By Salim Lone,
December 12th, 2017
Yesterday’s Supreme Court’s judgment fell like a thud. The Court’s election verdict in August electrified all Africa, but given all the horrors that have since rolled back what that judgment promised, Kenyans no longer have any hope that the Supreme Court or any other current institution can play a significant role in tamping down our fraught crisis.
Instead of the Court judgment, what continued to dominate most Kenyans’ passions yesterday was the previous day’s news that Mr. Raila Odinga would not be sworn in. Vast numbers of NASA supporters are determined to resist and confront the dictatorship which now prevails and has robbed them of their most fundamental rights, like electing the leaders they want and being able to protest peacefully without being slaughtered.
The expected swearing-in had, therefore, become for the people a powerful symbol of resistance to the injustices and deprivations they are no longer willing to abide. They have lost all hope in the system. I am certain that President Uhuru Kenyatta is not fully aware of this militant resolve among tens of thousands of Kenyans. If he were, he would surely take some steps to defuse this intense and growing crisis.
Instead, his regime mystifyingly continues to intimidate and antagonize Nazarites. Last week, Uhuru’s close confidante Gatundu MP Moses Kuria told a rally that if Raila swore himself in, he would be convicted of treason, then hanged by his neck until a doctor came and certified that he was dead. That kind of inhuman talk about a leader is obviously designed to enrage millions of Raila’s passionate supporters. To what end? Deepen the crisis?
As we have seen, there are already masses of Kenyans prepared to risk death to exercise their right to resist. Others are wanting to arm and protect themselves from wanton brutality and to take an eye for an eye. Every day, talk of secession grows. There has never been anything like it in our post-independence history.
Kenya is a tinderbox. This is not just mine or NASA’s view. The Financial Times, one of the world’s most influential and sober newspapers, wrote in an editorial last month that “there is an ever-present danger that state-sponsored violence will provoke a retaliation that could spiral out of control.” The editorial was headlined “Kenya dances near the brink of dissolution.”
That is why I wrote six days ago that “Mr. Raila Odinga is holding the country together through his commitment to pursuing constitutional and peaceful means” for resisting unlawful rule.
Those who might have scoffed at that assertion might be reassessing it after seeing how intensely NASA supporters wanted Raila to be sworn in, and the massive, visceral response that erupted to the swearing-in having been scrubbed. Some now want the National Resistance Movement to now to be hived off from NASA.
The key responsibility for tamping down this diabolical situation is Uhuru Kenyatta, not only because his actions are what has brought Kenya to this pass but because he is the sworn-in President of Kenya. He should be concerned about ALL Kenyans’ grievances, even if he believes they are wrong. In any event, if Kenya burns, it will be under his watch, and he will ultimately be responsible.
The Western envoys, who have been intimately involved in the unfolding political dance from the very outset, and whose countries would suffer from any Kenyan meltdown, need to play a more balanced role than they have. At crucial moments they have missed taking advantage of opportunities for showing their impartiality.
With the swearing-in now postponed – which they had wrongly opposed publicly, like their opposition to non-participation in the October 26 election – they should not lose the opportunity to strenuously push for a meaningful dialogue that they consider is a priority to calm the country.
As I stated here a few days ago, Raila himself has consistently stated in recent weeks the need for a serious dialogue of equals that addresses the root causes of the crisis, including electoral injustice. Uhuru brushed off that proposal yesterday. Will the envoys now publicly urge Uhuru to engage, as they did Raila?
NASA supporters – like Jubilee’s – have a key role to play. They are clearly the victims of many outrages, so one must recognize that fact before seeking concessions from them. Certainly, their right to assemble and demonstrate cannot be questioned, indeed without the pressure that those rights confer, there is little hope that the government or the envoys will do much. NASA supporters have not used force to back up their demands, they have assembled and protested peacefully, unlike the government, who as the above FT editorial noted, “is using brute force to impose authority…which only exacerbates tensions.”
While their dismay over the swearing-in is entirely understandable, Nazarites should recognize that Raila and their leadership can still do everything that they think is needed without having been sworn in. Those sworn in were not going to have command of the nation’s armed forces, or of the Treasury. Raila and NASA’s greatest strength is the number of Kenyans who back them.
Whether as a symbolically sworn-in president or as NASA leader, he can call them to assemble or demonstrate peacefully to back up justified demands that could paralyze government and business. Biting economic boycotts could still be organized against more business operations that support dictatorship or other unlawful actions. County governments and Governors can enhance security and economic opportunities.
At the same time, Nazarites should be aware of how fundamentally asymmetrical this struggle is in terms of the capacity to use force. If they began retaliating with violence, the other side has massive amounts of firepower that it has shown it is ready to use.
So relying on peaceful and constitutional means to win back democracy, or indeed self-determination is the principled thing to do – and is also in NASA’s own interest.
At the end of the day, the ball is very much in Uhuru Kenyatta’s court.
Salim Lone, Adviser,
NASA flagbearer Raila Odinga