For a country that has had a president for more than half a century, you would have thought the question of how one becomes president would be clear to everyone. There are two established myths that I would like to bust.
MYTH 1: You can be elected the president of Kenya and the military will refuse to let you assume the office. In this case, You refers to Raila Odinga. This myth is prevalent among people who do not fancy a President Raila Odinga.
MYTH 2: If you have been rigged in an election, you can call 1 million people to Uhuru Park and swear yourself in as president of Kenya. Again, you, in this case, You refers to Raila Odinga. This myth is popular amongst supporters of Raila Odinga.
Surprisingly, both of these myths have gained wide currency. In fact, the former aide to Raila Odinga, Miguna Miguna, in his book, Peeling Back the Mask, alludes to the second myth. Miguna narrates that after Raila Odinga’s victory was stolen by Mwai Kibaki (Yeah, I said stolen) in 2007, the ODM party made preparations to swear in Odinga in public ceremony at Uhuru Park. At that point, it is important to note that Kibaki had already been sworn in as president. But would Raila Odinga have become the president of Kenya after that? The answer is no, of course not. That is not how you become the President of Kenya.
So how does anyone ascend to the office of the president of Kenya? There are only two ways anyone can assume the title of President of Kenya. The first and easier path to the presidency is to score an electoral victory, winning more than 50% of the vote in a presidential election. However, saying you have won the election is not enough. Anyone can claim they have won an election. So for you to become president, you have to be declared the winner of the presidential election by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC). After that, you have to be sworn in as president by the Chief Justice of Kenya. Technically, the chief justice can only swear in the certified winner. Legally, the chief justice cannot refuse to swear the certified winner, even if the other party disagrees with the election result. That is what the constitution stipulates. That takes us back to 2007 and the Kibaki versus Odinga election. The chief justice then, one Evans Gicheru, was accused of swearing in President Kibaki at night illegally. The problem for the CJ is that he has no say in the matter. The chair of the electoral commission hands a certified copy of the results to the CJ, and the CJ cannot make alterations however strongly he/she feels about the credibility of the election. So, what options did Gicheru have? Even in the old constitution, he could not refuse to do the job.
Now, in regard to this election, if Raila Odinga or Uhuru Kenyatta is declared the winner and a presidential petition in the supreme court fails to succeed, there is no other way someone else can become president even if you burn the whole nation to ashes. The chief justice has to swear in the duly declared winner. And then, that person becomes the president of the Republic of Kenya.
Keen readers will notice that I have not mentioned the military anywhere. That is no negligence on my part. It is because the military plays absolutely no role in the electoral process. The military’s role in the swearing and inauguration of the president is also trivial. The participation of the military is only through the membership of the chief of defense forces in the 23-member Committee that oversees the transition and the inauguration process for a president-elect. But, why would the myth of the military stopping someone from ascending to the presidency gain so much currency? Perhaps, people who perpetuate the myth allude to the 1982 coup, in which Odinga is claimed to have been part of the plot to overthrow Daniel Moi from the presidency (Unconfirmed). But even if that were true, it still does not make sense for the military to hold a grudge for 35 years. Most likely, what the myth is referring to is a possibility of a coup against Odinga by Kikuyu/Kalenjin factions in the armed forces if he ascends to the presidency. Again, that is merely fantastical thinking because the military in Kenya has no history of interfering in politics. So far, the military has never displayed an appetite for political power, neither is the military divided into tribal factions. What would happen in case of a hypothetical coup? That person who claims to be president will merely be an illegitimate president because for you to govern as President of Kenya, you have to follow a very specific procedure. The truth and the reality of the matter is the military will and should just salute whoever is elected as commander in chief.
There is a second, though unconventional, way to become the president of Kenya. You can inherit the presidency if you are the deputy president. This can happen if the president dies, is removed or is incapacitated while in office. This has happened before; in 1978 when Jomo Kenyatta died in office, the vice president, Daniel Moi, assumed the presidency. Now, what is the probability that an event triggering a sudden vacancy in the office of a president will occur? Surprisingly, the probability of that happening in Africa is unusually high. In the last ten years alone, 10 heads of state or government have died in office, including the presidents of Nigeria, Ghana, Ethiopia, Zambia, and Malawi. What is the probability that a vacancy will occur in the presidency of Kenya? It has happened once, but it is probably a once in a lifetime event. But electing old or ailing men into office increases the chances of that happening. Just ask Nigerians, who could be on the verge of losing a second president in a space of 10 years. If you are aiming for the presidency, this is not the path you would be willing to bet on.
Well, it seems like you enjoy politics, check out our latest analysis of this election on this article The Presidency Under Siege: Will Uhuru Kenyatta Win Reelection?
In addition to being political history aficionado, Paul K Njuru is the chief editor here at Rasqoh.com. He tweets here and has a Facebook here.
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