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Kenya Opposition Leader Takes Oath in Mock Inauguration

  • Daniel Schearf

Opposition leader Raila Odinga holds up a bible during a "swearing-in" ceremony at Uhuru Park in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 30, 2018.

Kenya’s Interior Ministry has declared the opposition alliance known as the National Resistance Movement a criminal organization after the group's leader, Raila Odinga, in front of thousands of his supporters, symbolically took the oath of “president” in defiance of last year’s controversial election and of authorities, who said such an act would be considered treason. It’s not clear what comes next for Kenya, given the political situation.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga was greeted by thousands of frenzied supporters at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park Tuesday afternoon, despite a seven-hour delay. As the 73-year-old and his entourage drove through the crowd, his supporters jostled, and some scuffled, to see him inaugurated as the so-called “people’s president.”

After swearing an oath of office on a bible, Odinga called it a “historic day for the people of Kenya.”

“Today’s step is one step towards doing away with electoral autocracy. And, establishing full-fledged democracy in our country,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry wasted no time issuing a statement after the ceremony declaring Odinga’s coalition, the National Resistance Movement, an “organized criminal group” under Kenya's Prevention of Organized Crimes Act.
Odinga boycotted the rerun of last year’s presidential run-off election and has refused to accept the victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kenya’s attorney general said that Odinga declaring himself president would be considered an act of high treason, an offense punishable by death.

FILE - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, center, is sworn-in accompanied by his wife Margaret, right, and during his inauguration ceremony at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 28, 2017.
FILE - Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, center, is sworn-in accompanied by his wife Margaret, right, and during his inauguration ceremony at Kasarani stadium in Nairobi, Kenya, Nov. 28, 2017.

President Kenyatta’s office last week warned Odinga that any actions would be subject to Kenyan law.

Although authorities used tear gas on supporters in an area near the event, an expected heavy police presence did not materialize. Opposition concerns that their leaders could be arrested before the event did not come to pass either.

Odinga briefly led the packed crowd in a chant, saying, “A people united can never be defeated,” before slowly driving through the crowd and out of the park.

Supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition gather during Odinga's swearing-in ceremony as the president of the People's Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 30, 2018.
Supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition gather during Odinga's swearing-in ceremony as the president of the People's Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, Jan. 30, 2018.

Odinga’s National Super Alliance (NASA) contests the results of October’s re-run election, which it boycotted after Kenya’s Supreme Court took the rare step of annulling the August election due to failures by the electoral commission.

People watch a live broadcast of the announcement of the re-election results by Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman, Wafula Chebukat, on TV at a local electrical shop in Kisumu, Oct. 30, 2017.
People watch a live broadcast of the announcement of the re-election results by Kenya's Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman, Wafula Chebukat, on TV at a local electrical shop in Kisumu, Oct. 30, 2017.

Odinga says he won that August vote and accuses authorities loyal to President Kenyatta of covering it up. Election authorities have dismissed the claim and the Supreme Court has backed Kenyatta’s October win.

Although there is no legal backing for Odinga’s “inauguration,” many supporters like Peter Musyoka are optimistic.

He says after the swearing in, he is expecting their president to lead them and give them a way forward. He says he believes that Kenya will completely change, their democracy will change, and Kenyans will fully understand their rights.

In an exclusive interview with VOA’s Swahili service earlier in January, Odinga raised the possibility of forming a rival government, either inside or outside of Kenya.

After Odinga’s “swearing-in” Tuesday afternoon, he promptly changed his Twitter handle to “President of the Republic of Kenya.”

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