Opposition leader Raila Odinga is serious when he said that the National Super Alliance will now become a resistance movement to guide the country to fresh, free and fair elections.
This week’s elections could not be deemed free and fair by any means. Even the Electoral Commission chief expressed concern over the poll’s credibility and preferred a delay.
In a worrying development, another senior election official, Roselyn Akombe, fled to the US last week after receiving anonymous threats, and Ezra Chiloba, the Electoral Commission’s CEO, announced he would take a three week leave of absence, leaving the election body short of three senior officials during the contentious vote.
Odinga had withdrawn from the election because the electoral commission had rejected his demands for reform. The Supreme Court was unable to hear Wednesday’s case that raised important questions regarding the election.
The National Super Alliance under Odinga’s leadership plan to boycott the goods and services of those who have supported what they believe are Kenyatta’s lawless grab of the presidency. Odinga has said he will lead a campaign of civil disobedience against the ruling Jubilee Party.
That is a recipe for prolonged instability in the East African community, considering that the security forces are likely to clamp down on the opposition and unleash violence against demonstrators in the weeks to come.
Kenya has a history of political instability being accompanied by violence. In the hotly contested 2007 elections, 1100 Kenyans were killed, and more than 350000 fled their homes. Economic growth at the time plummeted from 7.1% in 2007 to 1.7% in 2008.
The political standoff has already unnerved investors, scared tourists, and sent Kenya’s stocks tumbling.
But the bitterly divided East African country is facing a more systemic and deep rooted political problem, in that since independence in 1963, political and economic power has been concentrated in the hands of the Kikuyus, the largest of the country’s 44 ethnic groups. Odinga is a Luo, and many Luos feel they have been marginalised from the running of the country.
This is a fact requiring urgent reform in order to ensure fairer power sharing if their country is to heal its divisions. Some analysts say that one way of addressing this problem is to create a federal constitution which will empower the governors and increase the allocation of resources and budget to the counties.
The other concern is the fact Jubilee’s first term in office was characterised by a dramatic shrinking of the civil space. Following the annulled August 8 vote, the administration had threatened to deregister four civil society organisations. Kenyatta also threatened to “deal with the court” after the unfavourable decision.
Throughout Kenyatta’s first term, Odinga claims to have struggled to reach voters through the Kenyan media, which is largely dependent on government advertising. Given the prognosis that the short term will see a highly fractured political environment where government tries to retain control in the face of rising civil society and opposition party the press could find itself under increased pressure.
Odinga may have succeeded in delegitimising the re-run of the elections but the way forward is murky and threatens violence and further marginalisation in a country that is already somewhat of a tinderbox in terms of its underlying ethnic tensions.
The AU has been silent on Kenya’s electoral turmoil other than calling for peace ahead of the poll, but it may be time for the AU Peace and Security Council to engage in preventative action which it professes is key to avoiding conflict.
* Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor