Prime Minister Raila Odinga left the country for South Africa on Saturday as preparations for President-elect Uhuru Kenyatta’s installation into office entered the final phase.
Mr Odinga’s exit means it is unclear whether he will attend his main opponent’s swearing in ceremony scheduled for Tuesday.
Top state officials have laid out an elaborate plan for the handover of the baton of leadership from President Kibaki to Mr Kenyatta at which all of Africa’s 52 heads of state have been welcomed to attend.
The PM is among those invited to the ceremony at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, but his attendance hangs in the balance.
The PM’s spokesman Dennis Onyango confirmed that Mr Odinga was not in the country.
Asked if the PM will be attending Mr Kenyatta’s inauguration ceremony, Mr Onyango said: “I don’t think so as he is out of the country. I doubt if he will be back by then,” Mr Onyango said by phone.
Mr Onyango said the PM was in Johannesburg for a rest and to visit former President Nelson Mandela’s family.
The ceremony at the 60,000-seater Kasarani stadium is expected to provide some level of closure after a bitterly contested campaign.
The Jubilee team of Mr Kenyatta and Deputy President-elect William Ruto defeated the Cord team led by Mr Odinga and running mate Kalonzo Musyoka by garnering 50.07 per cent against Cord’s 43 per cent of the votes.
Mr Odinga disputed the results released by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and took his case to the Supreme Court.
Last Saturday, the court issued a decision indicating that the electoral process was broadly credible.
If Mr Odinga skips the swearing in ceremony, Kenya will be in a situation similar to Ghana which also went through a bitterly contested election on December 7 last year.
The ruling party’s John Mahama was declared the winner with 50.7 per cent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off against the New Patriotic Party’s (NPP’s) Nana Akufo-Addo.
Mr Addo boycotted Mr Mahama’s swearing in ceremony saying attending it would be seen as validating Mr Mahama’s election, which the NPP has contested in court.
However, party stalwart and former President John Kufuor attended the ceremony, in defiance of the wishes of his party.
Mr Odinga is considered a political heavyweight on the Kenyan political scene on a par with outgoing President Kibaki.
His loss in the election has left the incoming government with a major headache on how to handle Mr Odinga after the grand coalition comes to an end on Tuesday.
Unconfirmed reports indicated that Mr Kenyatta reached out to Mr Odinga last week and made several offers including expediting the retirement package for the PM in Parliament and giving a role to Mr Odinga that befits his stature as one of the nation’s foremost statesmen.
Mr Odinga has decided to take his time on the offer because there is competing pressure for him to lead his troops and organise Cord into a formidable opposition ahead of a possible stab at the presidency in future.
The swearing in ceremony will spotlight some of the foreign policy games going on behind the scenes as Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto take office against the backdrop of a campaign in which they had frosty relations with the West.
China has sent a high-powered delegation led by the Deputy President of the Chinese Congress People’s Party, Zhang Baowen to the ceremony.
However, Western powers have also signalled a thawing of relations and said they will send their envoys to the event.
It remains to be seen whether Mr Kenyatta will respond to these overtures in his speech which will be closely watched because he takes office while dealing with the fact that he and his running mate have been indicted by the International Criminal Court.
All East African heads of state are expected at the ceremony. A possible flashpoint would be if Sudan President Omar el-Bashir shows up on Tuesday. Mr Bashir is wanted at The Hague for genocide and his presence during the August 27, 2010 promulgation of the new Constitution caused a storm of controversy.
A top foreign ministry official said that Mr Bashir would not attend.
But a coalition of civil society groups are expected to write an official note to the government tomorrow reminding them they are obligated by the Constitution to arrest Mr Bashir if he sets foot on Kenyan soil.
Yesterday, Government spokesman Muthui Kariuki told the public they would not need any special invitation to attend the ceremony.
“Cards will only be necessary for invited guests and those sitting at the VIP dais for identification purposes. Gates for the general public will be opened by 6.30 am.”
Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka had also been invited to the farewell party for Mr Kibaki hosted by the judiciary on Wednesday but did not attend. Mr Musyoka attended the gala hosted for the outgoing President at State House on Friday and offered Mr Odinga’s apologies.