When veteran opposition challenger Raila Odinga chose to stage his mock “swearing-in” on January 30, few had any idea that the mood in Nairobi would become one of toxic intolerance – intolerance of the opposition, of the media and of the rule of law. As the “ceremony” unfolded, the government pulled the plug on four TV stations, switching off their signal remotely. On Monday, two of the channels partially returned.
Kenya’s top newspaper published an obituary ad paying tribute to a major opposition figure. The only problem is, Jimmy Wanjigi is still very much alive.
Wanjigi, a top supporter of the opposition party in Kenya, says he was left with no doubt about the meaning of the message.
“It’s a death promise,” he told CNN. “We are coming for you, we assure you we are going to finish you.”
“It is with deep sorrow that we announce the death of James Richard Wanjagi,” the obituary read, including a misspelling of the businessman’s name.
Wanjigi died in a botched armed robbery at Nairobi’s affluent Karen Estate, according to the obituary.
It ended “fare thee well James,” after giving his wife’s and children’s names and funeral information.
Wanjigi says he is considering legal action against the newspaper.
“I see the Nation Media as being part of a conspiracy of premeditated murder. I don’t see which other way to see it,” Wanjigi said.
Nation Media group’s publisher said it has asked police to investigate the matter and would take action against those responsible.
Following the publication of Wednesday’s obituary, academic and prominent Nation columnist Nic Cheeseman threatened to suspend his column with the newspaper.
“This is a pretty dark turn in Kenya,” journalist Tristan McConnell posted on Twitter.
Many Kenyans reacted with concern on the platform to what they saw as a thinly veiled threat.
“This is not an ‘editorial/publication error,’ this is a death threat really,” wrote one Twitter user.
This latest incident is cause for alarm in Kenya’s political landscape. The country has lurched from one crisis to another since general elections were held in August last year.
Opposition leader Raila Odinga refused to take part in the re-run of that election, saying it would be rigged in favor of his opponent.
Odinga considers himself the rightful leader of Kenya. He staged a mock inauguration on January 30, installing himself as “the People’s President.”
His bio on Twitter was also changed to say he was the President of the Republic of Kenya but this was later deleted.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government reacted furiously to this inauguration, openly targeting opposition figures and shutting down four media stations that broadcast the event.
The government claimed the broadcast “would have led to the deaths of thousands of Kenyans.” Two of the four stations remain off-air.
The government has also revoked the passports of several opposition leaders – including Wanjigi.
Miguna Miguna, another top opposition figure, was deported to Canada on Tuesday after being charged with treason.
Kenyan authorities say Miguna had renounced his Kenyan citizenship but his lawyers deny that claim.