Supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga gathered in Nairobi Tuesday ahead of a ceremony to swear him in as an alternative president, while the government cracked down on media broadcasting the event.
The planned “inauguration” three months after an election Odinga claimed was stolen from him, has sparked fears of violence, however police did not block thousands from gathering at the Uhuru Park venue.
The government has come under fire after the editors guild revealed media managers had been summoned by President Uhuru Kenyatta and warned not to broadcast the event live.
Some television stations defied the ban, and key broadcaster Citizen TV reported mid-morning its television and radio stations had been disconnected by the communications authority however it continued to stream from its website.
“They are afraid, they don’t want the world to see what is happening, what the people want,” said a tall, solid man clutching a rock, as he waited for Odinga.
Odinga, 72, a veteran opposition leader, has refused to accept Kenyatta’s re-election, which came after a deeply divisive 2017 polls season in which rights activists say at least 92 people were killed.
First was an election on August 8, won by Kenyatta, which was annulled in a historic decision by the Supreme Court, which ordered a re-run on October 26.
Claiming the poll would not be fair, Odinga boycotted the second vote and Kenyatta won with 98 percent.
Odinga postponed a previous effort to swear himself in last month, but his party insists Tuesday’s event will take place.
“We intend to hold a peaceful event, in total compliance with the constitution and the law,” read a statement from the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition.
“We nonetheless wish to put the (ruling) Jubilee (party) administration on notice that we will accomplish our mission come hell or high water.”
At Uhuru Park, knots of people paraded about blowing whistles, waving leafy branches and printed banners reading “People’s President Raila Odinga”.
A middle-aged businessman in a suit, who did not want to give his name, told AFP the swearing-in was highly symbolic.
“There is a psychological benefit that people feel their voices are heard, but more important it will mark the real start of our resistance,” he said.
“The government has completely detached itself from the people, but what are the instruments of power without the people?”
While officers patrolled on horseback from a distance, police sources said a decision had been taken to avoid confrontation, after the city police chief earlier said “the grounds will be a no-go zone”.
Attorney General Githu Muigai warned last month that any “swearing-in” would be treasonous, raising the possibility of Odinga’s arrest, a move that would heighten tensions.
Since boycotting the re-run poll, citing a lack of reform at the election commission, NASA’s strategy has been to challenge Kenyatta’s legitimacy by seeking to establish parallel government structures.
Opposition politicians have convened so-called “people’s assemblies” in some counties and the inauguration of Odinga as “people’s president” is seen as the culmination of this process.
The International Crisis Group warned in a statement that both Odinga and Kenyatta “are playing a high-stakes game of brinkmanship.”
“Given deep social polarisation and a history of violent clashes between protesters and police, the two leaders’ actions could result in significant bloodshed. They need to pull back.”
The group said Kenyatta who has rejected all efforts to engage with his rival should agree to an audit of the electoral authorities, while leaders should engage on reforms to lower the stakes of political competition.