Kenya's opposition leader refuses to concede, prepares for "inauguration"

Opposition leader Raila Odinga addresses the crowds standing up through the sunroof of a car during the August 8 presidential election that was nullified by the country’s Supreme Court. Odinga is now planning to swear himself in on January 30. (Photo: Tonny Onyulo)NAIROBI, Kenya – Political and ethnic Tensions in this East African country could boil over when opposition leader Raila Odinga plans to stage a presidential inauguration ceremony on Tuesday – two months after President Uhuru Kenyatta took the oath of office after a hotly contested election last year.

"It will be a historic day that will end bad governance in this country," said Norman Magaya, chief executive of the National Super Alliance, a coalition of opposition parties led by Odinga. "We are going to swear him (Odinga) in as the People's President and hand him the instruments of power. We are also expecting a number of dignitaries who have already confirmed their attendance."

Attorney General Githu Muigai has warned that Odinga risks being put to death for treason if he proceeds with the swearing-in ceremony. Only the chief justice of the country's top court can designate the head of state, said Muigai recently.

"Any attempt to swear in any person as President other than one elected in line with constitution and in a manner provided for in the law is unlawful, illegal, null and void," Muigai said. "The punishment of committing treason is death. The swearing-in of any person not declared by electoral body, and who did not win the election, is unacceptable."

Odinga and his supporters boycotted Kenyatta's November inauguration and refuse to acknowledge his victory.

"The only way to stop people from stealing elections in the future is to have two governments in place: the one that was elected by the people and the other that was appointed by institutions allied to the government," said George Nyongesa, 37, an Odinga supporter who helps organize so-called "people's parliaments," or unofficial political meetings on the streets that officials have sought to ban, saying that are illegally posing as parallel political institutions.

Kenyatta was declared president after an October election that was a rerun after the country's supreme court nullified the results of an August vote amid questions over the electronic transfer of ballots. Kenyatta won 98 percent of the October vote, but turnout was only 33, or less than half of the elections two months before, according to the election commission, because Odinga's supporters refused to go the polls. The opposition leader claimed election officials failed to reform the process despite clear evidence of Kenyatta's tampering.

Violence marked the election season, with 60 people dying during protests, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. Most were protesters killed by police and government-allied militia.

On Friday, the National Super Alliance released what party leaders claimed were the authentic results of the nullified presidential election from election commission computer servers. The figures suggested that 50.24 percent of voters chose Odinga versus 48.92 percent for Kenyatta.

Coming as preparations for Odinga's swearing-in ceremony in Nairobi's Uhuru Park were in top gear, the release excited Odinga supporters countrywide. The National Super Alliance claims that as many as one million people would attend the event.

"I will be going next week to Nairobi to see Baba [Odinga] take an oath," said Erick Odhiambo, a fisherman at Lake Victoria in Kisumu, 250 miles from the capital. "If we want Kenya to move forward then Raila must be president. He is not corrupt and tribalist like other leaders."

Kenyatta and Odinga are associated with different alliances of Kenya's ethnic tribes. But Odinga has often said he would rule without distinction between the country's ethnicities.

With the government expected to intervene before the ceremony occurs, analysts said Kenya was heading for a constitutional crisis.

"It will be an act of treason no doubt," said Nazlin Umar Rajput, a political analyst based in Nairobi. "The penal code is clear. The constitution only gives oath of office to an elected president. What Raila is trying to do is to extort and blackmail the government, holding the nation hostage for a power sharing formula."

But Peter Wafula Wekesa, a political analyst at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, said Kenyatta's government cannot simply ignore Odinga's influence in Kenya's politics. His followers comprise a significant share of Kenyatta's constituents.

"Unless there is a compromise among the key political players, this country could be headed to the dogs," warned Wekesa. "Chest thumping among the key players will certainly ruin all the gains that we have made as a country."

The political circus has affected the country's economy. The World Bank estimated that Kenya's economy expanded by only 4.9 percent last year due in part to political turmoil. That would indicate the slowest annual expansion in five years.

"The current political uncertainty is hurting our economy," said Rajput. "Poverty has risen because there are no jobs. Tourism has gone down due to the travel advisories. The stock market index has also been adversely affected by negative market responses."

But Odinga's supporters will better opt to through tough economic times than having a leader they don't recognize as their president.

"We want justice," said Nyongesa. "We want Odinga to be president. He will solve our economic problems. If he is not sworn in, then we are ready to go to the streets."

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