Kenya has two presidents? Here’s what it means

Raila Odinga being 'sworn-in'

On Tuesday afternoon Raila Odinga held an unofficial inauguration to anoint himself the People’s President of Kenya. Uhuru Kenyatta is the current elected president of the country. Odinga who is the official opposition leader of the National Super Alliance (Nasa), took the unofficial oath to be sworn in. He took his symbolic oath in the capital, Nairobi’s Uhuru Park where thousands of his supporters had gathered.

Speaking after taking his oath, Odinga said: “Today is a historic day for the people of Kenya… Today’s step is one step towards the doing away with electoral autocracy and to establishing proper democracy in our country.”

As Odinga was being sworn-in, the government opted out of deploying police to stop the event.  Instead there was a media blackout with various television and newspaper executives being warned that they would be closed down if they reported on the ‘inauguration’. The stations that did show live streams were reportedly forced off the air.

The ceremony, which has been called an act of treason by the country’s attorney general Githu Muigai, took place three months after Odinga boycotted the presidential re-run.

In December Muigai called the swearing-in treason and said anyone involved would also be guilty of treason, a crime which carries the death sentence in Kenya.

Kenyans first headed to the poll to vote for their next president on 8 August 2017. However, this election was cancelled by the Supreme Court after various irregularities were found in the way the election was conducted. The Court’s decision came after Odinga has brought an application before the court. However, Odinga decided to boycott the election because he still wasn’t happy that enough significant reforms had been introduced to make the election free and fair. The second election was also marred by violence and a lower turnout, with Kenyatta emerging as the winner.

Jakkie Cilliers, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies said in an interview with The Daily Vox that Tuesday’s events in Kenya is not something unusual and it has happened before on the continent and around the world where opposition leaders try to get themselves sworn in.

However, these “inaugurations” are merely symbolic, and nothing comes of these gestures, according to Cilliers.

“Raila Odinga is quite popular in the poor areas and particular groupings so it provides a potential threat to internal stability, peace and security. But I don’t think it’s going to receive international support from neighbouring countries, so it’s more of an internal challenges. But the Kenyans are obviously watching this to see how they [the government] will react this. Will they downplay this and ignore this or will they confront this problem which I think will be the wrong approach and will probably lead to escalation.” said Cilliers.

Cilliers said while he thinks this will fade away, the next few weeks will be critical and will depend on how the Kenyatta government reacts.

Cilliers said: “Worst thing would the security agencies moving in to arrest him and suppress this whole movement. This would lead to violence especially in the poorer areas. That’s a concern. Of course once the violence occurs, the situation could escalate… Best thing would be reconciliation and some kind of effort to deal with the reforms that Odinga is calling for ahead of the next elections. For those to be addressed and addressed substantively.”

The best thing would be reconciliation between Kenyatta and Odinga but given the pair’s political history, that is very unlikely, said Cilliers.

Featured image via Twitter.