Mock swearing-in is ritual and symbol, why stop it?

Tuesday January 30 2018

Kenya opposition leader Raila Odinga

Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga holds a bible during a rally in western Homa Bay County on the shores of Lake Victoria on January 27, 2018. The opposition Nasa coalition plans to 'swear-in' Mr Odinga on January 30. PHOTO | AFP 

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What is going to happen on Tuesday in Kenya?

Will the National Super Alliance (Nasa) proceed with its mock swearing-in of Raila Odinga as the people’s president? If so, will the Attorney General persist in his urging the Director of Public Prosecutions to treat the mock swearing-in as treason?

If the DPP obliges, and has the police arrest and charge Odinga, how will the country take it — most notably the majority of the country that believes he won the August poll?

That the Jubilants are taking this far more seriously than their insistence that there is no need to talk to Nasa about anything other than the economy is indicated by the ever more crazy positions emanating from no less than the AG. The AG believes that the mock swearing-in amounts to treason and that the county and national People’s Assemblies are against the Constitution.

That the Jubilants are worried is also indicated by all the flip-flopping on Uhuru Park (Nasa’s preferred swearing-in venue) by the Nairobi governor. All of this comes across as pettiness and small-mindedness.

It is not just that it goes against the rights of Nasa’s leadership and supporters — as per our Constitution as well as regional and international commitments, it is perfectly within their rights to assemble peacefully. As long as Nasa’s not organising an armed insurrection, they’re pretty much free to do what they want.

But beyond their rights, it is also that the Jubilants’ response is, in fact itself upping the game. They could take the moral high ground and ignore all of this. Honestly, what does a mock swearing-in mean? That suddenly Odinga will take over as Commander-in-Chief and move into State House? Obviously not. So why be the cause of these heightened tensions?

The answer perhaps lies here. Nasa’s sound and fury may, indeed, signify nothing. But ritual and symbol are — and have always been — important to the political game.

And this mock swearing-in and the People’s Assemblies, is nothing but a political game to keep the problems of the August poll firmly on the national agenda and conscience. To keep the unbothered region and the international community — they of stability first — on its toes.

Nasa is obviously self-interested in pursuing this, but we should all be concerned about electoral malfeasance.

There are very few legal options strategically and tactically left to Nasa if it doesn’t want to break the law. So why is the government hell bent on shutting those legal options down? What is wrong with ritual and symbol — which are basically what the mock swearing in amount to? What is wrong with creating the space to talk through the People’s Assembly?

I do not support the Kenyan actors whose only concern about “dialogue” is containment and instrumental. Neither do I support external actors flitting nervously here and there with the audacity to play along with the Jubilants’ anti-rights agenda. I find both sets of actors extremely annoying, irritating and misguided.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t also find Nasa annoying, irritating and misguided. I’m still waiting for its data and analysis from the August poll. If Nasa wants to convince people beyond its own base, it needs to be more evidence-based. That’s my gripe with Nasa.

Note: Nasa released its August poll data as the paper was going to press.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the Africa director of the Open Society Foundations.