Poll process has finally ended but political wounds cry out for healing

Tuesday November 28 2017

Raila Odinga

Nasa supporters battle police in Umoja, Nairobi, on November 28, 2017 after they were blocked from attending a Raila Odinga rally. Mr Odinga will ramp up his campaign for attainment of what he terms electoral justice. PHOTO |TONY KARUMBA | AFP 

By MACHARIA GAITHO
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After a nullified election victory, a repeat poll and two Supreme Court challenges, it must have been with a deep sense of relief that President Uhuru Kenyatta took the oath of office to formally begin his second and final term.

Beyond the mere satisfaction of the inauguration, however, is the fact that, on the continuing political dispute over the manner of his re-election, President Kenyatta now gains a vantage point over his adversary, opposition leader Raila Odinga.

In the run-up to the repeat presidential election of October 26 — following the Supreme Court nullification of the August 8 poll — Mr Kenyatta rebuffed initiatives by various intercessors to have him meet his arch-rival, Mr Odinga.

ELECTION RULES
Religious leaders and business sector representatives who usually have the President’s ear wanted him to meet Mr Odinga so that the two main presidential candidates could agree with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission on election rules and procedures both sides could be comfortable with.

The meeting would also have served to cool political tensions that were escalating to dangerous levels.

The President’s handlers, however, insisted that there was nothing at that stage to discuss or negotiate with the Opposition, saying any meeting would only take place after the election.

WAFULA CHEBUKATI
The logic was simple: A President confirmed in office would enjoy a distinct advantage in any talks with the opposition chief as opposed to a situation where two presidential candidates meet in an environment where they are, theoretically, equals.

And even when the President agreed to separately meet the IEBC chairman, he flatly refused to go to the commission’s offices, forcing Mr Wafula Chebukati to instead call on him.

It was a brief meeting, where Mr Chebukati was treated with evident disdain and was unable to raise anything of substance.

It also raised questions whether the election referee was being subservient to one of the contenders.

REFORMS
A lot of what happened later, including Mr Odinga boycotting the election after failing to force through electoral reforms to ensure a playing field level to his parking, might not be water under the bridge.

In the absence of viable opposition, President Kenyatta sailed home with an overwhelming majority and then survived a second election petition to pave the way for his inauguration on Tuesday.

Although safely confirmed in office, the President will, however, be under no illusion that he has prevailed over Mr Odinga yet again.

The opposition refuses to recognise his victory and is determined to continue agitating for electoral reforms, and yet another poll, on the basis that the repeat election was flawed and did not produce a legitimate outcome.

NASA RALLY
The travails ahead were brutally brought home on inauguration day, when violent disturbances broke out in various parts of Nairobi after police moved to block an opposition meeting at Jacaranda grounds.

The gathering, billed as a prayer service for those who have died in election violence since the announcement of the August 8 poll results, was obviously timed to steal some of the spotlight from the presidential inauguration at Kasarani.

It should be obvious that, in the coming days and months, Mr Odinga will ramp up his campaign for attainment of what he terms electoral justice.

The National Super Alliance (Nasa), which he heads, has vowed that the Jubilee Party administration will not enjoy peace as long as its grievances are not addressed.

POLITICAL CRISIS
In his speech on Tuesday, President Kenyatta stressed that the election process is now over.

But he surely also knows that the political wounds opened up by the disputed poll were not healed by the Supreme Court validation of his electoral victory nor the formal assumption of office.

Continuing unrest will see renewed efforts to mediate a political settlement.

The President had said he was willing to talk but, in his speech at Kasarani, he indicated that he will insist that any negotiations be pursued only through established constitutional and legal institutions such as Parliament.

That would allow him to control the agenda as Jubilee enjoys handsome majorities in the National Assembly and the Senate.

DIALOGUE
He is, therefore, likely to reject the kind of autonomous dialogue framework being proposed by the various stakeholder groups — including religious organisations, big business lobbies, trade unions, civil society, media, academia and professional associations.

The President also talked firmly on the imperative for rule of law and his government’s resolve to ensure peace and security for all.

This was in obvious reference to opposition protests that often turn violent and lawless.

PROTESTS

Hardliners in his inner circle push for tough police action on the Opposition, including banning meetings and violently breaking up gatherings and processions.

But that also creates a Catch-22 situation: Violent police intervention often is the catalyst for riots.

Those are the situations that unfailingly play into the opposition’s hands as the constant scenes of violent mobs, running battles, looting, stone-throwing and police shootings and tear gas are played on international media, reinforcing impressions of a political crisis and looming anarchy.

ECONOMY

As President Kenyatta on Tuesday laid out his roadmap for economic revival and fulfilment of the Jubilee manifesto, he probably would have been conscious that it will not be business as usual if the underlying grievances are not addressed.

These are the problems that will cause headaches for the President in the coming weeks and months and probably distract him from the urgent task of ensuring the stability vital to economic growth and his development agenda.

The President might, therefore, have to divert considerable time and resources to taming the Opposition.

This could be by a combination of tough police action on the streets and holding out sweeteners to key Nasa leaders who might be enticed to abandon Mr Odinga and board the Jubilee train.

MUDAVADI
Apart from targeting Nasa MPs, governors and other leaders, there are indications that Jubilee is ready to do all it takes to nab key principals in the coalition, aiming first at Ford-Kenya leader Moses Wetang’ula and Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka.

Amani National Congress chief Musalia Mudavadi could also be targeted.

Jubilee, however, is cautious about approaching a man who seems to have made a comeback to opposition ranks with vigour and a sense of mission after being sold down the river when approached in 2013 to replace Mr Kenyatta as the Jubilee presidential candidate, then dumped within a day.

Mr Mudavadi also has his eyes on the 2022 presidential election and will, probably, not be side-tracked with pocket change when eyeing the bigger prize.

RESISTANCE
The idea is basically to isolate Mr Odinga by wooing his western Kenya and Ukambani support base and leaving his #Resist movement, a mainly Luo insurgency.

Nasa’s resilience, commitment and resolve will be sorely tested as the standoff extends and it is President Kenyatta who will have the luxury of time to wait it out until the Opposition tires.

But it might not be as easy as it looks, because he must hit the ground running if he wants to get the country back on track and embark on securing a legacy.

That means working on national peace, reconciliation and healing, which invariably dictates engaging the Opposition.

LEGACY
Another issue President Kenyatta has to confront is that, while he may prioritise consolidating his position and securing a legacy, a final term often means attention shifting to succession politics.

During the campaigns, for instance, his Deputy William Ruto told his supporters in Rift Valley that, once re-elected, he would take over the reins in preparation for taking over in 2022 while President Kenyatta took a back seat.

It may have been a message meant mainly to keep his support base captive.

But it was noted by those in President Kenyatta’s inner circle of family, old friends and business associates, some of whom only tolerate Mr Ruto for the votes he brings to the basket.

The succession issue brings up the question of whether, come 2022, President Kenyatta’s central Kenya bastions will keep to the power-sharing and succession pact.