Kenya’s political crisis is deepening and there’s little hope for a speedy resolution
The past year has been incredibly challenging for Kenyan politics and there’s no end in sight for the country’s ongoing crisis. While the government is calling for unity and doing everything it can to play down the severity of tension in the country, the pressure keeps mounting.
Uhuru Kenyatta may have ultimately secured his second term in power but the damage he and his government sustained along the won’t be easily forgotten – particularly by those who contest his victory and question his authority following Kenya’s election fiasco.
His political rival Raila Odinga has run out of legal channels to challenge Kenyatta’s victory but he hasn’t finished stirring dissent among his supporters and critics of the president. And it’s those opposition supporters and critics who pose the biggest challenge to a government that has succeeded in winning an election on paper, but not in the minds of many.
Rising clouds of dissent
Watching Kenyatta’s inauguration on Kenya’s state television last week would have you think the country’s political crisis ended with Supreme Court’s decision to uphold his victory. However, social media told a very different story.
— NBC News Pictures (@NBCNewsPictures) November 28, 2017
Scenes of Kenyatta greeting his supporters at Kasarani Stadium were contrasted by protests outside. Opposition supporters attempted to storm the gates, prompting security forces to fire teargas at protestors – none of which was mentioned on state coverage of the event.
A few miles away, three people were reportedly killed by police who fired teargas and live ammunition at a crowd gathering to hear Raila Odinga speak. There were protests elsewhere in the country, too, with some protestors burning tires as a demonstration of their dissent against the government.
Kenyatta’s biggest challenge now will be legitimising his government’s authority after an election victory ridiculed by many. Raila Odinga continues to undermine Kenyatta’s position of power and the US is calling on the opposition leader to call off plans to hold a swearing-in ceremony for himself, as the rightful winner of this year’s election.
After the Supreme Court upheld Kenyatta’s victory at the second time of asking, Odinga has run out of legal challenges to throw at Kenyatta. But this doesn’t mean he can’t cause more damage and further undermine his rival’s presidency. Odinga has the means to cause further damage, too.
Many of his supporters come from the poorer parts of Kenya and feel they’ve been marginalised by the government for years. Others point to the failings of the electoral commission, which caused the this year’s election fiasco and many still blame for the deadly violence that took place in 2007-08. The commission’s legitimacy was seriously damaged by the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the result from its first election attempt in August – an issue that continues to taint Kenyatta’s victory.
Then, of course, there’s the fact Odinga pulled out of the race ahead of Kenya’s second election attempt. It was a strange move from Kenyatta’s only political opponent, who had successfully overturned one election result. But it was also a move that makes Kenyatta’s eventual win – which many would argue was inevitable – incredibly difficult validate.
Perhaps that was the most damage Odinga could realistically inflict on his political opponent in an environment where the ruling party clings onto power, one way or another.
A difficult five years for Kenyatta
If Kenyatta’s win was inevitable, Odinga has dented it about as much as he possibly could have done. Kenyatta now enters State House with the weakest mandate of any president in Kenya’s recent history. Almost half of those who voted in Kenya’s first election attempt didn’t participate in October’s re-run.
It wasn’t just Odinga who boycotted the election; it was close to half of the voting population.
It’s not only the government’s reputation that lies in tatters now, either. The electoral commission (IEBC) has never faced so much pressure to implement reform. It has a lot of work to do if it expects to win public faith in time for another election in five years.
Then you have the country’s security forces – most notably the police, which has been accused of extrajudicial killings, violence and targeting opposition supporters – all of which, the government is now implicated in facilitating.
So we’re talking about a Kenya where faith in the president, his government, the electoral commission and police force is in short supply. Add this to the already complex ethnic and economic divides that split Kenya’s politically charged population and Kenyatta has a serious task on his hands.
Throughout his first term, the president was largely tasked with battling corruption and a faltering economy – and he fell short of expectations on both grounds for many. This time, his second term revolves around a far more challenging task: legitimising his position in power and the reputation of the bodies that helped maintain it.
Featured image: By Amanda Lucidon (Uhuru Kenyatta photograph) / World Economic Forum (Raila Odinga photograph) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/statephotos/14860312613 / http://www.flickr.com/photos/15237218@N00/3237854563, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62121592