Saturday 24 March 2018

New Kenyatta term to open with country bitterly divided

New Kenyatta term to open with country bitterly divided
(AFP (eng) 11/27/17)
Uhuru Kenyatta will be sworn in for a second term as Kenya's president on Tuesday

Uhuru Kenyatta will be sworn in for a second term as Kenya's president on Tuesday, the final act of an electoral saga that exposed deep and lasting divisions in the country.

His inauguration comes ahead after Kenya's Supreme Court last Monday validated his poll victory, although the country's political crisis is not over.

Protests sparked by the court decision left two dead, the latest casualties in a four-month period of unrest in which 56 people have died, according to an AFP tally. Most victims were killed at the hands of police, rights groups say.

The election chaos goes back to an August 8 poll that was annulled in September by Chief Justice David Maraga over "irregularities and illegalities" -- a decision hailed across the globe as an opportunity to boost Kenyan democracy.

The most recent violence erupted after Maraga's Supreme Court dismissed two petitions seeking to overturn 56-year-old Kenyatta's victory in the election re-run on October 26.

Kenyatta's rival Raila Odinga boycotted the vote saying the electoral commission had not made fundamental reforms to make the contest fair. Kenyatta went on to receive 98 percent of the vote -- but on turnout of only 39 percent.

The decision to validate the October result now leaves the country deeply split -- even if violence has not reached the scale of that which followed a 2007 poll when 1,100 were killed.

- Fanfare -

No amount of military fanfare or the presence of around 20 heads of state for the swearing-in ceremony in a Nairobi stadium can mask the palpable unease hanging over the occasion, according to Rashid Abdi, analyst with the International Crisis Group (ICG).

"Kenyatta comes to office saddled with a deeply divided country, polarised along ethnic and regional lines, and unless he changes tack the likelihood is we will see serious crisis," said Abdi.

"He has to reach out to Odinga and discuss the way forward", with the opposition leader's supporters railing at what they term a "dictatorship" which must be met with civil disobedience.

"This crisis has highlighted the growing gulf between the elite and the ordinary people," said Abdi.

Odinga, 72, denied the presidency for a third time, has vowed to see the installation of a "third republic" -- following independence from Britain in 1963 and a new constitution adopted in 2010.

- Turn the page -

Some observers maintain the current political crisis has only deepened existing social, ethnic and geographic divisions in the country of around 48 million people.

In areas loyal to Odinga, an ethnic Luo, the country's fourth-largest grouping, there is a sense of having been ground down and discriminated against since independence, not least in relation to Kenyatta's Kikuyu group, the largest and which has given Kenya three of its four presidents.

Abdi warns a gulf has clearly emerged and it widening between the political elite and normal citizens.

"People are completely fed up with the drawn-out war of attrition of our electoral politics and they want to see the country turn a page," said Abdi.

"It is a sentiment I recognise and I hear every day. The government and opposition are increasingly disconnected from the people’s reality."

That reality, for many, is deep political disconnection and, in the slums, a life which involves surviving on barely a dollar a day.

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