Raila Odinga refuses to accept as legitimate the repeat presidential elections of October 26, in which the Independent Elections and Boundary Commission declared Uhuru Kenyatta the winner. Yesterday, in his first public statement since the elections, Odinga said that the “resistance wing” of his political party, the National Super Alliance (NASA), would mount a “pro-democracy” campaign of economic boycotts and picketing. He said that NASA would form a “People’s Assembly” to govern Kenya until a “legitimate” government can be formed.
Odinga provided few details about the People’s Assembly. He said it would include “the youth, religious leaders, economic interest groups, and the civil society.” NASA, he continued, would petition the assemblies of Kenya's forty-seven counties to adopt the People’s Assembly.
Meanwhile, Kenyan media outlets are carrying stories of increased rioting in certain Nairobi slums with some reports of confrontations along ethnic lines between the Kikuyu and the Luo.
Odinga’s promise of strikes and boycotts through NASA is a promise of increasing unrest. It remains to be seen whether his People’s Assembly will resonate beyond NASA and to the county assemblies or whether its support will merely mirror Odinga’s electoral base.
Despite Odinga’s ostensibly peaceful tactics and goals, fomenting ongoing unrest and pushing proposals for an alternative government following a bitterly contested election in a country increasingly characterized by deep ethnic divisions would seem to be the height of irresponsibility. Avoiding widespread violence will hinge on both the Kenyatta government’s response to this new development and on Odinga's leadership of his new movement. Restraint by the security services, already responsible for up to eighty deaths, is particularly important. As is the prospect of arresting Odinga for “treason,” which would likely enflame his supporters and lead to disaster.
A decision by Odinga to leave Nairobi for good for western Kenya, say to Kisumu in the Luo heartland, would increase the chances of civil war. For now, however, Odinga’s fight remains one of words. The unrest reported by the media in Nairobi still appears to be restricted to certain slums and there is anecdotal evidence that many Kenyans are tired of the Kenyan political crisis and want life to return to normal. So while it is possible that Odinga is overreaching, it is always dangerous to light a match near a powder keg.