one-party state. Yes, some may say he did the noble thing before and during the inauguration, as he did not send the police or the military to disperse the crowd and stop the event. However, his actions thereafter suggest he is a man on a mission, and the mission is to stop the alternative voice from being heard.
A Supreme Court decision reached after the Inauguration ordered the four TV stations that had been shut down to resume operations while investigations were being held as per the demands of Kenyatta that the four TV stations by attempting to broadcast live Odinga’s inauguration were also complicit in his crimes i.e. attempting to overthrow the government. This decision, of course, was in line with Kenya’s laws, which presume innocence until proven guilty. However, Kenyatta defied the court order and instructed that the four TV stations remain shut.
This coupled with Kenyatta’s increasing intolerance of civil society and of the media in which several journalists have been arrested not only in the aftermath of the Odinga inauguration but before that such as cartoonist Gado and Dennis Galava shows that Kenyatta’s growing intolerance to diverse views is taking him on a dangerous path, one that is difficult to recover from but one that he can easily take due to the influence and power he has.
With the way things are panning out in Kenya, there can only be two outcomes, either Kenyatta continues to rule the country without taking heed of the ‘other’ voices and turn the nation into a police state or he invites the opposing voices (opposition political parties, media, and civil society) to a dialogue and try to map out a way in which these groups can co-exist in the country without necessarily creating a potentially explosive environment.
As we have seen in previous years, most recently in 2007/08, political differences can lead to bloodshed. At least 1 200 Kenyans lost their lives after a standoff between Daniel Arap Moi and Raila Odinga in 2007/08. When it comes to Kenya, once the political standoff turns violent, it quickly transcends from a political conflict to an ethnic conflict and can lead to the death of hundreds if not thousands.
Kenyatta knows that once his rivalry with Odinga becomes violent, then his position both locally and internationally becomes precarious. For him, he has more to lose from a violent conflict than Odinga thus it is in his best interests to stop that from happening.
When it comes to the roundtable, it’s not a matter of seeking a Government of National Unity (GNU) but trying to reach a compromise so that the opposing groups do not take actions and decision that endanger the lives of ordinary Kenyans. If parties agree to a GNU, then that’s a good step but if not, then Kenyatta has to give in to some of the demands from the opposing groups such as initiating the constitutional, judicial, and electoral reforms demanded by opposition political parties and freeing up media space and putting a stop to arbitrary arrests for journalists.