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For NASA to move on, it must frankly talk about January 30

By Barrack Muluka | March 10th 2018

In the best interest of the National Super Alliance (NASA), the boil that is Raila Odinga’s fabled “swearing in” must be opened up and the pus squeezed out. This drama has been played out of context and proportion. You would imagine that it was part of Kenya’s crowning constitutional ceremonies, at the end of an election cycle. Yet this manifestation was at its best only a piece of performed hyperbole. It was supposedly a statement to the Jubilee fraternity that Raila and NASA had a following and they should be listened to. Yet the goal was different.

The ceremony was supposed to place Jubilee on the weighing scales of legitimacy. While a verdict on Uhuru Kenyatta’s acceptability should have been returned, the guns – instead – turned horribly inwards. The original intent was lost, the enemy redefined. Simmering internal hostility went into a crescendo. Allegations of betrayal and insults have since flowed freely. Political subalterns have called NASA principals “cowards” and “traitors.”

It is worth revisiting some of the last few strokes ahead of the debacle. And I write with the pen of an insider. For, I have been witness to some of these things. Some of the stuff is so stunning that it cannot be said, in good conscience and in the interest of the country. Space is also a challenge. In the evening of Monday January 29, however, the four principals met to agree on whether the much anticipated “swearing in” would go on or not.  The issue had been hugely contentious this far. In public, they told Kenyans that the oath was on. In private, uncertainty reigned. Raila himself stated publicly that he did not want a pseudo-swearing-in. “I will not be sworn in like Kizza Besigye of Uganda. I will be sworn-in like Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe.”

Yet, it was agreed that doing a Mnangagwa was an impossible, even catastrophic mind boggler. So, here is NASA; facing a spurious ceremony, for there will be no taking of power from Jubilee. There have been dissuasive voices from elsewhere. Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has called Raila. He has told him that, yes, they are good friends. However, he cannot support such a move. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has sent an emissary, who has been ignored. The UN Secretary General António Guterres’ emissary has pleaded against this move. Nigeria’s former President Obasanjo has visited Raila and told him no. Donald Trump has sent Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Donald Yamamoto, to intervene.

January 29 is a low moment, amidst external pulsating public expectancy. It is agreed that retreating could attract public anger. Yet, plans to swear-in our man remain cloudy. Nobody has seen the oath. It is not clear who will “administer the oath.” The “Deputy President’s oath” text has not been prepared. Nobody has seen it, even at the time of this writing. What happens after the “swearing-in” has not been defined. There are questions of the security of the people and of the leaders. There are questions of legitimacy and legacy. It is agreed that they will be tied up the next day.

Raila asks his colleagues to switch off their regular cellphones and instead standby on alternative foreign numbers, known only to a few. This is meant to shake security apparatus off their trail. Raila will himself call them the next day from a Nigerian line, to advise where they should meet. The meeting will determine how to go on with the “swearing-in” or, conversely, how to manage public expectation, in default. The four will go to the park together, either to “swear-in” their man, or to explain why the “swearing-in” cannot take place.

Tuesday January 30, Raila’s calls expected at about 9am are not forthcoming. Things remain this way until about 11am when, after comparing notes on phone, the three principals agree to meet in the home of one of them. At about 12.30, Raila finally calls one of them. He is told that they are together, could he join them? He says he is marooned. He does not say whom by, or where. He promises to call back. He also asks if he could send someone to print his speech in the private office of one of the leaders, saying that he is in that neighbourhood. The printing assignment is supervised by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, as we learn later. The next time the principals hear of Raila, he is arriving in Uhuru Park, to be “sworn-in” at a scrambled function.

I have personally failed to understand the numerous “explanations” that have been made about why the other three did not attend the “swearing-in,” amidst simple facts. It is said that it is in the interest of “keeping the alliance together.” The elephant in the room is Article 10(a) of the NASA coalition agreement, however. The article locks both Raila and his party ODM out the 2022 presidential race. Raila has, meanwhile, outlawed discourse on 2022, “until after 2017 has been fully rested,” or as he may otherwise allow.

An ordinary villager from our Emanyulia says that the swearing-in was not about Jubilee and Kenyatta, or reforms. It was about Article 10(a). “You people have put Raila and his party in a cage. How do you imagine you could go to a presidential election without Raila and ODM on the cards?” He says that the key to the cage is rolling the other three NASA principals through raw sewage. By the time it is done, they should stink to the high heavens. Nobody should want to smell them. They should only smell of horrid “cowardice” and “betrayal.” For NASA to move forward, it must frankly talk about January 30 in the context of Article 10(a) and 2022.

- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. [email protected]

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