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Kenya: Why Kenyatta, Odinga must dialogue

By Emma Emeozor

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In his inaugural speech on Tuesday, 28 November, President Uhuru Kenyatta, 55, pledged to dedicate all his energies and that of his administration towards strengthening the ties that bind the people as Kenyans at every level of the society, noting that “the path to a better future is unity.”

Since it attained independence on 12 December 1963 from Britain, Kenya has been staggering from one political crisis to another. When it seems the end to its tumultuous journey to nationhood has come, a political convolute would emerge creating new crisis. Of course, Kenya is not alone. This has been the trend in the African continent. From East to West, from North to South, there is hardly a country that is not facing similar political crisis. The struggle for power among the leaders remains a major distraction, negatively affecting the growth and development of the continent.

The inauguration of Kenyatta for a second and final term came after 123 days of political uncertainty during which the country was on the edge as the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga, 72, and his supporters refused to concede defeat, alleging massive rigging by the ruling Jubilee party. The position of the opposition was strengthened by the unprecedented ruling of the Supreme Court which annulled the victory of Kenyatta in the 8 August election. This would be the first time an apex court would invalidate the victory of a sitting president in Africa. 

Even with the verdict, the opposition was not persuaded to participate in the re-run election. Rather, it came up with a new demand for electoral reforms as a condition for participating in the re-run election. Odinga had expressed fear that the re-run would be marred with fraud.

But the Supreme Court dismissed his arguments, saying that the two petitions demanding the cancellation of the election were “without merit.”

Odinga believes that he was being denied the opportunity to become the country’s president after two previous attempts. But how does he hope to wrest power from Kenyatta. His threats cannot be dismissed easily considering his history of instigating bloody political clashes whenever he is defeated at the ballot box.

True to form, while Kenyatta was being sworn in, he held a parallel rally at Jacaranda purportedly to “mourn Kenyans he claims were killed by the police as they welcomed him home from a 10-day tour of the US and Europe.” But reports said the plan was for his supporters to declare him the “People’s President.” Expectedly, the plan was foiled after pro-government forces reportedly fired on the assembly.

Odinga and his supporters had earlier rejected an invitation to Kenyatta’s inauguration ceremony, describing it as “a mere coronation.” In an interview with BBC’s Newsday programme, he said: “It’s a coronation rather than inauguration. We don’t believe he was legitimately elected as leader of Kenya.” He has criticized the international community for accepting the victory of Kenyatta and participating in the inaugural ceremony.

“Today is the wrong time to do celebrations when more than 30 of our people were killed by Kenyatta’s police. No single envoy in Nairobi has spoken about mass killings of our people…,” he said.

He further told BBC Newsday programme that there will be no conducive environment for the international community to do business with the Kenyan government without electoral justice,” adding “We are not interested to talk about joining government. Any dialogue must be about bringing electoral justice in Kenya,” he said.   

He contested in 2007 against former President Mwai Kibaki. After he lost the election, placing third position, he and his supporters took to the streets and unleashed violence. Calm returned after he was appointed prime minister in April 2008 in a power-sharing government. He again contested against Uhuru Kenyatta in 2103. He lost to Kenyatta.

“Kenyatta was declared the winner with 50.5% of the vote, meaning a second round of voting was not needed. Odinga unsuccessfully contested the results in the Supreme Court,” reports said. 

In accepting the Court’s verdict, Odinga said: “Although we may not agree with some of its findings, and despite all the anomalies we have pointed out, our belief in constitutionalism remains supreme. Casting doubt on the judgment of the Court could lead to higher political and economic uncertainty, and make it more difficult for our country to move forward.”

But observers believe the calm with which Odinga accepted the Court’s verdict at the time was informed by the ravage the 2007-2008 post-election crisis that hit the country. Over 1,000 people died and 600,000 displaced. Kenya’s political records show that it was the worst violence since the country’s independence.

“The epicentre of the violence is the Rift Valley, pitting members of the Kalenjin and Luo ethnic communities, who mainly back Odinga, against the Kikuyu, to which Kibaki belongs,” according to reports. The crisis would become a subject of crime against humanity at the International Criminal Court at The Hague for which Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto and two others were charged. This made Kenyatta to become the first sitting president to be so charged before the world court. The charges against him and Ruto were later dropped.

Kenyans are worried by the pattern of political crisis they face whenever presidential elections are held. They had thought that after the 2007-2008 mayhem, the trend would stop. Apparently tired of the shenanigan of the politicians, they chose to pray for God’s intervention. But even when God intervenes, the politicians don’t seem to listen.

When two elephants fight, the grass suffers. The people are hungry as the economy of the country is nothing to write home about. At a point in time, Kenya had occupied a place of pride in the economic status quo of the region. But besides the negative effect political crisis is having on it, environmental factors are also having crippling effect on the economy. “These include potential for fiscal slippages, a more prolonged drought in 2017, and external risks from a weaker than expected growth amongst Kenya’s trading partners, as well as uncertainties related to US interest rate hikes and the resultant stronger dollar,” reports said.

Also rivalry between it and its neighbors’, particularly Tanzania and Uganda is on the high. A recent report said Kenya has lost Rwanda’s patronage to Tanzania. A recent report released by World Bank’s Kenya Economic Update (KEU) showed the economy was fast sinking. Diarietou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. was quoted as saying: “Consistent with its robust performance in recent years, once again economic growth in Kenya was solid in 2016, coming in at an estimated 5.9%—a five-year high. This has been supported by a stable macroeconomic environment, low oil prices, earlier favorable harvest, rebound in tourism, strong remittance inflows, and an ambitious public investment drive. Nonetheless, Kenya is currently facing headwinds that are likely to dampen GDP growth in 2017.”

President Kenyatta knows he has to act fast to address the situation. He made several mouth watering promises during his inaugural speech, assuring the people that government would revamp the economy. “We shall take steps to address idle arable land ownership and utilization. We shall take steps to encourage and facilitate large scale commercial agriculture to help diversify our staples. We shall redesign subsidies to the sector to ensure they target improvements in food yields and production quality.”

The President openly acknowledged the negative the danger of struggle for power by political leaders when he said: “No one eats politics. For the last fifty years, we have watched as the Asian economies have risen to wealth, while much of Africa has stagnated. The difference is that they use politics to create vibrant economies for their people. In our case, we have pursued politics as an end in itself, rather than as a means to economic prosperity. This must end.”

History tells us that many of the Asian countries once relied on Africa for economic survival. Of course, Asian countries have had their fair share of political crisis. But they have moved on. They wouldn’t be where they are today but for the commitment of their leaders to good governance and transparent fight against corruption.  Even military dictators adopted policies that buoyed the economy of their countries while African leaders continue to regard political power as a tool for acquiring wealth.

No matter how sincere Kenyatta may be in his inaugural promises, his performance would depend on the degree of peace and unity in the country. He knows this. He has said he is ready to dialogue with Odinga. But how sincere he is?

Kenyatta is the victor. Mediators are therefore likely to focus more attention on Odinga’s camp including his Luo ethnic group. It is an unfortunate development that Raila and Uhuru could not outlive the ugly era of the fathers who fought over political power till death.

Though Odinga has expressed dismay over the failure of the international community to condemn the killing of his supporters, it is not to enough to conclude that he would not listen to honest mediators. After all, he has not threatened to declare his Luo ethnic group an independent country and therefore, without the existing of Kenya as a united and peaceful country, he cannot become its president. 

World powers like the United States, Britain, Germany and France have had disputed presidential elections resolved without bloody clashes. In these countries, contending parties have always allowed the rule of law to prevail. The courts and election tribunals are allowed to perform their judicial functions without political interference.

Odinga has served in government at various levels including being the country’s prime minister. Though age may not on his side at 72, there is the possibility of his contesting presidential election again. Kenyatta is serving his final term. The arena would the opened for fresh candidates after Kenyatta’s exit. If Odinga is still desirous of becoming the country’s president, he should start deploying his resources to his campaign machineries while canvassing for electoral reforms. He should be wary of political crisis that end up with deaths of Kenyans.

A demand that could make dialogue between Kenyatta and Odinga is that of power-sharing. It is likely if Odinga’s camp makes such demand, Kenyatta’s camp may not oblige. Kenyatta camp is likely to argue that it was a deserved victory devoid of fraud.  Whatever may be the arguments of the two groups, the national interest supersedes the interest of the individual(s) involved and that of their political parties. All hands should be on deck to revamp the ailing economy. Then would posterity judge Odinga and Kenyatta well.

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