The brief January 30 ceremony took place in central Nairobi’s largest park. But this was not a coup. Odinga did not purport to assume the constitutional office of the president held by his rival Uhuru Kenyatta. As some of his supporters have argued, this swearing-in was largely symbolic.
Odinga’s vocal support mirrors the ethnic affiliations of his opposition coalition partners – mostly the Luo, Luhya, Kamba and a number of tribes from the country’s coastal areas. Ranged against them are Kenyatta’s Kikuyu and Deputy President William Ruto’s Kalenjin ethnic groups. These two ethnic groups have produced all the country’s presidents since independence 54 years ago. The Kikuyu, who have produced three of the last four presidents, are the most populous ethnic group in Kenya. They are followed by the Luhya, Kalenjin and Luo.
Grievances over land between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin have previously sparked violent clashes, including post-election carnage in 2007 and 2008. But rattled by International Criminal Court charges over the violence, Kenyatta and Ruto closed ranks to win the next election in 2013.
Against this backdrop, the events of January 30 could be read as part of Kenya’s long transition to democracy and the push to reclaim the stalled nation building project.