The swearing in for a second term in office of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta brought an end to a long-drawn-out contest for the country’s top office – fought strategically in boardrooms, intimidatingly along the streets and persuasively in courtrooms.
Looking forward during his inauguration, President Kenyatta underscored that the country needed to quickly forge forward through unity, hard work, inclusivity and the rule of law.
In those four pillars, the president broadly captured the challenge facing his last term in office – that of healing the rifts widened by one of the longest elections in Africa.
His expressed willingness to work with leaders across the political divide to achieve the objective of nationhood lays a foundation of hope, unlike his call for “courage to embrace the future by freeing ourselves from the baggage of past grievances.”
While subject to interpretation, the latter statement could betray a tendency to dismiss as inconsequential the concerns of the opposition over marginalisation in the allocation of government largesse, including jobs.
Such an approach would be foolhardy, especially after the opposition boycotted the polls over fear the outcome was predetermined in the president’s favour. While the matter of electoral justice has been resolved under the letter of the law, it is the big elephant in the room is the court of public opinion.
Global leaders who attended the inauguration urged the president to heal the country. From Gabon to Zambia, from the UK to the US, the delegations suggested electoral reform was essential.
Domestically, this has brought back the question whether Kenyan democracy should be of a parliamentary or presidential nature.
In the eyes of the international community, however, the question is more of how elections in Kenya can be shorter and more efficient as is the case in Rwanda in order to avoid disruptions to the national and regional economy.
What is not clear is what form the dialogue would take, especially after President Kenyatta backed the resilience of institutions to resolve crisis such as that posed by the poll paralysis.
But while all may be well on the legal front, there is upheaval on the social front. For starters, one in 10 of registered voters was unable to vote either out of fear of victimisation or in response to the opposition call for a boycott. A large section of registered voters stayed away from the second ballot.
The president, as the guarantor of national unity and equity, has to restore their faith in the electoral system. Secondly, the election and its high point, the inauguration, was marred by violent altercations between protestors and law enforcement agencies that left scores, including children, dead.
The president, as the protector of lives and property, has to reassure them that they do not live in a police state and extend reparations where possible.
Third, the increasingly militant opposition is adamant that it will continue with civil disobedience including boycott of critical committees in parliament that would leave question marks hanging over every legislation passed.
This makes closing of ranks among political players essential so that policies key to stability and prosperity are not hamstrung by risks of a reversal should there be a new regime.