National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga on Sunday vowed he will soon be sworn in as the ‘people’s president’ and scoffed at President Uhuru Kenyatta’s warning last week that anyone who undermines the Constitution or peace of the nation will face the full wrath of the law.
While his determination to take the oath will appease millions of his supporters, it is likely to antagonise foreign countries, religious leaders and trade unionists, who want to bridge the rift between the opposition and the government through mediated talks.
Mr Odinga, speaking after he inaugurated the Coast People’s Assembly at Sun ’N’ Sand Beach Resort in Kilifi County, said his oath of office will happen soon, but neither he nor his party leaders gave a date.
“Nobody will stop me from lifting the Bible,” he said, referring to the Christian gesture of lifting the holy book high during oathing ceremonies. “It is better to stand up for the truth and die while at it, than to die lying down.”
The Orange Democratic Movement chief executive director Oduor Ongwen had earlier said the timetable for swearing in Mr Odinga at a national gathering was complete.
“We will swear him in, whether they like it or not. We will do it at a national gathering where he will take the reins of power immediately,” said Mr Ongwen.
Senator James Orengo said: “They say we cannot swear in Raila, but we are telling them we will bring forward the plan to do so soon.”
In his speech, Mr Odinga said he will not be intimidated by President Kenyatta’s warning, adding that “Kenya is bigger than all of us”.
He challenged President Kenyatta to address the issues raised by his supporters, including those who want to secede.
“When governors, MPs and MCAs come together and say they want to secede, that is not a laughing matter. This is serious and shouldn’t be dismissed with a mere warning that they have crossed a red line,” said Mr Odinga, adding that “the red line can only be drawn by the people of Kenya”.
Last week, the President warned that stern action would be taken against anyone threatening the country’s peace and stability. In an apparent reference to calls by the opposition for secession and plans to swear in Mr Odinga as ‘people’s president’, the Head of State said those who “cross the line” will not be tolerated.
“We will not entertain any language, any action that threatens our territorial integrity,” he told governors and their deputies at Diani Reef Hotel in Kwale.
But, speaking on Sunday during the opposition convention in Kilifi, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi said any attempt to arrest them will “fuel” the opposition’s fire.
“You cannot defend territorial integrity but forget the dignity of the human beings within that territory,” said Mr Joho. “We will not stop talking until our people get their rights.”
Before the meeting on Sunday, Mr Odinga had not spoken in public since December 11, when he suspended his swearing-in plans, to the chagrin of some of his supporters.
The opposition is pushing a four-point agenda for national dialogue, which includes strengthening of institutions like the police and the Judiciary, ethnic inclusivity in government, good governance, and devolution.
President Kenyatta, on the other hand, has insisted that he will only dialogue on economic transformation of the country.
On Sunday, Mr Odinga said recent calls for secession by coastal leaders were as a result of frustrations and deprivation, which should not be dismissed through blackmail.
“Anybody who does not see that we are at a tipping point does not live in Kenya,” he said.
“We have held ourselves back in the last few days in the hope that some kind of common will, will prevail, but we are not going to be patient forever.
“Kenya will be moved forward by the collective will of the people, who are saying ‘No’ to electoral injustices,” he said.
Mr Odinga said the country has reached a stage that can only be dealt with through concrete positive dialogue and negotiations.
Although talks could be crucial in ending the political uncertainty, sources within diplomatic circles say Jubilee Party and President Uhuru Kenyatta are not keen on them and are unlikely to negotiate in good faith.
Diplomatic and religious leaders who are privy to the efforts to bring President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga to the negotiating table said Western countries believe the planned oathing could isolate Mr Odinga in some diplomatic circles.
“Locally, some of his allies could desert him and his legacy could go up in smoke,” said a diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Internationally, he could face unspecified sanctions. We in the diplomatic community, support dialogue.”
But, while the Western nations are keen on persuading President Kenyatta to form an inclusive government, the push is not to lobby for the appointment of specific individuals.
“We are not lobbying for anyone to be appointed, but we have said inclusivity and good governance will help address some of the ills we have seen around election periods,” he said.
Reporting by Ibrahim Oruko, Mohamed Ahmed and Silas Apollo