Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Tuesday, January 15

Kenyan parliament opens, opposition calls for nationwide protests

Kenya's parliament opened today, despite the opposition's reservations that Mwai Kibaki's presidency is illegitimate does not have the authority to convene parliament.

President Kibaki, who was declared the winner in last month's (rigged) presidential election, and his Party of National Unity (PNU) are facing a tough fight in parliament today over nominating the speaker and deputy speaker. Although the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has the majority in parliament after winning 95 seats in the recent election, compared with 33 new seats for PNU, no party has the necessary two-thirds majority to guarantee election of its candidates.

Results for the speaker contest had not been announced by 5:30 pm Nairobi time, but reports reveal that today's session was full of rowdy jeering and shenanigans. The vote for speaker had to be canceled and started again after MPs reportedly displayed their votes in violation of the agreed-upon secret ballot. However, ODM did not arrive early to sit in seats designated for the government as they had planned.

Although Kenya needs to remain calm, resuming business as usual is also dangerous. By quickly swearing in a cabinet and opening parliament without investigating election rigging (obviously, because the government was probably involved), Kibaki's government will only suppress the frustration that is festering among opposition supporters throughout the country. Parliament seems too tense and polarized to accomplish much at this time. But worse than the hurry to entrench power, the current government is displaying an authoritarianism reminiscent of the days of Daniel Arap Moi. By rejecting Kofi Annan's mediation efforts, by outlawing any form of protest, and by restricting media, Kibaki's government seems to be doing all it can to make itself look bad.

Last Friday, when ODM called for three days of countrywide peaceful protests beginning on Wednesday, January 16, the government immediately deemed all rallies illegal. Of course Opposition leader Raila Odinga must call for truly peaceful protests instead of inciting violence, but the government also must place limits on its riot police. Although, as Aaron describes below, protests have been violent and Kikuyus have almost always been the targets, many of the 600 plus post-election deaths have been due to police firing live bullets indiscriminately at protesters.

The authoritarian and defiant behavior of the Kibaki regime is extremely dangerous for Kenya, and is likely to cost the country dearly. EU and US officials are already threatening to cut aid. Hearing the frail and bumbling Kibaki speak makes one wonder if he is really capable of such hard line decisions. And if not Kibaki, who in his inner circle is calling the shots?

The next few days will be pivotal for Kenya. The nature and size of protests, and the government response, will indicate whether violence will escalate immediately, whether dissent will be silenced, causing anger to simmer, or whether the two camps might sit down and make a concerted effort at an agreement.