There’s a game that is a contest of bravery. It is about testing guts, it is called ‘Chicken.’ If for example there are two drivers on a collision course, heading in each other’s direction at top speed, one must swerve or both will die in the crash. But if one swerves and the other keeps going the one who swerved will be called ‘the chicken,’ meaning a coward.
The Kenyan version of the game is called ‘sema ng’we!’ or ‘dare me’! In promising to swear himself in, Raila is telling Uhuru ‘sema ng’we’ and in response, Kenyatta is telling him the same.
So now that we are three days away from the promised swearing in ceremony or the ‘game of chicken,’ one wonders: What will happen, or perhaps what will not happen? I see three possible scenarios.
But before getting into that, there is a third player who is a factor in all this. The Media. Because Raila’s swearing-in contravenes the Constitution (there is no provision for a ‘Peoples President) and also contravenes the penal code (there can be no public oath taking outside the confines of the law), media houses that cover the event, should it happen, may be exposing themselves to risk. They could be accused of participating in an illegality and be charged, or worse, shut down. On the other hand, the news house could claim ‘freedom of the press’ and also say ’ng’we!’. In any case, does the person recording a thief in action get charged with complicity because they did not stop him in the act, or celebrated for catching him in the act and recording evidence?
The media situation in this case is more complex than the theft scenario because it is the actual broadcasting of a ‘swearing in’ that determines the outcome thereafter. In the end, if the ‘swearing in’ is not broadcast, it becomes like the story of the tree falling deep in the forest: if nobody saw or heard it, did it really make a sound? Anyway, back to the three scenarios.
The first scenario anticipates the best case. This is where the 30th of January comes and goes, and no ‘swearing-in’ happens. Already there are signs of NASA backing up, with last minute offers for postponement if ‘certain conditions are met.’ Shifting goalposts so close to the day is not a sign of NASA’s confidence in the swearing-in. Also, short-term history tells us that this is a bluff from NASA. This will lead to ‘supporter exhaustion.’ And in the ensuing lethargy of Raila’s supporters, peace will prevail. This time the ‘revolutionaries’ will cast a disappointed word, instead of a rock, as Sigmund Freud put it. And as Nikita Khrushchev said, if a man preaches revolution on the first day without results, the crowds will shout ‘tibim,’ if he preaches revolution on the second day without results, they will shout ‘tialala.’ But if on the third day he preaches revolution still without results, they will turn their backs on him, and move on with life.
Scenario two: the 30th of January comes and the swearing in takes place but nothing happens thereafter. With a self declared office and a vague presidential job description - Raila can only be president in his people’s hearts. In reality, he will not have instruments of power, monopoly of violence, appointment of public servants and all the symbolic and material ‘presidential things.’ It is however quite unlikely that the government would ignore the event and move on because this would set off a dangerous precedent in which the limits of constitutional order are tested.
Scenario number three, which is the worst case. 30th January arrives, the swearing in happens, and is dramatically interrupted by the government’s show of might. Not only will disaster happen on the site of oathing, but in other parts of the country as spontaneous protests erupt and are met with a forceful response. The plot could thicken further with the government swooping in to arrest Raila and all his fellow oath takers, whisking them away in ‘Land Cruisers’, to different police cells across the city. While this could cause pandemonium, the outburst could be short-lived as even his supporters would be secretly relieved and free from the cycle of exhausting politics.
My view on this ‘swearing-in’ is that Raila is only further endangering his legacy. He is cooking disaster, with the help of his assistant chefs in the form of the ‘Peoples Assembly Organising Committee.’ In games of testing limits and measuring audacity, someone always ends up being called ‘the chicken.’
—The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Economy at SMC University and a research fellow at Fort Hall School of Government. [email protected]