After obliterating political opposition in Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta has now declared vacancies in the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). The vacancies in question arose after four commissioners resigned three years ago in protest to chairman Wafula Chebukati’s leadership.
Protesting Against IEBC
In questioning Chebukati’s ability, guilelessness, political nonpartisanship, and rectitude, these commissioners were hardly alone. With an even bigger megaphone in the quest, were opposition politicians notably the NASA coalition, under the leadership of none other than the right honorable Raila Odinga. Expressing grave misgivings about the electoral commission as a whole, the coalition had began demanding for the commission’s disbandment right after the nullification of the 2017 presidential elections. Raila’s scathing rebuke of the electoral body was conveyed through the words “vifaranga vya kompyuta,” in reference to President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who the IEBC had declared winners. But according to Raila and the NASA coalition, IEBC “manufactured” UhuRuto’s reelection through computerized manipulation of votes, rather than conducting a free, fair, credible, and verifiable electoral process. A multitude of Kenyans agreed with this characterization. IEBC’s refusal to grant the Supreme Court of Kenya access to its servers for scrutiny bolstered this view and, ultimately, led the court to declare the presidential election results invalid, null, and void and order a repeat election within sixty days.
Repeat Elections & Raila as People’s President
A fiery Kenyatta and his deputy held roadside campaign-style meetings following the supreme court ruling, promising to retaliate. The president’s “We shall revisit!” asseveration would later bitterly play out in a bad-blood sort of relationship between the executive and the judiciary, with the latter suffering from a trimmed budget and little recognition in government functions.
Raila and NASA on their part welcomed and celebrated the ruling. But they also reiterated that they would not participate in an election presided over by the IEBC as it was then constituted. Despite innumerable demonstrations in Nairobi and other major cities that almost always turned violent, the opposition’s demands fell on deaf years. The repeat elections were held and with Raila and NASA boycotting the polls, Uhuru and Ruto were again declared winners.
In protest to UhuRuto’s reelection and swearing in, Raila and NASA led weekly demonstrations in the streets of Nairobi. The government’s teargas response did not deter faithful Baba supporters who headed to town every Tuesday ready for the harsh confrontation with law enforcement officers. Tuesdays were nicknamed “Teargas Tuesday”. Business was affected and the country was fast becoming virtually ungovernable. In time, NASA organized a massive rally in which Raila was sworn in as “the people’s president.” Of course, many saw this as a joke because it was not carried out in accordance to the customs, guidelines, and requirements stipulated by the constitution. Politically, nevertheless, it carried massive weight – it served to further discredit UhuRuto’s reelection and bolstered the perception that the duo were illegitimate office holders.
The Handshake & the Annihilation of Opposition
In an ostensible effort to reclaim the public image of his government and reportedly to end divisive politics, Kenyatta secretly invited Odinga to his Harambee House offices. When the two emerged from the offices on the morning of March the 9th, 2018, the country took a breather from “Teargas Tuesday.” Their televised handshake poured cold water on the heated activities of Miguna Miguna’s National Resistance Movement, which had had Odinga’s blessing.
Over time, Raila and NASA have grown more and more blind to the evils they used to see in government. In fact, rather than calling out the president and his government for misdeeds, the former opposition politicians, chief among them Raila Odinga, have taken up the role of the president’s mouthpiece. This has not come without what many see as the proverbial greasing of hands. Knowing that mkono mtupu haulambwi, Uhuru’s media-hailed political genius, paved way for the kīmūdū gīkī-turned-brother to become the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development. Their camaraderie has also been seen as one that could lead to a presidential endorsement for Odinga’s 2022 presidential bid. It is this latter view that has left a good number of members of the president’s Jubilee party unsettled. These have not been spared the wrath of the self-described simba. Many have been stripped of their leadership roles as punishment. Even the deputy president is now largely sidelined and publicly humiliated and all indications are that if it were possible, he too would be fired.
These efforts seem to have placated Raila and cooled his all-consuming fire. But they have gone beyond that. They have completely vanquished political opposition and effectively crowned Kenyatta king. It is therefore not surprising that while Raila’s i’s are hardly dotted and his t’s barely crossed, he has little to say about the reconstitution of a new commission. Like one pacifies a barking dog with a bone, Raila and the opposition have been mollified with ‘friendship’ and individual economic rewards while their faithful supporters languish under a ruthless regime. The son of Jomo is on a free reign and… Woe to democracy! Woe to Wanjiku!