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Kenyans ready to move on despite continued leadship battle

While the main Kenyan opposition leader, Raila Odinga, has defied the authorities by swearing himself in as the “president of the people,”  many Kenyans are getting fed up with the leadership battle, wanting government to instead turn its attention to the needs of the country's citizens. 

Raila Odinga, who leads the National Super Alliance (NASA), symbolically took an oath of allegiance on a bible last week in front of thousands of his supporters in defiance of last year’s controversial election. The 73-year-old inaugurated himself as the so-called “people’s president.” Surrounded by an entourage and cheered by jostling supporters, the veteran opposition leader called it a “historic day for the people of Kenya”. He said that “today’s step is one step towards doing away with electoral autocracy and establishing a fully-fledged democracy in our country”. After his “swearing-in” on Tuesday afternoon, he swiftly changed his Twitter handle.

However, the Kenyan government, through its interior ministry, has issued a statement which declared Odinga’s coalition, the National Resistance Movement, an “organised criminal group” under Kenya’s Prevention of Organised Crimes Act.

Prior to the day of Odinga’s “swearing-in”, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office had warned Odinga that any actions would be subject to Kenyan law. Additionally, Kenya’s attorney general had also said that Odinga’s plan to declare himself president would be considered an act of high treason, an offence punishable by death.

Meanwhile, a number of media outlets, which included the independently owned Citizen, NTV and KTN were forced off air by authorities. KTN had been streaming a live video from the ceremony when suddenly the broadcast was cut. However, the Kenyan High Court has suspended the shutdown. NTV Kenya, which is among the affected channels took to social media announcing that the channels were to be restored. “Government expected to restore NTV, Citizen TV & KTN News signals after High Court suspends switch off for 14 days pending case being heard.”

Kenya’s original election was held last year August, but the vote was later annulled by the Supreme Court due to some irregularities. A re-run took place on 26 October 2017, but Odinga boycotted the polls saying the causes of irregularities had not been attended to. Kenyatta, who was re-elected again with a 98% majority, was inaugurated in November. The opposition coalition vowed never to recognise the election and vowed to resist Kenyatta’s government actions.

The hashtag #NASASwearingIn was trending on social media as Kenyans debated the validity of Odinga’s actions – some supporting it, while others laughing it off. Most of the opposition stronghold such as Kisumu and Mombasa celebrated the day.

But despite the attention given to the event, and some positive economic developments, poverty in Kenya has continued to be a huge problem for a common man on the street. Hunger in Kenya continues to rear its head as some parts of the country are prone to droughts. For most Kenyans, their wish is for the debate to settle so that their plight can be looked into by the ruling government – whomever that may be.

Image: Xiaojun Deng

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.