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Two elections in 2017 – and now two presidents as Kenya's opposition leader inaugurates himself

  • Kenya's long-standing opposition leader Raila Odinga has sworn himself in as the country's president.
  • More than 2,000 supporters of Odinga's National Super Alliance (NASA) gathered for the event in the capital Nairobi, while several news outlets have been taken off air for attempting to broadcast it, Reuters reported.
  • Kenya's presidential election was held twice last year after the Supreme Court overturned President Uhuru Kenyatta's initial victory.
Kenya's opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition leader Raila Odinga holds up a bible as he swears-in himself as the 'people's president' on January 30, 2018, in Nairobi.
Tony Karumba | AFP | Getty Images
Kenya's opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition leader Raila Odinga holds up a bible as he swears-in himself as the 'people's president' on January 30, 2018, in Nairobi.

In an act of political theater many opposition leaders would wish held more sway, Kenya's long-standing political challenger Raila Odinga has sworn himself in as the country's president.

More than 2,000 supporters of Odinga and his National Super Alliance coalition (NASA) gathered in a park in the capital Nairobi for the event Tuesday, according to Reuters.

Several news outlets have been taken off air for attempting to broadcast it, the news agency also reported.

Repetition has been a theme in Kenyan politics of late, with 2017's presidential election being held twice after the Supreme Court overturned the result of August's initial vote.

President Uhuru Kenyatta won both elections. The second, which took place in October, was boycotted by Odinga citing its unfairness.

The swearing-in of an alternative president constitutes an act of treason, Attorney General Githu Muigai said in December — a crime punishable by death in Kenya.

"All plans are in place to ensure this event is conducted peacefully" said a statement by NASA CEO Norman Magaya on the party's Facebook page Monday. The inauguration would be held "in total compliance with the constitution and the law," the statement added, also encouraging supporters to "avoid confrontation with police officers at all costs."

Nearly 100 people were killed in violence linked to Kenya's elections last year, Reuters reported.

Supporters attend the 'people's president' swearing-in ceremony of Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga on January 30, 2018, in Nairobi.
Tony Karumba | AFP | Getty Images
Supporters attend the 'people's president' swearing-in ceremony of Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga on January 30, 2018, in Nairobi.

The swearing-in boils down to Odinga attempting to assert his authority as a political leader, William Atwell, practice leader for Sub-Saharan Africa at emerging markets advisory firm Frontier Strategy Group, told CNBC via email.

"The reason Odinga is doing this is to remain relevant, gain media attention and remain in the public eye. He's worried that after successive failed attempts to win the presidency, his political capital is running out."

The future of Kenya's political leadership is uncertain given that Kenyatta will be stepping down in 2022. Odinga has contested the presidency four times, meaning that further down the line, he "may not have the credibility to lead the opposition," Emma Gordon, senior East Africa analyst at consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, told CNBC via email.

"Senior figures within both coalitions will therefore be jostling for power," she added.

The World Bank in December estimated Kenya's economic growth rate for 2017 to be 4.9 percent, its weakest in five years. Although this was ostensibly linked to drought and a slowdown in credit growth, political turmoil is also acknowledged to have played a part.

For business and investors, the impact of Odinga's latest move is "fairly minimal," Atwell said.

Reflecting this, the Nairobi All Share Index closed Tuesday's trade just 0.07 percent lower.

But, the news could spark a populist push from Kenyatta in an attempt to shore up support. "For Kenyatta, continued pressure from Odinga and NASA supporters will push his administration to pursue policies that ensure its credibility and popularity," such as increased social spending and free secondary school education, Atwell explained.

Correction: This article has been amended to say that Kenyatta will step down as president of Kenya in 2022, not 2021 as was originally stated.