Top leaders of the National Super Alliance are split over whether or not Raila Odinga should be sworn-in as the “people’s president” on December 12.
The division pits mostly younger politicians against their seasoned counterparts who believe that doing so would be a catastrophic for the former prime minister.
It is similar fears that put off a supposed oath-taking last Tuesday to coincide with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration at Kasarani with only a memorial service at Jacaranda grounds — that was also stopped by the police — planned.
However, this led to a backlash from supporters who wanted Mr Odinga to hold a parallel swearing-in. An invitation to the December 12 event is already circulating even though no venue and other specific details are provided.
As this happens, the Nation has learnt that even though there could be some sort of declaration of Mr Odinga as the “people’s president” there is caution on the nature of “swearing-in” to be carried out with some seasoned Nasa politicians, who spoke in confidence, convinced it would be a misstep.
“He is a reform hero admired far and wide. We will not allow him to squander such goodwill. It is true our victory was stolen but this is not the way we want to go,” a senior ally of Mr Odinga’s, who spoke in confidence, told the Nation.
He said Nasa’s push for electoral reforms through the People’s Assembly, economic boycott and protests were strong enough without the distraction of an “empty” swearing-in.
On Saturday, Amani National Congress leader and Nasa co-principal Musalia Mudavadi was cagey about the plans even as reports suggested that he is among those who are not enthusiastic about the whole idea. He is said to be worried about the legal implications of the move and its effect on stoking emotions and damaging Mr Odinga’s standing.
“Let’s talk on Monday when we have a clear picture,” he told the Nation.
Minority Whip in the National Assembly Junet Mohamed, a key ally of Mr Odinga, was also cautious but said the event will go on.
“We are on course with the swearing-in but proper communication will be issued in due course,” he said.
Mr Odinga’s own declaration on Tuesday at Jacaranda Grounds in Nairobi that he would be sworn-in on Jamhuri Day came as a surprise to many, including some of his co-principals who are said not to have been in the loop.
It would later turn out that Mr Odinga made the declaration in the heat of the moment, largely driven by pressure from the ecstatic supporters who have been demanding that he, in defiance of President Kenyatta’s victory, should swear himself in and lead them to State House.
“The statement was made out of public pressure,” said a top member of the coalition who did not want to appear as openly contradicting their candidate in the August 8 election.
Since the announcement, there have been a series of consultative meetings by the Nasa leadership.
On Thursday, such a meeting was held at Mr Mudavadi’s home on Riverside Drive, Nairobi, to draw a roadmap for the opposition outfit even as cracks emerged among affiliate parties on the parliamentary leadership. ANC and Wiper Party have cried foul over the list of Nasa nominees to various House roles.
At a parliamentary group meeting last Wednesday, Wiper party whose leader Kalonzo Musyoka has been away attending to his ailing wife in Germany, avoided the swearing-in subject with some members saying that they are not keen on it.
The party’s organising secretary Robert Mbui while admitting that they were not involved in the preparations for the swearing-in said they were waiting for clear information on the subject from Mr Musyoka. He, however, insisted that Mr Odinga’s announcement is supported by all Nasa’s affiliate parties
“I understand why not every single member may be fully in the picture because things are still at the planning stage. There is still time to concretise all this before December 12,” he told the Sunday Nation yesterday.
None of the coalition members was willing to outright say that the planned event would be shelved on the understanding that only Mr Odinga would himself do so. There is also fear of backlash for such leaders who would be seen as going against the supporters who are already tuned to witness the event.
Analysts say the onus is on the coalition to psychologically begin to prepare their supporters for an announcement calling off the swearing-in ceremony by explaining that such an exercise will amount to nothing as President Kenyatta has already taken office.
Within Nasa, talk is rife that their opponents have over time exploited the fact that Mr Odinga can always be convinced to back down when the situation becomes dire, giving the example of the negotiations during the 2007/2008 post-election violence where his side was said to have got the short end of the stick compared to President Mwai Kibaki.
“He may want to achieve this but he is not as ruthless as he should. After a repressive crackdown last week where our supporters were killed by the state, he went to city mortuary and on seeing the bodies, he said we needed to go slow,” one of his allies said.
Mr Odinga’s main challenge is how to pacify his charged supporters who are ready to go to any lengths to have him sworn into office on Jamhuri Day as shown by the hundreds of tweets which greeted his statement last weekend that he would not agree to take the oath.
The outrage from his supporters was captured in a tweet posted by his former critic turned ally, Miguna Miguna.
“This is @RailaOdinga’s BIG MISTAKE. In 2011, Allasane Quattara BRAVELY staked out the presidency of Côte d’Ivoire. Gambian president, Adama Barrow did the same in January, 2017. No one begs for power!”
With indications that Mr Musyoka will not be in the country anytime soon, it remains to be seen how Mr Odinga would take any oath without a deputy as the law requires.
The assumption of office Act stipulates that “the oath or affirmation under subsection (1) shall be administered to the President-elect by the Chief Registrar before the Chief Justice or in the absence of the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice not earlier than 10am and not later than 2pm. (3) Upon taking or subscribing to the oath or affirmation under subsection (1), the President shall sign a certificate of inauguration in the presence of the Chief Justice or, in the absence of the Chief Justice, the Deputy Chief Justice.”
It remains to be seen which official from the Judiciary would be audacious enough to preside over such an event—or if Nasa will create its own procedures. The main argument remains that sovereignty is in the people.
In May 2016, Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye claiming foul play in the presidential elections won by Mr Yoweri Museveni released a video of himself taking an oath of office.
What followed was ruthless State crackdown that saw him put on house arrest. The act did not help him capture state power with some observers even arguing that he diminished his standing.
Government officials are said to be closely monitoring Mr Odinga’s moves with some suggesting that if he is sworn-in, they may have no choice but to charge him with treason as stipulated in Chapter Seven of the Penal Code. The offence attracts death sentence if one is convicted.
This would be a slippery path even for the government given the massive following Mr Odinga enjoys.